BIK Terminology—

Solving the terminology puzzle, one posting at a time

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    Barbara Inge Karsch - Terminology Consulting and Training

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Archive for the ‘Researching terms’ Category

Bilingual corpora and target terminology research

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on October 24, 2012

Here is another question that came up during one of the webinars recently: Do you think it is worth using a concordance tool to help sifting the technical terms in order to build up the terminology? image

Another really good question! Let me address this by answering when it would NOT be worth using available corpora. I would not use it if I didn’t expect work from the same client or in the same subject area again. I would also not do it, if I hated the user experience of the concordance tool. If I have to struggle with a tool, I am probably faster and attain a more reliable result by simply researching the concepts from scratch. BUT if the subject matter is clear-cut, you expect more work in that area and the tool provides a nice interface that allows you to work efficiently, by all means use the existing bilingual corpus as one of your research tools.

And here comes my second qualification: Double-check the target-language equivalents found in bilingual corpora. Your additional research will a) confirm that the target term used in the corpus was correct and b) give you the metadata that you might want to document anyway. I am thinking mostly of context samples. While you could easily use the translated context from your corpus, context written by a native-speaker expert in the target language gives you a higher reliability: it shows that the term is correct and used and how it is used correctly. The beauty of working with a corpus is that you already have terms that you can check on. Be prepared to discard them, though, if your research does not confirm them. Ultimately, you want your term base entries to be highly reliable: Do the work once, reuse it many times!

Posted in Researching terms, Terminology methods | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Avoiding doublettes or a report from the ISO meetings in Korea

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on June 23, 2011

One of the main reasons we have doublettes in our databases is that we often don’t get around to doing proper terminological analysis. I was just witness to and assistant in a prime example of a team doing this analysis at the meetings of ISO TC37.

ISO TC 37 is the technical committee for “Terminology and other language and content resources.” It is the standards body responsible for standards such as ISO 12620 (now retired, as discussed in an earlier posting), 704 (as discussed here) or soon 26162 (already quoted here). This year, the four subcommittees (SCs) and their respective working groups (WGs) met in Seoul, South Korea, from June 12 through 17.

One of these working groups had considerable trouble coming to an agreement on various aspects of a standard. Most of us know how hard it is to get subject matter experts (or language people!) to agree on something. Imagine a multi-cultural group of experts who are tasked with producing an international standard and who have native languages other than English, the language of discussion! The convener, my colleague and a seasoned terminologist, Nelida Chan, recognized that the predicament could be alleviated by some terminology work, more precisely by thorough terminological analysis.

First, she gave a short overview of the basics of terminology work, as outlined in ISO 704 Terminology work – Principles and methods. Then the group agreed on the subject field and listed it on a white board. Any of the concepts up for discussion had to be in reference to this subject field; if the discussion drifted off into general language, the reminder to focus on the subject field was right on the board.

The group knew that they had to define and name three different concepts that they had been struggling with, although lots of research had been done; so we put three boxes on the board as well. We then discussed, agreed on and added the superordinate to each box, which was the same in each case. We also discussed what distinguished each box from the other two. Furthermore, we found examples of the concepts and added what turned out to be subordinates right into the appropriate box. Not until then did we give the concepts names. And now, naming was easy.View from the meeting room onto Olympic National Park in Seoul, by BIK

Step 1 .

Subject field

Step 2 Superordinate Superordinate Superordinate
Step 3 Distinguishing characteristic 1
Distinguishing characteristic 2
Distinguishing characteristic 1
Distinguishing characteristic 2
Distinguishing characteristic 1
Distinguishing characteristic 2
(Step 4) . Subordinate
Step 5 Designator Designator Designator


After this exercise, we had a definition, composed of the superordinate and its distinguishing characteristics as well as terms for the concepts. Not only did the group agree on the terms and their meanings, the data can now also be stored in the ISO terminology database. Without doublettes.

Granted, as terminologists we don’t often have the luxury of having 15 experts in one room for a discussion. But sometimes we do: I remember discussing terms and appellations for new gaming concepts in Windows Vista with marketing folks in a conference room at the Microsoft subsidiary in Munich. Even if we don’t have all experts in shouting distance, we can proceed in a similar fashion and collect the information from virtual teams and other resources in our daily work. It may take a little bit to become fluent in the process, but terminological analysis helps us avoid doublettes and pays off in the long run.

