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