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Introduction To The Science Of Terminology – Analysis


Terminology is the field of lexicology (or the study of lexicon) that deals with specialized vocabularies and sets of terms related to particular fields (aviation terminology, medical terminology, stylistics, agriculture, etc.). Terminology as a new academic field is located at the boundary among linguistics, logic, theory of existence, information science and specialized areas of science and technology, and in the interdisciplinary area.

What is terminology?

In its first meaning, the word terminology means “a set of technical words belonging to a science, an art, an author or a social group,”, for example, the terminology of medicine or the terminology of computer scientists. In a more restricted or specialized sense, the same term refers to “a linguistic discipline devoted to the scientific concepts and terms in use in specialized languages.”.

If the common language is the one we use in our daily lives, language is the means of unambiguous communication in a particular field of knowledge or practice, based on a vocabulary and linguistic uses that are specific to it.

The terminologist is a specialist in this field, in the same way as the lexicographer is a specialist in lexicography, i.e. the “discipline devoted to the census and study of the words of a given language considered in their forms and their meanings”.

The connection between these linguistic disciplines is reinforced by the recent use of the term lexicography as a synonym for terminology.

A language is not a fixed entity, (1) fixed once and for all: words constantly disappear, die, new words appear… the world changes, and the lexicon evolves.

To designate new realities, English, like all other languages, is enriched with new words – neologisms – which are created or borrowed from foreign languages.

In everyday language, this creation is somewhat spontaneous, the inventiveness of young people, journalists, not to mention writers and poets… is deployed in the greatest freedom. Just think of all these new words (governance, alter globalism, eco-citizen, slam …) that we hear in the media, that we see in the newspapers. Sometimes they go out of fashion quickly, sometimes they become firmly established in usage and in the dictionaries.

A “terminology” is “a set of concepts representing the reality defined by terms belonging to a specific language” (ISO 1087-1, 2000).

A concept is “a unit of knowledge created by a unique combination of characters”. A concept is an image or idea created in our brain when presented with an object. This object can be physical (for example, a car) or abstract (for example, speed).

A concept can be represented by a designation, that is, a sign that denotes it. A term is a verbal designation of a concept in a specific domain. This concept thus creates the connection between the object and the designation. This is represented by the Ogden-Richard semiotic triangle. (2) This concept thus creates the connection between the object and the designation.

The construction of a terminology involves a systematic approach to finding the specific terms most relevant to a discipline or field of knowledge in a particular context of use.

The purpose of documenting vocabulary is to promote consistent use. A terminology is also intended for a human user and is mainly used by domain experts.

According to ISO 1087, there are several possible types of relationships in a terminology:

1- Hierarchical relationships between two concepts that can be generic (one concept is more specific than the other) or partial (one concept is part of another).

2- Pragmatic associative relationships between two concepts that have no hierarchical relationship but an experience-based connection (e.g. teaching and education).

In the technical and scientific fields, the data is different and of a completely different magnitude: to express concepts that are often very complex, professionals in their particular field of activity use very precise words or expressions, terms, which number in the hundreds of thousands (by comparison, a general language dictionary has 50,000 to 100,000 words at most). (3)

A terminology is first and foremost a collection of specialized terms from the same field of activity that has its own vocabulary: medical terminology, computer terminology, sports terminology, marine terminology, etc.

The word terminology also designates an activity, the “art of identifying, analyzing and, if necessary, creating the vocabulary for a given technique, in a concrete operating situation, so as to meet the user’s needs for expression” to produce terms and definitions to designate the notions and realities of a field: recently it was necessary to create genome, cyber camera, biofuel, mini message…

Terminology (or terminography) applies to specialized languages in the same way that lexicography applies to general language. A notion, a definition, a term: this is the principle behind all terminology. Each new notion must be precisely defined and designated by a term that is as appropriate, as meaningful and as clear as possible. It is close to translation, basing itself on the meaning of a notion to give equivalent terms from one language to another. Finally, it is a linguistic discipline that studies specialized concepts and the terms that designate them in a specialized language.

