What a great week for terminology!

finish lineFor many years until recently I had been doing triathlons. What a rush of adrenaline! Racing was great but the best part was receiving the support and encouragement of family and friends. When I started this blog I was not sure if I would achieve much (having a full time 9 to 5 office job, and all), but yesterday I had my final presentation to the ECQA Terminology Manager Certification course and I felt that adrenaline rush again! And just like in racing, it felt awesome to have the support of family, friends, and colleagues. Not only that but I had the opportunity to take a first-hand look to actual terminology projects from my classmates. What an honor! Such a great learning experience! The final step is passing the final ECQA examination on June 23, but that will be another post!

The other major thing this week happened today: This morning I woke up earlier than usual and checked emails: They had the results of bab.la’s best language blog competition! No, now, don’t get too excited. I didn’t make the final 25. BUT, I was sooo proud and happy to see the blog of the 3 top-notch terminologists who have supported me since day one! TermCoord’s blog placed fourth! (headed by Rodolfo Maslias, who I recently interviewed), Terminologia, etc. by Licia Corbolante, with her great terminology blog in Italian, placed sixth, and WordLo, by Maria Pia Montore, another great Italian with an excellent terminology blog in English, made the 24th cut in the language twitterers category. In other words, major achievements for the only active terminology blogs that exist right now!

Please, please, go to my section “More Terminology Blogs” and visit them. Give them a big thank you and congratulations! They truly deserve it!

Rodolfo, Licia, and Maria Pia: You are my inspiration and my daily terminology vitamin to keep on going. Thank you for your kind words today and every day, for your constant support and useful information.

Special thanks to ECQA instructor Blanca Nájera (with extended thanks to Gabrielle Sauberer) for letting me start this project as part of the certification. I know it was very unusual.

Thank you followers for voting for me and reading my blog posts and sharing. I can’t wait to sit down and keep writing, and hopefully soon I will be involved in a termbase project. So I can’t be any more excited!

To the most important person in this world: My husband, Sergi. He is my biggest supporter, always praising and encouraging me every day. I wouldn’t know what I would do without him!

Right now, still with that feeling of adrenaline rush in the body I am ready to get out there and just do it!

Rita Temmerman talks about her sociocognitive terminology theory

Earlier this year, TermCoord interviewed Rita Temmerman, another one of my terminology gurus. I share one of the questions, but you can read the full interview here, which includes a short bio. At the end I offer a short list for further reading. Hope you like it and find it useful!

You developed the Sociocognitive terminology theory, based on case studies on categorisation and naming in the life sciences (DNA technology), which led to the publication of your book “Toward New Ways of Terminology Description. The Sociocognitive Approach”. The highlight of this book is the fact that you question the validity of traditional terminology theory. How would you define terminology then? And can you explain us briefly the Sociocognitive Approach that you present?

My criticism of the traditional Vienna school of terminology was a consequence of years of frustration in teaching terminology theory based on the Vienna school approach. Together with two of my colleagues working at the Brussels school for translation and interpretation, I took a training at Vienna Infoterm in 1986. We were taught the principles of “terminology work” (as it was called there, a literal translation of German Terminologiearbeit). The Vienna approach was onomasiological. The idea was to first delineate “a concept”, then to give it a place in a tree structure (based on logical (IS_A) or on partitive (PART_OF) relations), then to define the concept in an Aristotelian definition and finally to choose a preferred term to name the concept. The Vienna school approach was allegedly not interested in language as a cognitive tool, but only in the naming potential of language.

These principles were clear-cut and straightforward. The problem was that my students in translation and interpretation were not field specialists but applied linguists who needed textual information to understand a subject matter and to make a terminological analysis. In most texts we wanted to use for terminological analysis with our students, we found ambiguity, synonymy, vagueness and – what was worse from a Vienna school perspective – we became increasingly aware that there were good reasons for these phenomena in language, because the advancement of understanding and the negotiation of meaning go together. We concluded that terminology studies needed to be descriptive and that occasional prescriptivism was not for translators to decide but rather for field specialists or legal specialists for that matter.”

