The Science of Terminology

ontologyYesterday, I published the post “From Translator to Terminologist: Terminology as a Professional Career”. Today, I want to talk about Terminology as science because some people could wrongly believe that Terminology has yet to prove that it is indeed “real” profession.

Although a relatively “new” field, the truth is that the systematic ordering of specialized terminologies to communicate expert knowledge has been carried out for many decades, as evidenced by the early technical dictionaries produced by subject experts such as Carolus Linnaeus with his Species Plantarum (1753) and Systema Naturae (1759); Heinrich Paasch with his maritime dictionary of 1885, and Alfred Schlomann with his 21 illustrated technical dictionaries that took him 35 years to complete from 1906 to 1940.

Interestingly enough, these and other experts were not translators, they were subject experts who developed methodologies to do terminology work that became the foundation of more active research in the field. Thanks to their efforts, people like Helmut Felber, Ernest K. Dresen, and Eugen Wüster not only developed the methodology even further but helped bring Terminology to the forefront of the scientific world. Wüster gave Terminology its own scientific theory, the General Theory of Terminology, which clearly defined its object of study, concepts (in contrast with words which are the object of study of Linguistics). His Theory differentiates Terminology completely from Linguistics on different fronts.

Other theories have built on Wüster’s Theory, such as M. Teresa Cabré’s Communicative Theory of Terminology, that consolidated it as an autonomous scientific discipline. Mind you, there are individuals who consider it just a practice because it owes the theoretical bases to other disciplines, such as linguistics, but thanks to terminologists such as Wüster and Cabré, the activities performed to study terms can be communicated, described and justified according to their theories which are based on accepted principles. Some others argue that it is not fully autonomous because it relies on other disciplines, but what discipline is entirely pure? Most of them feed on each other. Economics, a profession of long-standing, is still considered by some as a pseudoscience. According to Orlando Patterson, “the American public is decidedly more mixed toward economics, ranking it well below established scientific fields such as physics or biology, and even below sociology.”1

If you are a translator, you know the initial struggle with the Translation career. The same question as to whether Translation was a scientific discipline was raised in the 1970s and 1980s and American Scholar, James Holmes, in his paper “The name and nature of translation studies” claimed that a prerequisite to call it so was the existence of communication channels such as conferences and scientific publications”. So this is yet another rationale behind the fact that Terminology is indeed a scientific discipline. You only need to take a look at TermCoord’s webpage to find all the evidence.

Terminology has gained great reputation thanks to the work of these and other experts and linguists and it is likely to become a sought-after career among linguists and nonlinguists in the next few years. For a summary on terminology theories, read my post “Terminology Theory in Easy-to-Swallow Pills”.


  1. Patterson, Orlando. Overreliance on the Pseudo-Science of Economics in The New York Times, February 9, 2015.

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