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Subject-Field Classification

The fundamental principle of terminology is that terms belong to spheres of activity structured into classification systems for specialized knowledge. Each area of specialization has such a system, which must be reflected in every coherent terminology collection.

Documentary classification systems, encyclopedias, manuals, and databases intended for knowledge transfer can all provide the beginning terminologist with the framework required to establish or adopt a subject-field classification system for the subject area in which s/he is called upon to perform terminology research.

Subject-field classification systems may include a single level or multiple levels. In some cases, a single level may be defined for subject fields of less interest to the organization, while several hierarchical levels may be available for the classification of concepts in important spheres of activity.

One example of a subject-field classification system can be found in TERMIUM®, in which sets of terminology are organized into 24 broad subject fields. On average, each broad subject field, or class, is divided into 10 to 12 subject fields (divisions), each of which is, in turn, divided into subfields. This gives a total of about 1,600 classification nodes. For data-entry purposes, the subject fields are coded; for consultation purposes, the codes are automatically expanded into full descriptors. This system continues to be adopted and adapted by language professionals responsible for establishing terminology databases.

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K Électronique et informatique   K Electronics and Informatics
Systèmes cybernétiques KA Cybernetic Systems
Informatique KB Informatics
Ensembles électroniques KC Electronic Systems
Matériel informatique KD Computer Hardware
Logiciels KE Software
Automatique KF Automatic Control Engineering
Électronique KG Electronics
Provisoire K- Provisional Classification

Fig. 1a TERMIUM® Subject-Field Classification Guide, broad K class (Electronics and Informatics) and its divisions

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KA Systèmes cybernétiques empty KA Cybernetics Systems
Systèmes cybernétiques de réaction KAA Response Systems
Systèmes cybernétiques de contrôle et de commande KAB Control Systems
Systèmes cybernétiques de régulation KAC Regulatory Systems
Intelligence artificielle KAD Artificial Intelligence
Simulation KAE Simulation
Généralités KAF General
Termes inclassables KAZ Non-classifiable Terms
Provisoire KA- Provisional Classification

Fig. 1b TERMIUM® Subject-Field Classification Guide, KA division (Cybernetics Systems) and its sections

Related disciplines and convergent technologies may share some concepts and the terms that designate them. Sometimes, the same concept may have different designations depending on the subject field of use, or the same term may designate different concepts in different areas of specialization. Indication of the subject field removes any ambiguity.

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VGI Road Networks
VGK Signalling (Road Transport)
VGO Road Traffic
EN smartway*c*CORRECT
intelligent highway*g*CORRECT
smart highway*h*CORRECT
electronic highway*a*SEE RECORD
automated highway*d,i*CORRECT
automatic motorway*f*CORRECT
DEF* An electronically equipped highway for monitoring traffic flow and user security.*a
OBS* electronic highway: Not to be confused with the "information highway".*a
Automated Highway System*
self-steering car*
intelligent motorway*
FR autoroute automatique*b,d*FEM
autoroute électronique*a*PROPOSAL,FEM
autoroute intelligente*e*FEM
CONT* Certains futuristes envisagent des trains de voitures sur des autoroutes automatiques. En attendant, on peaufine un système anticollision qui détecte les obstacles, régule vitesse et distance minimales. Et un système d'alerte qui réveille le conducteur assoupi et redresse la trajectoire du véhicule en cas de problème.*b
OBS* Promoteur de ce projet, PATH (Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways) […] a placé dans le béton, au centre de la voie, 92 778 aimants. Les véhicules sont équipés d'un senseur magnétique, baptisé magnétomètre, situé sous le pare-chocs avant, qui « lit » les aimants grâce à un système de codage numérique. Les aimants contrôlent les déplacements latéraux du véhicule et les corrigent.*e

f*Internet. [
exchange/uk/1997-1/ukopgare.htm]. (20000217)

Fig. 2 Several subject fields per record. The term "electronic highway" has a different meaning in the field of telecommunications. A different record must be created for the concept in that subject field.

Classification systems evolve to reflect progress within a sphere of activity. This progress might entail the appearance of new disciplines, the migration of concepts between disciplines, or the disappearance, merging, or splitting of certain concepts or designations. Such changes lead to the indication of more than one subject field on the support on which data related to a single concept are recorded.

