Sirpa Suhonen

Which source?

Finns are eager internet-users. Since information produced all over the world is easily available in the internet, the net is also a suitable source for language-related information – at least for those familiar with source evaluation. Because needs vary, different language sources of variable quality can be useful in different situations. Although high quality would be preferred by a layperson, it is not always a prerequisite for getting adequate help. At best, an active person finds the right information and gets things solved, but it is also easy to make wrong conclusions in the ocean of information.

It is probable that in future more attention must be paid to how information on special fields is offered to laypersons. It will become more and more common with the versatile use of technology and self-service requirements that all citizens have to cope alone with everyday tasks that demand information on special fields. This coping could be supported with glossaries that are clearly targeted to laypersons, but making such glossaries is an art of its own which requires more practice from the professionals, too.

Niina Nissilä – a lot to do with terminology

Niina Nissilä works as a post-doctoral researcher in the Unit of Nordic languages in the University of Vaasa. She has studied Nordic languages, German and business economics. Her doctoral thesis was on the concepts and terms in balance sheets.

In the University of Vaasa it is possible to do minor subjects on terminology and technical communication which give skills to analyse information on different fields, LSP concepts and terminology, to understand content and structure, and to present information. Terminology as a minor subject is recommended to language and communication students.

Nissilä sees that terminological know-how is important. “Almost all adults work in professions of which they have special knowledge and know-how, and they communicate on their field. All are users of terms in one or several fields. It is not a disadvantage in any field if one is able to communicate unambiguously, exactly and economically”, Nissilä ponders.

Nissilä sees the Finnish Terminology Centre as a kind of example for others who do terminological work. “It is possible to learn from the vocabularies, material and methods of the Terminology Centre how terminology work is done properly.”

Nissilä’s work contains many kinds of tasks relating to research, teaching and other activities in the university. She has two active research projects, one on synonymy in LSP communication and the other on the concept systems of children in language immersion. Nissilä is also involved in the planning of studies and teaching of Swedish as a major and minor subject.

Dictionary markets in transition

A marketing survey on the use of digital dictionaries and consumers’ wishes for future dictionaries was made in 2010. Partly the results were as expected: free-of-charge web dictionaries, including Google Translate, gained ground as Finns’ sources of dictionary information. Many used free web dictionaries in addition to traditional printed ones, but more and more people were content with free dictionaries only.

Partly the results were surprising. Firstly, the number of persons using dictionaries was greater than expected. As many as 84% had used some dictionary during the last 12 months. This showed that the use of dictionaries had by no means decreased although the consumer sales of dictionaries had decreased during 3-5 years previous to the survey. The free web dictionaries have of course influenced the use of dictionaries, but the potential number of users is as such a positive sign for all doing business in the field.

The survey also showed that the use of dictionaries is more versatile than expected. For example, those who use paid digital or printed dictionaries in their work or studies, use free web dictionaries in free time or at home. Free dictionaries could be used e.g. when an answer was needed quickly and easily without a registration into a dictionary service or using a CD or some other media that required more effort. Also when it was not so critical to find just the correct information, or information as reliable as possible, a free web dictionary could be accepted as a source.

A surprising survey result was that printed dictionaries were still used quite a lot: 65% of all respondents had used some printed dictionary during the the last 12 months and 45% some printed learner’s dictionary. This result seemed to contradict the fact that the sales of printed dictionaries had been decreasing for several years in Finland and elsewhere in Europe. This could perhaps be explained by the fact that the sales of big general dictionaries and middle-sized learner’s dictionaries have decreased the most, but at the same time the popularity of smaller and more inexpensive pocket and traveller’s dictionaries has been the same or even increased.

The survey also showed that users were more content with free web dictionaries than was assumed. This result was clearly in contradiction with how the dictionary professionals estimate the quality and usefulness of free dictionaries. The users thought that free web dictionaries are good sources above all because they are easy to use. The dictionaries are easily available, it is enough that the user has a network connection. Another good feature of free dictionaries was that they are adequate for the user’s needs. The needs for dictionary use may be limited, and then the help offered by a free dictionary can be quite adequate.