Further reading:

I also mention some of her works in different places in my blog, which you can find by doing a search, but here is a short list of some of her works that can be read online.

1.  A review of her book “Towards New Ways of Terminology Description: The Sociocognitive Approach.” Read here. The book can be partially consulted in google books here.

2. Questioning the univocity ideal. The difference between socio-cognitive Terminology and traditional Terminology. Read here.

3. Research Gate offers a list of several articles published by Temmerman. Consult here. (You have to sign up to get access to the articles).


Terminology and product liability

chain liabilityThere’s no denying that terminology inconsistency could not only undermine customer trust in our products, but also have serious legal implications for a business when its documentation –such as user manuals, technical manuals, online help, training, tutorials, etc.– uses different terms for products that are published or marketed internally or externally, nationally or internationally. There could be a high risk of injury or damages if measures are not taken from the beginning of the manufacturing process to make sure that terminology is managed properly. This will avoid having after-sale issues and eliminate the risk of costly remedial measures such as unnecessary customer support service calls or even product recalls.

By avoiding errors in technical texts, terminology management will reduce the risk of liability claims, damage compensations (financial loss), safety procedures, product failure, and even human injury or loss of life. It becomes even more critical when you are selling “intelligent products” such as software, medical devices, pharmaceutical products, etc. Mistranslations in medical texts or user’s manuals for heavy machinery, for example, could cause serious injuries or even death. Therefore, maintaining consistency and accuracy in terminology is vitally important to the health and safety of patients, and even more so when we are dealing with many languages.

In order to maintain its position in the market, nationally and internationally, a business should comply with terminology requirements to ensure that its product information and documentation is reliable and will not give way to possible legal actions.

In 2007, the FDA had to recall a device due to terminology inconsistency. The manufacturer’s reason to recall was “Mislabeling: Reporting terminology in the Syphilis IgG APF CD is not consistent with the distributed Instructions for Use. (Non-Reactive and Reactive rather than Negative and Positive)”. Not only was this costly but also it damaged the image of the manufacturer, and it possibly caused other major issues.

To avoid these problems, the best way to proceed is to manage terminology from the beginning and comply with quality standards, general standards (such as the widely known ISO 9000 series), industry standards (such as DIN 2345 for contracts between translators and clients and EN 15038 for translation service providers that ensures the consistent quality of the translation service) and translation quality metrics (such as the SAE J2450 standard for translations of automotive service information).


Sources and further reading:

  1. Focus on Terminology Management. Neglect it at your own peril. Uwe Muegge. Read here.
  2. FDA Class 3 Recall BioPlex 2200 Syphilis IgG Kit. Read here.
  3. Economic Aspects of Terminology Management by Dr. Frieda Steurs. Read here.
  4. Multicorpora in pharmaceutical/medical scenarios. Read here.
  5. Technical translations: challenges and possible solutions (Blog entry by Octopus translations)
  6. Terminology precision. A key favor in product usability and safety, by Barbara Inge Karsch and Gabriele Sauberer. Read here.
  7. Are they worthy What terms belong in a termbase? by Hanne Smaadahl. Read here.

Terminology: Talking with the Pros: Interview with Rodolfo Maslias, Head of the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament

rodolfo maslias

Thank you, Rodolfo for this interview. It is an honour to have you as my first guest in this series of short interviews with experienced terminologists who can guide us on our journey in the terminology field. In parallel with your tasks in the European Parliament, you are teaching terminology at the University of Luxembourg and I cannot think of a better person to give us a perspective of terminology from an academic and a professional point of view.

What has been your most rewarding experience and what has been your biggest challenge both as a teacher and as a terminologist?

Having studied and dealt with languages for many years as translator at the European Parliament, I am inevitably a word lover. My other passion being culture, I am convinced and it is a personal mission for me to convincethat language is a fundamental cultural right. The very quick expansion of terminology becoming a science connected with the needs of multilingual globalised communication and with a presence in all institutional, industrial or academic activity makes terminology an ideal field for transmitting the passion of language and culture.