The distinction between primary subject field and field of application is another important principle with regard to subjectfield classification. The concepts in one area of specialization may be applicable to several disciplines; nevertheless, they belong inherently to one subject field, which is always indicated first on the record.

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CAC Chemical Compounds
JAP Food Additives
EN ethyl formate*a,c,g
DEF* A colorless liquid with an aroma of rum, occurring naturally in apples. It may be prepared synthetically. Used by the food industry as a fungicide and a flavoring agent.*a
FR formiate d'éthyle*a,h*MASC
DEF* Liquide incolore à odeur de rhum, reproductible par synthèse, naturellement présent dans les pommes. L'industrie alimentaire l'emploie comme fongicide et comme aromatisant.*a

Fig. 3 Primary subject field (Chemical Compounds) and field of application (Food Additives)

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Knowledge of the State of the Art in the Subject Field Under Study

In order to conduct any terminology research purported to reflect the current state of the art, the terminologist must keep track of knowledge in a given sphere of activity and stay abreast of new developments and their impact on communication.

Beginning terminologists can acquire this knowledge by carefully reading specialized documentation, building a network of specialized consultants, and keeping informed of relevant topics discussed at symposia, conferences and exhibits.

This knowledge will help the terminologist identify basic terminology and recognize the most recent terminology. In the latter case, concepts may be less clearly understood, neologisms may frequently occur, and usage may sometimes be contradictory, which hampers understanding.

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KBJ Telematics
UCD Telecommunications
UDJ Data Transmission
EN electronic mail*a,d,e,h,i*STANDARDIZED
DEF* Correspondence in the form of messages transmitted between user terminals over a computer network.*a
CONT* Nerd speak. Strudel-post: electronic mail. (Strudel refers to the "at" sign in E-mail addresses).*c
OBS* electronic mail; E-mail; Email: terms standardized by ISO and CSA.*b
FR courrier électronique*a,d,e,h,i* MASC, STANDARDIZED
messagerie électronique*b*SEE RECORD, FEM
adresse électronique*b*SEE RECORD, FEM
DEF* Correspondance sous forme de messages, transmise entre terminaux d'utilisateur sur un réseau d'ordinateurs.*a
CONT* Le HP320LX est la future star du marché des assistants personnels, ces petits ordinateurs qui se glissent dans la poche intérieure d'une veste. Il a reçu Microsoft Explorer et permet donc de surfer et d'échanger des « mel » (la nouvelle orthographe officielle pour « e-mail »).*g
EX* Un imelle sur le oueb, c'est banal aujourd'hui.*f
OBS* courrier électronique; courriel; CÉ : termes normalisés par l'ISO et la CSA; courriel : terme proposé par l'Office de la langue française (Québec).*b
OBS* messagerie électronique; Mél : terme et abréviation proposés par la Commission générale de terminologie et de néologie (France), approuvés par l'Académie française, et qui seront publiés prochainement au Journal Officiel de la République française (Arrêtés de terminologie). L'abréviation mél (ou mel) a été rejetée par l'AFNOR et l'ISO.*b

Fig. 4 Recent terminology, neologisms

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Knowledge of Documentation Containing Desired Information

The primary function of terminology work is the transfer of specialized knowledge and the authentication of related terminological usage. Terminology research is required in order to identify the terms that convey specialized knowledge.

In order to ensure that this function is performed successfully, the terminologist must be familiar with the best documents in his or her subject field and evaluate the documents by category:

  • encyclopedias
  • monographs and technical and academic manuals
  • proceedings of congresses and symposia
  • specialized and popularized periodicals
  • brochures and publicity flyers
  • dictionaries, vocabularies, and documentary, terminology, and linguistic databases
  • Internet sites of the best content providers in the area of specialization.

To facilitate acquisition of this type of knowledge, the terminologist may consult documentalists and subject-field specialists, and participate in specialized forums and discussion groups on the Internet.

Some types of documentation are traditionally preferred over others. Original-language documents are preferable to translations, and encyclopedias and other recognized academic documents or works recommended by specialists are preferable to brochures and promotional material.

