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 principles’ Category

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 »

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 »

If quantity matters, what about quality?

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on September 9, 2010

Linguistic quality is one of the persistent puzzles in our industry, as it is such an elusive concept. It doesn’t have to be, though. But if only Microsoft Clip Artquantity matters to you, you are on your way to ruining your company’s linguistic assets.

Because terminology management is not an end in itself, let’s start with the quality objective that users of a prescriptive terminology database are after. Most users access terminological data for support with monolingual, multilingual, manual or automated authoring processes. The outcomes of these processes are texts of some nature. The ultimate quality goal that terminology management supports with regard to these texts could be defined as “the text must contain correct terms used consistently.” In fact, Sue Ellen Wright “concludes that the terminology that makes up the text comprises that aspect of the text that poses the greatest risk for failure.” (Handbook of Terminology Management)

In order to get to this quality goal, other quality goals must precede it. For one, the database must contain correct terminological entries; and second, there must be integrity between the different entries, i.e. entries in the database must not contradict each other.

In order to attain these two goals, others must be met in their turn: The data values within the entries must contain correct information. And the entries must be complete, i.e. no mandatory data is missing. I call this the mandate to release only correct and complete entries (of course, a prescriptive database may contain pre-released entries that don’t meet these criteria yet).

Let’s see what that means for terminologists who are responsible for setting up, approving or releasing a correct and complete entry. They need to be able to:

  • Do research.
  • Transfer the result of the research into the data categories correctly.
  • Assure integrity between entries.
  • Approve only entries that have all the mandatory data.
  • Fill in an optional data category, when necessary.

Let’s leave aside for a moment that we are all human and that we will botch the occasional entry. Can you imagine if instead of doing the above, terminologists were told not to worry about quality? From now on, they would:

  • Stop at 50% research or don’t validate the data already present in the entry.
  • Fill in only some of the mandatory fields.
  • Choose the entry language randomly.
  • Add three or four different designations to the Term field.
  • ….

Microsoft Clip ArtDo you think that we could meet our number 1 goal of correct and consistent terminology in texts? No. Instead a text in the source language would contain inconsistencies, spelling variations, and probably errors. Translations performed by translators would contain the same, possibly worse problems. Machine translations would be consistent, but they would consistently contain multiple target terms for one source term, etc. The translation memory would propagate issues to other texts within the same product, the next version of the product, to texts for other products, and so on. Some writers and translators would not use the terminology database anymore, which means that fewer errors are challenged and fixed. Others would argue that they must use the database; after all, it is prescriptive.

Unreliable entries are poison in the system. With a lax attitude towards quality, you can do more harm than good. Does that mean that you have to invest hours and hours in your entries? Absolutely not. We’ll get to some measures in a later posting. But if you can’t afford correct and complete entries, don’t waste your money on terminology management.

Posted in Advanced terminology topics, Producing quality, Producing quantity, Return on investment, Setting up entries, Terminologist, Terminology methods, Terminology principles | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Who cares about ISO 704?

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on July 29, 2010

The next standard to talk about is ISO 704 “Terminology work—Principles and methods.” It is an interesting one for a variety of reasons. For one, I have more questions than answers.

At the TKE (Terminology and Knowledge Engineering) Conference in Dublin, my esteemed colleagues, Hanne Erdman Thomsen, Sue Ellen Wright, Gerhard Budin and Loïc Depecker will devote a workshop to ‘Accommodating User Needs for ISO 704: Towards a New Revision of the Core International Standard on Terminology Work’. I will have a short time slot to provide input myself and therefore have been re-reviewing ISO 704 over the last few days.

As I am putting my thoughts together, I was wondering: Who knows or uses ISO 704? I would like to invite you to do two things: Click on the little survey below in this posting. And, if you haven’t done so, please tell me about yourself by participating in the survey on the Survey tab. Both surveys are anonymous and might help me understand what this standard could do. If you know the standard and have something to share about it, please leave a comment below. I would be very grateful to get your input.

Because, quite frankly, I am puzzling over this standard. I have read it three times over the past year and every time after a few weeks go by, I have to think about what this standard is actually for. I believe it stems from the fact that it is a bit wordy at the moment. It contains a lot of good information, but the presentation is ineffective.Designations

But now, what can it do for the reader? As its title says, it lays out the various principles underlying terminology management. For example, it tells us what objects, concepts, concept relations and concept systems are. It then goes into definitions and definition writing, before the subject of designations is discussed. Remember, this little graphic from What is a Term? As an aside, we talk about terms many times when we actually mean designations; in German, we even find the ugly Anglicism Term and its plural Terme.

So, ISO 704 really does do what the title says, it presents us with principles and methods. It just doesn’t seem to stick with me. Yet.

Posted in Events, Terminologist, Terminology methods, Terminology principles | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

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