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 ‘Terminology 101’ 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: , | 2 Comments »

Dear readers!

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on September 28, 2012

Thank you very much for your positive feedback while I was busy with things like Windows 8 terminology, teaching at NYU, attending TKE and the ISO meetings in Madrid, and doing webinars. During one of the webinars, we didn’t get around to all questions. I will be addressing some of these here now.Photo by Ute Karsch

Photo by Ute KarschQuestion: As you add terminology into your database, you might not remember that you have already entered some word that is a synonym. So, might you not end up with a different ID for 2 synonyms?

Answer: Yes, that is a scenario that is very common and that everyone setting up terminology entries is facing: We do our best to enter terms and names in canonical form in order to find them again and to avoid creating duplicates. So, we document, say, operating system and not Operating Systems, or we enter purge, and not to purge or purged in the database. Even though we were good about the form of our terms, we might not remember the meaning of all entries created and thus willy-nilly create doublettes in our database. Often times, we create them because we are not aware that one entry is a view onto a concept from one angle and a second entry might present the same concept from another angle, similar to these two pictures of the some flower.

Here are a few thoughts on what might help you avoid duplicate entries:

  • Start out by specifying the subject field in your database. It will help you narrow down the concept for which you are about to create an entry. You might do a search on the subject field and see what concepts you defined at an earlier time. Sometimes that helps trigger your memory.
  • As you are narrowing down the subject field and take a quick glance through some of the existing definitions, you might identify and recognize an existing concept as the one you are about to work on.

If you set up a doublette anyway—and it is bound to happen—you might find it later in one of the following ways and eradicate it:

  • Export your database into a spreadsheet program and do a quick QA on your entries. In a spreadsheet, such as Excel, you can sort each column. If there are true doublettes, you might have started the definition with the same superordinate, which, if you sort the entries, get lined up next to each other.
  • Maybe you don’t have time for QA, then I would simply wait until you notice while you are using your database and take care of it then. The damage in databases with lots of languages attached to a source language entry is bigger, but there are usually also more people working in the system, so errors are identified quickly. For the freelance translator, a doublette here and there is not as costly and it is also eliminated quickly once identified.

Developers of terminology management systems might eventually get to a point where maintenance functionality becomes part of the out-of-the-box program. At Microsoft, a colleague worked on an algorithm that helped us identify duplicates. The project was not completed when I left the corporate world, but a first test showed that the noise the program identified was not overwhelming. So, there is hope that with increasing demand for clean terminological and conceptual data such functionality becomes standard in off-the-shelf TMSs. In the meantime, stick with best practices when documenting your terms and names and use the database.

Posted in Maintaining a database, Setting up entries, Terminology 101 | Tagged: | 8 Comments »

How is Superman related to a lawn mower?

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on July 3, 2011

Terminology is for translators! Why should I, as a fill-in-the-blank expert, worry about terminology? Oh, but we are in marketing, not in translation! Excuses, excuses. When you wait until your terminology hits the translator, it is too late. Besides the fact, it is not true that folks in the content supply chain don’t deal with terminology management. Most of them just don’t deal with it consciously. Some do it very effectively.

But there are links in that chain who very, very actively deal with terminology. Only three out of 23 car sales people I interviewed at the Canadian International AutoShow in February, for instance, were stumped by the question “what is terminology”. All others had very good definitions, explanations and synonyms handy. What’s more, almost all of them pointed out the effect of terminology choices on their customers. They knew muuuch more about terminology issues than most people in the content supply chain are willing to admit. Some of them were just not that happy with the terminology that came down the pipeline to them!

Terminology is very deliberately used by marketing and branding departments to achieve brand recognition and ultimately to sell. Here is a commercial that uses presumed synonymy to introduce essential concepts of a product and reach potential buyers on different levels:

  • It brings in terms from other subject areas to introduce what could be an unknown technical term: “clipper shavers” vs. “twin blades.”
  • It introduces what must be an impressive technical concept represented by a registered trademark in a non-threatening way: “veggie mow” vs. “Versamow©.”
  • And finally, it uses a designator, which the target audience is emotionally attached to, although it represents a completely unrelated concept: “Kryptonite*” vs. “NeXite©.”

Using presumed synonymy as a technique allows the marketing experts to have a likeable bungler explain what is implied to be a technically excellent product, all with the tag line “Hard to describe, easy to use.”

It is not as over-the-top as the Turbo Encabulator that has my students rolling on the floor even at 9 PM. But it shows how clued into terminology methods some branding folks really are. So, if you are part of the content supply chain and think you have nothing to do with terminology principles and methods, think again. Your competition is using them while you are still denying they exist.

