Summaries 4/2008

Fluent communication requires coherent terms

Everyone uses terms related to his or her profession. The meaning of the terms is not necessarily clear for others working in different professions. The same thing must be told to outsiders by using long and complicated explanations whereas a colleague understands it with one term. Sometimes, however, there can be different interpretations of the same term in one special field, even in one organization. Terminology work is required so that the diversity of terms would not cause misunderstandings.

The Finnish Minister of Housing Jan Vapaavuori emphasized the need for clear terms when speaking about energy efficiency and energy-efficient houses. According to Vapaavuori, the current use of terms is too confusing for the consumers and the content of the terms varies depending on the speaker. He recommended that the building industry would make common interpretations for terms related to energy-efficient construction and that they should be unambiguous, understandable and help the builders in making choices.

In this spring Suomalais-venäläinen metsäsanakirja, the Finnish-Russian forestry dictionary, was published to facilitate communication in this field. The compilers of the dictionary, Inkeri Vehmas-Lehto, Aleksandr Gerd, Irina Kudasheva and Igor Kudashev, were given the International Terminology Award by the European Association for Terminology for applied research and development in the field of terminology in October. The Finnish Terminology Centre warmly congratulates the award winners.

Inkeri Vehmas-Lehto – translation studies and terminology

Inkeri Vehmas-Lehto studied Russian language and literature in the University of Helsinki. In 1974 she got a lecturership in the then Language Institute of Kouvola. Later she took both a licentiate and a doctoral degree in Russian language and literature.

In 1981 the Language Institute became a part of the University of Helsinki, and since 1998 it has been called the Department of Translation Studies. Next summer the department will move to Helsinki and will cease to be an independent unit any more. The subjects of translation and interpretation will be placed in departments of languages.

Vehmas-Lehto’s work consists of teaching, supervising theses, research and administration. She thinks that the greatest challenge in her work is time management and regrets that there isn’t more time for research. She likes her work and her clever students.

Vehmas-Lehto thinks that the Finnish Terminology Centre does important work when it clarifies concepts and establishes terms. All fields contain concepts that require thinking and clarification, above all new fields. Vehmas-Lehto teaches terminology to students and has supervised Master’s theses on terminology.

Vehmas-Lehto was one of the four compilers of Suomalais-venäläinen metsäsanakirja, the Finnish-Russian forestry dictionary, which was published in February. It was her task was to write the Finnish definitions.

Terminology work for Tekla Structures

A terminology project was started in Tekla software company in autumn 2006 when a need to clarify and harmonize the English terms used in the Tekla Structures software was noticed. Tekla Structures is a 3D building information modelling software for detailing steel and concrete structures and for controlling construction and production. Tekla Structures is used by steel producers and detailers, building companies, precast concrete producers and engineering offices in more than 80 countries. Tekla Structures has been used for modelling e.g. the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium in Beijing.

The first version of Tekla Structures was published in 1993, and with time the software has become larger and more versatile. Tekla Corporation has also grown in recent years which means that the number of software developers and users has got bigger and the need for common and easily understandable terms has increased.

Since the software has developed and grown, the number of terms used in the code, interface, client documentation and marketing has increased enormously and term management has become more challenging. Different terms have been used for the same thing, and new terms have not been systematically checked. One aim of the terminology project has been to harmonize terms and to give usage instructions so that the same terms would be used both in the interface and in all other material related to the software.

Tekla needed an outside expert for the terminology project, and chose the Finnish Terminology Centre TSK. The cooperation between Tekla and the TSK has been fruitful: in less than two years more than 400 terms and definitions and several concept diagrams have been added in the Tekla Structures Glossary. The distribution of work in the project has functioned well: the TSK has offered terminological expertise and Tekla has provided product knowledge and a project group consisting of experts in the construction industry and English language specialists.

It has been challenging to choose the viewpoint and emphasis for the definitions. Since the glossary consists of terms related to a software used in the construction industry, the compilers have had to think how they can include the viewpoints of IT and construction industry in one glossary. Which viewpoint should be emphasized in definitions: how a concept is seen in a finished building or what can be done with the concept in the software and how the user sees it in the software interface?

The software has also gathered some terms that differ from the customary or expected use of English. These Tekla terms have become common and usual for those who have used the software for long, but for new
users they may cause problems. One of the aims of the terminology project was to get rid of these terms and to create clearer terms instead. This proved to be more difficult than expected, since it may be impossible to change a term with which the users have lived for years and which has fully become a part of the software.

This terminology project will be finished in the end of 2008, and a glossary will be published. However, terminology work in Tekla will not end, but the glossary will be updated and new concepts will be added. In addition to English, the Tekla Structures software is published in eight other languages, e.g. in German, French, Chinese and Russian. It will be a big challenge to localize the glossary in these eight languages.

