Sirpa Suhonen

Terminology work, term work or something else?

Some terminology experts have started to use the word term work instead of terminology work. The reason may be that it is assumed that the word terminology work is not so well-known. However, some think that the word term work emphasizes too much the share of terms in the work and therefore is not a suitable synonym. Experts of other fields than terminology do not necessarily consider the word term work so narrow and can use it when terminologists use terminology work. In fact, the core of terminology work is formed by concepts and concept analysis, but the word concept analysis work could be even more alienating. Nor is the word concept work established. So, there is no standard solution, but the suitable term has to be chosen according to the situation.

Anne-Marie Mattsson – expert of legal language

Swedish is Anne-Marie Mattsson’s home language, but she also speaks excellent Finnish. She learnt Finnish at school, and her bilingualism has strengthened in her studies and at work. Mattsson studied law in the University of Helsinki, and worked ten years as a lawyer in her own office. When she had to decipher legal texts to people, she noticed the importance of clear legal language: “Legal language should not be so impenetrable that laypersons don’t understand it.”

Mattsson has now worked nine years in the Swedish Office of the Finnish Parliament and enjoys her work. She is very interested in law, politics and all phenomena and issues of society. Her work is often hectic but never boring because there are no two similar days.

The most important tasks of the Swedish Office are the compilation of parliamentary documents in Swedish and the translation of Swedish documents into Finnish. The Office translates committee reports and statements, and drafts and checks parliamentary replies and communications in Swedish. It also provides interpretation in plenary sessions and committees.

In practice, all Finnish statutes go through the Swedish Office since Finland is a bilingual country. By law Finnish and Swedish statutes have equal value, so they must correspond to each other perfectly and be flawless.

Work with legal language requires interest in terms and clear language. According to Mattsson jurisprudential background helps in terminological work. Law studies teach how to make definitions and to stick to them consistently. Mattsson regrets the lack of linguistic studies in the study module of jurists, and says that it is difficult to find linguistically oriented jurists. She is very interested in terminology work and hopes that she had better chances to develop systematic terminology work in the Swedish Office.

There is some progress, however, since a term bank is being developed in cooperation with the Terminology Service of the Prime Minister's Office and the Ministry of Justice. It should be operative this autumn. An up-to-date term bank is particularly crucial for the Swedish Office because texts translated there are full of special field terminology and there is not even enough time to read the texts through before the translation must be started.

Mattsson thinks that time management is particularly challenging in her work. The documents translated for the plenary session of the Parliament just have to be ready in time. The fickleness and unpredictability of politics bring more challenges for time management. One can never predict e.g. how long a committee reading will take.

Mattsson has been a member of the board of directors of the Finnish Terminology Centre TSK from the beginning of this year. She thinks that the Centre has an important task in bringing special field experts and language professionals together. She says that the experts should also work more closely with translators when the work is done and not only criticize after a translation is finished.

Kela’s health terms

The purpose of the joint terminology project carried out by Kela, the Social Insurance Institution of Finland, and the Finnish Terminology Centre TSK is to harmonize the communication on the social security managed by Kela with the help of systematic terminology work. As a result of this work the terminological dictionary of Kela will be created. The first version was published in June.

Kela’s terminological dictionary deals with “Kela’s terms”, i.e. benefits paid by Kela. The published version contains concepts related to health, such as reimbursements for medical expenses, daily allowances under the Health Insurance Act, occupational health care, disability benefits, rehabilitation organized and funded by Kela, and some pensions. The dictionary contains about 300 concepts with definitions, and terms in Finnish and Swedish.

The cooperation between Kela and the Terminology Centre started in 2007. Experts of the various departments of Kela, Terminology Centre, Kela’s translators and one freelance translator have participated in the project. The dictionary has been compiled by several work groups, which have been formed on the basis of subjects; e.g. Kela’s medicine reimbursement team has handled the reimbursements of medicine costs and other concepts related to drugs.

Whenever possible the definitions were written so that they apply also to other social security concepts than those managed by Kela. Information specifically related to Kela is given in notes. Comments on the terminology were also asked from other bodies, so that common concepts would not be defined only from Kela’s viewpoint.

Kela’s terminological dictionary describes the Finnish social security system from the viewpoint of legislation, and statutes have been important sources in the terminology work. Unfortunately the terms and definitions of statutes are not always clear and unambiguous. For example, it can be discussed if the term disability allowance for persons under 16 years of age is a good term. Earlier the designation was child disability allowance which would be easier to use because it is shorter. However, the legal terms must be taken into the dictionary and they cannot be classified as deprecated, since they are the official terms that Kela must use. The definitions found in statutes cannot often be used as such in terminological dictionaries, since the same concept may be defined differently in different laws.