Posted in Events, Researching terms, Standardizing entries, Subject matter expert, Terminologist, Terminology 101, Terminology methods, Terminology principles | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Terms—A translator’s perspective vs. a terminologist’s perspective

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on September 30, 2010

Any translator can do a terminologist’s work. The best translators compile lists of terms, equivalents, maybe a piece of context or even a definition before or at least while they are translating. So, theoretically the above statement is correct. But let’s take another look at the focus of a translator and the focus of a terminologist with regard to terms.

Although a term can be at the same time a unit of translation and a term described and defined in a terminology database, translators and terminologists treat that unit differently. A translator works in context and arrives at a target solution that is correct for that particular text. Based on Saussure, Juan Sager calls terms in a translation text “instances of parole” or “language in use” (Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies).

In Quasi dasselbe mit anderen Worten, Umberto Eco says “in light of [all the] meanings made available by a dictionary entry and its applicable encyclopedic information, the translator must choose the most probable, reasonable and relevant sense for the context in question and this possible world” (translation by BIK). That means that the translator cannot simply copy what he finds in a dictionary or terminology database; he actually has to be, as Robin Bonthrone put it years ago, “switched on.” If that wasn’t a condition, machine translation would have long since taken over.

That context then becomes part of the translated text, which in our scenario of technical translation, usually becomes part of a translation memory (TM). And it also becomes part of a product. As part of the product, the term is now part of history, as it were. As part of the TM, the term may be reused for the next version of the product, and it may also serve as reference material to others. But a translation memory does not equate to managed terminology. Strings in TMs contain terminology, but TMs are generally static and hardly ever managed.

In applied terminology, the starting point might be the term in the translation environment above. But a terminologist must research and understand the term not only in one particular context, but in as many as it takes to uniquely identify its meaning. Once that meaning has been identified, the terminologist creates a terminological entry. According to Sager, terminologists use the term, the “instance of parole”, to get to langue, i.e. the abstract system behind the linguistic sign. The entry is part of the terminological system in the database and can now be applied back in parole, in more than one situation or context, to more than one product or company. Therefore, it must be comprehensible to people other than the terminologist, and it must reflect the understanding and knowledge of the subject matter expert (see also Terminology by Maria Theresa Cabré).

While both translators and terminologists research terms, the product of their work is different. The translator is responsible for the delivery of a correct target language text with correct technical terms (parole or language in use). The terminologist is responsible for the creation of a JIALcorrect and complete terminological entry in a database (langue or the abstract system underlying speech acts). That entry may over time be used for many different products and versions inside or outside the company; the entry may become obsolete or even incorrect and the terminologist may need to modify it or add a new entry to the database accordingly. Monetary compensation, as described in What do we do with terms? method and goal of translators and terminologists are different. Therefore, translators translate, terminologists research and document.

[This posting is based on an article published in the Journal of Internationalisation and Localisation, which can be downloaded for free.]

Posted in Advanced terminology topics, Researching terms, Terminologist, Theory, Translator | 2 Comments »

What do we do with terms?

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on September 23, 2010

We collect or extract terms. We research their underlying concepts. We document terms, and approve or fail them. We might research their target language equivalents. We distribute them and their terminological entries. We use them. Whatever you do with terms, don’t translate them.Microsoft Clip Art

A few years ago, Maria Theresa Cabré rightly criticized Microsoft Terminology Studio when a colleague showed it at a conference, because the UI tab for target language entries said “Term Translations.” And if you talk to Klaus-Dirk Schmitz about translating terminology, you will for sure be set straight. I am absolutely with my respected colleagues.

If we translate terms, why don’t we pay $.15 per term, as we do for translation work? At TKE in Dublin, Kara Warburton quoted a study conducted by Guy Champagne Inc. for the Canadian government in 2004. They found that between 4 and 6% of the words in a text need to be researched; on average, it takes about 20 min to research a term. That is why we can’t pay USD .15 per term.

Note also that we pay USD .15 per word and not per term. Terms are the signs that express the most complex ideas (concepts) in our technical documents. They carry a lot more meaning than the lexical units called words that connect them.