In general terms, how is terminology managed at TermCoord? Is there a systematic step-by-step process or do you handle terminology on a case-by-case basis? How many people are involved?

The European Union is the most multilingual institutional translation “machine” with 24 official languages and 552 language combinations. The European Parliament now has real legislative power making each translation an original legislative act. Linguistic consistency and terminological accuracy is now the pillar of quality work, not only for translators but also for drafters usually writing in a language other than their mother tongue.

Terminology is thus an inherent need of every EP political or administrative activity. Translators, interpreters and drafters constantly encounter terminological issues and they need to consult reliable resources. All our terminology work has as main tool the common EU terminology database IATE. Since terminology is a living being exactly as languages are, reliability of a database means constant updating and therefore this database that you from outside can only consult (and you are 3500 to do so every hour), IATE is for us in the EU Institutions an interactive platform, fed every day by all translators with some 300 new terms resulting from the research needed during translation.

Terminology is thus produced in the translation units in all institutions and the Terminology Coordination Unit coordinates, organizes and supports this work. In the Parliament, each translation unit appoints at least 2 (but up to 8) terminologists, who undertake terminology consolidation and validation at language level. They make our Terminology Network of more than 100 translators-terminologists coordinated by our team. TermCoord has 10 permanent staff members, one “rotating terminologist” seconded for 3 months from a translation unit and one coordinator of the (still internal) interinstitutional portal EurTerm. In the 6 years of its existence, TermCoord has had some 80 very high skilled trainees in the fields of terminology, communication and computational linguistics, which learn how to evolve in a public institution but also help us connecting with the constant evolution of the science of terminology.

The terminologist’s job description includes a long list of duties, but what would you say is his/her most important responsibility?

The responsibility of a terminologist in a public multilingual legislative institution is ensuring quality and linguistic consistency of translation. Keeping a huge database with more than 11 million terms updated and reliable needs advanced knowledge; from the basic philosophical distinction between concept and term to the practical know-how related to definition and referencing. This work needs a special skill that is fixed in the “terminology framework” of the EP and provided by special training that TermCoord offers tailor made to various groups, terminologists, translators, trainees, interpreters and drafters of legislative documents.

What is your recommendation for terminology beginners?

As I said before, terminology is becoming more and more a science per se but also an interdisciplinary need for any activity. All companies with a worldwide activity have or use huge translation services and have also a high standard terminology service and database. This offers very wide possibilities of training and acquiring advanced skills, a constantly increasing and easily accessible collection of resources, more simply said: a wonderful new world to explore touching the most fascinating aspects of our globalised world: multilingual communication, multicultural coexistence. So first step for a new terminologist is to see this task as a passionate adventure and challenge; and then to explore and use the best channels to acquire the deep knowledge of mining, producing and managing terminology combining all approaches, from the academic knowledge based approach using ontologies to the more terminographical one used for huge databases like IATE and the ones of other big international organizations and industries.

Some people might think that new technologies and tools will replace translators and terminologists. But, in your opinion, what is the future of terminology management? Should we consider it as a promising career path?

We, linguists, know better than anyone else that there will never be a machina sapiens. Especially for content like language that is constantly evolving and related to each thought of the human brain in so many different cultures, human will always teach the machine and will always select its output. So, the machine is not a competitor but a tool. And through the evolving research and IT evolution, it becomes a very useful tool. Translation and interpretation will partly be done in next future by or with the machine using huge combined translation memories. But a translation memory that only reproduces a former translation is a very dangerous threat for the quality of any translation if it is not combined with the terminological quality control. Therefore today in the CAT tools used by translators, also in the European Institutions, we integrate automatic term recognition from reliable terminological thesauri. Every technological effort to ease translation and to increase output is inevitably connected with an effort of terminological accuracy. All of us have tested various automatic term extractors, but in any development of such software, linguists are required to set every research criterion, even the purely statistical filters that do not deliver if they are not based on a linguistic logic.

We have to recognize that the humanistic values of studies worldwide are suffering because of the global trend to make everything a product in a world market. Also, easy travelling and communication have made multilingualism a rather common skill. So, competition for a translator or interpreter is becoming very difficult and jobs are getting more difficult to find all the time.

