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 ‘Translator’ Category

Tidbit from the ATA Conference

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on October 26, 2012

Yesterday, I ran into a fellow graduate from the Monterey Institute. K. has been a freelance translator for many years and shared some interesting insights that I thought others might like to hear.

My students in particular are wondering whether they should spend time managing their terminology. Most of them are planning careers as freelance translators and are unsure, at least at the beginning of our course.

K. and I started talking about work, and her comments were completely unsolicited. I was also glad to see that I didn’t trigger the uncertain feeling that the mere presence of a terminologist sometimes sets off in my freelance friends. Instead, she was frustrated when she mentioned that her “brain” had reached capacity, if you will, and she could no longer remember things she used to remember early on in working for a particular end-client. That term that had always been on the tip of her tongue just wouldn’t be available.Guilty Luke by Birgit Karsch

Furthermore, she mentioned that she had worked for one end-client for many years and diligently set up documents with glossaries. Her direct client, an agency, recently shifted her to a new end-client in the same industry. She said she was almost relieved because handling the many glossaries had become rather difficult.

Terminology technology is much more advanced and much more widely available today than it was when K. started her career. It no longer has to be difficult to set up a system that allows us to be fast. You also don’t have to manage huge volumes of data—after all freelance translators are likely to “only” drive one process with their terminology data, i.e. their translation process. But my advice is to follow terminology best practices, such as concept orientation, term autonomy, data elementarity.

Whatever you do, no need to look guilty.


Posted in Translator | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Survey by University of Ottawa

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on July 8, 2011

If you are interested in optimizing your use of termbases, participate in this survey. The survey is being conducted by Lynne Bowker, Elizabeth Marshman and Marta Gómez Palou, as part of Marta’s doctoral thesis research. Having done similar research at Microsoft with our database users, I find it very worthwhile. And by participating, you might just learn something about your own behavior.

In her invitation, Marta writes “[f]rom this research we wish to assess the user acceptance of a series of strategies that will help translators to optimize termbases integrated to translation environment systems (integrated termbases). The end result will be a series of best practices to guide translators on how to best design and build their integrated termbases.”

The survey does require your brain power—rather than the quick gut reaction that I recently asked you for). I hope you will still consider taking 20 minutes to work your way through it and share your preferences. Click on the link below to get started:


University of Ottawa

Posted in Translator | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Poll: Users and resource reliability

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on June 19, 2011

Writers, editors, translators and other professionals rely on language resources, such as terminology databases. Since they are compiled by humans, they might contain errors. How often would you consult a resource which seems unreliable?

Posted in Content publisher, Terminologist, Translator | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Greetings from Budapest!

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on April 13, 2011

Here is a virtual postcard from memoQfest in Hungary’s capital.Sun setting over Hero's Square by BIK

After two days of train-the-trainer courses, master classes on the new Kilgray terminology tool and memoQ, energy is running as high as ever at memoQfest. For those of you who are not familiar with memoQ, check out the Kilgray website and background information. Though no longer a translator, I tested the tool for the first time in fall and liked it right away. The structure and interface of the tool is so simple that I was working away on a translation within two hours.

As a terminologist, I struggled with the term base part of memoQ: It seemed too simplistic and simply not extensive enough. That said, if it is paired with a solid terminology management tool in the background (see qTerm), the current functionality passes muster as a quick way for translators to add terms that hadn’t been added to the terminology beforehand. And which project ever has enough terms documented upfront (How many terms do we need to document)?

Besides the fact that I very much like memoQ and will continue to watch and, where possible, assist with the development of qTerm, I simply enjoy the Kilgray culture. We closed out the night at a wine tasting, but spirits would have been high even without a bit of alcohol.

Posted in Events, Tool, Translator | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

How many terms do we need to document?

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on December 17, 2010

Each time a new project is kicked off this question is on the table. Content publishers ask how much are we expected to document. Localizers ask how many new terms will be used.

Who knows these things when each project is different, deadlines and scopes change, everyone understands “new term” to mean something else, etc. And yet, there is only the need to agree on a ballpark volume and schedule. With a bit of experience and a look at some key criteria, expectations can be set for the project team.

In a Canadian study, shared by Kara Warburton at TKE in Dublin, authors found that texts contain 2-4% terms. If you take a project of 500,000 words, that would be roughly 15,000 terms. In contrast, product glossary prepared for end-customers in print or online contain 20 to 100 terms. So, the discrepancy of what could be defined and what is generally defined for end-customers is large.