The scope of terminology

Terminology is the discipline that deals with scientific or technical vocabulary. Its purpose is to study the way in which science and technology designate objects and phenomena. Terminology also refers to the identification, formatting and management of terms, especially in the form of dictionaries and databases. For this practical purpose, it is called terminography (processing and analysis of terms). This distinction is similar to that between lexicology (study of the units of a language) and lexicography (processing and analysis of these units). Finally, terminology means “set of terms” (e.g. terminology of medicine, chemistry). Terminology has only recently come to have a truly recognized meaning. In his dictionary, Littré  states: “This so-called science is only a vain terminology” [Cette prétendue science n’est qu’une vaine terminologie] (1873). In fact, the word terminology, whose creation in European languages dates back to the end of the 18th century, only came into use with a positive meaning in the middle of the 20th century.

Thus, terminology is a discipline that deals with the theoretical study of the names of objects or concepts used in a given field of knowledge, the way in which terminological units’ function in language, and the problems of translation, classification and documentation that arise in connection with them. Terminology is also the set of rigorously defined terms that are specific to a science, a technique or a particular field of human activity.

The ISO 1087 standard defines terminology as “the scientific study of concepts and terms in use in specialized languages“. Here one finds a fundamental distinction, that between notion and term. According to Eugen Wüster, (5) one of the founders of the discipline, a term is a two-sided unit consisting of a name (in any language) that refers to a notion (i.e. a conceptual unit).

Philippe Thoiron and Henri Béjoint wonder in an article entitled: “La terminologie, une question de termes?’’ whether terminology is about terms: (6)

‘’For historic terminologists the term is most definitely not the word. The term is characterized by monosemy, univocity, precision of definition; its meaning can only be referential, hence it becomes nothing but a label attached to the thing it represents. Terminology, which claims to be purely onomasiological, aims at standardizing specialized languages. In recent decades some terminologists have moved closer to linguistics, and in particular corpus linguistics, to elaborate another terminology, based on discourse observation – and hence semasiological –where terms can be polysemic, have synonyms or be context-dependent. For them, the primary objective is no longer standardization but the description of specialized discourses. These new terminologists have advanced the discipline by bringing it closer to linguistics and observing real facts rather than invoking ideals. But their dismissal of all basics of classic terminology may have gone too far. By examining them one after the other we intend to show that these basic principles are still worthwhile, from a linguistic and social point of view, especially when tools need to be created. Rather than insisting on the differences between currents, we prefer to claim that they complement one another. “

Terminology is, also, the study of the choice and use of terms that are part of specialized vocabularies, which can be found in all fields of knowledge: computer science, grammar, linguistics, mathematics, philosophy, medicine, music… and which can also be part of everyday language, and therefore appear both in a terminology bank, which is the responsibility of terminologists, and in an everyday language dictionary, which is the responsibility of lexicographers. For example, the term table is both a furniture terminology and a computer terminology.(7) 

Terminology and ontology (8) share the same fundamental notion: the concept. In terminology, a term is the inseparable combination of a denomination (a linguistic expression representing a business word) and a concept (sometimes called notion) that represents its meaning.

Role of the terminologist: The terminologist’s job is to identify, analyze and, if necessary, create terms to meet the user’s need for expression. Their work in creating words is semantic and etymological in nature. In contrast, nomenclature is the codification of a set of words specific to a particular field (generally scientific). This codification is then done more according to syntactic and pragmatic criteria.

Terminology work now requires the use of computer tools, particularly database software. The information on the terms is referenced in a terminology record, of which there are several forms. In general, the same types of information can be found in the terminology record: the heading term, grammatical information (word class and category, e.g. masculine noun), definition, source, etc. Terminology work is a painstaking task that requires strict adherence to formal data entry guidelines.

Related meanings of the term terminology:

  • A set of terms specific to an author, a thinker or a school of thought. We thus speak of Kantian, Sulpician, Marxist or other terminology. It is then linked to dialectics.
  • A set of terms and expressions specific to a region, to a social group (e.g. popular terminology) or to a discipline (e.g. grammatical terminology, see Learning grammar).
  • If we admit that any science is “a set of edited texts (hence terms)”, terminology becomes a part of epistemology, the other part being editorial science.