In every field of intellectual activity, a specialization is nowadays the only secret to succeed and to find a job. Terminology is an excellent choice for such a specialization for linguists, especially when it is combined with the necessary knowledge of software which is applied for the integration of terminology features in the expanding, new, and very multilingual trans-phrasing technology.

Thank you for a very interesting and useful insight into your world of terminology. No doubt this is a very exciting and evolving field. I am sure that this will encourage language specialists to see terminology management in a new light and, as you mentioned, as a way to specialize and provide added value to their clients and the organizations they work for.

The “how to” of terminology project planning

journeyThis is the first of a series of posts related to terminology project management. There are many aspects involved in terminology project planning and we need to talk about them in detail. This and future related posts will be organized under a separate page for ease of reference as they are published.

In order to better understand how a project is developed we have to explore the basics of project management. Every project, regardless of its nature (that is, whether it is a terminology or a construction project) shares essential characteristics and follow similar steps.

Our terminology project will be unique, that is, it will different from other projects, even other terminology projects. It will have specific objectives or goals to achieve, it will require resources (tools, money) and the preparation of budgets, it will be developed under a specific schedule, it will involve the participation of stakeholders (people who are affected by it) and, finally, it will include quality assessments.

In summary, a project is a process that includes a series of activities that will be carried out under a specific schedule to achieve an objective(s) taking into consideration time, costs, and resources.

There is certainly a risk involved because there will always be elements of uncertainty: We might start with a budget that could be reduced, we might have to work with people who are not fully committed to the project, or they might be issues that delay the original schedule. But a terminology project is an ongoing process, and we can always find ways to tackle these problems. You would probably reach your final goal, but that goal will also render a product: a termbase that will need constant updating and maintenance. That is why it is so important to start with the right foot and make sure that all steps are followed correctly.

A project is not the final destination, it is a journey. Your terminology project will probably be just one of many, but every one of them will be a continuous learning experience for which you will have to put in to practice your skills, apply the best methodology, and use the adequate tools (e.g. termbase) to plan, monitor, and deliver the expected benefits.

On a separate section in this blog I talk about the business case, that is, how to justify your terminology project, so I would suggest you check it out before we go any further. (Read it here)

So, hold on to your seats, as this will be a fun ride! And as you ride along, don’t forget that this is just the tip of the iceberg and that you can also deepen your knowledge by taking a MOOC (free online course) on project management which will give you a broader perspective of what to expect. Just go to http://www.mooc-list.com/, to search for your favorite MOOC.

Sources and further reading:

  1. Leadership Principles for Project Success by Thomas July. Read here.

MySMARTerms 4: The onomasiological and semasiological approaches

Try to pronounce these two terms without getting tongue twisted! Sometimes terms are created to make people think that knowledge is beyond their reach, but the truth is there is always an easier way to explain things. Unless you want to get a PhD in Linguistics, we don’t need to do the fancy talk.

Read more here.

Term Finder: resources galore!

Nowadays you can’t complain that you don’t have enough resources for your terminology work. I have 63 dictionaries, glossaries and search engines as well as 20 corpora (parallel texts) in my newly renamed section “Term Finder”.

I just added UNdata, to join the other UN sources included in my list: UN Term, UN-OG-Term, and UN Stats. Great sources from a great organization.

Make sure you visit often for updates and new additions!

A termbase: Is not about the terms! (The concept-oriented approach)

Well, yes, a termbase is a repository of terms, but the central issue of termbases revolves around the organization of concepts. We have to differentiate between terminology work (the extraction of terms from sources) and termbase design (how terms are organized based on concepts). Once you identify the concept you look for its term. That is what they call in semantics and lexicology the semasiological approach: The grouping of words based on their meaning, or the concept-oriented approach.

