Summaries 3/2003

News of Nordic terminology centres

In June Nordic terminologists and others interested in terminology met in the Nordterm event in Visby, Gotland. The Swedish Centre for Terminology TNC has traditionally been the largest terminology centre in the Nordic countries. The Swedish government supports TNC's operation quite well, with a couple of million crowns per year. This shows that Sweden has realized the importance of terminology work as an activity indispensable for the national language and culture as well as means of facilitating communication.

The situation in Norway is unfortunately not so good as in Sweden. About 18 months ago the Norwegian Council for Technical Terminology RTT went bankrupt, and another organization responsible for terminology work has not yet been established in Norway. There are plans, though; the Norwegian Language Council is interested in taking terminological activities as one of its tasks.

The Danish Centre for Terminology has worked since 1998 mainly with corporate financing. They have concentrated on creating and developing term banks, e.g. a term bank program I-TERM. Iceland does not have a terminology centre but the Icelandic Language Council takes care of term issues. And for the first time the Nordterm conference had representatives from Greenland.

The Finnish Centre for Technical Terminology will soon be 30 years old. At the moment we have about 5 employees. We are working on a few terminology projects, but continuous basic services would badly need more public funding.

Ari Muhonen pursues client orientation in libraries

Ari Muhonen has been the Director of the Helsinki University of Technology (HUT) Library since 2002. Shipbuilding engineer, Licentiate of Science in Technology and information officer Ari Muhonen says that his choice of profession is undeniably a peculiar equation, but at the same time a sum of lucky chances. He graduated as a Master of Science in naval architecture at the Helsinki University of Technology in the end of 80s. He continued with licentiate studies and worked as a researcher at the ship laboratories of both HUT and VTT.

Since Muhonen is interested in books and literature as well as an experienced user of libraries, it was easy to persuade him to work in the library administration. After a course in informatics, he started to work in the HUT library.

In 1997 he moved to the Helsinki University Library to work as the Head of Public Services. He was then 34 years old and he tells that the beginning was exceptional in many ways. "I was quite a young man and most of my colleagues were older women. In addition to that I noticed that I was the only engineer among 200 arts graduates" he smiles. "The time I spent in the University Library was all in all very rewarding experience" says Muhonen. "I gained quite a new perspective to my work. For example, the necessity to discuss everything was new to me, and little by little I learned to understand its importance."

The HUT library has long traditions. During the last 150 years it has become the centre of scientific information services for the university. "The main task of the library is to serve the University of Technology and its students and researchers so that they could do their work as well as possible. In addition, the library is the central library of technology in Finland.

The collections of the Main Library contain about 200 000 volumes, in addition to which the collections of periodicals are an important part of the material in the HUT library. The library also offers its clients an ever growing number of electronic sources like electronic magazines, databases and encyclopedias. As a new service, during the recent years the HUT library has offered the candidates of doctoral dissertations a possibility to publish their dissertations in an electronic format.

As the Library Director Muhonen has to consider to which direction the library should be developed. According to him, the library is the heart of the university, and this must be so in the future, too. Old working methods must be adjusted to meet current requirements. "The main task of the HUT library has not changed. Our job is to support research, teaching and learning by offering information. Nowadays, however, the job is done differently. Before material was obtained, organized and given to the clients, nowadays a route is created by which the client can access information" says Muhonen.

As future areas of focus Muhonen sees the development of electronic services and more customized library services. The right piece of information should be found in the vast amount of information more efficiently. Muhonen thinks that the physical library building and the printed book will keep their position for a long time. "The library is specially important for students who come here because the material they need is collected here and here is space to read and study. The library is also a social environment where people come to meet friends."

The teaching of information management has become one of libraries' central tasks. The skill to realize the need for information, to evaluate and use information critically is one of the basic academic skills.

The cooperation between research libraries has long traditions in Finland. The basis for cooperation is a common library system which has unified the practices of libraries. According to Muhonen, Finland has a very good position in international comparison, e.g. FinELib, the National Electronic Library, is in a class of its own in the world. FinELib acquires Finnish and international electronic resources to support research, teaching and learning.

Ari Muhonen was asked to join TSK's board of directors in 2002. "Terminology work has both a language planning task and an explanatory task" he says. He thinks it is important to fight domain loss, i.e. the loss of ability to communicate in Finnish. By the explanatory task Muhonen refers to the definition of concepts. According to him, the library administration benefits from the results of terminology work, because the use of definitions for concepts makes their work easier.