The usefulness of monographs is evaluated against criteria such as the following:

  • the publication date
  • the author's credentials
  • the structure of the contents
  • the presence of an up-to-date bibliography
  • the presence of an index of concepts dealt with
  • the presence of a glossary that defines the concepts
  • the presence of a Table of Contents.

Trade journals are preferable to popularized periodicals.

Although the Internet provides a wide range of documentary sources, they are transitory in nature and vary greatly in value.

Knowledge of the Rules for Recording Terminological Data

As a content provider in a specialized language, the terminologist responsible for a given subject field must ensure that the data provided to users of terminology are coherent and up-to-date, and meet quality standards. Whether working alone or under the supervision of a reviser, the terminologist must master the rules concerning the presentation of the terminological data with a view to distributing and implementing them in his or her department or company.

The main recording form for the data is the terminology record. At a minimum, the data selected and presented must inform the user about the subject fields of the concept, the languages in which the concept is described, the terms that designate the concept in each of these languages, the definition of the concept (or any other type of textual support), and the sources that document this information.

A record is made up of fields. Each field contains one particular type of data (or data element). A field may contain an entry term, a grammatical parameter, an originator code, etc. In comparative terminology, a record includes at least two language modules, each of which contains the same series of fields corresponding to important data elements.

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Element 1: primary subject field, fields of application
Element 2: language identifier
Element 3: main entry + sources + usage parameters (see list below)
The main entry is the preferred term, expression or official title, which is entered first among the entries of the language module.
Element 4: abbreviation of the main entry + sources + usage parameters
Element 5: secondary entry + sources + usage parameters
Secondary entry terms are terms, expressions or official titles that are different from the main entry but that designate the same concept or entity. There may be differences in usage (frequency, level of language, etc.), which are indicated using parameters (labels). There may also be differences in spelling (including syntactic variants).
Element 6: abbreviations of secondary entries + sources + parameters
Element 7: textual-support identifier + textual support + sources
The main types of textual support are the definition (identifier DEF), explanatory context (CONT), usage sample (EX), supplementary terminological, administrative or technical information (OBS), and phraseologism (PHR).
Element 8: sources
Element 9: originator
Element 10: record-creation date
Element 11: reviser

Fig. 5a Essential data elements of a record (description)

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RBN Lexicology, Lexicography and Terminology
2 and 3
EN terminology record*a*OFFICIALLY APPROVED
DEF* A medium for recording terminological data.*a
2 and 3
FR fiche de terminologie*b*FEM, OFFICIALLY APPROVED
fiche terminologique*c*FEM
DEF* Support sur lequel sont consignées selon un protocole établi les données terminologiques relatives à une notion.*b

Fig. 5b Essential data elements of a record (illustration)

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Temporal Labels
ANOM Former Name
Acceptability Rating
AE Avoid
COR Correct
CLAW Common Law
DRCIV Civil Law
LA Latin
MC Trademark
PR Proposal
Linguistic Category
ANG Anglicism
BARB Barbarism
CQL Calque
FAUX Deceptive Cognate
PLEO Pleonasm
VF See Record
Parts of Speech
ADJ Adjective
ADV Adverb
ELP Prefixal-Combining Form
ELS Suffixal-Combining Form
LADJ Adj. Phrase
LADV Adv. Phrase
LN Noun Phrase
LV Verb Phrase
N Noun
V Verb
EPI Masc/Fem
GC Common Gender
M Masc
NEUT Neuter
NEUT Neutre
PL Plur
Geographic Labels
AB Alberta
AFR Africa
AMC Central America
AML Latin America
AMN N. America
AMS S. America
ANTA Antarctica
ANTI Caribbean
ARG Argentina
AUS Australia
AUT Austria
BEL Belgium
BLZ Belize
BOL Bolivia
BRA Brazil
CAN Canada
CB Br. Columbia
CHE Switzerland
CHL Chile
COL Colombia
CRI Costa Rica
CUB Cuba
DDR Germany (E)
DEU Germany (W)
DEUT Germany
DOM Dominican Republic
ECU Ecuador
ESP Spain
EUR Europe
FR France
GB Great Britain
GTM Guatemala
HND Honduras
IG Intergov
IN Internat
IRL Ireland
JAM Jamaica
MEX Mexico
MN Manitoba
NB New Brunswick
NE Nova Scotia
NIC Nicaragua
NOR Norway
NT Nunavut
NZL New Zealand
ON Ontario
PAN Panama
PER Peru
PHL Philippines
PRI Puerto Rico
PRT Portugal
PRY Paraguay
QC Quebec
REG Regional
ROM Roumania
SK Saskatchewan
SLV El Salvador
SWE Sweden
TN Newfoundland
TNO N.W. Territories
URY Uruguay
VEN Venezuela
YK Yukon
MF Less Freq
RA Rare
Temporal Labels
ARCH Archaic
VI Obsolete
Sociolinguistic Labels
FAM Familiar
J Jargon
Semantic Labels
GEN Generic
PEJ Pejorative
SPEC Specific
Official Status Labels
NOFF Unofficial
NORM Standardized
UNIF Officially Approved