Elements of the history of terminology

This process of naming objects and phenomena has a long history. The first collections of terms – from which writing was born – are mainly inventories: counts of jewels, precious stones, tools, etc., and concern: Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and the Minoan civilization. The reflection on the relationship between the name and the thing is deepened by the Greek philosophers, in particular Plato (Cratylus) and Aristotle (Organon). It is one of the constants of the philosophical currents, from the Stoics to the medievalists, until the modern and contemporary times.

However, it is the question of the creation, definition and evolution of terms that most directly concerns terminology. The reflection on vocabularies has known privileged periods in Europe, particularly during the scientific revolutions of the 18th century. The progress of biology, with Lamarck, and of botany, with Linnaeus, (9) emphasized the need to create sets of terms, or “nomenclatures,” to designate species. The developments in chemistry with Guyton de Morveau (1787) were also accompanied by terminological revolutions, such as the one that led, notably with Lavoisier, from ancient alchemy to modern chemistry: the abandonment of the phlogiston theory, in particular, led to another conception of combustion and to the creation of new terms, such as hydrogen and oxygen.

Terminology as a practice affirms its presence in the classificatory activity which accompanied the development of natural sciences from the 18th century, as shown, for example, by the lexicology of Linnaeus.

Terminology as a discipline is inseparable from the advent of the “age of science” in the first half of the 20th century. Mandatory reference, this mode of scientific knowledge has resulted in a doubling of the world: that of everyday life (the common meaning) on the one hand, and that of science, entirely rebuilt, on the other.

This duality finds its most accomplished expression in the “Scientific conception of the world” developed by the Vienna Circle at the turn of the 1930s, following work by Frege, Russel and Wittgenstein.

The industrial revolutions of the 19th century, with the invention of the steam engine, electricity, the internal combustion engine, etc., in turn focused attention on the question of naming new objects and products for mass distribution. The Universal Exhibitions became vast gatherings where technical innovation was brought to the forefront. In 1867, the first petroleum engines were presented at the Paris exhibition. Patents for inventions multiplied. In 1890, Clément Ader filed a patent for a “winged device for aerial navigation called an airplane” (Guilbert, 1965). The first major congresses were held at this time, for aviation, the automobile, electricity (Paris 1881), etc. World congresses of engineers provide a measure of the speed of progress (Chicago 1893, San Francisco 1915, Tokyo 1929).

At this time, the first international congresses of scientific nomenclature also began to be held regularly (botany in 1867, zoology in 1889, etc.). Most of the major technical standardization institutes were created at the beginning of the 20th century, such as the Union des syndicats de l’électricité (Union of Electricity Unions), created in France in 1906, the forerunner of the present-day Union technique de l’électricité et de la communication. The first study committee of the International Electro-Technical Commission was created in 1906, preceding that of rotating machines and graphic symbols, was the “nomenclature” committee.

Establishing terminology as a discipline

At the beginning of the 20th century, terminology is used in scientific nomenclatures or in industrial environments, particularly for the elaboration of technical standards. However, it does not yet constitute a discipline: it remains a simple practice by which scientists and technicians designate reality and give form to their knowledge.

From the 1930s on, the work of an Austrian engineer, Eugen Wüster, contributed to the development of scientific reflection on this practice. His thesis, Internationale Sprachnormung in der Technik, besonders in Elektrotechnik (1966), (10) presented in 1931, laid the foundations for what could be a discipline of its own for the analysis of terms used in science and technology. As a result of this research, the Technical Committee 37 “Terminology” was founded in 1936 at the I.S.A. to develop methodological standards for the management of terminology. Technical Committee 37 (or T.C. 37), which was attached to the I.S.O. after the interruption of the Second World War, continued to work, bringing together in 2002 nearly sixty countries and organizations. A global reflection on terminology, carried out at the global level, has progressively been developed. It covers the principles and methods of terminology, its use in specialized translation, its computer applications, data coding, the formatting of bibliographic sources, etc. The international scope of such an action remains important, and the internationalization of terminology and ideally the use of similar terms in different languages is a constant concern.

