Terminological expertise for many needs
The range of work of terminologists does not limit only to such projects that have been started because there has been a need for terminology work; nowadays the expertise of terminologists is also used in work connected to e.g. classifications, code sets, data models and ontologies. Sometimes it seems that so called traditional terminology projects do not exist any more, but in most projects there is a need to apply terminological expertise in a new way.
For example, it is not possible to produce machine-readable concept systems, i.e. ontologies, without analysing concepts, so terminological concept analysis has its place in ontology work, too. Ontologies are also needed when linked data is created. If linking is done only on word-level, the result will cause even more confusion.
Virpi Kalliokuusi – multi-talented information expert
Virpi Kalliokuusi works as a Senior Planning Officer in the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL). She has been a member of the Finnish Terminology Centre TSK’s board of directors since the beginning of 2013.
Kalliokuusi studied French, English and educational sciences in the University of Helsinki. Later she became interested in linguistics, and changed her second minor subject from educational sciences to linguistics.
Just after graduating she got a job at the Finnish Terminology Centre TSK and worked in the terminology project of housing development. Terminology work and terminology studies were new to her, because there were no courses on terminology in the university. Therefore the knowledge on terminology work and studies had to be acquired in work. Kalliokuusi worked as a terminologist for eleven years and enjoyed her job, because it was so versatile.
Kalliokuusi remembers particularly her work with the Environment Vocabulary and Vocabularies of Social Welfare and Health Care. In these projects she worked for the first time with such fields that do not have technical terms but where terms are nearer to the standard language. “This added its own difficulties in the terminologist’s work”, Kalliokuusi says.
When Kalliokuusi was asked to work as the publishing manager in the dictionary department of the publishing house Gummerus in 2001, she was ready to try something new. Her job included planning publication programmes, supervising book projects and discussing content matters with authors.
After nearly ten years in the dictionary department Kalliokuusi moved to a new content team of Kielikone Ltd inside Gummerus Group. The team’s job was to administer the content of the dictionaries offered by Kielikone in a new way and to edit and develop Kielikone’s material further.
In the beginning of 2013 Kalliokuusi started her work in THL. Together with her colleague she is responsible for the terminological work in THL’s Information Department which includes participation in terminological work around the organization. Work on THL’s Coding Service is prioritized at the moment. It includes terminological checking of code sets before they are published in the service as well as guiding experts to compile code sets so that the code sets would be consistent in future. She and her colleague also give advice and comments in many THL’s projects and do development work to build a term bank for THL.
As a former employee of the Terminology Centre, Kalliokuusi has a good idea what kind of work the Terminology Centre does in practice. On the other hand, the work has changed after Kalliokuusi moved to other tasks: projects for ontologies and classifications have become a part of the Terminology Centre’s activities in the 21st century. She hopes that the need for terminological expertise would be understood in the public administration when projects connected to the utilization of enterprise architecture are planned. “Proper terminological groundwork can save the time of other experts and bring savings” Kalliokuusi reckons.
ONKI project creates national ontology services
An ontology is a machine-readable hierarchical set of concepts. Machine-readability and changing from terms to concepts requires that concepts can be referred to with unique identifiers. Earlier the terms used in description were saved in metadata, but now the identifiers corresponding to concepts are saved in metadata. This means that when a term used for a certain concept changes, the identifier remains the same and does not cause a pressure for change in the descriptions using the concept. However, the identifiers are not human-readable, but need to be interpreted for the user by fetching the designation for the concept from the ontology.
The goal of ONKI service is to offer an easily operated user interface for working with identifiers. The ONKI project’s aim is to create a permanent, centralized and reliable national ontology service maintained by the National Library of Finland, a service which other operators could use to create their own applications. The benefit of a centralized service is that the published ontologies can be found in the same place and that they can be accessed with the same interfaces, in which case it will be easy to use several ontologies in one application.
The ONKI project is based on the results of the FinnONTO research project (2003–2012) of the Aalto University and the University of Helsinki and ONKI technology created in FinnONTO. Now the research project is going to production use.
The first year’s goal of the ONKI project has been to create a solid base for further development and implement the most essential ontology service functionalities with ONKI Light software. The aim is to publish the new ONKI service in the turn of the year. The development is based on open source code and done in Google Code (https://code.google.com/p/onki-light/).