Fig. 5c List of TERMIUM® parameters, in order of entry

In order to set up a terminology file or database, a methodology for recording information must first be established and a record-completion guide (such as the TERMIUM® Guide) must be written. Without guidelines for completing records, file management becomes impossible, whether the file is manual or computerized. Since manual terminology files are rapidly being replaced by computerized files, familiarity with word-processing applications (such as WordPerfect and Word) and with data-recording tools is becoming increasingly important.

Management of the contents of terminology files is an ongoing task. The complexity of the elements on a record and the amount of data recorded depend on the information available and on the evolution of knowledge in the subject field under study. However, content management must always be performed as a function of the profile of the targeted users, including their level of knowledge, their querying requirements (for example, missing information to be provided), and the purpose of the users' queries. In other words, content management must result in the satisfaction of client needs.

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Linguistic Knowledge

Terminology work requires an excellent knowledge of the structure and linguistic system of each of the languages under study, and of preferred usage in a specialized language. Knowledge of the rules for lexical term formation, of grammatical rules and of the stylistic characteristics of different levels of language helps the terminologist evaluate the linguistic quality of specialized documents and prepare records that respect quality-assurance criteria.

The contents of a terminology record are evaluated against a number of criteria, including:

  • presence of a definition of the concept
  • consistent use of the terms that designate the concept
  • limited number of stylistic, spelling, and syntactic variants
  • reflection of standardized terms in the subject field
  • justification of the use or creation of new terms.

The quality of a terminology record is also based on the authenticity and representativity of the usage recorded by the terminologist. Among the various usages documented, the record originator must recognize and identify those that subject-field specialists prefer or avoid, recommend or caution against.

Structuring Knowledge, from the Concept to the Term

The knowledge structure of a subject field results from terminological analysis, that is, the contextual analysis of texts in the specialized language with a view to understanding and describing the concepts designated by terminology units.

In terminology work, the knowledge acquired in a given subject field is structured according to the hierarchical and associative relationships between the concepts that make up the subject field.

Hierarchical relationships are those most frequently used to structure knowledge. They include relationships between a generic concept and related specific concepts, and partitive relationships between a whole and its parts. The graphical representation of the relationships is called a concept diagram.

In associative relationships, concepts are linked spatially or temporally. These relationships include the following types: producer-product; action-result; action-tool; container-contents; and cause-effect.

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  Concepts Associative Relationship
bushel <-> apples container – contents
polishing <-> polisher action – tool
nursery operator <-> trees producer – product
bricklayer <-> trowel trade – tool
hammer <-> nail tool – object
hour <-> watch length of time – instrument
king <-> castel person – dwelling
rain <-> flood cause – effect

Fig. 6a Associative relationships

Fig. 6b Partitive relationships

Fig. 6b Partitive relationships (text version)

With the help of this graphical representation of concept relationships, the terminologist can identify the essential semantic features of the concepts as well as their supplementary characteristics. The essential and delimiting semantic features are required to define the concepts, while the supplementary features serve to illustrate them.

The concept system also helps the terminologist to establish the textual match (that is, the correspondence of semantic features found in excerpts explaining the meaning of one or more specialized terms in one or more languages) and, consequently, to group all terms that designate the same concept on a single terminology record.