Transparent terms and comprehensive concepts

The more understandably we write, the more effective communication becomes. Readers and listeners save time and money, both from the perspective of an individual and the society. Speakers and writers need to know their target groups. Experts have to express themselves differently to other experts than to laypersons.

It is often difficult for us term consumers – writers, translators and the general public – as senders to find the right terms and as receivers to understand them. We have access to high-quality resources, like IATE, TEPA or TNC-term. Authorities, companies, organizations and term groups do their best to provide us with relevant term collections. Despite of these worthy efforts, our terminological landscape is like an archipelago with islands of well-defined terms and expressions. Between the islands there is an open sea where everyone can fish at his or her own risk, and where source criticism is vital.

This fragmented term maintenance is the reason why term consumers need methods and tools for a joint search in term banks, databases and concordances or directly via search engines on the Web. And we active term consumers can join our collective intelligence in digital cooperation, and suggest term candidates and equivalents in such special fields where terminologists have not yet compiled term collections.

Finnish Parliament Glossary

The Finnish Parliament Glossary has been completed. The glossary contains some 600 concepts related to the work of Parliament, which are defined or explained. The languages represented are Finnish, Swedish, Northern Saami, English, German, Spanish, Estonian, French and Russian. Definitions and notes are provided in Finnish, Swedish and English. The interface of the web publication is also in these three languages.

The target group of the glossary is wide: Members of Parliament, civil servants working in Parliament and public administration, journalists, PR officers, translators, interpreters, teachers, students, researchers and citizens, too. The aim of the glossary is to establish the concepts related to Parliament and the terms used for them. The glossary was compiled in a joint project in which participated the various departments of Parliament, the Prime Minister’s Office, several translators and two information system providers.

Terminology projects are always also some kind of learning processes. Terminologists learn new things when compiling glossaries on various subject fields. Communication between language groups is always very fruitful and opens one’s eyes to conceptual differences between different languages. The project group members learn terminological methods and are forced to look at things from a slightly different angle. At its best, cooperation between terminologists and subject field experts leads to mutual insights which enrich the work.

Since the concepts related to Parliament had not been defined earlier in any one publication, there was a need for as comprehensive a glossary as possible that would deal with the various sectors of Parliament’s work. Some terms had to be left out, but the glossary contains the key concepts related to Parliament, its work, organization and the Parliament buildings. It also contains relevant concepts concerning parliamentary elections, statutes, the Budget and the management of EU affairs.

The choosing of languages is also a part of the delimitation of a glossary. The language selection in this glossary was influenced by the national and international needs of Parliament. The Swedish terms in the glossary are largely those used in the Finnish Parliament. Some of them are found in everyday usage and are applicable in both Finland and Sweden; others reflect phenomena unique to the Finnish Parliament and have no equivalent in Sweden.

In seeking foreign equivalents for Finnish terms, the Finnish concepts have in the main been compared to the concepts and terms used in the parliaments of Great Britain, Germany, Spain, Estonia, France and Russia, as well as the European Parliament. If a corresponding concept has not been found in these sources, such an equivalent has been coined that best reflects the essential content of the Finnish concept.

The glossary has been compiled in accordance with established methods in the field of terminology work by analysing the content of the concepts and the relations between them. The most essential sources were the Constitution Act, standing orders of Parliament, other statutes on Parliament work and related literature. Sometimes it was challenging to detach from the language and expressions used in legislation when definitions were drafted. The Finnish Government Glossary was also an important source since the glossaries have some common concepts. Definitions have been written from the perspective of Parliament; in other fields or in general usage the terms may have slightly different meanings.

The Finnish Parliament Glossary is available on the address It will also be published in the Finnish Government Termbank Valter,

Semantic content work, but in which form?

The Finnish term sanastotyö can be used in connection with systematic terminology work, thesaurus work and ontology work, and in each case the term has a different shade of meaning. The fact is that the field of terminology is no exception when it comes to the use of terms; there are also problems with polysemy and how to distinguish related concepts from each other.

By studying the factors influencing semantic content work (i.e. terminology work, thesaurus work and ontology work), the most essential characteristics of different forms of semantic content work and differences between them can be clarified. These factors are at least the intended use of the glossary, scope of the glossary, way of handling terms, way of describing concepts, accurateness of description and representation of information related to concepts and terms.

If thesauri, terminological dictionaries and ontologies are studied, it can be noticed that they have one characteristic in common: they all are descriptions of concept systems. Therefore concept analysis can and should be used for making these descriptions.

The representation of information is affected by the fact that thesauri and terminological dictionaries are meant for humans, but ontologies should be interpretable by both humans and computers.

The primary purpose of thesauri is to support the production of metadata related to content description and information retrieval based on the description. The purpose of terminological dictionaries is to clarify communication in general, traditionally between people, but nowadays more and more between information systems.