A product glossary is a great start. Sometimes, even that is not available. And, yet, I hear from at least one customer that he goes to the glossary first and then navigates the documentation. Ok, that customer is my father. But juxtapose that to the remark by a translator at a panel discussion at the ATA about a recent translation project (“aha, the quality of writing tells me that this falls in the category of ‘nobody will read it anyway’”), and I am glad that someone is getting value out of documentation.Microsoft ClipArt

In my experience, content publishing teams are staffed and ready to define about 20% of what localizers need. Ideally, 80% of new terms are documented systematically in the centralized terminology database upfront and the other 20% of terms submitted later, on an as-needed basis. Incidentally, I define “new terms” as terms that have not been documented in the terminology database. Anything that is part of a source text of a previous version or that is part of translation memories cannot be considered managed terminology.

Here are a few key criteria that help determine the number of terms to document in a terminology database:

  • Size of the project: small, medium, large, extra-large…?
  • Timeline: Are there five days or five months to the deadline?
  • Version: Is this version 1 or 2 of the product? Or is it 6 or 7?
  • Number of terms existing in the database already: Is this the first time that terminology has been documented?
  • Headcount: How many people will be documenting terms and how much time can they devote?
  • Level of complexity: Are there more new features? Is the SME content higher than normal?

These criteria can serve as guidelines, so that a project teams knows whether they are aiming at documenting 50 or 500 terms upfront. If memory serves me right, we added about 2700 terms to the database for Windows Vista. 75% was documented upfront. It might be worthwhile to keep track of historic data. That enables planning for the next project. Of course, upfront documentation of terms takes planning. But answering questions later is much more time-consuming, expensive and resource-intense. Hats off to companies, such as SAP, where the localization department has the power to stop a project when not enough terms were defined upfront!

Posted in Content publisher, Selecting terms, Translator | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Gerunds, oh how we love them

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on December 9, 2010

Well, actually we do. They are an important part of the English language. But more often than not do they get used incorrectly in writing and, what’s worse, documented incorrectly in terminology entries.

I have been asked at least a few times by content publishers whether they can use gerunds or whether a gerund would present a problem for translators. It doesn’t present a problem for translators, since translators do not work word for word or term for term (see this earlier posting). They must understand the meaning of the semantic unit in the source text and then render the same meaning in the target language, no matter the part of speech they choose.

It is a different issue with machine translation. There is quite a bit of research in this area of natural language processing. Gerunds, for example, don’t exist in the German language (see Interaction between syntax and semantics: The case of gerund translation ). But more importantly, gerunds can express multiple meanings and function as verbs or nouns (see this article by Rafael Guzmán). Therefore, human translators have to make choices. They are capable of that. Machines are not. If you are writing for machine translation and your style guide tells you to avoid gerunds, you should comply.

Because gerunds express multiple meanings, they are also interesting for those of us with a terminologist function. I believe they are the single biggest source of mistakes I have seen in my 14 years as corporate terminologist. Here are a few examples.

Example 1:

Example 2:



In Example 1, it is clear that logging refers to a process. The first instance could be part of the name of a functionality, which, as the first instance in Example 2 shows, can be activated. In the second instance (“unlike logging”) is not quite clear what is meant. I have seen logging used as a synonym to the noun log, i.e. the result of logging. But here, it probably refers to the process or the functionality.

It matters what the term refers to; it matters to the consumer of the text, the translator, who is really the most critical reader, and it matters when the concepts are entered in the terminology database. It would probably be clearest if the following terms were documented:

  • logging = The process of recording actions that take place on a computer, network, or system. (Microsoft Language Portal)
  • logging; log = A record of transactions or events that take place within an IT managed environment. (Microsoft Language Portal)
  • Process Monitoring logging = The functionality that allows users to …(BIK based on context)
  • log = To record transactions or events that take place on a computer, network or system. (BIK based on Microsoft Language Portal).

Another example of an –ing form that has caused confusion in the past is the term backflushing. A colleague insisted that it be documented as a verb. To backflush, the backflushing method or a backflush are curious terms, no doubt (for an explanation see But we still must list them in canonical form and with the appropriate definition. Why? Well, for one thing, anything less than precise causes more harm than good even in a monolingual environment. But what is a translator or target terminologist to do with an entry where the term indicates that it is an adjective, the definition, starts with “A method that…”, and the Part of Speech says Verb? Hopefully, they complain, but if they don’t and simply make a decision, it’ll lead to errors. Human translators might just be confused, but the MT engine won’t recognize the mistake.

So, the answer to the question: “Can I use gerunds?” is, yes, you can. But be sure you know exactly what the gerund stands for. The process or the result? If it is used as a verb, document it in its canonical form. Otherwise, there is trouble.

Posted in Content publisher, Interesting terms, Machine translation, Setting up entries, Translator | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

Call for Participation

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on November 21, 2010

What is happening or not happening on the North American market? And what do people in the content supply chain identify as the biggest communication problem? With a focus on terminology, of course. These are the goals, among others, of a survey commissioned by the International Network of Terminology (TermNet).