Termbase creation starts by concept (or conceptual) analysis to clarify the definition of each concept and its scope or boundaries and identify its main characteristics to isolate it from other concepts. To identify concepts for analysis we need a concept system to organize them by subject field, and this is achieved by designing a concept map: a graphic representation of concepts and their relationships. Concept maps may be as simple or as complex as you want them to be, depending on the amount of information you are working with and the level of complexity of the termbase you are designing. In the concept maps you connect terms to each other based on the whether they are broad or narrow concepts. Here are one simple and one complex concept maps:

concept map image

complex concept map








Concepts are structured in hierarchical (generic and partitive) or non-hierarchical (associative) relationships. Hierarchical relationships may be generic or partitive. In the generic hierarchy we find superordinate and subordinate concepts. The superordinate (also called generic or broader) concept is the general concept under which we have all the subordinate concepts that “inherit” characteristics from the superordinate concept (e.g. dog breeds: Labradors, bulldogs, Chihuahuas). Partitive hierarchy concepts are easy to identify because they are “part of” something (e.g. house, roof, door). In non-hierarchical or associative relationships, concepts do not share essential features, that is, they do not inherit characteristics (e.g. producer-product: bake-bread)

Concept analysis and mapping are very useful during termbase design because they help us come up with a clear structure for our termbase.

Sources and further reading:

  1. Pavel tutorial on hierarchies. Read here.
  2. Concept analysis. Read here.
  3. Wikipedia on semasiology.
  4. Semantic Relationships used in Controlled Vocabularies. Read here.
  5. Concept Systems for Terminological Analysis. Read here.
  6. The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct and Use Them. Read here.

My blog has been nominated! ¡Gracias!

I am really excited about being nominated. Thank you so much for supporting my blog. I am really surprised that I have achieved so much in less than a month when I launched it. My hope is that as time goes by I will be able to provide more and more useful information.

You can still vote for my blog here:


MySmartTerm 2: Terminology, terminography, lexicology, lexicography

These concepts, all derived from applied linguistics, are usually subject to debate. The following descriptions may seem simplistic to the more experienced person, but my intention is to provide simple explanations and, if your curiosity is piqued, go to the more detailed sources below.

Terminology is the study of special-language words or phrases associated with particular areas of specialist knowledge (also called “language for specific purposes”, LSP). It is concept-based, which means that terminology work starts from the concept and then tries to find the terms. See MySmartTerm1 for more definitions of terminology and my section on Termbase for more details on the concept-based principle.

Terminography is concerned exclusively with compiling collections of the vocabulary of special languages. The outputs may be called terminology, specialized vocabulary, glossary, or termbase. Also the approach is descriptive but it can also be prescriptive (as it may be subject to standardization) particularly in scientific, technical and medical work where safety is a primary consideration.

Lexicology is the study of words, (also lexicon [a collection of lexemes] or vocabulary) also called “general purpose language”, GPL (not involving a specialist knowledge). Dictionaries, for example, are the main product of lexicology work, and you start with a term which may contain more than one concept.

Lexicography is the writing of the word in some concrete form, i.e. a dictionary. It is also called applied lexicology because it is the output of the lexicology process. Also, the approach is only descriptive, not prescriptive.

The treatment of synonyms , polysemes, homonyms is different in terminography and lexicography:

Terminography (e.g. glossary, termbase)
Lexicography (e.g. dictionary)
synonyms of the same subject field are grouped together (in the same entry in a termbase)
synonyms are presented separately scattered throughout the dictionary
polysemes and homonyms are presented separately (different entries) because they represent different concepts.
polysemes are presented in one entry (dictionary entry) and homonyms are presented as two headwords and grouped together

In terms of grammar, a dictionary (lexicology’s main output) may include any word, while a glossary or a termbase (terminology’s outputs) only include a specialized-language word or phrase.

Sources: An Introduction to Lexicography by D.P. Pattanayak; Terminography and Lexicography by Anja Drame (TermNet); The Importance of Terminology by the Department of Computing of the University of Surrey (UK), Lexicography by the Wikipedia.

Check out my new section “More Terminology Blogs”

I have only found three blogs on terminology so far but they are really good. Do you know of another one? I’m pretty sure there’s more out there Let me know!