Sirpa Suhonen

Terminology work and language planning to support statute drafting

Explicit statutes facilitate the implementation of democracy and legal protection of citizens, but currently language planning of statutes may remain the sole responsibility of an individual law drafter. Since statute drafting is a demanding and often an urgent process, it may seem that there are no resources for language-related issues. But remarkable savings can be achieved if an investment is made in clear language, terms and definition of concepts in an early phase.

When systematic terminology work is done after a statute is completed – which is often the case nowadays – problems may be encountered when term recommendations and definitions are made. These problems date back to the terms chosen in the statutes, missing terms or delimitation of concepts. The language in statutes should not differ too much from other language use.

If the suitability of terms and explicitness and general validity of definitions were taken into account from the beginning of statute drafting, there would be clear reasons for the use of terms, it could be assured that terms are used coherently in such a meaning that is agreed on, and so the intelligibility of texts could be improved.

Kaisa Kuhmonen – Finnish terminology work from two sides

Kaisa Kuhmonen works as the Head Terminologist in the Terminology Service of the Prime Minister’s Office, but started her career as a terminologist in the Finnish Terminology Centre TSK.

Kuhmonen studied translation and interpretation of German in the University of Tampere. In the end of 1990s she worked in the Terminology Centre a few times in all for three years. She participated in terminology work and worked as the subeditor of Terminfo newsletter. In 1997 she worked for the first time in the Prime Minister’s Office compiling two Finnish civil service glossaries, one in German and one in English.

The most important tasks of the Terminology Service include term advice, maintaining public term bank Valter, compiling different glossaries and instructions, informing on the results of terminology work and methods, and taking care of the English translations and English language planning for the Prime Minister’s Office.

The terminology projects carried out in Terminology Service are chosen on the basis of what is needed. Often the initiative comes from translators and the subject is related to legislation or central government. The language selection in glossaries is also based on what is needed and what the partners want. Most of the glossaries include Finnish, Swedish, English, German, French and Russian.

The Terminology Service cooperates a lot with various organizations. It does terminology work with different ministries, civil service departments and the Parliament, and participates in the cooperation network of the translators in the ministries. It also coordinates a network which is meant to facilitate cooperation between EU translators and Finnish civil servants.

Kuhmonen describes the work in the Terminology Centre and in the Terminology Service quite similar. Both adhere to similar principles and focus on the good quality of work. The Service masters the terminology of the central government and does terminology work on legislation. The Centre promotes terminology work, and compiles vocabularies on various subject fields. Kuhmonen thinks that the Centre could act as the coordination point for all terminology work in Finland, and its status should be recognized and funding guaranteed. She hopes that common standardized methods would be used everywhere and in this way the quality of terminologies could be adhered to.

Graeco-Latin terms today

International scientific terms and cultural words date mainly back to ancient Greek and Latin. The Romans borrowed many Greek terms into their own language, Latin, and enriched this vocabulary with their native-language words. When Latin became the dominant language in Western Europe, the Graeco-Latin cultural vocabulary was transferred into other languages, too.

Terms can originate from various sources. One of the sources is ancient mythology, like the mythological Phoenician princess Europe who has given her name to our continent and many words beginning with euro.

We use words that originate almost as such from classical languages, but the meaning of which has possibly changed greatly. For example, the Greek word skhole from which we have derived the word school meant originally leisure time, time that could be spared from everyday labour and when it was possible to devote oneself to the development of intellectual pursuits.

There are many prefixes and suffixes that are derived from Greek. The suffix -ike is hidden in many designations for sciences, like physics, mathematics and politics. Different branches of sciences were also referred to with the suffixes -nomia and -logia the meaning of which was almost the same. So both astronomy and astrology were used for predicting from the stars, and the difference between them was established only in the 17th century.

The form of a word cannot be used to conclude whether a term dates back from the antiquity or whether it has been coined much later by combining old word elements. For example, the words economy and ecology with the prefix eco- are different: the first one dates both lexically and semantically back to a classical Greek word oikonomia which means the management of a household (the prefix oikos- means house). Instead, the scientific term ecology was created in the 1860s, and its meaning is not connected to a household but to a science that studies the relations between living creatures and the environment.