Terminology in a commercial

*For more on Kryptonite see the Wikipedia entry. What I find interesting is that the commercial refers to it, even though it stands for a weakness. The makers of the commercial rely on the association to Superman being so strong, powerful and positive that the target audience completely forgets what Kryptonite stands for.

BIK: Thanks to Ben W. for pointing out a much more logical explanation, which eluded me in the final minutes of writing the above: The direct association with Kryptonite is that with a powerful material. And who wouldn’t want something that is stronger even than Superman.

Posted in Branding, Events, Subject matter expert, Terminology methods | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

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 »

What is terminology management?

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on March 29, 2011

Years ago at a party in Denver somebody asked me what I did. I said I was a translator. “That’s like straight out of a circus,” is what the response was. I wonder what that person would say today.

Microsoft ClipArtAt the Conference of the American Translators Association in Denver there were many signs that translators as well as interpreters play a more central role in American business and government. In fact, the professions made it onto the shortlist of the 50 best careers of 2011, as compiled by US News and World Report.

Terminology management is a niche, and many of my translator colleagues have asked me over the years what terminology is. The scientific answer is “terminology is the study of terms and concepts within a subject field.” Each domain or subject area uses specialized terms (as opposed to words) that have very specific meaning to the people using them.

In terminology management, we coin, collect, research, document and distribute these terms, most often via terminology management system (TMS). Each term is documented in a terminological record that is not just used once and then discarded. Instead, it is set up so that it can be used over and over again similar to a paper dictionary. But because it is in electronic format, it can be connected to the authoring environment of a technical writer or the translation tool of a translator. And again similar to a paper dictionary, a terminological entry should follow standards. These standards and formats are different from a dictionary entry. In addition, the entry also is not a single, stand-alone record; it is connected to the related terms of the subject field which together form a system.Microsoft ClipArt

Terminologists extract terms from documents, either manually or with the help of term extraction tools. They evaluate which terms should go into the terminology database. They do more or less extensive research and document their findings in the database. When the collection, e.g. for a particular project is done, they make sure that users know and have access to the data.

And lest I get heat from my expert readers: terminology management can happen in monolingual environments. It is most often used in settings where source-language texts are translated into multiple target languages. But even then, terminology tasks happened long before the first translators touch a text.

Going back to the circus reference from way back when: translation has become more mainstream in the US since. Terminology management has a long way to go. And I have likened terminologists to jugglers before.

Posted in Terminology 101 | Tagged: , | 6 Comments »

How gridiron became a term

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on February 3, 2011

When I was looking at football terminology the other day, I noticed many terms which used to be words in common everyday language and have become technical terms in sports terminology. That is what terminologization is all about.

ISO 704 formally defines terminologization as “the process by which a general-language word or expression is transformed into a term designating a concept in a language for special purposes”. gridiron (sports)

gridiron (cooking)

The following entry from the Merriam Webster shows quite well that the original meaning of “gridiron”, first recorded in the 14th century, was that of the cooking grate. You can find more about the etymology of gridiron in this entry of the Online Etymology Dictionary. Today, the meaning of the football field is probably more common, especially in the United States. Gridiron has moved from the everyday language of cooking into the language for special purposes of American football.

gridiron in Merriam Webster

Another good example is “fumble.” In the past, fumble, the meaning of which most of us are painfully aware, moved from verb to noun in the 1640s. Here is an excerpt from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

fumble in Online Etymology Dictionary

Today, it has a very specific meaning in football terminology, as this entry from the About – Football Glossary shows. Note that the definition used in this glossary is, by terminology management standards, not a proper definition. But the sample sentence shows how “fumble” is used as a noun in football today.

fumble (sports)

The reverse effect of terminologization is called de-terminologization. There are some good examples in sports, too. Stay tuned for those.

Posted in Advanced terminology topics, Terminology of terminology | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Terminology: An expert explains

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on January 27, 2011

This is a quick follow-up on last week’s explanation of what terminology is. I found the following short video while researching into terminology management practices in the US automotive industry. I’ll get out of the way and let this fine scientist do the explaining. He does so in only 1:49 min, and I recommend watching it to the end.

If you come away understanding the content, you are a genius. If you don’t get a word, you have just learned why terminology matters in technical communication. And if you got a chuckle out of this, let me know.

Posted in Interesting terms, Terminology 101, Terminology of terminology | Tagged: , | 15 Comments »

What do the Seahawks and Microsoft Office have in common?