Many users have been interviewed in the project, and their current use of ontologies and hopes for the future have been charted. Documentation for the Finnish General Upper Ontology YSO has been drafted. The upper structure of YSO is also being renewed.
When the ontology service is published and running, it is essential to facilitate the joint use of ontologies. During the project a basis will be created for the coordination of ontology work between different organizations and tools will be developed that are needed in the joint use of ontologies.
Towards better administrative language
Administrative or official language affects every citizen’s life. The amount of texts produced by the authorities is enormous: dozens of millions of administrative decisions are made yearly and thousands of forms are used in public administration. In addition, every bureau makes numerous plans and reports. And all this begins in child health clinics and continues until old age. Therefore it is not insignificant what kind of language the authorities write and how communication works between clients and the authorities.
Finnish as an administrative language has been discussed about as long as Finnish has been used in public activities, i.e. since 19th century. In the 1970s the authorities were more systematically guided to use good language. The current Administrative Procedure Act states that"“An authority shall use appropriate, clear and comprehensible language."
Clear language use is an essential part of a democratic society, and the language use of the authorities is not their internal matter. The development of legal language and the language used by the authorities in communication with the citizens was included in the current Government’s programme in 2011. In order to realize this promise the Ministry of Education and Culture appointed a working group whose task is to compile an action plan to promote plain language. The group should e.g. suggest ways to secure the objectivity, clarity and comprehensibility of administrative language, and suggest means to improve the possibilities of educational institutions to take care of their students’ ability to produce understandable language.
The members of the working group represent widely different administrative sectors and many kinds of expertise on administrative language. The group is chaired by Pirkko Nuolijärvi, the director of the Institute for the Languages of Finland. Although the working group is big, it does not work alone, but has also contacted the state and municipal administration as well as citizens with questionnaires. It has been very valuable for the group to get information on how things work in practice.
Work for good administrative language has been done for decades, and many improvements have already been achieved. For example, many bureaus have improved their client service by offering comprehensible guidelines and forms.
The question is bigger than how an individual public official writes. A language planner cannot solve the problems of texts either, if nothing in the operational environment changes. Nor are these problems solved with language training. The question is about the situation in which administrative language is produced and about the working methods that the authorities are used to follow. The question is about attitudes towards language: a bureau that sees language as a central part of its work, has it easier to change its practices of written and oral communication.
The difficulty to understand administrative texts is often caused by the complexity of the subject and the fact that they are based on a special field language, legal texts. The characteristics and even quotations of sections of laws can be seen in different orders, instructions and decisions. The obscurity of texts is also often caused by the fact that the texts are based on so called standard texts. When the decision maker compiles a letter for the client of many text clips, the connection between these clips do not open to the reader.
The working group for plain language will hand over the action plan for the Minister of Education in the end of January 2014. The group hopes that all administrative sectors, all bureaus and every public official would see language as part of their work, not something belonging only to the language planners or language professionals. Administrative work is work with language and taking care of services cannot be separated from language use.
Linked Data Finland
When talking about the Web, Linked Data means a methodology with the help of which data from different sources is linked to a semantic web, i.e. a web "understood" by computers. The semantic web forms a new foundation for more intelligent web services. The idea is that unconnected data is enriched automatically through other data linked to it. When data once produced can be used in somewhere else via the Web, there is no need to produce the same data many times.
The amount of linked data in the Web has grown explosively. The core of the work has been the DBpedia net to which hundreds of other datasets have been linked. The result is the Linked Open Data Cloud that contains billions of pieces of data and links between them.
There are also challenges related to linked data, and one of the most central has to do with vocabularies used to describe data: the same term, expression or identifier used in different fields or by different users may have different meanings. In this case, the direct linking of data will result in a semantic mess. The solution is to use common ontological vocabularies where the indexing of data is based on unambiguous meanings instead of ambiguous linguistic expressions. In addition, linking between different vocabularies is needed.
In Finland, as a result of the FinnONTO project, there are ontological vocabularies and nomenclatures in the National Ontology Service ONKI. The national Linked Data Finland project will continue the R&D work in the direction of linked data. The project published the LDF.fi portal in October. LDF.fi contains dozens of important Finnish datasets, like the Finlex database (Finnish law and legal cases) and Semantic National Biography.