New Latin word terminologia is an example of a word formation type called hybrid. The word elements are from different languages, in this case Latin (terminus) and Greek (-logia). In word formation these kind of expressions should be avoided, but many hybrids have been established in international use.

Intelligible statute language needs good terms

In Finland the new Housing Companies Act will come into force on 1st July 2010. The Ministry of Justice wanted to enhance the intelligibility of this act since it affects the lives of many citizens. The Research Institute for the Languages of Finland helped to edit the linguistic form before the final drafting of the text. Many problems related to the vocabulary had to be considered during the work although the act did not bring about many new terms. The language planners' starting point was that an ordinary resident should be able to understand the law text without the knowledge of jurisprudence.

The vocabulary of statutes influences significantly the understanding of the content, e.g. such legal terms are difficult that are not generally known or otherwise clear. In some cases the language planners suggested explanations instead of such terms that are alien in the standard language.

In statutes definitions are given in definition sections or a term is explained when it is mentioned for the first time. The problem with the latter method is that the words and explanations are scattered over the statute, and the reader cannot know where to find the explanation.

The definition sections have problems, too. Consideration is needed whether a designation is a term or not and in need of a definition. It is a common problem in statutes that standard language words are given too narrow definitions. The validity of a term and a definition is limited to a certain statute, and this causes problems, too.

The statutes function better and are more understandable if vocabulary is considered carefully, and when terms are used, they are used consistently and definitions are clear. Terminology work is also needed in statute drafting.

Combining classification work and terminology work

The services provided for citizens are classified in many branches and from various view points. The purpose of classification is often to unify the service information given on web services. The operation of general government is also classified from the view point of functions for various purposes, e.g. the management of electronic documents.

In Finland the information management of social welfare is developed in a project organized by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. The purpose of this National Development Programme for eSocial Care is to unify the information content and structure of client documents and to create common principles for processing and archiving documents. In 2009 the project started classification work to describe the functions and services carried out in social welfare in order to support the implementation of a national electronic archive for social welfare. Since the classification of services in social welfare has proved to be demanding, the classification work combined the methods of classification work and terminology work. The aim was to create as good conditions as possible for the creation of a conceptually clear and logically balanced classification. The terminology work was important, because it helped to clarify the intension of concepts for the classified phenomena. As a result of the cooperation the Social Services Classification and the Vocabulary of Social Services Classification were created.

As a whole the classification of functions and services in social welfare has been a challenging project. The services of social welfare are regulated by many laws and the granting of a service is mostly based on a certain statute. On the other hand, services are perceived through concrete work practices. In the classification project a model describing the bases and view points of classification was created, and with the model it is possible to take into account both the requirements of legislation and the needs of practical work.

Vocabulary of social services classification

In spring 2009 the National Development Programme for eSocial Care and the Finnish Terminology Centre started a terminology project the aim of which was to clarify the terms used in a classification of social services with the help of systematic terminology work. The most essential concepts related to the classification bases of social services, service functions of social welfare, social welfare processes and their phases were chosen in the vocabulary.

Sosiaalipalvelujen luokituksen sanasto, the vocabulary of social services classification, contains about 70 concepts with definitions, notes, terms and concept diagrams in Finnish. The vocabulary is based mainly on Finnish legislation, mostly on the social welfare laws, and on the discussions of the working group.

The compilation of this vocabulary was in many ways different than many other projects the Terminology Centre has done. This vocabulary is meant to clarify one document instead of being targeted to some special field in general. However, definitions were written so that they would be universal and exceptions were made only for good reasons.

The vocabulary was compiled at the same time as the classification, so there was no existing classification to base the terminology work on. This created challenges for project management. The development of the classification caused often changes also on such concepts that had already been dealt with in the vocabulary. Despite of this it became clear that a vocabulary can be compiled simultaneously with the documentation to which it is related to. In this kind of process both parties benefit from the cooperation: terminologists get information on the content of a field and bases of classification directly from the experts, and the experts get help in choosing terms, analysing entities and writing definitions. This compilation method requires close cooperation between participants, so that terminologists and classification compilers can keep track of each others' material.

