Summaries 2/2007

Language and terminology work as mirrors of our time

In the beginning of the Finnish Terminology Centre TSK’s history, more than three decades ago, terminology work was mainly done in various fields of technology. Since then, the need for terminology work in other fields than technology has also become evident. The terminological tradition in the fields of technology is still one important factor for starting new projects. For example, the TSK has compiled more terminologies for the telecommunications field than any other special field.

Technical development is one factor influencing the creation of new concepts and terms. When consumers are taking new technology into use, it is high time to agree on common, preferably native-language terms, and with the help of definitions to explain the ordinary consumers what it is all about. Fresh examples of such vocabularies are the TSK’s Digital TV and the Internet Call Vocabularies.

The concepts and subjects of vocabularies reflect this day, the events of our society and the world. For example, the tsunami in the South-East Asia affected us Finns as well, and presented concretely the need to clarify the concepts related to emergency preparedness. Although many factors influence the initiation of terminology projects, exceptional situations, such as the tsunami catastrophe, may influence the timetable of projects: now a vocabulary on civil defence and preparedness is being compiled.

Marja Kantonen — expert of technical language

Marja Kantonen is interested in the language as a phenomenon with which we perceive the world. Kantonen studied Finnish, general linguistics and computer science in the universities of Turku and Helsinki. She has wide experience in localisation and translation since she started her career as a language planner already in 1988 in Trantex which has through several acquisitions become a part of the international Lionbridge company. Her current job contains a lot of managerial duties, e.g. HR administration.

"Terms are the most important part of technical texts" Kantonen says. "Technical documentation is at its best terms and clear linguistic structures." Kantonen considers terms interesting since the understanding of their meaning opens windows to brand new worlds. No special field can be understood without knowing its terms and their meaning.

Lionbridge’s most important lines of business in Finland are technical writing, localisation and translation. Subject fields vary from one technology to another, e.g. IT, telecommunication and medical technology. Lionbridge’s 300 employees in Finland are part of a really international work community. Lionbridge has more than 50 locations in 25 countries with the headquarters in the USA. Since most of the clients operate in global markets, a localisation and translation company must also be able to offer global service. Lionbridge has 4 000 employees worldwide and 5 000 freelancers.

In the Lionbridge office in Finland translations are made into Finnish and from Finnish into Swedish and English. According to Kantonen, Finnish consumers can manage with English manuals and use English web sites, but in many other countries there is a need to have a raw translation into the local language. The need for Finnish translations is created by the legislation. According to law, all products sold in Finland must have Finnish and Swedish instructions.

In international cooperation cultural differences emerge in many contexts, e.g. the attitude to keeping timetables is rather culture-specific. The ways to address subordinates and workmates also vary. Finns usually go straight to the point, which may seem very rude in other cultures.

The common business trends also apply in the localisation field. Clients look for cost savings and bargain over the price of services, which means that the service providers must also be able to rationalize their operation. The aim is to save costs above all with language technology. It is not easy, however. "The translation memories have already been almost fully exploited" Kantonen says. Machine translation is being developed and it is already used in some Lionbridge offices. "However, it is very language-specific how well machine translation works" Kantonen says "and it will never fully replace human work."

In addition to cost savings, hectic work is caused by the fact that clients sometimes realize the localisation need quite late. The product is ready for the market when it is noticed that the related documents should also be translated, and the translations are needed very quickly. Translation may also be complicated if the localisation requirements have not been taken into account in the product development phase.

Lionbridge’s translators use mostly client or project-specific translation memories and glossaries. Electronic dictionaries and glossary programs are also used often. The terms used in translations are mainly received from the clients. Even if some term does not seem the best possible one to translators or language planners, the client is always right. It is possible to suggest a better term to the client, but in the end the client’s wishes are respected.

According to Kantonen, translation memories have outstandingly replaced separate terminologies. On the other hand, there is still need for terminologies, since, as time goes, several corresponding term translations may be saved in the translation memory. In this case, separate terminologies help translators to choose the suitable term for the text in question. Lionbridge’s terminology work does not mean the defining of concepts but the searching of terms in the required languages.