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on January 16, 2011

Last night, someone asked once again what terminology is. Let me take today’s big event in Seattle to explain: The Seattle Seahawks played the Chicago Bears in a game that I may never fully understand.Blah blah Anton blah blah blah

American football is full of terminology for the initiated. It’s jargon to the rest of us. As a laywoman, what I hear is similar to what Ginger, the dog, hears in the Gary Larson* cartoon: “blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah.” In the cartoon, Ginger only hears what he understands–his name. In front of TV broadcasting this American football game, I hear: “Blah blah blah blah touchdown blahblah blah Seahawks blah blah blahblah huddle blah blah blah blah quarterback.” I understand only the terms I know.

Terminology, the collective terms and names of a subject field, are the main vehicle of information in sports communication as in technical communication. If I wanted to be part of the American football culture, I could start by learning the meaning of “on third down”, “tight-end”, or “snap.” Since the majority of Americans cut their teeth on football (similar to Germans on soccer), no sports commentator will change the terminology to accommodate an outsider.

A company trying to gain more customers and make a profit by selling products or services is in a different position. They cannot afford to not use their customers’ terminology, but also to not share the product terminology with the customer. Good product design involves customers and is based on their language to maximize usability and minimize risk.

But they can also not afford to leave people along the content supply chain in the unknown: If I had to write or translate about American football, I would have to research and understand terms, such as “draw play” or “shuffle play,” document them and then use them consistently. If I was the only one not knowing the terminology, the burden would be on me. But if you have dozens of writers and editors creating content for, say, an enterprise resource planning product, you want them to all understand the terms “backflush”, “batch” or “process manufacturing.” If dozens of translators are to bring that content into a target language, such as Japanese, you cannot afford them to not understand, misunderstand or not care. Product usability and liability is at stake.

Microsoft ClipArt

The argument might sound a lot less compelling when we think about a Microsoft Office product. Everyone in the US should be familiar with Office terminology, just like they are with American football terminology, right? After all, designations such as “ClipArt,” “address book” or “Page Layout” seem straightforward. Let’s not forget, though, that there are many different reasons why something could be documented in a terminology database. Consistency in the target language is not the least of it. While a single unenlightened German cannot matter to the Seahawk commentator, millions of Japanese users of the Office suite must matter to Microsoft.

So, the next time you are getting into a new field, check out what you don’t understand yet. It is probably the concepts of the new field and with it the terms and phrases, in short the terminology. If you are interested in learning what a “safety blitz” or a “wishbone formation” is, start with this football glossary. And…congratulations to the Chicago Bears!

*The cartoon is not being displayed for another important aspect of terminology management—copyright. For more information, see Gary Larson’s note.

Posted in Events, Terminology 101, Terminology of terminology | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Jump List? Or what should we call it?

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on October 14, 2010

Giving a new concept a name in a source language often leads directly to the question of what to do with it in another language. This seems like a problem for target terminologists and translators, right? It isn’t. Marketing, branding and content publishing folks listen up!

We have just created a new term or appellation according to best practices from ISO 704. Now, what do we call it in the target language? What do we do with new designations, such as Azure or jump list? Well, the same best practices apply for target language terms as well. But there is a difference for terms and appellations.image

Terms represent generic concepts. They are the parent concept or superordinate to other concepts. The concept called “operating system” in English has many different subordinate concepts, e.g. Windows, Linux, or Mac OS. Many times generic concepts have native-language equivalents in other languages. Of course, a particular language may borrow a term from another language, a direct loan. But that should be a deliberate term formation method and it is just one of them, as discussed in What I like about ISO 704.

An appellation represents an individual concept, one that is unique. Like you and me. And just as our parents gave us names that should represent us to the world—some very common and transparent, others peculiar or extraordinary—products get names that represent them to buyers. The criteria for good formation are weighted slightly differently than they are when used during new term formation: An appellation might be deliberately not transparent or consistent with the rest of the subject field. After all, it is a new product that is supposed to stand out. And it might be deliberately in another language.

Windows Azure™ is the appellation for “a cloud services operating system that serves as the development, service hosting and service management environment for the Windows Azure platform,” according to the official website. If we leave aside the trademark for a moment, nobody in their right mind would use the literal translations “Fenster ‘Azurblau’”, “Fenêtre bleu” or “Finestra azzurra”.  image

Once again, I find ISO 704 very helpful: “Technically, appellations are not translated but remain in their original language. However, an individual concept may have an appellation in different languages.” Good examples are international organizations which tend to have appellations in all languages of the member states, such as the European Union, die Europäische Union, or l’Union européenne.

ISO 704 goes on to say that “whether an individual concept has an appellation in more than one language depends on the following:

  • The language policy of a country;
  • How internationally well known the concept is;
  • The multilingual nature of the entity in question;
  • The need for international cooperation and relations.”