Food Control Vocabulary

In 2004 the environmental health care authorities started the development work for collecting data needed in the control of the field. The preliminary study showed that the terminology used in environmental health care legislation is not consistent. Different statutes have different terms meaning the same thing, and the same term can be understood differently in different statutes.

Two projects were started to develop data collection, KUTI and YHTI, and both of them contained terminology work. Two vocabularies made in the KUTI project will be integrated into the Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira's guideline called Food Control Vocabulary – Guideline for Use of Terminology Related to Objects of Control and Control Data. The vocabulary for YHTI, the Vocabulary of the Register of the Objects of Control of Environmental Health Care - Objects of Control, is already published.

The aim of the KUTI project is to automate the data collection of the environmental health care authorities with the help of a data system for objects of control and a national control data system. The data systems aim at flexible and easy-to-use electronic data collection which will result in joint use of data between relevant authorities.

Many parties participate in the data collection in food control. The EC collects data on the control measures of the member countries. In Finland the responsibility for food control is divided between three ministries, Evira, municipalities and companies. Food control is regulated both on the EU and national level.

The Food Control Vocabulary is meant above all for food control authorities to unify the control concepts. Its purpose is to clarity and unify the use of terms with unambiguous definitions and recommendations on term usage.

The diversity of legislation is a challenge for the use of terms. The EU regulations and their translations do not always seem to fit in Finnish circumstances. The Finnish authorities' incoherent use of terms and definitions has also been contributed by the strong self-government of Finnish municipalities enabling them to implement control as they see best.

Terminology work for a data system is often done when the data system is being developed, and active cooperation between the working group and the client's contact person is needed. It would be useful for the terminologist to understand the development work of data systems and to know the work process of the client so that the terminologist could suggest suitable working methods. If terminologists could participate more diversely in the development work, this could also benefit the data system developers. Often the clients state that the questions asked by terminologists help to perceive concepts and to analyse entities.

Social Media Vocabulary

The vocabulary resulting from the terminology project proposed by the Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority and started in April 2009 has now been published.

The Social Media Vocabulary contains information on 62 concepts. Term recommendations, definitions and explanatory notes are given in Finnish, and term equivalents in Swedish and English. The vocabulary also describes 13 web services typical for social media.

Social media is a field that evolves constantly, as people adopt new interactive and collaborative ways of using the internet, and IT experts develop new services and contents. The social media vocabulary project showed that users of social media are also willing to take part in defining concepts and forming or choosing terms related to the field.

The comments concerning the draft vocabulary showed that many concepts can be seen from different points of view, and definitions may vary accordingly. E.g. social media can be defined as a collection of tools, a process or a means of communication. Different users may also have different opinions on whether two terms (e.g. web community and virtual community) refer to one single concept or two different ones. It could as well be seen that while a couple of years ago there used to be a need for making a distinction between discussion group and discussion forum, as these services were based on different techniques, nowadays there is no such need. The online community that commented on the draft vocabulary also discussed vividly on the term recommendations proposed in the draft.

The Social Media Vocabulary is available at A Facebook group which gives the public a possibility to comment on the vocabulary will be created.


Dictionary of Swedish
The Swedish Academy has published a dictionary of Swedish called Svensk ordbok utgiven av Svenska Akademien. The dictionary describes quite extensively the vocabulary of contemporary Swedish. It contains 65 000 entries. The part of speech, inflection and pronunciation of a word are given in each entry. The meaning and possible connotations of each word are explained, and in many cases examples of usage are given. Some entries have information on style, scope and geographic distribution. All words have information on the first appearance of the word and many contain etymology. Although the dictionary mainly describes the language usage without remarks on correctness, it contains also 400 information boxes which help in ordinary language planning questions.

Codes for the representation of names of languages
The Finnish Standards Association SFS has published the standard SFS-ISO 639-2 Codes for the representation of names of languages. Part 2: Alpha 3 code in Finnish. The standard contains 431 three-letter codes of languages and the names of these languages in Finnish and in English. It also contains instructions on the form and application of the language codes. The standard provides two three-letter codes for languages, one for bibliographic applications and one for terminological.

Information technology
The Finnish Standards Association SFS has published the standard Information technology. Security techniques. Information security management systems. Overview and vocabulary in Finnish. It contains 46 concepts with terms and definitions in Finnish and English.

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