About terminology projects
It is general knowledge that terminology work is often carried out in a project form. But what are the characteristics of a terminology project? What do all terminology projects have in common and what are the differences? What type of terminology projects are there?
It goes to say about terminology projects (TP), like many other phenomena, that all of them have something in common but there hardly are two projects that are exactly similar. The challenge is to identify those characteristics that can be seen as common for all TPs and those that separate them.
The most important common characteristics for all TPs are objective and result. The objective of a TP can be seen as a fulfilment of a terminological need that a certain group of people (the target group) has. The result of a TP is a collection of structured terminological information (concept descriptions and information on terms) which can be compiled in a terminological glossary or term bank. The work in other information structuring projects, where terminological competence and methods can be used, can result in data models, ontologies, code sets etc.
Besides objective and result, there are also other common characteristics: TPs consist of three project phases, terminological methods are used in them and the project group has certain competence. (In reality, all TPs are not like this. So perhaps these three additional characteristics are common only for those TPs that are kind of "best practice" TPs.)
Different TPs can have different sets of project phases, but all these phases can be seen as parts that are included in the three phases that are common for all TPs: the preparatory phase that e.g. includes the collection of relevant terminological information, main phase that e.g. comprehends concept analysis and definition writing, and presentation phase that e.g. includes structuring the processed or newly created information. If a TP is to fulfil its objective, it should be carried out with the help of established terminological methods. In the project group there should always be participants who have competence in the actual special field and those who have terminological and linguistic competence, preferably on a mother tongue level for those languages that are handled in the TP. Other type of competence may also be needed, e.g. IT skills.
There seems to be more separating characteristics than common ones between TPs. Here is a list of the most important differences: target (what is the terminological need), target group, extent (how many special fields does a TP cover), language, form of co-operation of the project group (meetings, e-mail, wiki platforms etc.), project phases and characteristics of the terminological resource that is handled (e.g. type of terminological information and publication form).
The numerous and in many cases quite important differences that can exist between TPs are a clear sign that there are different types of TPs. In order for a classification to function, proper classification criteria must be chosen. The writer of the article, Claudia Dobrina, has chosen the following criteria: target, target group, extent, language and project phase. Based on these criteria she has divided all TPs in six types. They are 1) compilation a monolingual terminological resource, 2) compilation of a multilingual terminological resource, 3) supplementing an existing terminological resource, 4) increasing the quality of an existing terminological resource, 5) compilation of a large terminological resource, and 6) terminological information on request.
This typology can be seen as the first step for a classification, and it should be tested with many TPs and developed further. Typology thinking can help to plan and implement new TPs and give better understanding about what terminologists work with daily.
Terminology workfor payroll administration started
In recent years there has been a lot of talk in Finland about increasing web service so that citizens and companies could take care of their business easily and fluently on the Internet. According to the studies of the Finnish Ministry of Employment and the Economy acting as an employer, especially the declarations of payroll administration, causes the biggest administrative burden for companies.
The incoherence of payroll administration terminology is one challenge for developing the data transmission of payroll administration: the same term can mean different things in different statutes. These differences cause challenges at least for payroll calculation and information systems: it is difficult for salary clerks to find information to support their work and data cannot be transferred between different information systems.
The Ministry has set a work group for the interoperability of payroll administration in the Action Programme on eServices and eDemocracy (SADe), and its aim is to unify the terminology of payroll administration and to compile a vocabulary for the use of those working in the field could use. The most essential thing in the terminology work is to define those concepts that are needed when employers report salaries to the authorities. The terminology work started in August 2013 and the work should be ready by the end of 2015.
Terminology studies in the University of Vaasa
The Faculty of Philosophy and the Faculty of Technology at the University of Vaasa started a joint Master’s degree programme of Technical Communication in 2012. In autumn 2014 a new option of terminology studies will start in the degree programme. The purpose of the option of terminology studies is to offer language students a possibility to increase their competence in technical communication and terminology, and thus to offer them an alternative for studies directed to the traditional professions of translators and teachers. It gives skills for a career in multilingual and international environments in various tasks including technical communication, multilingual communication and terminology as well as project and coordination tasks.
The University of Vaasa is the most advanced Finnish university in terminology studies and teaching, and it is the only university in Finland that offers terminology studies as a minor subject. The option of terminology studies will mainly be carried out as web studies, which will enable flexible distance learning.