On the basis of the results the dictionary users could have a more versatile access to different dictionaries in the future; both printed and electronic, both free and paid. The dictionaries could become more specific than before, and users could acquire information sources suitable for different usage situations according to their needs and interests. For the users, it is essential that the dictionaries are there where they are needed, and that they adapt to the users’ information needs flexibly.

TOTH workshop: Definition in terminology

TOTh (Terminology & Ontology: Theories and applications) organized a one day workshop in November 2011 on the defining of concepts.

The definition has a key role in terminologists’ work. Its purpose is to identify the concept and to distinguish it from other concepts within the same concept system. The organizers of the workshop, Rute Costa from the New University of Lisbon and Christophe Roche from the University of Savoie, wanted to ask what one does really mean by “identifing the concept”.

Costa told about the terminology project of the Portuguese parliament which has showed that it is possible to replace the long and impenetrable definitions typical in legal texts with concise and systematic definitions and notes supplementing the definitions.

Henrik Nilsson from the Swedish Centre for Terminology considered the role of extensional definitions in terminology work. Nilsson thinks that they have their place although their use is problematic. If the concepts used in definitions are not familiar, how often the listing of subordinate or partitive concepts helps to understand the concept? There are, however, situations where it is difficult to write other definition than an extensional definition.

Hanne Erdman Thomsen from the Copenhagen Business School emphasized that it is not enough to name a concept or to explain the usage of designation in order to identify a concept and to distinguish it from related concepts, but an analysis of characteristics is needed. There is a Danish study in progress that tries to find out how characteristics recorded in machine readable format and information on their inheritance could help to compile definitions semi-automatically.

The presentations of the workshop will be posted on TOTh’s web site

Bank of Finnish Terminology in Arts and Sciences

The Bank of Finnish Terminology in Arts and Sciences is an infrastructure project  that builds an open term database that is common for all arts and sciences practised in Finland and that can be used by the scientific community and all citizens. The Bank is developed in three pilot projects: the existing terminology of botany, linguistics and jurisprudence will be mapped and collected in the term bank in cooperation with the experts of these fields. The objective is to create an easy to use and constantly updated database by voluntary work with the Finnish scientists.

When the terms of various fields are collected to one term bank, it will be possible to compare related concepts that are used in different sciences. It will be possible to add an unlimited number of equivalents, and to illustrate definitions with pictures and concept diagrams. The Bank will be built on the semantic MediaWiki platform, and every field will have its own expert group that can discuss and decide on its concepts.

The terminologies of botany, linguistics and jurisprudence offer three rather different perspectives to scientific terminology. The terms of botany have a long international tradition. Finnish terms have been created already in the middle of 19th century, and there are many established native terms. The terms of linguistics are surprisingly foreign even in the basic level. Finnish terms have been developed since the 19th century but many terms have been established as foreign words.  The terms of jurisprudence, however, are very national and have long traditions – in Finland legal language was developed side by side the religious language. Many legal terms do not have equivalents in other languages since legal praxis is different in different countries. Polysemy is typical for legal terms: the same terms are used in different meanings e.g. for historical reasons.

The pilot projects of botany and jurisprudence have started in the end of 2011, and the project of linguistics will start this year. Anyone can register as a user in the term bank (, and read the term records. Users can participate in discussion, but only the members of expert groups can edit the records.

Vocabulary of Environmental Health Care Control

From 2008, the Finnish Terminology Centre, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health, Consumer Agency, and Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency have been working to define concepts relating to environmental health care control. The project has been divided into two sub-projects. The first project, launched in 2008, worked on concepts relating to objects of control. The second project, launched at the beginning of 2011, concentrated on concepts relating to control data.

In the second  project, 67 concepts were defined. These concepts were merged with the concepts of the first project to form a joint vocabulary, Vocabulary of Environmental Health Care Control – Guideline for Use of Terminology Related to Objects of Control and Control Data. The vocabulary, published in early 2012 on Terminology Centre’s web page, contains 124 concepts which have been defined and given term recommendations in Finnish. Term equivalents are given in Swedish and English.

Although food control and environmental health care control have a number of concepts in common, there are differences between the Vocabulary of Environmental Health Care Control and Food Control Vocabulary. For example, the term uusintatarkastus (’renewed inspection’) is only used in food control, whereas in environmental health care, seurantatarkastus (follow-up inspection) is preferred.