Let’s assume we are a buyer of translation and terminology services. Here is what we can expect:



Terminology work

Number of units a person can generally process per day

Ca. 2000 per day

Ca. 20 to 50 entries

Cost for the company

Ca. USD .25 per word

Ca. USD 55 per hour

Microsoft Clip ArtAt the end of the translation process, we have a translated text which in this form can only be used once. Of course, it might become part of a translation memory (TM) and be reused. But reuse can only happen, if the second product using the TM serves the same readership; if the purpose of the text is the same; if someone analyses the new source text with the correct TM, etc. And even then, it would be a good idea to proofread the outcome thoroughly.

The terminological entry, on the other hand, should be set up to serve the present purpose (e.g. support a translator during the translation of a particular project). But it might also be set up to allow a support engineer in a branch office to look up the definition of the target equivalent. Or it might enable a technical writer in another product unit to check on the correct and standardized spelling of the source term.

I am not sure that this distinction is clear to all translators who sell terminology services. You might get away with translating terms a few times. But eventually your client’s customers will indicate that there is something wrong, that the product is hard to understand or operate because it is not in their vernacular.

There are much more scientific reasons why we should not confuse translation and terminology work; while related and often (but not always) coincidental, these tasks have different objectives. More about that some other time. Today, let me appeal to you whose job it is to support clear and precise communication to reserve the verb “to translate” for the transfer of “textual substance in one language to create textual substance in another language” as Juan Sager puts it in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies. If we can be precise in talking about our own field, we should do so.

Posted in Events, Interesting terms, Microsoft Terminology Studio, Researching terms, Setting up entries, Terminology of terminology | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

Guest Blog for Bibliotekarska terminologija

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on August 30, 2010

I will soon get back to my regular schedule. In the meantime, here is another little article that I wrote for Ivan Kanič—a librarian and blogger, who writes about terminology issues for librarians in his native Slovenia. It’s been a pleasure working with Ivan on this little project. Check it out!

Posted in Researching terms, Terminologist, Terminology 101 | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Use and Misuse of Latin

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on July 8, 2010

Latin can be incredibly helpful in finding the correct target term for plants or animals. And it can be a nightmare for us terminologists, when people use it just because it sounds hip.Green bottle fly (Lucilia ceasar) by Ute Karsch

Experts in the field of biology, botany, zoology, etc., have the luxury of using Latin as their ‘universal translator,’ as a horticulturalist put it so aptly in the San Jose Mercury News. The following example shows how we in translation benefit from it: A translator working on a German text about, say, a Kaisergoldfliege, first needs to find the Latin equivalent. An online search will reveal that the Latin name is Lucilia ceasar, according to Linneus (who Oeser and Picht justly call the founder of terminology research in Hoffmann’s Fachsprachen – Languages for Special Purposes). It takes another online search to see that it is referred to as green bottle fly in English. A picture certainly helps to ascertain that it is the same animal.

This is the method that we planned to apply a few years ago, when the team responsible for the Microsoft game franchise Zoo Tycoon 2 approached the terminology team for help. Unfortunately, the project never came through. But we would have set up an entry for the common name and one for the scientific name and added a picture. That would have greatly enabled the target terminologists to find the correct equivalents in their language.

Oak spider (Aculapeira ceropegia) by Ute KarschLatin is not so helpful when it is used incorrectly to form new terms, and yet that is fairly common. A Microsoft team was looking to name a reporting tool that detects something and came up with the term “detectoid.” Anyone who went through five years of Latin (albeit grudgingly) and through a course on medical terminology (more happily) like myself will recognize -oid as the suffix for “resembling” or “like.” But the tool didn’t “resemble” anything; it just did detect. Anyone who encountered the term without explanation and who was familiar with the meaning of –oid, would have been distracted. Upon further research, I also found the following argument against it: The suffix is used in hacker jargon (see this wonderful entry in Foldoc). After that it was easy to argue against “detectoid”—no incorrect application of existing meaning, and no jargon, least of all hacker jargon!

Latin is a good tool for terminologists in many fields. Terminologists in scientific disciplines or our colleagues in medical informatics and ontology rely on its clarity all the time. If used incorrectly, it can lead to unclear source terminology and potentially even worse target terms. On that note—absit iniuria verbis, or “let injury be absent from (these) words.”

Posted in Coining terms, Interesting terms, Researching terms | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Who has the last word?

