Sirpa Suhonen

Yes, terminological work is needed

For terminologists and others who have worked with terminologies it is obvious that terminology and ontology work are needed. We know many situations where operation could be facilitated with the results of concept analysis. Our challenge are those who have not heard about terminology work or do not know it well. How can we explain to them why it is worthwhile to do terminology work? Those who decide on financing are used to have calculations that support savings arguments. This can be difficult in our profession since statistics are not usually collected of those operations that terminology work supports. When a terminology is compiled for a certain field and by many parties, it is not realistic to expect that factors affecting the quality of communication would be mapped in detail and yet widely. Instead in one organisation it is easier to make calculations or estimations on how the communication could be made more fluent.

Erja Ailio – expert in social field

Erja Ailio 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.

Ailio tells that she dreamt about a job that has to do with children or the young already when she was a child. So it was an easy choice for her to orientate to the social field. After Ailio graduated from a social college, she worked almost 14 years in day care.

In the turn of the millennium Ailio started further education studies and later post-graduate studies. She was interested in the development tasks of the social field and she had planned to move to those tasks sooner or later. In 2005 Ailio finished her master's degree, and soon she got work in the National Project for IT in Social Services (Tikesos project). Her tasks in the project included the development of information structures, i.e. client document structures, data components and classifications.

After the Tikesos project ended in 2011, the responsibility for the information structures of social welfare was transferred to THL's Information Structures and Classifications Unit. There happened to be a vacancy then, and Ailio applied for it. Now she has worked in THL for one year. Ailio's tasks include the development of information structures for social welfare and specially the development and maintenance of the client data model.

Ailio got to know the methods of terminology work for the first time during her information management studies in social welfare and health care. During the Tikesos project she learnt to know the Terminology Centre because it participated in the compilation of the Vocabulary of Social Services Classification and the Vocabulary of Social Welfare Client Documents which were published in the Tikesos project. Ailio thinks that terminology work can unite a group of people that come from different special fields and can help them to find a common language and common concepts.

Arguments for starting terminology work

Terminologists and those who use the results of terminology work agree that terminology work is useful and worthwhile. However, it can be challenging to argue the costs and benefits of terminology work to the decision-makers who are experts of management or economics and do not know terminology work or the problems caused by the lack of it. A universal argument for starting terminology work cannot be given, because the benefits depend on the environment where the terminology work is done.

As in many other projects, in terminology work, too, a preliminary study is one of the most important phases and it should be done thoroughly and by considering various alternatives.

When the benefits of terminology work are considered, quality is often the first thing that comes into mind, and undoubtedly terminology work affects the quality of operation and language. But if there have been no distinctive problems in quality, the improvement of quality is not an adequate argument for decision-making. Quality is a working alternative when it has already been noticed that language should be developed. Wrong or bad terms can hinder the understanding of texts, give unprofessional image of the product or service, or hinder information retrieval. Quality aspects are often linked with the uniformity of language and how well it can be localized.

The uniformity of terms affects texts often more than the quality of language as such. Non-coherent terminology makes it difficult to understand and read texts, which in turn gives a scrappy or indigestible image of a product. In some cases ambiguity can have a more significant meaning than just quality – for example if quick and precise understanding is vital for safety.

Coherent terminology in which one term, or at least a limited amount of synonyms, is used for one concept is very important if some text is changed or corrected. A coherent text is much easier to correct when some term is changed. A coherent text is also easier to localize when the translator is not forced to guess whether it is a question of a synonym or a totally different concept. For the user, coherent terminology creates quality and gives an impression of a good-quality product.

Different companies have reported savings after they have started terminology work. The savings have been approximately 20%. The information on savings is usually based on interviews and exact calculations have not been given or they are not publicly available. The savings depend on the starting point and how big problems the lack of terminology work has caused. The availability of public terminologies used in the field can affect savings some terms have already been clarified and probably in use.

It depends on the nature of terminology work what kind of savings can be achieved with it. The savings of monolingual terminology work remain often smaller than the savings of multilingual work. The savings do not depend only on the amount of languages. Other influencing factors are e.g. the number of users of a terminology, number of terms to be handled and how established the terms are.

How can the savings of terminology work be measured? Clearly measurable results are achieved if the costs of writing or localization can be measured before and after the starting of terminology work. This cannot be used as an argument for starting terminology work since the calculations can be made only after the work has been going on for long enough. So, when terminology work is started, estimations will have to do. The better the estimations can be justified with calculations, the more reliable they can be considered. The time used for finding terms, discussions, checks and correcting mistakes can be estimated. It is common that there are disputes about the right term, but no-one writes down these discussions and the same problem will be solved again and again. The central question is how long it takes to find the right term or to correct mistakes. For example, if 50 persons can save 5% of their work time because of terminology work and the costs per person per month are 3,000 e, this means that the savings of terminology work are 7,500 e/month.

Besides time management, terminology work can also affect other investments and costs. When there is one source for terminology, the need for other sources will decrease. The time used for negotiations and proofreading may become shorter and the need to rewrite or re-translate decreases.