Interpreter – heavy user of special fields and terms

Great diversity is typical for the profession of interpreters. An interpreter may interpret for one person or for hundreds, consecutively or simultaneously, monologues or discussions. There are interpreters that interpret mainly for one client, but most of the interpreters work as freelancers on the open market. Specially freelance interpreters shuttle between different special fields.

It cannot be expected from an interpreter that he or she has profound knowledge on every special field. It is expected, however, that the interpreter understands the subject to be interpreted so well that he or she is able to communicate the speech without changes in the meaning.

Interpretation and the quality of interpretation are naturally affected by the interpreter's own knowledge, skills and characteristics. In addition to these, so called external factors are important for interpretation. These are e.g. the parties of communication, the special field and how the text is presented. Before the interpretation assignment, the interpreter tries to find information on the external factors: who speaks to whom, in what situation and what is the purpose of this communication.

The basic approach in all interpretation is that the speaker is responsible for how the message is presented. The interpreter's job is to interpret the speech as accurately as possible. Normally, the interpreter does not popularize or explain the speaker's technical language, but the interpreter assumes that the speaker has estimated the knowledge level of his or her audience.

An essential phase in every interpretation assignment is preparation when the interpreter absorbs the information needed in the future assignment. This includes e.g. reading special field articles in the source and target language and going through terms. Possible deficiencies in the command of terms cause very concrete problems in interpretation. In addition to initial preparation, preparation and learning also continue during the interpretation assignment. Many times the interpreter receives some texts only when he or she arrives on the spot, and some texts may be handed out only after the event has started.

Despite of preparation and professional expertise, the interpreter may end up in a situation where he or she simply cannot wholly understand and express the speaker's very technical speech. Terminological problems must be solved quickly and the interpreter has a very limited range of instruments for use in an interpretation situation.

If the interpreter understands the source text, but cannot find an equivalent, there are some strategies to solve the problem. The interpreter may formulate the message differently, describe the term in own words or use a superordinate concept. Sometimes the reason for a term problem is not the interpreter's missing skills, but the target language may lack a term since the concept systems of the source and target language may differ from each other or the special field in question may be so new that the concepts do not have terms in the target language. Then it is possible to explain the term or to use loan terms.

In simultaneous interpretation interpreters work as pairs and, with luck, the colleague has an answer to the term problem. Also other parties of communication may ask for clarification if they do not understand. And sometimes the listeners may help the interpreter.

Nordterm 2003

The Nordic Nordterm conference was organized in Visby, Gotland in 11-14 June by the Swedish Centre for Terminology TNC. This conference is organized every second year, and it consists of a course, a two-day symposium and meetings of the Nordterm work groups.

The symposium was divided into four up-to-date themes: the marketing and role of terminology in the society, new application areas of terminology and the role of terminology work in comparison to other applications of language and concept information.

During the symposium the domain loss, the diminishing use of national languages, invoked discussion in many occasions. There has been a lot of discussion in Finland and other Nordic countries about this subject as it has been noticed that in various subject fields the communication takes place almost only in English. This process has gradually led to that the national terminology does not keep up with the development. Johan Myking from the University of Bergen examined the subject from the viewpoint of a language researcher and presented concepts and phenomena related to the diminishing use of national languages.

Torbjørg Breivik presented a language resource bank that is being planned in Norway. The bank would collect all language resources in one place. The concern on the diminishing use of Norwegian is behind this project. According to Breivik, English is replacing Norwegian both in the fields of culture and special knowledge.

A data bank on terminology is also being planned in Sweden. The project on terminological infrastructure in Sweden managed by TNC aims at gathering as a comprehensive collection of term resources as possible under one terminology portal in order to ease terminological information retrieval in the future and offer a versatile tool for those who struggle with terminological problems.

Virpi Kalliokuusi lectured on the relationship between lexicography and terminology. She discussed e.g. the defining of the entry word selection in general dictionaries as compared to special field dictionaries. In special dictionaries the entry word selection is quite limited which makes the selection easier. Many different factors influence the selection of entry words for general dictionaries. In addition to compulsory words (such as articles, prepositions, numerals, etc.) the lexicographer selects a vast amount of optional words separately in every dictionary project, using various criteria. Lexicographers should be able to estimate which entry words are relevant for the target group of each dictionary and what are the target groups needs.