Several schools of thought have developed as a result of the thinking initiated by Eugen Wüster. (11) Thus the Vienna School, (12) which places terminology in the field of analytic philosophy. The Soviet School, on the other hand, tried to link terminological systems and knowledge systems. In the wake of these ideas, schools of thought based on linguistic planning began to develop in the 1970s, notably in Quebec with Jean-Claude Corbeil and Guy Rondeau. 

In the French-speaking world in particular, terminology has recently been taken into consideration in the context of political reflection. It is the influx of Anglicisms in the French language that has directed attention to specialized vocabularies. The conditions for the survival of French as a language of science and technology have led to questions about the conditions of possibility for terminology, a discipline that is likely to have as its object the analysis and processing of terminologies. 

In France, the Anglicization of science and technology, particularly following the world wars, led to reactions aimed at defending French and creating new terms. Thus, throughout the 20th century, movements of intellectuals contributed to give life to this idea. Between the wars, personalities such as André Thérive, Ferdinand Brunot and Albert Dauzat participated in associations and groups of intellectuals. After the Second World War, great figures such as Alfred Sauvy, René Etiemble, and Aurélien Sauvageot took over. The latter presented himself as a supporter of “linguistic dirigisme”. (13)

For Philippe Thoiron et Henri Béjoint, terminology which claims to be purely onomasiological, aims at standardizing specialized languages: (14)

‘’In classical terminology, the term is described as a label affixed to a “unit of thought” that it designates, and that we agree to call a concept, sometimes a notion (Sager 1990, 23; Depecker 2002). This naturally leads any linguist to ask what the concept is and what the relations are between the signified and the concept, not to mention the referent, as well as the relations between the concept, the signified and the elements traditionally used to describe meaning, whether they are called traits as in semantics or characters as in classical terminology. The question is whether the concepts that correspond to the terms are different from those that correspond to the words, and/or whether the relationship between the sign and the concept is different. We tend to say that the meaning of a term merges with the conceptualization of what it designates, whereas the meaning of a word, its Saussurean signified, includes other components, sometimes designated by the term connotation, which the community, or each speaker, constitutes little by little as the uses accumulate.”

The influence of English, the need to develop specialized vocabularies, and the construction of the French-speaking world led to political positions that played a major role in the constitution of terminology as a discipline. It may indeed have seemed strange that, from the 1960s onwards, French-speaking countries wanted to build a political Francophonie whose language was becoming anglicized. The consecration of these movements was the creation, in 1966, of the High Committee for the Defence and Expansion of the French Language, attached to the Prime Minister. This organization, whose name will regularly evolve, contributed to the constitution of an internationally recognized francophonie.

Some particularities of terminology

Identifying, describing, analyzing, classifying, etc. is at the basis of any scientific approach or construction of objects. But it is very rare that this does not lead to a process of designation: the objects and phenomena described must be designated in order to structure knowledge and communicate it. Terminology still retains several particularities from its history: in particular, the fact that it is essentially a practice of engineers and scientists, that it is part of specialized translation, and that it is still little integrated into the human sciences, particularly linguistics. However, it obviously deals with linguistic units (nouns, verbs, expressions, etc.).

One of the particularities of terminology compared to the usual lexicon of a language is, however, that it has to take into account considerable masses of units. If the total number of linguistic units described in a dictionary such as Le Nouveau Petit Robert (1993) is close to 60,000 words, the volume of terminological units making up a language such as French is estimated today at several million; for example, the terms of the life sciences (biology, medicine, etc.) number several hundred thousand. This is independent of the number of scientific nomenclatures (notably the names designating living species), which number in the tens of millions. For example, there are 400,000 species of beetles, most of which have not yet been described. Moreover, the volume of objects to be designated and listed, especially those in collections and museums, is estimated at one billion objects today (Tillier, Académie des sciences, 2000).

Terminology has to deal with linguistic units. It is preferable to speak of terminological units. In fact, the term “term” appears to be reductive with respect to the diversity of phenomena observable in terminology. Terminological units often exceed the limits of lexical units in the usual sense, particularly in traditional lexicography: that is, units considered generally and primarily from the point of view of their morphology. The terminological unit can in fact cover simple units: tower; but very often complex units: drilling tower, cooling tower, film flow cooling tower, water rain cooling tower, etc. One is obliged to conceive each of these long units as a whole, like control tower, an example of a relatively limited unit for a usual language dictionary. 