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KBL Computer Graphics
SAJ Mathematics
EN attractor*a,c
DEF* A geometrical object toward which the trajectory of a dynamical system represented by a curve in the phase space, converges in the course of time.*c
FR attracteur*b,d*MASC
DEF* Ensemble invariant vers lequel est attirée asymptotiquement la trajectoire d'un système dynamique représenté par une courbe dans l'espace des phases.*d

Fig. 7 Textual match

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Identifying Terminology Units

The terminology unit is the name or designation of a concept in a concept system. It may be a word, an expression, a symbol, a chemical or mathematical formula, a scientific name in Latin, an acronym, an initialism, or the official title of a position, an organization, or an administrative unit.

A term or terminology unit in a specialized language is distinguished from a word in general language by its single-meaning relationship with the specialized concept that it designates (called monosemy) and by the stability of the relationship between form and content in texts dealing with this concept (called lexicalization). The status of the term is revealed by its frequency of use and its relatively fixed contextual surroundings (its co-occurrents), and by typographical enhancements (italics, boldface print, quotation marks, etc.). A final indicator is its rather limited set of morphological and lexical structures: noun (simple, derived, or compound), verb, adjective, noun phrase, verb phrase, or adjective phrase.

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HEG Banking
FHE Negotiable Instruments (Commercial Law)
EN cheque*a,b,e
DEF* A bill of exchange drawn on a bank, payable on demand.*b
PHR* Issue, deliver, return a cheque*d
FR chèque*a,e*MASC
DEF* Effet de commerce par lequel le titulaire d'un compte bancaire (le tireur) donne l'ordre à sa banque ou à un établissement financier (le tiré) de payer à vue à son profit ou à celui d'un tiers (le bénéficiaire) une somme à prélever sur le crédit de son compte.*e
PHR* Distribuer, émettre, retourner un chèque*d

Fig. 8 Phraseologisms with the term "cheque"

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Simple terms: budget, protection, Email, publishing
Complex terms: desktop publishing, user-friendly, zip disk
Derived terms: atom = atomic = atomize = atomization = atomicity
electronic mail = email = emailing = emails
Terminological phrases: database management system;
state of the art; adjust a budget
Acronyms: AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome);
radar (radio detecting and ranging)

Fig. 9 Simple terms, complex terms, derived terms, terminological phrases, acronyms

A sound understanding of these structures helps the terminologist identify terminology units during term extraction. In addition, the terminologist requires such knowledge in order to create or propose new terms, or neologisms, to name new concepts when necessary, and to ensure correct and consistent usage of the terms identified.

Neologisms may be new words or new meanings assigned to existing words. In either case, certain principles should be respected to improve their chances of acceptance, or success.

  • Sense neologisms (or semantic neologisms) do not involve any change to the form of the term. Instead, they result from:
    • expansion (that is, extending the meaning of a term by giving it a new meaning, as in a shift from the concrete to the abstract or from the abstract to the concrete)
    • metaphor (e.g.backbone of a network)
    • conversion of grammatical category (e.g. preliminary, from adjective to noun)
    • adoption from another subject field (e.g. virus, inoculate and other virology terms adopted in the field of computer security).
  • Morphological neologisms are new word forms created through a variety of processes, including:
    • derivation (e.g. digital–digitize)
    • composition (e.g. cyberspace, nonbiodegradable, webcast)
    • compounding (e.g. database management system)
    • blending (e.g. email from electronic mail, simulcast from simultaneous broadcast)
    • acronymy (e.g. AIDS, CD-ROM)
    • borrowing (e.g. découpage).
  • The acceptance of neologisms depends on such factors as their brevity (e.g. email for electronic mail), their handleability (e.g. applet for little application) and ease of retention, and their potential for derivation, or productivity (e.g. email = emails, emailing, emailed), but the most important factor is the motivation: the term should reflect the characteristics of the concept it designates.

    The reason for creating the neologism may be stylistic (e.g. vision-impaired instead of blind), technological (e.g. intelligent personal assistant for the new pocket computer connected to the Internet), social (e.g. gender-neutral position titles), or functional, so called because a new way of designating the concept is dictated by the situation in which communication is needed.