In thesauri the selection of descriptors (standard language words or terms) is guided by their suitability for search, i.e. the descriptor best suited for search is recommended and non-descriptors are less suited. The suitability does not depend on the relation between the concepts behind the recommended descriptor and deprecated non-descriptor. Normative terminological dictionaries give recommendations on which terms to use and which synonyms are admitted. The selection of terms is influenced by the fact of how well the terms
describe the underlying concepts and which terms are already used, because it is seldom possible to change established terms.

In thesauri the underlying concepts are typically described by relations between broader and narrower terms and associative relations. In a thesaurus, all descriptors are not necessarily linked together, although relations between them existed, and therefore the concepts in a thesaurus form only small concept systems.

In a terminological dictionary the essential characteristics of concepts and the relations between them are described by textual definitions and notes as well as concept diagrams. The systematic structure of definitions and the formulation of notes tell whether the relation is generic, partitive or associative. Often the text illuminates more precisely the nature of the associative relation. The entities of concepts linked to each other are formed on the basis of characteristics and relations that are considered essential in definitions.

Preciseness (formality) and computer readability are common for different ontologies. For example, the aim is to eliminate the requirement for human interpretation needed in thesauri. The primary use intended for an
ontology affects its scope and how accurate information on concepts is needed. The ontologies built in the FinnONTO project are based on thesauri, and therefore they are suitable for the same use as thesauri.

So far it has not been tested in this project how terminological dictionaries could be transformed into ontologies. It would be interesting to study what kind of differences there would be between ontologies that
are built from different approaches and what measures ontologies based on different source material would require so that they would be suitable for a certain use.

Ontologies are meant to support computer-based systems and so-called intelligent services, i.e. to facilitate information management and retrieval. The user would not have to know exactly the right search term if information could be found on the basis of synonyms included in an ontology. This feature makes it possible that a search can also be directed to resources described with a different selection of descriptors at once and similar search targets can be found even if they were not described in a coherent way. In systems that use ontologies, a search can be widened with the help of broader or narrower concept relations if the search does not yield the wanted result.

Since the building and using of ontologies is a relatively new phenomenon, so far there is no established operation model for them as there is for thesauri and terminological dictionaries. It is obvious, however, that the builders of ontologies need to understand concept analysis and to a certain extent computerized inference in order to present the concept information in a computer-readable format.

Terminologies and thesauri in Kela

Kela, the Social Insurance Institution of Finland, has founded a work group whose task is to carry out a project to support the data management in Kela’s electronic documents. The aim of the project is to standardize social insurance terminology and to improve communication between experts, between the information systems of Kela and its partners, and data management in Kela.

The work group decided to carry out a terminology project with the Finnish Terminology Centre. The result will be a terminological glossary which can be used as a tool in data transfer and information modelling, and also by legislators, translators, PR officers and journalists etc.

The work group decided that a traditional index term list is also needed in indexing and information retrieval. Index term lists are needed e.g. in Kela’s library catalogue and web site. Since the terminological glossary contains concept systems showing concept relations, the idea is to use the glossary to make a thesaurus for Kela.

These projects made the members of the work group to ponder the differences between terminological dictionaries and thesauri. In short, they serve different purposes. Terminologies facilitate communication between writers and readers whereas thesauri help navigation e.g. in electronic text databases.


With clear intension
The Swedish Centre for Terminology (TNC) has celebrated its director’s, Anna-Lena Bucher's, 60th birthday and 35-years career as a terminologist by publishing a collection of articles called Med tydlig intension. En festskrift till Anna-Lena Bucher på 60-årsdagen (With clear intension. An anniversary volume for Anna-Lena Bucher at 60th anniversary). The book consists of 20 articles dealing with terminology work, languages for special purposes, translation and language philosophy. The book gives a versatile and illustrative picture of TNC’s past and present work, terminology work in general, the relationship between terminology and language planning, and the profession of a terminologist.

Finnish–Swedish idiom dictionary
Ruotsi–suomi-idiomisanakirja by Birgitta and Kari Viljanen contains more than 3000 Swedish idioms and phrases. An idiom is a fixed word combination with a meaning that cannot be guessed from the meanings of the individual words. The idioms have been grouped by the main entries in alphabetic order and given Finnish equivalents and information on use and examples.

German–Finnish general dictionary
A fully revised edition of Saksa–suomi-suursanakirja, German–Finnish general dictionary, was published this autumn. It contains 105 000 entry words, 86 000 examples on usage and 9000 idioms and proverbs. In addition to standard language, it covers special field terms and colloquialisms. The vocabularies of Austria and Switzerland are also taken into account. The newest spelling rules checked and established in 2006 have been used. It also contains reviews on German language and its history, German spelling and pronunciation, and a short grammar.