Sirpa Suhonen

Plenty of challenges

New kinds of projects, like the TSR ontology project, which combine thesaurus-based ontology work and defining terminology work, challenge even experienced terminologists to think the use of concept analysis in a new way and bring new insights. It is nice to work with clients who are bold enough to learn something new and who renew their own practices for present and future needs.

There are things to consider even in traditional projects. For example in the gerotechnology terminology project the target group forms a challenge. When glossaries are made for the expert of some special field, it is easier to write definitions and notes since it can be assumed that the glossary users have similar background information. But when the target group of a glossary is made of laypersons, the users do not have common background information and the subject field may even be almost unknown.

The results of Tuuli Rönkkö's thesis show that the clarity of concepts is important in sign languages, too, and especially if they are used in legal interpretation. Concept analysis is also needed to support the development of sign languages.

Coherent terminology for gerotechnology

It takes time before terminology is established whether it is a question of a new field of science or presenting new kinds of technical equipment. This applies well to gerotechnology, which supports the functional capacity of elderly people. This problem is now being tackled in terminology work carried out in the KÄKÄTE Project (User Centered Technology for Elderly People and Care Givers). The aim is to create common terminology in gerotechnology for elderly people, companies developing technical solutions and producers of services for the elderly.

The aim of gerotechnology is to solve everyday problems that getting old brings along. As population is getting older, many entrepreneurs have taken notice of this and developed new equipment for individuals and the society. It is common that many different terms are used to refer a similar device or service, and on the other hand, one term can mean different things. The inaccuracy of language use and unestablished terms do not benefit companies or clients. A good product may be left unused if the client does not understand to what kind of use it can be put because of unclear terminology.

The target groups of gerotechnology companies have also changed. Earlier technological solutions were developed and offered for institutional care, but as population gets older and products develop e.g. safety and alarm systems have been developed to function in ordinary homes. There are terminological challenges in both these fields. Gerotechnology terms should at the same time be understandable both to the elderly and precise enough for the care professionals.

TSR ontology

The Finnish Work Environment Fund (TSR) finances research and development work and information services, which improve working conditions and promote safety and productivity at work. The Fund publishes information on the projects that it funds on its web site. There has been a thesaurus on the web site to support information retrieval. The thesaurus has developed from Finnish and English index terms which the project leaders have freely chosen. In the beginning of 2011 the Fund and the Finnish Terminology Centre started a joint project to convert the thesaurus to an ontology. The aim of the project was to facilitate coherent description of material on safety and health at work and to boost information retrieval in search user interfaces that use ontologies. The first version of the TSR ontology was published in April in the Finnish Ontology Library Service ONKI (

The thesaurus contained more than 6,000 Finnish and less than 2,000 English index terms, the relations of which had not been described. The thesaurus was unstructured and the index terms had been chosen without any control. This posed challenges especially in the beginning of the project.

The TSR thesaurus was combined to the Finnish General Upper Ontology YSO. It is customary to start the compilation of a combined ontology by comparing concepts as character strings. This will produce equivalents, i.e. index terms that refer to the same concept in the target ontology and the thesaurus that is combined to the ontology. So, equivalents were searched for the concepts of the TSR thesaurus from YSO. After automatic combination, terminologists checked the equivalents and made corrections when necessary. The aim was to find either an equivalent concept from YSO or a precise superordinate concept amongst the index terms of YSO or TSR thesaurus for all TSR index terms. After the hierarchy and equivalents were prepared, the TSR ontology was checked in work group meetings.

The work group checked the validity of synonyms, i.e. firstly if the TSR concept is equivalent with the YSO concept and secondly if there are synonyms that refer to different concepts in the TSR ontology. The work group checked also the hierarchy of the TSR ontology. It was noticed that in addition to hierarchical relations it was worthwhile to include partitive and associative relations since this improves the finding of information with ontologies.

English index terms were treated as equivalents for the Finnish index terms. If a suitable Finnish concept could not be found in the ontology, a Finnish concept corresponding to the English index term was thought of and, when necessary, a new Finnish concept and its English equivalent were added into the TSR ontology.