It is accepted in terminology that the elements contained in each of these units form a block by the concept to which each terminological unit refers. Conversely, these expansion phenomena can be followed by reduction phenomena: a boat that runs on steam becomes “a” steam. Or of substitution of elements: vehicle with driving wheels becomes a vehicle with all driving wheels; or of intercalation: prime time leads to prime time. All these processes help to indicate that terminologies are formed in discourse and are not systematically created ex nihilo by simple confrontation with the object to be designated. 

Moreover, it is useful to speak of terminological units, since a term does not necessarily imply a noun: in terminology, there are many verbs or verbal units: to record, to save, to remember, etc.; many adjectives: a wine can be ample, opulent, woody, etc.; adverbs: anti-constitutional; and even connectors: notwithstanding, in accordance with, whereas, etc. All kinds of units can be treated in this way: alphanumeric units (A4, ERS-1, etc.?), symbols, etc. The terminology may also take into account, for writing or technical translation purposes, units such as: made in, courtesy of, etc.

Terminology – a means of communication in a specialized language

Terminology practice is a field of applied linguistics, which includes work in specialized lexicography, translation writing and language teaching. In fact, these four professional applications of linguistics are closely related: specialized translation requires mastery of specialized bilingual or multilingual terminologies, technical writing consists in their “unilingual discourse”, and the teaching of specialized languages aims at their acquisition by the learner, while the institutional practice of comparative terminology and its phraseological component flourishes in the translation environment. This explains why terminologists with linguistic training are so highly valued, terminologists with linguistic studies, who have acquired a good deal of experience in translation and technical writing, or who have specialized in a particular field. Their knowledge of the concepts in a given field and of the terminology in use is a valuable professional asset.

The main terminology activities

Terminology activity is based on the ability to identify the terms that designate concepts specific to a field, attest to their use with precise references, briefly describe them, distinguish correct from incorrect usage, and to recommend or advise against certain uses in order to facilitate unambiguous communication. 

In comparative terminology, the lags that inevitably result in inter-language transfers is brought to light when identifying terms, by the absence of proper designations in one of the languages in touch. In this case, the role of the terminologist is to describe the shortcomings observed and to propose designations which fill the gap. For the proposed term to be acceptable and viable, it must be based on a good knowledge of the rules of lexical training in the host language, insert harmoniously in the terminology set in place, and be clearly presented as a terminologist’s “proposition”.

In unilingual terminology, the appearance of a new concept – whether borrowed from another specialty or created from scratch – can lead to the opposite phenomenon to the absence of a designation, i.e., a plethora of synonymous designations. In this case, the terminologist’s role is to identify them and to create uni-notional terminology files (i.e., dealing with a single concept) to standardize their use. Parallel or conflicting usages are often studied in standardization or uniformity committees that publish official notices that inform all users of the selected terms. These committees usually operate within a company or a professional association, either nationally or internationally, and are almost always composed of terminologists and specialists in the field.

Terminology in the information society

Although terminology is increasingly becoming a theoretical discipline, it is primarily an application discipline in companies, research laboratories and standardization institutes. It is essential for specialized translation, technical writing and documentation. But its practice is rapidly evolving due to the development of the information society. Terminology is thus placed at the crossroads of several disciplines, including information technology (documentation, indexing, text analysis, etc.), knowledge industries (artificial intelligence, expert systems, knowledge banks, etc.) and automatic language processing (automatic translation, text generation, speech recognition, etc.).

Terminology gives form to information by structuring it through precisely defined linguistic units. These units also give access to the concept, which is otherwise difficult to manipulate. The question of ontologies, for example – objects that any company handles (components, products, units of measurement, etc.) – necessarily leads to the question of how to designate them. Terminology thus offers an almost obligatory access key to information, insofar as the search for information in natural language is in full expansion. 

In this sense, the terminology unit is an essential element of documentation techniques. It structures the information contained in a text; it restores it in the form of keywords (terms that appear explicitly in a document); or it encompasses it in the form of descriptors (terms that synthesize the themes addressed in a document): a text dealing with biodiversity may thus never mention the term “species” or “environment”, which will nevertheless be useful to associate with it in an indexing system. 