Ingrid Almqvist told about term work in Scania. The company language is English but Swedish is used in local activities. Scania's different departments did not have a unified terminology which was why the term work was started. There is a clear need to harmonize the language used in Scania. In order to harmonize terms, an internal term database has been built.

Gisela Gurr, linguist and economist, presented her study made for the University of Humboldt in Berlin in 2001. In her study she had examined the news on the European Monetary Union EMU directed at laypersons and how the news had been popularized in newspapers. According to Gurr, news for laypersons are more simple than texts for experts. Popularized texts explain concepts and give additional information. Also terms are popularized. Those terms that experts use were not always used in news, instead a more descriptive ad hoc designation was created.

Aino Piehl from the Research Institute for the Languages of Finland told about the role of an EU language planner in term work. Piehl said that most term questions directed at her concern foreign language terms. Piehl emphasized that authorities' knowledge on terms should be increased in statute drafting. Considering terms is not yet thought of as a part of statute drafting which makes term work difficult later.

The Nordterm event also had a short humorous course in Gotland's own language and a guided tour in the historical city of Visby. A medieval banquet was served in a middle age restaurant with music and dance. The event ended with a tour in southern Gotland.

About term sources and their reliability

One essential part of a translator's work has always been to find as correct term equivalents as possible. Earlier it was specially difficult to find special field glossaries, but in recent years the situation has changed: dozens of electronic special field glossaries can be found on any subject field. The problem is now how to recognize the reliable glossaries from this obscure lot.

General dictionaries focus on the concepts of standard language, although many contain also occasional special field terms. As a rule of thumb, it can be said that the more special fields the dictionary contains, the more unreliable the equivalents usually are. General dictionaries do not go out of date so fast as special field glossaries but with new, revised version they become better and more complete.

With special field glossaries the problem is the quick and continuous changes in the modern society. It is difficult to find foreign language equivalents when even the source language concepts change continuously and the changes in the source and target culture do not take place at the same time.

When the Finnish society is described, one reliable source are the foreign translations of the Finnish legislation. Translations are usually made by native speakers of the target language and the concepts have been discussed with the translators and civil servants of the administrative sector in question. Statute translations have been entered in a database linked with Finlex (>Lainsäädäntö>Säädöskäännökset).

When electronic glossaries emerged, people rejoiced that now they would get up-to-date glossaries because it would be so easy to update electronic glossaries as compared to printed dictionaries. This has not quite happened since updating has proved to be more labourious than was estimated. Electronic special field glossaries are usually better updated than general dictionaries, e.g. those glossaries that can be found on the web pages of the Finnish public administration offices are relatively trustworthy.

Masses of electronic glossaries can be found on international web pages ending with com, net and org, and it is not easy to know what to think of all of them. The most suitable equivalent should be search for on the basis of the text to be translated. If the text handles phenomena of the Finnish society, it is advisable to search term equivalents in Finnish sources; if the text is linked with EU administration, equivalents may be found in EU glossaries or legislation. But the less information is given on the glossary itself, the more critically its equivalents should be regarded.

In spite of numerous electronic and printed sources, foreign equivalents cannot be found for all concepts. A concept may not be known in the target culture, or its content may vary so much in different cultures that it is not sensible to use one and same equivalent. In ambiguous cases it is better to use an explaining translation than to make up a word or use an equivalent found in an unreliable source. Sometimes it is worth while to consider whether to use an explaining translation than a term equivalent that is used in a very narrow special field. After all, the purpose of translation is to communicate the message, and an single term does not have a decisive role in that.

Are abbreviations replacing terms?

Why is an abbreviation considered so important that it has to be invented in some way or other? The usability and clarity of terms seem to be peripheral and the deepest passions are focussed on inventing a good abbreviation. Telecommunication seems to be the promised land of abbreviations, and many abbreviations have passed from this field to general language use. However, the concepts or terms behind even frequently repeated abbreviations may be strange.

When thinking about the use of abbreviations, it can be noticed that almost everything "really important" is emphasized by using abbreviations. The abbreviation EU can be seen remarkably more often than the European Union. AIDS and SARS are much better known by their abbreviations than by the complete names of the diseases.

Often an abbreviation appears in some special field texts before anyone seems to know its meaning. Sometimes abbreviations are formulated to resemble words, such as CAMEL (customised applications for mobile network enhanced logic). It seems that abbreviations have taken over the previous task of terms. They are used to emphasize that the speaker is one of the insiders.