Kela’s terminological dictionary is meant for experts who need to know what the recommended social insurance terms are and what they mean. The dictionary is a good tool e.g. for legislators, PR officers, journalists and translators, and also for Kela’s employees and clients.

Originally the terminology project started from the development of information systems, because the impulse to compile the dictionary was given by KanTa, the National Archive of Health Information. Information system work requires coherent use of terms and that all participants mean the same thing with a term. So the goal is a dictionary that facilitates communication between people and via information systems.

The work with Kela’s terminological dictionary continues this year with the definition of pension concepts. The concept descriptions will be translated into Swedish. It is also hoped that the terminology work will go on in future since there are many benefits paid by Kela that still have not been defined. It is also necessary that the dictionary will be updated so that it will remain a reliable source for those who need it.

Kela’s terminological dictionary can be found e.g. on the address

Terminology work at Swedish authority

The Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare has been responsible for the coordination of terminology within health and social care since 2000. The Terminology Council and a public term bank ( were established in 2003.

The Board must recommend concepts and terms and also increase awareness on them. There are important benefits from nationally agreed concepts and terms: they reduce the risk of misunderstandings, facilitate the comparison of the quality, effectiveness and costs of different activities, and contribute to secure communication between IT systems. The aim of a national project on the special language of care is to supply a comprehensive Swedish concept system with logic that allows use in a computerized environment. The work focuses on getting agreement on the content of such concepts and terms that are used in many occupations. The term bank, classifications and SNOMED CT (Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine, Clinical Terms) are used as sources for the national terminology. One task has been to translate SNOMED CT into Swedish.

In order to guarantee the high quality of health care and welfare documentation and thus high patient safety, it is required that the information handled is relevant, uniformly described and structured so that it is possible to find, combine and interpret it. Therefore in 2007 the Board got an assignment from the Swedish Government to develop a national information structure and national special language in order to create prerequisites for individually oriented and appropriate health care and welfare documentation.

The terminology work of the National Board of Health and Welfare adheres to the standard ISO 704:2009 Terminology work – Principles and methods. Before terminology work is started the Board’s terminologists are contacted to guarantee coordination with other ongoing terminology work. Instruction on the methods and principles of terminology is organized for those participating in the project. The work group consists of a terminologist and experts from the special field in question. The experts are responsible for the information on the special field and the terminologist is responsible for the terminological method. The terms and definitions recommended by the work group are sent for internal and external comments rounds. The Terminology Council makes the final decision on the recommended use of terms and concepts, and after that they are published in the term bank of the Board. There are ca 600 defined concepts in the term bank.

JHS public administration recommendation on terminology work

Two public administration recommendations, the JHS 170 XML-schemas for the public administration and the JHS 175 terminology work process in the public administration, help to increase the semantic interoperability of the information systems of authorities in the future. It has been stated in several reports that agreement on technical solutions alone does not make joint use of information systems possible, but the developers of operation and information systems must also agree on the concepts and terms that are used.

The JHS 170 recommendation focuses on the naming of and creating rules for XML structures, i.e. the more technical aspects of interoperability. The JHS 175 recommendation describes the creation of harmonized and jointly used vocabulary and consistent documentation for the use of public administration. A central actor in the process is a so called core terminology group. It is a body that steers and coordinates the work and takes the responsibility for the definition of certain core concepts, i.e. such concepts that are very common in the operation of public administration.

The most essential in the application of the recommendation is the interaction between the core terminology group and so called communities of interest. Communities of interest are groups that have a need to share certain central information between them. For example branches of business or administration, organizations, parties of a joint process or combinations of these can form communities of interest. The concepts used by the community of interest are checked together with the core terminology group so that the group will filter out those concepts that it considers to be core concepts and produces such metadata for them as stated in the recommendation.

In order to work the JHS 175 process needs also technical tools to save the documentation on concepts. A single concept and its metadata are saved as so called concept articles in the JHS vocabulary which is a part of the JHS metadata register. This register will become a part of the so called metadata service of the public administration. The planning of this service is connected to the data architecture part of the specification for the national level architecture.

The vision is to eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy from the public administration so that administrative processes based almost mainly on processing client information as stipulated in law are automated as much as possible.