Terminology thus makes it possible to identify information content as well as to link it together thanks to an approach that is both linguistic and conceptual. It homogenizes facts or particular practices by bringing them together under concepts (for example, by bringing together under the same descriptor medical procedures performed by different organizations and practitioners).

A terminology also offers the possibility, when it is structured, of being organized in relatively coherent tree structures. The use of terminology trees is beginning to be exploited on networks such as the Internet, which already offer many possibilities because of their easy articulation in hypertext. Many directories and catalogs are composed on this model. It is also possible, by browsing through trees, to search for a term whose meaning is not known. Or to refine a request from these trees, the system proposing for example a set of domains and sub-domains likely to better situate the question asked. Knowledge modeling based on terminologies is also booming.

A tree imposes a hierarchical (and thus nonlinear) structure on a collection of items: (15)

As much as terminology contributes to other disciplines, these disciplines have led terminology to evolve. The mass of documents issued, the digitization and processing of these documents, and the speed of transmission are creating increasingly complex systems. In this context, terminology has diversified and specialized its fields of application: while the function of the terminologist as a specialist in monolingual and multilingual terminology remains, his fields of specialization have evolved. Firstly, within terminology: the application of IT to terminology has given rise to a specific discipline, terminotics (formed from terminology and IT). (16) The aim is to control and manage terminologies in very different languages, to facilitate the exchange of terminological data, and to make them accessible. The economic stakes are considerable, since mastering terminology data increases the speed and reliability of translations. (17)

Maria Carmen Staiano introduces the field of terminotics in the following words: (18)

‘’The increasing exchange of experiences and knowledge between the fields of Natural Language Processing (NLP), Information Retrieval, Corpus Linguistics, Computational Linguistics, Knowledge Engineering and Artificial Intelligence has opened new methodological and applicative perspectives to Terminology.

Terminotics is an interdisciplinary field concerned with the application of Computational Linguistics (computer science applied to the analysis and synthesis of language data) and Linguistic Engineering (creation of NLP resources and tools) to terminographic and terminological tasks.

Therefore ‘terminotics’ can be considered as a blend word, combining both ‘terminology’ and ‘informatics’.

This orientation, which started emerging in the mid-80s, has revolutionized language professionals’ work, leading to an approach based on the analysis of corpora to extract and collect terms.

This new discipline has:

  • sped up and automated the research work thanks to terminology extraction tools;
  • facilitated terminology management, retrieval, and updating of terminology by creating terminographic databases. ‘’

Object, concept and representation

Object is understood in terminology for the determination of any unit of reality (product, constituent, flow of particles, etc.). The term object is therefore understood in a broad sense and can designate a thing, an entity or a phenomenon. The definition of the object, accepted at the international level for terminology, is the following: “Everything that can be perceived or conceived” (I.S.O. 1087, 2001). (19)

“Conceived” refers to design, conception, concept. One can be in the design stage without having fully fixed the concept one is working on (for example in the realization of a new product). “Perceived” refers to perceive, perception, percept. The link between perception and design is important. It helps explain why some languages do not name certain objects of reality, which are nevertheless perceived: the percept may be there, but not the designation that refers to the perceived object. For example, there is no common word in French to designate the part of the arm that follows the forearm, located between the elbow and the shoulder. 

This approach is useful for the analysis of the way languages describe reality. It also makes it possible to decide the degree of equivalence of terms from one language to another. It is also rich in perspectives, as several theories (G. Lakoff, (20) and A. Wierzbicka, (21) in particular) have developed around the perception and conceptualization of reality by languages, from an epistemological as well as an anthropological point of view. 

Concept and perception go hand in hand. This is one of the reasons why the term notion has been abandoned in favor of concept in recent standards of terminology methodology (I.S.O., 2000, 2001). Moreover, concept is linked to the tradition of logic and to the practice of scientists and technicians, creators and handlers of concepts.

The relationship to the object is of primary importance in terminological description. It is necessary to describe the object, whether it is for the scientist who formulates a discovery, for the expert who patents an invention, or for the standardizer who sets the specifications for a product or an industrial construction process. Thus, one of the first acts of any technical or scientific discourse is to describe, linguistically and technically, the objects being dealt with – products, components, techniques, processes, etc. – in order to make them understandable.

