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).


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