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on June 17, 2010

In most cases, terminology research leads to one obvious target terminology solution. But sometimes there are several options and many people are involved. How then do you make a decision? Who is the final authority? When a new target term is coined or a controversial term needs to be changed, stakeholders become extremely passionate about these questions (see also a recent discussion in the LinkedIn Terminology group).

Terminologist as the hubI believe it is simply the wrong approach to this puzzle. Even just asking the question about authority does not help negotiations. Instead, let’s look at the process: The target terminologist does the research, because that is what they are trained and paid for. Research means accessing and evaluating pertinent resources to find the answer to the terminological problem. Resources may be print and online dictionaries, books and technical magazines, websites and terminology portals, the product itself, related products and material, and, yes, subject matter experts (SMEs).

Target terminologists are the hub in the middle of a bunch of experts. Sometimes they turn out to be self-proclaimed experts or people who are simply passionate about their native language. But especially in localization environments, a terminologist is a generalist and must never work in isolation. A good terminology management system (TMS) supports the terminologist by allowing knowledge sharing by others, voting, etc.

After doing the research, after consulting experts, after weighing each term candidate carefully, the answer should be apparent to the terminologist as well as to stakeholders. Here are some of the aspects that must be taken into consideration:

  • Linguistic presentation—is the new term a well-motivated term? Again, the DTT/DIT Best Practice contains a well-structured list of criteria.
  • Budgetary concerns—does changing from an old to a new term completely blow some product group’s budget and will they therefore not go for the new suggestion?
  • Input by end-users—when the term replaces an existing term: do end-users simply not understand the old term or have a strong dislike for it?
  • Sociolinguistic aspects—how rooted is the old term already in common parlance?
  • And finally, in certain environments, political aspects—e.g. are enough stakeholders convinced to make the change so that it will actually be successful?

It goes without saying that in each situation the criteria need to be weighted differently. For Windows Vista, for example, the German term for “to download” was changed from downloaden to herunterladen. The budgetary impact was high due to the high occurrence of the term in Microsoft material. Who had the final authority on that one? Well, a user survey conducted by the German terminologist at CeBIT in Hannover revealed that many users, even techies attending the computer fair, did not like the Anglicism. The German terminologist made the case to product groups, and the change was implemented by mutual agreement.

So, why do I say that the answer “should” be apparent? The most obvious reason is that, just like everyone else, terminologists are human and make mistakes—another good reason to not work in isolation. Apart from that, here are other aspects that I have observed impacting the negotiation process in today’s virtual world:

  • Culture, gender and hierarchy: At J.D. Edwards, some handbooks were translated multiple times into Japanese. Each time a more high-ranking person in the Japanese subsidiary had a complaint, the books or certain portions of them might be retranslated. Similarly, there was “terminology du jour”—terms that changed based on the input of the subsidiary and with little guidance by the female Japanese terminologist. Gender and hierarchy have an impact on terminological decisions in certain cultures.
  • Outsourcing: An external target terminologist isn’t necessarily in the strongest position. Many may not have contact with the local market subsidiary, because there is none or it is not staffed to discuss terminology. The worst case is, though, when the linguist makes a perfectly sound suggestion, but the counter-suggestion from the subsidiary prevails because it came from the client or the perceived expert. Subsidiary PMs may have strong technical knowledge, but that does not mean that they are always completely clear a) about the concept, b) about the impact of a term change, or even c) whether the term works for the end user. It is a terminologist’s job to assess how valuable the input of an expert is.
  • Expertise and experience: Let’s face it—some terminologists don’t deserve to be called terminologists. Terms are small, if not the smallest unit of knowledge, and terminologists need to deal with dozens of them on a daily basis. Experts usually don’t get paid or have no time for terminology work. Therefore, communication better be efficient and fast. It takes tremendous skill to make a concise case and get to a solution smoothly and efficiently.

In my experience, the best designations result from the work of a team of equals who draw on each others’ strength. In many software scenarios, the ultimate SME does not even exist—terminology-management and subject-matter expertise is contributed by different parties to an online centralized terminology database managed by the terminologist for the respective language.

What is your experience—do too many cooks spoil the terminology database? Or does it take a village?

Posted in Negotiation skills, Researching terms, Subject matter expert, Terminologist, Terminology 101, Translator | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »


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