Based on this, it is pretty clear that an international organization would have an appellation in each of the languages of the member states. What about product names, such as Windows Azure? As terminologists for the target market, we should make recommendations in line with the above.

That is exactly what happened with a new feature for Windows 7, called Jump List in English. The message from the marketing department was that it was to remain in English even in the localized versions of Windows. But the problem wasn’t that simple.Example of a jump list

There are actually two concepts hidden behind this name:

  • Jump List: The Windows feature that allows users to display jump lists.
    • A unique feature and therefore an individual concept.
    • An appellation.
  • jump list: A list associated with programs pinned to the taskbar or Start menu.
    • A generic concept that can happen multiple times even within one session.
    • A technical term.
    • Erroneously capitalized in English.

Generally, when a new feature is introduced the feature gets a name and many times, the individual instances of the feature take on a term derived from the feature name. In this case, the feature was named Jump List and the instances were called Jump Lists. The later should not be uppercase and is in many instances not uppercase. But the two concepts were not differentiated, let alone defined up front.

So, when the German localizers got the instruction to keep the English term for all instances of the concept, they had a problem. They would have gotten away with leaving the appellation in English (e.g. Jump List-Funktion), but it would have been nearly impossible to get the meaning of the generic concept across or even just read the German text, had the term for the generic concept been the direct loan from the English. We could argue whether the literal translation Sprungliste represents the concept well to German users.

Naming is tricky, and those who name things must be very clear on what it is they are naming. Spelling is part of naming, and casing is part of spelling. Defining something upfront and then using it consistently supports clear communication and prevents errors in source and target texts.

Posted in Advanced terminology topics, Branding, Coining terms, Content publisher, Interesting terms, Terminologist, Terminology principles, Theory, Translator | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

You say Aaaazure, I say Azuuuure…

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on October 7, 2010

Two years after the then new cloud-computing technology by Microsoft was named Windows Azure, Microsoft employees and partners are still wondering how to pronounce the name. Is that a good thing for product branding? Probably not.Products from Geberit

Naming is a big part of terminology management. In her presentation for the last DTT symposium, Beate Früh, language service manager at Geberit International AG, a European producer of sanitary technology, described very well how she and her team support engineers in finding the right names, terms or labels for new products or parts (for examples see the adjacent image or the slide deck in German). One of the keys: The team comes in early in the process to help engineers find the best possible terms.

What are best possible terms or appellations? Obviously, each language has its own rules on term formation, as discussed in What I like about ISO 704. But here are the main criteria as well as a checklist that good terminology should meet, again courtesy of ISO 704:

  • Transparency: Can the reader understand what the concept is about by looking at the term?
  • Consistency: Is the new term or appellation consistent with the naming in the subject field? Or does it introduce new aspects at least very deliberately or only when necessary?
  • Appropriateness: Are the connotations evoked by the designation intentional? And do they follow “established patterns of meaning within the language community?”
  • Linguistic economy: Is the term or appellation as short as possible, so as to avoid arbitrary abbreviations by users?
  • Derivability and compoundability: Is it easy to form other terms, e.g. compounds, with the new term?
  • Linguistic correctness: Does the new designation conform to morphological, morphosyntactic, and phonological norms of the language?
  • Preference for native language: Is the new term or appellation borrowed from another language? Or could it be replaced by a native-language designation?

Why would it take a terminologist to name things correctly? In the software industry, we used to say that programmers became programmers because they wanted to deal with 0s and 1s, not with words and terms. Similarly, product engineers are probably better with designing, developing, or testing devices rather than naming them. What’s more, they don’t necessarily think about what happens downstream, let alone set up entries in a terminology database.

Participants of the Life Science Roundtable at LocWorld yesterday in Seattle illustrated the necessity to deliberately choose terms and appellations early in the process, document them as well as their target-language equivalents and then use them consistently: After a device has gone through the regulatory process, even linguistic changes are extremely difficult, if not impossible to make. Tough luck then if a name doesn’t work very well in one or more of the other 25 target markets.

At Microsoft, most product names are run through a process called a globalization review. Marketing experts work with native-language terminologists on evaluating whether the above criteria are met. Some names obviously don’t get submitted. So, Aaaazure, Azzzzure…let’s call the whole thing off? No. But since I am now married to an “Azure evangelist”, I hope that the concept behind the appellation is really solid and makes up for the trouble we have with its pronunciation.

Posted in Advanced terminology topics, Branding, Coining terms, Events, Interesting terms, Terminology methods, Terminology principles, Theory | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

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