Terminology and ontology project on spatial information

At the beginning of 2010, the Terminology Centre TSK started a terminology and ontology project on spatial data. The project, launched on the initiative of the National Land Survey of Finland, deals with concepts related to the spatial data sets and services required by the INSPIRE directive (Directive establishing an Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community).

The project is a continuation to the terminology work carried out by the Centre in the domain of geographic information, the fruits of which include the Vocabulary of Positioning (TSK 30, 2002) and the Vocabulary of Geoinformatics (TSK 32, 2005). In 2008, the Centre elaborated a translation into Finnish of a geographic information glossary compiled by the International Organization for Standardization.

The ongoing terminology project was launched in order to facilitate the implementation in Finland of the INSPIRE directive, which aims at making the spatial data sets produced by the Member States of the European Union available to the public through the internet. The directive, the related implementation rules and the Finnish statutes concerning the spatial information infrastructure contain plenty of terms, the use of which is not consistent. The aim of the project is to define the most central concepts and to give recommendations concerning the use of Finnish terms and Swedish and English equivalents. In addition, the concept systems produced within the terminology project will be made machine-understandable by converting them into an ontology.

The work group of the project consists of experts from the National Land Survey of Finland, the Finnish Geodetic Institute, the Aalto University School of Science and Technology, Statistics Finland and the Cities of Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa and Hyvinkää.

The vocabulary produced within the project will be published online and it will be added to the Terminology Centre's term bank. The resulting ontology will be made available through the Finnish Ontology Library Service ONKI.

The project is planned to continue until at least 2011.

Learned from terminology work

Esaias Tegnér, a Swedish writer, professor and bishop, was quite right when he said the words “That which is dimly said is dimly thought; what you can’t say clearly, that you don’t know” in his conferment of Master’s degree in 1820. As long as one does not know what one wants to say, it is difficult to form the message so that it will reach the listener.

For a terminologist this quote acts as a beacon when compiling concept systems and definitions. When the things and concepts of a subject are one big bundle, it is almost impossible to write functional definitions, but when the essential characteristics of concepts begin to stand out from the inessential ones after determined work, the pieces will start to fall in place. The compilation of concept systems is often a good learning process for the experts. In terminology work process the basic concepts that were considered self-evident must be torn apart, and the expert may have to confess that the concepts were not so clear after all and that the colleague could also have a different view of the fact.

As a terminologist one gets practice in clarifying things and digging out the essential facts. These skills are useful in any work. A systematic way of thinking, an ability to see the big picture and openness to learn new things are the best lessons from the work of a terminologist. In fact, these skills are so useful that it should be possible to take courses on concept analysis in all university studies.

Biofuel vocabulary

Interest in biofuels grows constantly. The goal is to increase the share of biofuels in the amount of fuel used by developing and introducing new biofuels and fuel mixtures. The purpose of the biofuel vocabulary is to clarify such basic concepts related to biofuels that are important to the consumers. The vocabulary contains 17 essential concepts, terms in Finnish, Swedish and English, and definitions in Finnish.

The use of the term biofuel seems to falter. Although biofuel is clearly defined e.g. in the EU directive 2003/30/EC as fuel produced from biomass, the term is often used when referring to fuel mixtures, although strictly speaking they contain only some amount of biofuel.

The constant development of biofuels makes it difficult to define the concepts in the field. The concept of biodiesel is particularly challenging because it can refer to various biofuels that are all used in diesel engines but the production processes and properties of which differ. E.g. in the EU directive the designation biodiesel is reserved for so called first generation biodiesels produced by esterification method, often referred to as conventional biodiesel. In this vocabulary biodiesel is defined by its applicability, and different production processes or chemical properties are not touched in more detail.


Fucktionary – Englannin kielletyt sanat (the forbidden English words) by Kate Moore and Tiina Tuominen is a guide to the underworld of the English language. The dictionary contains more than 600 vulgar English words and phrases which are rarely covered by standard language dictionaries. In addition to swearwords it contains racist expressions, drug slang, body parts and functions, and expressions related to subcultures. The dictionary also gives examples on use, Finnish equivalents and Finnish translations of example sentences.

The International Organization for Standardization has published the standard ISO 639-4 Codes for the representation of names of languages – Part 4: General principles of coding of the representation of names of languages and related entities, and application guidelines. The ISO 639 standard consists of six parts, and this part describes how language codes are created and used. The standard defines 28 language-related concepts.

Detailed publisher and order information can be found in the Finnish article.