When the economic and other benefits of terminology work have been defined, the requirements for terminology work have to be defined, too. Perhaps the most important fact is how the terminology will be used. If the main use of the terminology is mono- or bilingual and there is no localization, the requirements are totally different compared to such terminology work that is connected to localization and the use of many languages.

The terminologies and terminology work must also meet the users' needs or the terminologies will be curiosities and no benefits will arise. The terminologies must be linked to everyday work and function in the same environment as the tools used for writing. The users must be able to find the information they need and to link it as part of their work.

Local Government Glossary – compromises and choices

The Local Government Glossary contains 220 key concepts with definitions. The glossary is in Finnish, Swedish and English (terms, definitions and notes). It is primarily intended for the needs of those employed in the government sector and translators, although it should also be useful to anyone dealing with municipal issues or otherwise requiring local government terminology. The purpose of the glossary is to standardise the use of terms and thereby to clarify texts concerning local government matters.

The selection of concepts for the Local Government Glossary was difficult. The broad spectrum of duties performed by the municipalities is reflected in the glossary’s wide range of concepts from different fields. The selection of concepts was based especially on the terminology used in Finnish statutes covering the local government sector.

The glossary contains key concepts applicable to the Finnish municipal sector under the following themes: organisational units, elected officials and local government officers, municipal decision-making procedures, local government finances, the system of central government transfers to local government, municipal boundary redetermination, and the various functions of the municipalities.

Always when a glossary describing the Finnish system contains foreign languages in addition to Finnish and Swedish, cultural differences will soon be encountered. Legal systems and administrative structures have developed in their own way in each country, and so have the terms referring to them. Corresponding concepts may not exist at all or the contents of the concepts behind the terms differ too much from each other. In such cases it is difficult to decide whether a term referring to a narrower or broader or related concept should be given as an equivalent or whether some other expression describing the concept should be created. For example the Finnish term kunta may refer to municipality (geographic area), local authority (authorities and administrative structure) or local government (as opposite to central government).

When glossaries are compiled, it must be decided whether the glossary is descriptive or normative, i.e. are all the terms in use just described without giving any comments or are recommendations given. From the beginning, the aim of the Local Government Glossary project was to standardise the use of terms in the texts dealing with local government in different languages and written in the central government level.

Where should the line be drawn when there are several synonyms and ways of expression? Some glossary users could find it easy if there would be only one English equivalent for each Finnish term, but some users would be confused not to find the English term that they have used whether the term is good or bad. One reason for the numerous English equivalents is that it is often possible to begin compounds either with municipal or local.

History of medical terminology

The professional terminology of medicine consists largely of Greek and Latin. The reason for this is the Greek origin of this science (Greek physician Hippocrates is referred to as the father of medicine) and the fact that the physicians of ancient Rome adopted the Greek terminology as such or renewed it by translating the Greek words into Latin and by creating original expressions, too. For historical reasons many Arabic expressions have also added to the terminology of medicine.

When Latin later became the dominant language of science in Europe as the keeper and mediator of the Greco-Roman cultural heritage, the old medical words and word formation models were transferred via the Middle Ages and modern history all the way to the modern languages. The vividness of the tradition is portrayed by the fact that neologisms are still coined on the basis of Greek and Latin. So it is not possible to say on the basis of the word form whether the word was born in the ancient times or whether it was coined much later.

It has been agreed internationally that Latin is used in anatomic terms (i.e. cor is heart) whereas Greek is used in clinical terms, terms for diseases (i.e. cardiology is a branch of medicine concerned with the heart and its diseases).

Versatility is an asset for document translators

In the profession of translators the subjects vary from few lines in a nutrition table on a biscuit package to hundreds of pages in operator's, maintenance and repair manuals of film blowing equipment. So the requirements for special field knowledge and style vary greatly for different assignments. There are some special field courses in translator training, and translators' own interests guide the acceptance of translations, but in most cases translators specialize in some field by chance.

The income of translation entrepreneurs is mainly defined by how much work they accept. If one is very choosy, the income may be quite small. On the other hand, if one takes a translation on some new field, it means that a lot of time must be spent on familiarizing with the field in the first time. But if the work is good, the client may order more translations later. Then the clientele will become larger, and no single client will hava a too big percentage of the translator's turnover.

Satu Leinonen thinks that technical texts are logical and clear if compared to concert and art exhibitions critics which may contain very abstract and ambiguous expressions. The translation of technical texts is also made easier by the fact that the translator doesn't work alone, but in cooperation with the client. Term problems can be solved together, since the client is the expert in his or her field.

Translation can be thought of as a process that combines text analysis, acquisition of information and good target language. With work experience these become routine which in turn helps translators to familiarize themselves with new special fields. The first translation in a new field is always the trickiest, but when it is done, the next job in the same field is considerably easier. The knowledge on special fields cumulates, so any work may be helpful for some future translation work.


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