Sometimes the use of abbreviations is necessary and clearly warranted, but a good rule to remember is that the use of abbreviations is easy for the writer but difficult for the reader.

Nordterm course

As usual, the Nordterm conference started with a training course. This year the theme was an up-to-date subject related with the application of terminological knowhow: concept modelling and terminological concept analysis. Lecturers were experts both on the theory of terminology and other kind of concept modelling.

The course was started by Ambjörn Naeve from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. He presented concept modelling with the help of the Unified Modeling Language (UML). According to Naeve, a concept model is a description of the most important concepts of a certain subject field and their relations. The UML is a language with which a concept model can be realized as schemas.

Anita Nuopponen from the University of Vaasa has studied different concept relations. In the course she discussed about terminological concept systems and specially ontological concept relations.

Concept modelling is not just a theory but it can be used in different practical applications. One example was presented by Maria Areblad who works with terminology in the county council of East Götaland. She told about a terminology project on nursing and how various modelling methods have been used in the project. As a result a term index has been created where term recommendations, definitions and other descriptions can be found.

Bodil Nistrup Madsen from the Copenhagen Business School told about the meaning of characteristics in the compilation of concept systems and new ways of describing the multi-dimensionality of concept systems. A new way of stating the classification criteria and characteristics of concepts was developed in the Computer Aided Ontology Structuring project. For example, the concept diagrams did not have definitions but terms under which the characteristics of the chosen dimensions were listed.

RailLex collects railway terminology

The UIC, International Union of Railways, was founded in 1922. The role of the UIC is to promote cooperation between railways at world level and to carry out activities to develop international transport by rail. The UIC's tasks include among other things preparing standards and recommendations to facilitate international traffic.

"This dictionary is intended for all those who, for various reasons, are required to read, translate or write technical articles, publications or correspondence relating to railways." With these words the first edition of UIC railway dictionary Lexique général de termes ferroviaires was published in 1957. The dictionary comprised five languages: French, German, English, Spanish and Italian. In the second edition Dutch was added.

Many railways, e.g. Hungarian and Greek, translated the UIC terms into their own languages, more or less officially. In the 1970s, the Polish State Railways officially published an Eastern version with French, German, Russian, Hungarian, Polish, Romanian, Czech and English. The Iranian State Railways has translated the UIC dictionary into Farsi.

The RailLex project started in 1991 with 15 railway organizations in order to exchange terminology and improve international cooperation. The purpose of the project was also to allow new languages that were formerly refused to be integrated in the UIC dictionary because of the limited possibilities of a printed dictionary.

With the rise of information technology, new possibilities opened up for the printed dictionary and the first CD-ROM called RailLexic with railway terminology in 11 languages was launched in 1994. The second edition followed with 15 languages, the third in 2002 with 19 languages.

RailLexic is the UIC railway terminology database on CD-ROM comprising over 10000 terms in 19 languages: Finnish, Swedish, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Danish, Czech, Dutch, Esperanto, Hungarian, Japanese (not yet complete), Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Serbian and Slovak. Norwegian is also ready but not yet available on the CD-ROM. Estonian is under translation as well as Turkish, Slovenian, Greek and Arabic.

For each term, there are the translations with synonyms, subject areas and grammatical information. There are also definitions for 2500 terms. Many terms carry a short explanatory note and context to clarify the meaning of the term. RailLexic has two search options for the database. An alphabetical search makes it possible to select a term from the overall index of the database terms. A free-text search will search in all fields of the database. The terms are classified into more than hundred railway-specific subject areas. Different printed versions are also offered.

The Finnish Rail Administration started in 1996 to translate the terms of the second edition of the RailLexic CD-ROM. The work was done by a dozen voluntary subject field experts from the administration and the Finnish Railways. The Finnish Rail Administration has continued to improve the Finnish translations and add new definitions. On its Internet pages the latest updated versions of the Finnish language files can be found so that those who are interested in updating Finnish can download improved files.

The RailLexic database has a feature for classifying the correctness of the translation of a term. This has been used for those Finnish terms that are suspected of not being correct by marking their status as "not confirmed".


The Finnish Standards Association SFS has published standard SFS-ISO 6814 Machinery for forestry. Mobile and self-propelled machinery. Terms, definitions and classification. Standard contain the English text and its Finnish translation. Terms are also given in Swedish. The mobile machinery standard gives guidance on the classification of mobile forestry machines. Its terms and definitions do not include all possible forest operations or machines, but they are given as aids for naming forestry machines.