Kantonen thinks that is important that terminology work is done in Finland by such a neutral organization as the Finnish Terminology Centre TSK which is a body outside the commercial field. The TSK gathers experts from different fields to do terminology work in a way that no commercial organization could.

Finnish neologisms

This year is the Jubilee Year of Mikael Agricola, who is considered the father of standard Finnish, marking the 450th anniversary of his death, and therefore the Finnish language has been topical in the Finnish media. One special interest has been new words and expressions.

Words are usually created spontaneously there where they are used, e.g. in editorial offices, science communities, various hobbies and special fields when new things are talked about. The administration also creates new words.

Often new words are loaned with the things that they refer to directly from other languages. The loan of both the thing and the word can be seen when studying e.g. new culinary words. Culinary loan words can be found in magazines and menus, e.g. hummus (chick pea spread) is Arabic and polenta (maize porridge served as a side dish) is Italian.

It is not always possible to notice the loan-origin of words since translation loans are often a natural part of a language. In Finnish, it is easy to form compounds and derivatives. Sometimes the style register of a new loan word seems very colloquial for a long time. There can be more words than the things they refer to, because words have synonyms of various styles, e.g. the loan word blogi (blog) has equivalents verkkopäiväkirja (network diary) and nettipäiväkirja (net diary).

A sample of Finnish neologisms can be found in the Mitä, Missä, Milloin (what, where, when) annuals. Since 1982 they have included a collection of new or otherwise current "words of the year". Little by little they have formed an interesting entity of Finnish neologism types, but also the topics of the recent Finnish history. The world events as well as the life in Finland with its bandwagons and political jokes are reflected in the words. A lot of the spirit of the time is concentrated in words, whether the word is paperikengät (paper shoes) of the war time or minihame (miniskirt) of the 60s. The words also tell how the society has become more technical.


Children are good at inventing words, like Rune Skogberg’s four-year old son who invented the word snång ("Swedish") to designate the bad-smelling spiral that is burnt to repel mosquitoes. But suddenly that creativity disappears and the young expect the society – school and other institutions – to give them ready-made words and expressions. Mainly it is the adults' fault that this happens. We love to say "it is not called that" if terms are not official.

Linguists and psychologists have pondered for decades which comes first: thought or word. Most have come to an agreement that a thought is a prerequisite for a word. Children realize differences between objects even if they do not have words for them. But there is also evidence that linguistic expressions influence what we understand, remember, plan and do. Words become so important in our understanding and description of the reality that the reality does not seem quite complete without them. The existence of the bad-smelling, smoking gadget becomes total when there is a word, a term for it. It is not very important what it is called, but that it is called. That there is a word for it.

Of course, in our complex western culture the native home language is not enough, but it is important to maintain, stimulate and develop it continuously. Other languages than the home language, whether special or foreign languages, that are used to express other contexts and realities are naturally important tools for us to go in and master these contexts and realities. But they can be, especially if the own language diminishes, a threat to the own familiar reality. This is the reason why English and the fact that we more and more easily use English words and expressions and couldn’t care less about our own native language can be a threat to our own reality.

Web Tax Glossary as source of terminological information

Many web sites offer glossaries for their users where the essential terms used on the site are collected. This is one way of improving the usability of a web site and the understanding of its texts. The reader may check a term in a glossary while reading if he has difficulties in understanding its meaning or if he wants additional information.

Merja Koskela, the writer of the article, has studied the Tax Glossary on the web site of the Finnish Tax Administration from the viewpoint of terminological concept definition. The Tax Glossary is a service where the reader can find, according to the site, the most essential taxation terms.

Koskela’s study shows that the terms in the Tax Glossary can be divided into four categories. In the first category the concepts are defined. However, besides actual definitions, there can be additional information on the terms. In terminological glossaries the definitions must be as short as possible, and all additional information is placed in separate notes. The term descriptions of the Tax Administration’s terms do not in all cases fulfil the requirement for accuracy and shortness, and the descriptions often contain information that could well be replaced with links.

The second category has taxation-related phenomena which are described. In these descriptions the concept itself is not defined, rather it is explained what tax provisions are applied. The third category includes terms designating various processes or operations with related instructions. Instead of definitions there are instructions what to do if a person needs e.g. a tax card.