Single-Concept Principle

The concepts belonging to an area of specialization are mental constructs that help structure objects in the real world. These objects may be concrete or abstract entities (e.g. computer, freedom); properties (e.g. floppy, vocal); relationships (e.g. identity, partner, family violence, parallel); or functions or activities (e.g. friction, preventive maintenance, automatic subtraction). All of the terms that designate the concept described on a terminological record are in a monosemous relationship with this concept in a given specialized language: each one designates only this concept. This does not preclude, however, the use of homonyms to designate concepts in different subject fields.

Concept-term monosemy involves the single-concept principle, according to which the terminologist must deal with one concept at a time, whether it be on a monolingual or multilingual terminology record or in a specialized vocabulary entry. This is the exact opposite of the principle of polysemy that is applied in general-language dictionaries in which the lexicographical entry comprises a series of senses, each reflecting a different concept.

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IEC Nuclear Power Stations
SHC Nuclear Fission Reactors
YAA Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission
EN pellet*b,f
fuel pellet*a,c,e*STANDARDIZED
DEF* Uranium dioxide, or other nuclear fuel in a powdered form, which has been pressed, sintered and ground to a cylindrical shape for insertion into the sheathing tubes of the fuel bundle.*a
OBS* fuel pellet: term standardized by ISO.*d
FR pastille*a,g*FEM
pastille de combustible*c*FEM, STANDARDIZED
DEF* Forme sous laquelle se présente le combustible de nombreux réacteurs nucléaires. (Les pastilles, souvent cylindriques, sont constituées, par exemple, d'oxyde d'uranium fritté.)*g
OBS* pastille de combustible : terme normalisé par l'ISO.*d

Fig. 10a Monosemy: only one meaning of the terms is dealt with on a single-concept record


  1. A small solid or densely packed ball or mass, as of food.
  2. A bullet or piece of small shot.

Fig. 10b Polysemy: series of senses in a lexical entry taken from ITP Nelson Canadian Dictionary of the English Language, 1997, p. 1013

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Textual Match and Definition of Specialized Concepts

The terminological definition is a concise description of the delimiting characteristics of a concept, presented in lexicographical, or dictionary-like, format. The definition must give the meaning of the term, rather than dealing with questions of the term's usage (Sager 2000: 12). Thus, it differs in function from linguistic observations of the type "Term used in X to designate Y." The terminological definition is the most important application of the single-concept principle and the main means of establishing a textual match.

The nature of definitions varies according to the subject field. In scientific and technical subject fields, basic terminologies are validated through the use of definitions cited from authoritative sources, whereas new terminologies in such fields often require the formulation of definitions based on bits and pieces of textual information found during research. Further, in these subject fields the presentation of the definition must closely follow existing patterns; stylistic variation is quite limited. This is one reason for the close resemblance of the definitions for a given concept found in the best technical and scientific dictionaries. On the other hand, in social, economic and legal subject fields, the definitions for a given concept vary greatly, depending on the historical, cultural, and legal context of the institution or country in which the concept is recognized (Rey 2000: 131).

The terminologist must generally formulate definitions with the help of references to the documentation consulted. The quotation of definitions and contexts must, in fact, be kept to a minimum, for the following reasons:

  • the importance of respecting copyright and avoiding unfair use
  • the requirement for conciseness, quality and originality in terminological-product content
  • the requirement for consistent editorial style within a terminology data bank.

This professional duty is reinforced by intellectual property law as applied to the creation of commercial terminological products.

The terminological definition is a brief statement that provides a clear understanding of the meaning of a specialized term. It begins with a word identifying the broader class (genus) to which the concept belongs, and then specifies essential or delimiting features that clearly separate this concept from related concepts in that class. The delimiting features may include (DUBUC 1992):

  • intrinsic characteristics, such as the concept's nature, its material, or the topic it deals with
  • extrinsic characteristics, such as its function or manner of operation, its origin, its destination, or its referent.

Intrapreneur: Salaried manager (nature) who applies to his work (topic) the motivation and initiative (manner) of a company owner (referent).

Fig. 11 Intrinsic and extrinsic characteristics

Among the non-essential characteristics of a concept are the shape of an object, the inventor of the object, and the time, space, and manner of use of the object.

