Key Terms: Expert

In terminology science, there are some terms that you might come across while reading technical articles or blog posts that sound very familiar or in some cases very general. However, they have specific meanings and functions in terminology. Decoding the terminology of the subject fields, at least the most common terms, is very important for the mutual understanding and effective communication.

Over time I have also noticed that some of the fundamental terms such as “context”, “expert”, “specialization”, “end-user” or even the basic term “concept” (particularly the perception and implications of concept regarding its position in terminology) are more controversial. The good news is that we, terminologists, are also struggling with these terms and their implications. This simply is due to the very nature of the humanities and language sciences and shows the dynamics of the subject.

So, I have decided to start writing about these terms and presenting some of the most frequent use of them once in a while, and I begin with “expert”.

There are different meanings for expert in various academic fields. Generally speaking, an expert is understood as a person who has an extensive knowledge or ability in a particular area of study. In addition, it is assumed that the knowledge and the ability must be based on research and experience. Niels Bohr says “an expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field”, and he has implicitly emphasized the role of experience in the path of becoming an expert. According to Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus, a specialist “is someone who has a lot of experience, knowledge, or skill in a particular subject”. In this sense specialist and expert can be synonymous [Compare with the definition of expert].

However, being specialist/expert/ professional is far too subjective. There are no precise criteria set in the vast majority of fields to make a clear-cut degree that deems one a specialist or expert. For instance, how much knowledge is a lot? Is a postgraduate student an expert? Is a Ph.D. student an expert? Is a university professor an expert? How many years of experience one needs to become an expert? The 10,000-hour rule theory states: “to become an expert in a field of study, it merely takes 10,000 hours of focus and practice on the topic at hand (Malcolm Gladwell, 2008- originally proposed by Anders Ericsson). However, many scholars came out against this oversimplification and believe that many other factors are involved [You might be interested in reading this article]. There are also some experiments that tear the theory down.

So we cannot really measure the years that may take to become an expert, and it may vary from one field to another. In terminology, when we talk or write about the experts we refer to some specific characteristics. Let’s see some examples from the context of use:

  • Terminology practice, therefore, necessitates the cooperation of experts from several domains. [Guidelines for Terminology Policies, 2005, p. 12]
  • Terminology should not be confused with translation; terminology work consists in finding terminological equivalents (i.e. lexical units used by experts in the target language).[Cabré, 2010, p.364]
  • [W]e represented the domain under study —package travel— through concepts that were comprehensible by both domain experts and ontology developers, that is, by means of diagrams and tables; the result was the conceptual model of the domain. [Bautista-Zambrana, 2014, p. 49]
  • As a consequence, a theory of terminology must assume that variation is an essential property of the communication between experts and both terms and concepts must be studied in their dynamic interplay. [Cabré, Montané & Nazar, 2012]
  • [T]ranslation deals with the study of the translation process and the analysis of the translated text, and terminology focuses on the lexical form and content nodes representing knowledge as structured in the experts’ mind. [Cabré, 2010, p.357]
  • Terminology is also present in oral communication between experts (symposiums, seminars, lectures), between experts and semi-experts (teacher-student interaction in class), between experts and the public in general (the mechanic that repairs your car, the lawyer and his client in a trial), and semi-experts and the public in general (customers and service providers in government offices, hospitals or banks). [Valero-Garcés, 2005, p. 75]

According to Cabré (1999),  “[e]xperts use terminology not only to order thought but also to transfer specialized knowledge in one or more languages and to structure the information contained in specialized texts”. Therefore, we can interpret that subject field experts are those who are actively involved in knowledge transmission and knowledge production. Picht & Draskau (1985) believe that experts deal with knowledge at the highest level of complexity and other interested parties deal with knowledge at the lower level of complexity (Cited in Cabré, 1999). In this regard, we can distinguish between producers of the knowledge (i.e. experts) and recipients of the knowledge (i.e. experts, semi-experts, interested lay people/non-experts) (ibid).

Key Terms (2)

In addition, Cabré believes that “expert interlocutors understand texts written in a different language, even when they are incapable of maintaining an oral conversation about a trivial topic or understand a question about everyday life” (1999). “A non-expert public requires a user-friendly end product. A highly specialized public, on the other hand, does not need basic information” (ibid). It is assumed that experts have an “adequate understanding of their own special subject”.

By these descriptions, we can gain some insight into what makes an expert and what her/his main activity is: specialized communication. It can be also understood that specialized communication can happen within distinct grades and levels of specialization depending on the recipients’ knowledge.

These levels of specialization essentially entail different forms and contents for specialized dictionaries and term bases due to the distinct levels of competence. However, the classification is not solid but rather gives us a general and typical view about potential users for drawing out their appropriate profile.

Terminology does not measure or evaluate the expertise, rather it deals with the communicative manifestation of the expertise. Experts form an important part of the terminological works. Terminology work is a collective and collaborative activity in which experts are considered as informants or consultants on the one hand, and at the same time they can be recipients of the terminological products as well. Experts as informants require having adequate experience in production and transmission of the knowledge of their expertise. It is worth noting that the experts in a certain domain are not categorized as experts in other domains even if the domains are related. For instance, an expert in fundamental physics is not necessarily an expert in optical physics.

◊ Please feel free to share your experiences. Your comments and recommendations are very welcome. 


Author: BesharatFathi

Terminologist, researcher, learner, teacher,...

4 thoughts on “Key Terms: Expert”

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