Many TSR index terms were also deleted. For example such compound terms that did not refer to established concepts and that could be easily described with several index terms were deleted, e.g. indoor air of swimming baths can be described with index terms indoor air and swimming baths.

The Vocabulary of Safety and Health at Work (TSK 35) published in 2006 was added into the TSR ontology. A more precise concept analysis was used to reconcile the concept systems of the vocabulary with the hierarchy of the ontology and to update outdated information.

As a result of all this work the TSR ontology was created. It contains ca 5,100 concepts on safety and health at work combined to much larger YSO (more than 20,000 concepts).

It is worthwhile to develop the TSR ontology further. It is likely that new concepts should be added since the ontology has to do with description of information on research and development, and new concepts on new phenomena will be created as information increases. On the other hand, it may be reasonable to prune the ontology. When special field ontologies will be developed further, it may be possible to use several ontologies to describe the material on safety and health at work. Then such sub-fields could be deleted from the TSR ontology that are described in some other special field ontology and focus on the most essential concepts on safety and health at work.

Legal interpreting through the eyes of sign language interpreters

The aims of Tuuli Rönkkö's thesis were to collect signs of procedural and criminal justice and to find out how sign language interpreters experience legal interpretation. She interviewed a student of law whose mother tongue is Finnish Sign Language, and two sign language interpreters, one whose mother tongue is Finnish Sign Language and one whose mother tongue is Finnish.

According to the interpreters the biggest challenge in legal interpreting is the terms used in court. The interpreters found it problematic that there are not always sign language equivalents for Finnish terms. It is also difficult to choose the right Finnish terms when interpreting. There are no established juridical signs in Finnish Sign Language which means that the interpreter has to create some of the signs in the interpretation situation. This hinders the interpretation from Finnish into Finnish Sign Language and vice versa. The interpreter has to make sure that the client understands signs correctly, and to observe that some signs or words may have two meanings. For example there is a sign that can mean either murder or manslaughter. The concepts are signed by using the same sign but their meaning and the punishment for them differ from each other.

In legal interpretation omissions and additions are serious mistakes: the interpreter must interpret exactly what the speaker or signer tells. The background of the client, e.g. age, gender and social status, affects the language he or she uses, which in turn affects the interpretation. The role of the client also affects legal interpretation, i.e. if the client is a witness, accused or expert. Interpreters should know what happens in a certain phase in a court and what is the purpose of the phase before they interpret. For example, the hearing of a witness has a different purpose than the hearing of an accused.

In legal interpretation it is especially important for the interpreter to take care of his or her own and the client's legal protection. Language skills in the interpreted languages and the mastering of legal language are important for legal protection. The quality of interpretation and legal protection for both the interpreter and client is ensured by the fact that legal interpretation is always done by two interpreters working as a pair. Interpreters have to prepare for legal interpretation even more carefully than usually because it is so challenging. In addition to language and terms, they have to know a lot more. They have to know the legal process and proceedings.

Language planning and terminology work in five Sami languages

Sámi Giellagáldu is a Nordic expertise and resource centre for five Sami languages. A project to build it was started on 1.1.2013 by the Sámi Parliamentary Council (SPC) which is the co-operational body for the Sami parliaments in Finland, Norway and Sweden.

Sami languages are indigenous languages of Europe and the closest kindred languages of Baltic-Finnic languages, like Finnish. The basic activities of Sámi Giellagáldu include five different Sami languages: South, Lule, North, Inari and Skolt Sami. All Sami languages are endangered and some critically endangered, almost extinct languages. North Sami is the biggest: it is estimated that it is spoken by 17,000–30,000 people. Lule Sami has ca 700 speakers and the rest 300–500 speakers. Other Sami languages are Ume, Pite, Kildin, Ter and Akkala Sami, some of which have only one or two speakers. Sami languages are spoken in Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia.

Sámi Giellagáldu is a joint decision-making body of the Sami people in Sami language matters. At the moment, the organisation is still searching its form and working methods. For example, it has not yet been decided whether it will be established in one location or will the functions be decentralized. Its task is to supervise all Sami language issues in cooperation with Sami parliaments and other Sami language institutions.