Considered from this point of view, terminology contributes to the question of the relationship of language to reality.  One of the constraints, and perhaps one of the opportunities for terminologists, is to have the sanction of reality: to export products around the world, one must be sure that the same objects are being spoken of here and there. It is certainly possible to use code numbers. But this allows the identification of an object, without explaining how to use it, maintain it or repair it. Considering how much products are nowadays accompanied by their documentary description, particularly for reasons of market acculturation (English localization), we can only note that language (and in translation, languages) remains useful for understanding and making people understand.

The fact remains that, for a concept, even a well-defined one, the terminological material is often prolific. For example, to designate the concept of “software for surfing the Internet”, it is possible to find terminological units such as browser, navigator, explorer, etc. in different usages, while constantly asking oneself whether these terminological units really designate a single concept. This abundance of synonyms must be analyzed for French, but also with regard to other languages, such as English, which aligns browser, explorer, web explorer, navigator, etc.

There must therefore be no ambiguity in the description, which requires particular attention to the meaning of the terms and formulations used. The texts of product standards, maintenance manuals, operating instructions, etc., must also be reliably translatable.

Conclusion: understanding terminology practice

Terminology practice is a field of applied linguistics  which includes work in specialized lexicography, translation writing, and language teaching. In fact, these four professional applications of linguistics are closely related: specialized translation requires mastery of specialized bilingual or multilingual terminologies, technical writing consists in their “unilingual discourse”, and the teaching of specialized languages aims at their acquisition by the learner, while the institutional practice of comparative terminology and its phraseological component flourishes in the translation environment.

Terminological activity is based on the ability to identify the terms that designate domain-specific concepts, to attest to the use of these terms with the help of precise references, to describe briefly correct and incorrect usage, and to recommend or discourage certain uses in order to facilitate unambiguous communication. 

In comparative terminology, the gap that results from the transfer of specialized knowledge between languages is highlighted when locating terms, by the absence of proper designations in one of the languages in contact. In this case, the role of the terminologist is to describe the gaps and to propose designations that fill them. In order for the proposal of a term to be acceptable and viable, it must be based on a good knowledge of the rules of lexical formation in the host language, fit harmoniously into the existing terminology set, and be clearly presented as a “proposal” by the terminologist.

Terminology content management by subject area reflects the evolution of specialized concepts and linguistic usages, taking into account the needs of users. It aims to maintain the consistency and currency of the information stored by means of additions, deletions and modifications of data. It allows the selection of certain types of data for the preparation and delivery of terminology products such as bilingual lexicons, vocabularies, unilingual or multilingual phraseological dictionaries, and terminology standards.

To follow the evolution of knowledge in a field of activity, to be on the lookout of discoveries and their consequences on the specialized discourse are the sine qua non of any terminology research that must reflect current events.

The knowledge acquired in a given field is structured in terminology by means of hierarchical and associative relationships between the concepts identified. The most frequently used are the hierarchical relationships between generic and specific concepts as well as the partial relations between a set and its parts.

Their graphical representation is called a conceptual system or notional tree. As for the associative relations, they link the concepts because of a spatial or temporal proximity and are of the following types: producer-product, action-result, activity-tool, container-content and cause-effect.