The method of formulating the definition may be selected from a number of options, including the following:

  • definition by genus and difference

computer peripheral: In a data processing system, any equipment, distinct from the central processing unit, which may provide the system with outside communication or additional facilities.

printer: A computer peripheral that outputs data to hard copy.

nonimpact printer: A printer in which printing is the result of means other than mechanical impact.

laser printer: A nonimpact printer that uses a low-power laser to produce image-forming charges on the photoconductive surface of a drum.

Fig. 12 Definition by genus and difference

  • definition by function

printer: A computer peripheral that produces a durable record of data in the form of a sequence of discrete graphic characters belonging to a predetermined character set.

Fig. 13 Definition by function

  • operational definition, listing the parts or steps

laser printer: A nonimpact printer that operates at well over 10,000 lines per minute, using a low-power laser to produce image-forming charges a line at a time on the photoconductive surface of a drum; dry powder that adheres only to charged areas is applied to the drum, transferred to plain paper, and fused by heat.

Fig. 14 Operational definition

  • synonymous definition, using a paraphrase.

oblong: elliptical, blunt at each end, having nearly parallel sides, and two to four times as long as broad.

Fig. 15 Synonymous definition by paraphrase

A number of principles must be observed when drafting terminological definitions, including the following:

  • predictability–the definition inserts the concept into a concept system
  • simplicity–the definition is concise, clear, and no longer than one sentence
  • affirmativeness–the definition states what the concept is, rather than what it is not
  • noncircularity–the definition does not use words whose definitions refer back to the concept in question
  • absence of tautology–the definition is not a paraphrase of the term, but rather a description of the semantic features of the concept.
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SCH Atomic Physics
EN circular particle accelerator*a*
circular accelerator*a,b,e*STANDARDIZED
DEF* Accelerator in which the energy of charged particles is increased by successive increments due to the repeated passage of particles in the same accelerating device.*e
OBS* circular accelerator: term standardized by ISO.*f
FR accélérateur circulaire*c,d,e*CORRECT, MASC, STANDARDIZED
DEF* Accélérateur dans lequel l'énergie de particules chargées augmente par des accroissements successifs provoqués par le passage répété des particules dans le même dispositif d'accélération.*c
OBS* accélérateur circulaire : terme normalisé par l'ISO.*f

Fig. 16 Terminological definitions

When formulating a definition, the terminologist must keep these principles in mind and select:

  • the delimiting characteristics that identify the concept unambiguously, for example, genus and specific difference
  • the method of definition best suited to the profile of the targeted users (including their communication needs and their level of knowledge). For example, an analytical definition that gives the intrinsic characteristics of the concept may be preferable to a definition by description that gives the extrinsic characteristics; a partitive definition that lists the parts of an object may be preferable to a synonymous definition
  • the rules established for drafting definitions for all records intended for a particular terminology database. For example, it may have been decided that definitions must (or must not) begin with a definite or indefinite article
  • the anchor word with which the statement begins, for example, the term designating the superordinate concept
  • the preferred formulation for the concept category in question. For example, the definitions of state concepts begin with "Condition …" or "State …", definitions of action concepts, with "Act of …", "Technique for …", "Group of techniques for …"; definitions of adjectival concepts, with "Of or relating to …" or a participle functioning as an adjective.

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Evaluation of Terms and their Relationships

Specialized languages target the ideal of monosemy, but they are nonetheless a set of evolving social conventions. Consequently, they include linguistic variants just as general language does.

When creating a terminology record or updating a terminology file, the terminologist must qualify the synonyms that designate a concept to reflect actual usage. For example, the term may be the scientific or technical designation or it may be technical jargon; it may be used correctly or incorrectly, internationally, commonly, officially, or in a limited geographical area; a neologism may be accepted or criticized; a term may be rare, obsolete, deprecated, standardized or officially approved. The terminologist helps users select proper terms by qualifying synonyms with appropriate usage labels, by explaining usage in observations or demonstrating usage through usage samples, and by supporting these findings with references to sources of information.