The fourth category consists of terms designating phenomena from which sources of information are given. Usually there is only a reference to a place where more information can be found, e.g. another web site. The meaning of terms is not explained but only the responsible body and a link are given. The omission of definitions can lead the user to wrong paths and hinder understanding, too. It seems typical to this last category to offer a path to the wanted information on web pages. It is not a question of defining concepts or explaining taxation issues but a search function typical to web pages. The web pages of the Tax Administration, however, offer a separate search function with which this glossary seems partly to overlap.

The web pages of Tax Administration contain terms that, instead of a description, should have been linked, since the description is a whole instruction or other long explanation. The use of links could have been increased when the definition of a concept requires the use of another term. This would easily increase the intelligibility of concept descriptions and help the user. Usually the taxation descriptions can be considered adequate for the purpose, but in some cases the concept may remain unclear for a layperson since the concept is not actually explained but it is just given as if it was familiar.

TSK’s IT terminology project

The Joint Group of IT Terminology started its work originally as a part of the EU’s Multilingual Information Society Programme in 1999. So far, more than 300 recommendations on Finnish IT terms have been given. They can be found on the address In recent years the work has been financed by the Finnish Ministry of Education.

The IT terminology project has been going on for eight years, and the material has not been checked as a whole, although individual term records have been corrected. Therefore the coordination group decided to go through the so called network terms and see whether they should or could be harmonized. Such terms as Internet address, net shop, network wallet, webcam and WWW page were checked.

It was decided that the Finnish word verkko will be used as the first part of a term when possible, but Finnish words beginning with web will not be recommended. The word netti (net) is still considered colloquial although it used more and more often in many contexts. The abbreviation WWW is recommended in suitable terms. It is not advisable to invent new abbreviations in different languages because this would only confuse the user.

New recommendations have also been given. The word wiki is also loaned into Finnish. It is defined as a web site which is produced as web collaboration. Terms of Finnish origin are also recommended when possible, e.g. instead of folksonomia (directly translated from folksonomy) the term avoin asiasanoitus is recommended.

The target group of the IT terminology project is still the ordinary IT users. The target group affects both which concepts are chosen to be handled in the project and how they are defined. The concepts must be necessary and current for the target group, and the definitions must be simple enough to be understood without specialized IT expertise. Since the field is technical, technology cannot be totally ignored in definitions, and the work group has to keep the balance between easy to understand and technically accurate definitions.


Finnish–Icelandic dictionary
Suomi–islanti-sanakirja by Tuomas Järvelä contains about 36 000 entries. It is a general dictionary which contains terms of different fields and also words and expressions on everyday language usage. It is meant especially for Finnish students and translators.

Finnish–Arabic dictionary
The Finnish Literature Society has published Suomi–arabia-sanakirja compiled by Mahmoud Mahdy Abdallah. It is the first large Finnish–Arabic dictionary which contains 46 000 entries. In addition to standard language vocabulary it also has the essential terms of special fields. It is suitable for translators, students and those who are interested in Arabic, but it is assumed that the user can read Arabic writing.

New standards
The Finnish Standards Association SFS has published the standard SFS 5913 Alarm systems. Terms and definitions. It contains almost 400 terms in Finnish and English and definitions in English. It also has references to the publications where the terms and definitions have been taken.

ISO has published the standards ISO 639-3 Codes for the representation of names of languages. Part 3: Alpha-3 code for comprehensive coverage of languages and ISO 1951 Presentation/representation of entries in dictionaries – Requirements, recommendations and information. ISO 639-3 defines essential concepts and tells about the principles of making the alpha-3 codes. The purpose is to cover as precisely as possible all the languages of the world whether they are still used, despite how many speakers they have or whether they are written or not. The codes themselves are not included in the standard but they are available on the address

ISO 1951 deals with monolingual and multilingual, general and specialized dictionaries. It presents the general structure of a dictionary and various layouts of entries. It has indexes of Arabic, Greek and Roman numerals, lexicographic symbols with explanations and examples of using XML in compiling and publishing dictionaries.