You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurinu


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  1.  Ciecierski, T., Grabarczyk, P. (2020) Introduction: Individual Concepts in Language and Thought. Topoi 39, 349–356.
  3.  L’Homme, M. (2004). La terminologie : principes et techniques. Montréal : Presses de l’Université de Montréal. doi :10.4000/books.pum.10693
  4.  This is an old dictionary, published at the end of the 19th century. Both its headings and definitions apply to a French language that has evolved considerably in nearly 150 years. Some passages bear the imprint of that time and must be read in this historical context. Sport was then a neologism, and cockroach seemed religious; science collected telescopic planets, doubted the future of the brand new telephone and invented the delicate stasimeter. The word race did not have the same meaning as today. In those days, people used to talk to each other, argue with each other, make a fool of each other, watch each other’s backs, and finally get along with each other happily. Unlike purely explanatory works, this dictionary is very literary, full of quotations of all kinds and from all eras, and adorned with advice on usage, or reprimands to famous authors who take liberties with the French language. Émile Littré’s relationship with words is often very affectionate, going so far as to defend barbarisms so that ancient poetry is not spoiled by them.
  5.  Eugen Wüster, born on October 10, 1898 in Wieselburg and died on March 29, 1977 in Vienna, was an Austrian interlinguist. He founded the theory of terminology.
  6.  Thoiron, P. & Béjoint, H. (2010). ‘’La terminologie, une question de termes ?’’ Meta, 55(1), 105–118.
  7.  Swiggers, P. (2006). ‘’Terminologie et terminographie linguistiques : problèmes de définition et de calibrage. ‘’ Syntaxe et Sémantique, 7, 13-28.
  8. Ontology: In its primary sense, ontology aims at studying what exists, its dissection into irreducible, non-redundant components and the relationships between them. In computer science, an ontology allows to formalize concepts specific to a domain by using a defined vocabulary composed of: Classes (or concepts), which represent a family/group: Each class contains one or more instances (or individuals); An instance can belong to several concepts. Relationships, which are directed and describe the type of interaction between:Two classes; A class and an instance; Two instances. This set of classes (or individuals) interconnected by relations thus forms a mathematical structure called a graph. To be more precise, the taxonomic structure of the tree is a Direct Acyclic Graph (DAG). To come back to a more cognitive point of view, the ontology is a model of knowledge representation, i.e. a conceptualization, which is then put into a formal model to allow a certain number of coherence and reasoning tests.
  9.  Carl Linnæus, then Carl von Linné after his ennoblement, born on May 23, 1707 in Råshult and died on January 10, 1778 in Uppsala, is a Swedish naturalist who laid the foundations of the modern system of binominal nomenclature. Considering that scientific knowledge requires naming things, he listed, named and classified, systematically, most of the living species known at his time, based on his observations, as well as those of his network of correspondents. The hierarchy of classifications that he put forward became the standard nomenclature in the 19th century.
  10.  Wüster, Eugen. (1966). Internationale Sprachnormung in der Technik, besonders in der Elektrotechnik. <Die nationale Sprachnormung und ihre Verallgemeinerung>. Bonn : Bouvier.
  11.  Candel, D. (2007). « Terminologie de la terminologie. Métalangage et reformulation dans l’Introduction à la terminologie générale et à la lexicographie terminologique d’E. Wüster ». Langages, 168, 66-81.
  12.  Felber, Helmut & Christian Galinski. (1982). ‘’Terminology Science – About the Vienna School of Terminology – ‘’ J-Stage, Volume 25 (1982) Issue 8, 659-670.
  14.  Thoiron, P. & Béjoint, H. (2010). « La terminologie, une question de termes ? » Meta55(1), 105–118.
  15.  Tree Terminology
  16.  Staiano, Maria Carmen. (2020). “Terminotics: a Computational Approach to Terminology’’
  17.  Gouadec, Daniel. (2005). « Terminologie, traduction et rédaction spécialisées », Langages, Année 2005, 157, pp. 14-24.
  18.  Staiano, Maria Carmen. (2020). ‘’ Terminotics: a Computational Approach to Terminology’’ op. cit.
  20.  Lakoff, George & Mark Johnson (2008). Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago press.
  21.  A Wierzbicka, A. (1996). Semantics: Primes and universals: Primes and universals. Oxford: Oxford University Press, UK.
  22.  Praetorius N. (2000). ‘’The relation between language and reality. ‘’ In: Principles of Cognition, Language and Action. Springer, Dordrecht.
  23.  Davies, A. (2006). A Glossary of Applied Linguistics. London: Routledge.

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Dr. Mohamed Chtatou

Dr. Mohamed Chtatou is a Professor of education science at the university in Rabat. He is currently a political analyst with Moroccan, Gulf, French, Italian and British media on politics and culture in the Middle East, Islam and Islamism as well as terrorism. He is, also, a specialist on political Islam in the MENA region with interest in the roots of terrorism and religious extremism.

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