The vocabulary will also answer the question why the term prohibition to place a product on the market is not needed. The answer is that the concept withdrawal from the market has been defined in a European Parliament and Council regulation as ”any measure aimed at preventing a product in the supply chain from being made available on the market”. This covers both the prohibition to place a product on the market and the prohibition to withdraw a dangerous product from the shelves of shops.

New English terms were also created. In the English translation of the Finnish Food Act, the terms keskeyttämisuhka and teettämisuhka have been translated as threat of performance at the defaulter’s expense and threat of suspension. However, during the terminology project it was suggested that the word threat is not suitable when referring to an administrative measure. Therefore, the terms notice of enforced compliance and notice of enforced suspension are recommended instead.

Laypersons, experts and frightening messages

Laypersons are often a problem for expert communication. Or the other way round: The messages of experts are unfortunately often problematic for laypersons. When a salesman flips on the sales talk on Full HD, built-in Bluetooth synchronization, Smart Hub system, four HDMI and USB inputs, the poor customer will be totally confused.

Authorities usually do not sell, but they decide, order or advise. They tend to bring themselves apart from citizens with terms and many signs of formality, such as official phraseology, intertextual references and complicated syntax. The result is a message that is meant to be official, but which in fact is difficult to understand and which alienates the the receiver.

Fear and distress are caused most easily by doctors. Often they do it unintentionally, since the situation as such is special. The clients bring the germ of fear and distress with them, and a few well-chosen professional word combinations will do the rest: “suspected keratosis actinica, perhaps even squamous cell carcinoma”. However, reassuring information is often near. Internet search engines find quickly many sources where concepts are defined and symptoms, diagnoses and treatments are explained clearly. Ignorance is not always bliss. When information is presented unambiguously, it can have a calming effect.

Broadband Vocabulary

The terminology project to compile the Broadband Vocabulary was launched in the beginning of 2011, and will soon be completed.

One special feature of broadband is that there are not many concepts that would concern only broadband, but most of them are connected to other technologies and devices, too. However, since broadband affects a large target group of ordinary users, it is important to handle and define it with the help of a vocabulary.

The objective of the work group was to describe broadband concepts as clearly as possible so that all who are dealing with broadband would understand the content of the concepts. Therefore the group tried to avoid too technical details in definitions. So it is important that the work group has members who understand the technology in the field and language professionals. Together they try to process the concepts for publication and find the right recipe for writing the definitions.

The Broadband Vocabulary contains 60 concepts relating to broadband connections, broadband services, various terminal devices, and information security. The concepts are defined and given equivalents in Swedish and English.

The most essential concepts proved  to be the most challenging to define. For example, broadband connection was such a concept. After many meetings, e-mails and a comments round, it was defined as “data connection whose data transfer rate from the telecommunication network to the user is great”. Technology is developing all the time and transfer rates increase, so the exact rate was not given in the definition, but it was said in the note that at the moment the minimum data transfer rate for a broadband connection is considered to be 256 Kbits/s.

One often hears that the definitions of statutes or standards should be used as such in vocabularies, and this terminology project was no exception. Statutes, standards and terminological vocabularies, however, have different objectives and target groups. The language of statutes and standards may be difficult to understand for laypersons, whereas the purpose of the Broadband Vocabulary was expressly to clarify the concepts for laypersons. It is usually impossible to use the definitions of statutes or standards in terminological vocabularies because the definitions in vocabularies are based on concept analysis and concept systems whereas in statutes and standards the concept is often considered only from the viewpoint of that particular statute or standard and isolated from related concepts.


The Finnish Standards Association has published the standards SFS-EN 15714-1 Industrial valves. Actuators. Part 1: Terminology and definitions and SFS-EN ISO 8062-1 Geometrical product specifications (GPS). Dimensional and geometrical tolerances for moulded parts. Part 1: Vocabulary as Finnish translations. SFS-EN 15714-1 defines 58 concepts relating to industrial valve actuators. SFS-EN ISO 8062-1 contains 59 concepts that are used to describe the features, form and tolerance types when assigning dimensional and geometrical tolerances to moulded parts in geometrical product specifications. In both standards the concepts are given terms and definitions in Finnish and English. The standards can be ordered from