The survey targets communication professionals, such as translators, terminologists, content publishers, branding and marketing experts on the one hand side and project managers as well as decision makers on the other. They can be located anywhere along the content supply chain—in a company, at a language service provider or on the freelance market. But they should be working in or for the North American market. The survey is focused on several different industries, but not limited to the ones called out specifically.

For those who are not familiar with TermNet, it “is an international co-operation forum for companies, universities, institutions and associations who engage in the further development of the global terminology market. TermNet was founded on the initiative of UNESCO, with the aim to establish a network for co-operation in the field of terminology. In 1988, TermNet was registered as a non-profit organization being allowed commercial activities for the benefit of its members.”

Please participate in the survey and invite all your colleagues and managers! It should take no more than 15 min. You can opt in at the end to receive results and participate in a prize drawing. Click on the TermNet logo to begin.

TermNet Logo

Thank you very much!

Posted in Branding, Content publisher, Events, Terminologist, TermNet, Translator | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Machine translation and excellence

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on November 2, 2010

What does machine translation do in a blog on terminology management? And how on earth can MT and excellence appear in the same sentence? Terminology management is one of the cornerstones of MT. And excellence isn’t tied to a technology, it is tied to you!

Click on the ATA logo to visit the official website.After a seven-year hiatus, I finally joined my friends in the American Translators Association again this year. And last week, I was in my former US hometown of Denver at the annual conference of the ATA. I was surprised about a couple of things.

For one, the profession has matured incredibly since I last attended the conference in Phoenix 2003. The number of government representatives who attended and spoke coherently about the field bears witness to that. There was great news coverage. But most of all, I could sense a different attitude among attendees many of whom I have known since I first joined the ATA in 1996: There is pride in what we do and the courage to stand up for it!

The other surprise was that this apparently was the first time a real interaction between representatives of human AND machine translation took place (“Man vs. Machine,” a panel discussion of representatives from both camps moderated by Jost Zetzsche). That is stunning to me, since I spent the last six years in an environment where MT is routine.

As terminologist, I look at MT as an opportunity for cooperation. In fact, it was Microsoft Research, where machine translation research is located within Microsoft, who declined, when we first suggested collaboration years ago. It made sense to us to supply well-researched terms and appellations to support MT. Terminology from Term Studio has since been integrated into the MT process at Microsoft.

I suppose it is fear that still seems to have a hold on translators. It might be the fear of losing market share, of needing to change to more tools or automation, or of failing with clients. Let’s go through this one by one.

In my mind, there is one market for translation; we could even say one market for content production in target and/or source languages. This market consists of different segments, and we, as language professionals, have a choice on where we want to play. The segments are not strictly delimited, meaning a translator could move between them, but let’s focus on the following three.

    • A Chris Durban, who represented human translators in the panel discussion and who is serving the high-end translation market (marketing, financial reports, etc.), chooses to stay away from automation. I venture to say that her work is better carried out without automation. The key is that she achieves excellence in what she does. And she asks to be paid for it, and paid well.
    • Another translator might choose to focus on the high-volume market of manuals and handbooks in a particular industry. He will work with what Jost Zetzsche calls translation environment tools, short TEnTs. That will enable him to produce higher volumes than Chris, but with equal excellence.
    • And then there are those, such as the translators at PAHO, the Pan American Health Organization, who post-edit machine translation output. Again, they have a different environment, but they do what they do successfully, because they strive to do it well.

At times, an individual might choose to stay in the segment they are in or to make a transition into another segment, which requires flexibility and diligence. If you thought you could get away with less than hard work, you might have chosen the wrong profession (or planet, for that matter). I believe in that, but I also believe in the fun and gratification that comes from delivering excellence.

The last point is working with clients. The need for client education is high. The ATA has contributed a lot in that area. If you are a member, just check out all the different resources available to us. True, it is tough to do client education when you are making a living being paid only for the word in the translation. It takes skill to find the right balance. Nonetheless, clients must be informed about what they ask for, especially those who say that “quality doesn’t matter,” because very likely they have no clue. Once you have done your duty and the client still insists on some form of “quick and dirty,” you can always say no to the job. I saw projects not succeed despite warnings and suggestions. But it is not the end of the world when someone insists on, say, machine translation without preparatory or complementary work and then fails with their own customers. You could consider it self-education. You just don’t want to be in the middle of it.

In my experience, if we aim for excellence, we will be financially successful and professionally gratified. Then, it doesn’t matter so much whether we chose “pure human translation”, decide on some form of translation automation environment, or focus completely on terminology management.

Posted in Events, Machine translation, Translator | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

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 »

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 »

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