The special thing in Sami language planning and terminology work is that the amount of speakers is small and that four of the five Sami languages are spoken in two or even three countries. One of the most important tasks of Sámi Giellagáldu is to develop vocabulary, terms and norms so that the speakers in different countries understand and accept new terms and definitions of concepts. Without coordinated border-crossing cooperation there is a risk that language communities will split and that the same Sami spoken in different countries will diverge so that those who write e.g. in Norway's North Sami use words that Finland's North Sami speakers do not understand.

In practice, Sámi Giellagáldu's tasks include e.g. language planning and development, terminology work, standardization, nomenclature service and place names. The language workers of Giellagáldu are responsible for the practical work. They prepare language issues for language divisions which give recommendations on Sami. Ordinary language users can also ask for advice from language workers.

Sámi Giellagáldu's task is to preserve and promote Sami languages and Sami cultural heritage. It has also an important role as an expert body which connects, coordinates and develops language cooperation for Sami in the Nordic countries. The idea is to bring together the professional linguistic services of Sami languages, which helps the finding of information. Nowadays there is information on Sami language use and terms, but the information is scattered.

Style with style guides

There are many kinds of style guides, and at its simplest, a style guide can be very short. Only the most essential of style is told and otherwise reference is made to some well-tried general guide. The most important thing is that a style guide describes the wanted style and specifies the written business image on an adequate level.

Style guides should support the brand. The brand distinguishes and specifies the whole supply of a company, e.g. its product or service. Some style guides focus on the layout of presentations and on how the trademarks and logos are used, but give very little advice on language or writing.

Style guides which give advice on writing style are quite common. Typically these style guides contain quite detailed information on language use, and they deal with everything from the tone of address to punctuation marks and the use of articles. Often their weakness is the enthusiasm for subtleties and details of language, and they may end up in being more like copies of general grammars than style guides. At best, these style guides function as excellent reference books for writers and help to create presentations that suit the company's image and brand.

Some style guides focus on terminology and on how to choose the right terms, and their main content is a term list. Although terms are often the most essential facts of technical writing, a style guide is a wrong headline for a glossary. A style guide should not consist of a mere glossary.

The content of style guides can be arranged according to two main principles: thematically or alphabetically. Thematically arranged guides have several advantages, e.g. they are more easy to write and update, it is easier to place general guidelines (e.g. how to address the user, choice of language variants) in the guide, and texts can be longer and contain explanations.

Alphabetic order works well for style guides that resemble reference books, such guides which handle small details and are used for quick reference. However, finding is easy only if the writer has used the same headword with which the user tries to find the information. The compilation of an alphabetically arranged guide demands a lot from the writer, it cannot be done by just writing articles from A to Z, since the guidelines must form a coherent whole. It can also be a challenge to place the general guidelines in alphabetic order.

There is not only one way to write a good style guide. The content is dictated by the organisation's own style, how widely style needs to be defined and how widely the details of different languages need to be covered.


ISO standards
ISO, the International Organization for Standardization has published the standards ISO 26162 Systems to manage terminology, knowledge and content – Design, implementation and maintenance of terminology management systems and ISO 22274 Systems to manage terminology, knowledge and content – Concept-related aspects for developing and internationalizing classification systems. ISO 26162 is intended for terminologists, software developers and others who are involved in the process of developing or acquiring terminology management systems. ISO 22274 handles the creating of classification systems that are concept-based and intended to be used in several diverse linguistic and cultural environments. It gives guidelines on how to internationalize classification systems and their underlying concept systems, informs about terminological principles applicable to classification systems, considers the workflow and administration of classification systems to support worldwide use of them.

DIN-TERM, a term bank of DIN, the German Institute for Standardization, is now available on DIN's web site ( The term bank contains ca 170,000 concepts gathered from valid standards and their German, French and English designations. By registering into a free DIN-TERMinology portal it is possible to search terms in DIN's entire term database which contains ca 600,000 concepts. In addition to valid standards, the database contains concepts from withdrawn standards and drafts for standards. The portal has term records with definitions, notes and examples.