What is terminology?

When you hear the word “terminologist”, how many images usually come to your mind? One image can be that of the person who spends every moment searching in dictionaries and the internet to find new words, new meanings, and their etymologies. Another image can be that of an academic or translator who always spends time with books and papers. There could be many other images which depend on what you know about terminology and how familiar you are with its tasks and projects. If you are a “terminologist”, and people ask you about your occupation, how often do you need to explain what “terminology” is or is not? It is plausible that you need to add that “it is about the languages”: an oversimplified description; or you might mention “specialized languages” and give some examples. At this point, both sides may reach the mutual understanding, because the language studies are much more recognized than terminology. Indeed, for a lot of people, “terminology” is still a puzzling concept.

Manuel Sevilla Muñoz states: “Terminology is a science whose aim is to study terms […]. Terminology allows the compilation, description and presentation of terms” [1].

   Terminology does more than simply document the concepts and designations in human languages. If terminology deserves to be called a knowledge (or science), it must go beyond the mere compilation and collection of terms. It must also identify and describe the effective communication and efficient interactions among the terminology users– that is, the norms or regularities found in all communicative contexts regardless of how different their content and contexts might be. For example, for any communication to continue effectively, it must provide the basic reciprocal perception of the content- all the ideas, topic, assumptions, patterns, and so on- to achieving the communication goal: to be mutually understood. Terminology across certain contexts and conventions can offer ways in which specialized communications can be streamed more effectively and efficiently.

   Floriane Loup, ex-trainee at TermCoord says: “For a lot of people, terminology is still an obscure field. We have heard this word, met people specialised in it and yet, we still have no clue as to what its role and even more its importance in our daily tasks are” [2].

Daria Protopopescu believes: “Terminology is not a completely new field of study, but rather it has developed out of a basic human need, that of identifying and labelling or naming things. In spite of that, its exact definition is not clearly stated and the views on terminology as a scientific discipline vary considerably” [3].

   Terminology provides interlocutors with the language and the structure for scoping specialized or technical communications, following professional interactions, utilizing adequate linguistic resources, and minimizing misunderstanding and ambiguity. That means that without terminology the technical and specialized communication does not exist [4].

Without terminology the science does not exist or the technique would not be described, neither is practiced a specialized profession” (Cabré,1999) [My translation].

   As the general language is formed and structured by words, the technical language contains terms and words. Without words we are entirely unable to communicate. The same applies to specialized environments. Terminology has different notions. It is a science that has terms as its subject matter. It is the practice and methodology serving the organization and analysis of terms. It is a set of specialized vocabulary (terms). 

Whenever and wherever specialized information and knowledge are created, communicated, recorded, processed, stored, transformed or re-used, terminology is involved in one way or another” (Galinski & Budin, 1997) [5].

   Among all definitions, it seems that the United Nation’s definition can be considered practically the most clarified one. UN’s Guidelines for terminology policies describes terminology science as “the subject field that investigates the structure, formation, development, usage and management of the terminologies in various subject fields, and that prepares the methodological foundation for many applications” [6]. Consequently, terminologists are interested in the structure and systems that deal with terms (i.e. those systems that are formed by terms and those that ground the creation or generation of terms).

What is your image about a terminologist and how do you define terminology


[1] Muñoz, Manuel Sevilla. “Introduction to Terminology”. in Material de clase. Universidad de Murcia. Available at:  http://ocw.um.es/cc.-sociales/terminologia/material-de-clase-1/unit-i.pdf 

[2] Loup, Floriane. (2013) “Why Terminology Management?” Web blog post. Terminology Coordination. European Parliament, 30 Jul. Web. 17. Oct. 2016.

[3] Protopopescu, Daria. (2013). Theories of terminology – past and present. In Studii şi cercetări de onomastică şi lexicologie SCOL, 6(1-2), pp. 195-201.

[4] Cabré, M. Teresa. (1999). La terminología: representación y comunicación. Institut Universitari de Lingüística Aplicada. Universitat Pompeu Fabra.

[5] Galinski, Christian; Budin, Gerhard. (1997). “Terminology”. in Survey of the state of the art in human language technology. (ed.) Ronald A. Cole. Cambridge University Press and Giardini. PP. 395-398.

[6] Guidelines for Terminology Policies. Formulating and implementing terminology policy in language communities / prepared by Infoterm. – Paris: UNESCO, 2005. – ix, 39 p.; 30 cm. (CI-2005/WS/4)

Author: BesharatFathi

Terminologist, researcher, learner, teacher,...

3 thoughts on “What is terminology?”

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