The main usage labels found in large terminology data banks are grouped into six categories:

  • sociolinguistic labels (the level of language of the term may be customary, scientific or jargon; the term may be standardized or officially approved)
  • geographic labels (the term may be specific to a particular country or region)
  • temporal labels (the term may be obsolete, archaic, or a neologism)
  • origin labels (the term may be preferred by a given company or in a certain subject field for reasons of originality in commercial competition)
  • frequency labels (the term may be used frequently, less frequently, or rarely).
Layout table
VHA Elevators
EN passenger elevator*a*CORRECT, USA, STANDARDIZED
passenger lift*d*CORRECT, GREAT BRITAIN
DEF* An elevator used primarily to carry persons other than the operator and persons necessary for loading and unloading.*a
CONT* Passenger elevators have relatively wide, shallow cars with wide entrances, so that people can enter and leave quickly at each stop.*c
OBS* passenger elevator: term standardized by IEEE (Standards Committee).*g
DEF* Appareil élévateur permettant de transporter des personnes dans une cabine se déplaçant entre des guides verticaux, ou faiblement inclinés sur la verticale, et actionnée par une machinerie.*e
OBS* ascenseur : terme normalisé par AFNOR.*g

Fig. 17 Geographical, grammatical, official-status usage labels

Language Management and Terminology Harmonization

In the languages of literature and the media, originality of content and uniqueness of expression are greatly valued. Specialized languages, on the other hand, must facilitate the global sharing of specialized knowledge. They are characterized by a cognitive or referential function that favours consistency of content and expression. In terminology, the principle of consistency is more important than that of creativity.

The concept of language management evolved primarily following World War II as a governmental initiative to give preferred status to a selected level of language such as conventional French, standard Russian, simplified Chinese, or BBC English, and to identify gaps or grammatical or lexicographical discrepancies to be filled or corrected through official language notices. The Délégation générale à la langue française in France, the Office de la langue française in Quebec and various African language-planning agencies have taken this approach (Antia 2000).

In most cases, this governmental intervention dealt with gaps and corrections pertaining to general language on an ad hoc basis. In contrast, terminology standardization as conducted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) or by national standardization bodies (see list in Appendix I) is limited to the concepts and vocabulary of specialized languages, is thematic and prescriptive in nature, and is performed by subject-field specialists in accordance with more or less globally accepted procedures (such as the ISO Project management guidelines for terminology standardization).

The process of official approval of terminology falls between these two types of intervention. This process encompasses concern for conceptual precision and linguistic correction, adequacy of the term to the communication situation, and efficiency of communication. According to user needs, the approval process may deal with individual cases or may take a thematic approach. It is performed by a working group or user committee that may or may not include subject-field specialists. The application of official-approval decisions may be mandatory or strongly recommended, or may be adopted by consensus.

The terminologist responsible for collecting and approving terminology used within a department or a company may perform the following tasks (among others):

  • remove duplicate records or incorrect records from the terminology file
  • confirm the use of new terms, and propose new terms if necessary
  • advise against the use of pseudo-synonyms and of variants that create confusion, and promote the use of recommended terms
  • deal with cases of contradictory usage
  • distribute a terminology collection that is up-to-date, complete, coherent, and validated by the members of a recognized official-approval committee, and which includes labels indicating the official status of terms where appropriate.

The Terminology and Standardization Directorate of the Translation Bureau has suggested the following official-approval approach to other departments of the Canadian federal government:

  • submission of departmental request for standardization to Terminology and Standardization Directorate (TSD)
  • consultation of others who may be interested in or affected by the request
  • evaluation of needs (meetings, diagnosis, preliminary planning)
  • adoption of standardization process by all concerned (secretariat)
  • establishment of terminology case files
  • creation of a terminology committee to make official-approval decisions
  • transmission of terminology case files to committee members
  • transmission of member feedback to committee secretariat (by e-mail)
  • organization of a meeting to establish a consensus
  • selection of a distribution strategy for approved terminology
  • preparation of language notice to be posted on Translation Bureau's Extranet and Internet sites
  • update of TERMIUM® to reflect officially approved terminology

Fig. 18 Steps of the official-approval approach proposed to federal government departments by the TSD

Terminology standardization and official-approval activities may be integrated into a governmental language-management policy, as illustrated recently in the Translation Bureau of Canada (see Appendix III: Language Management Infrastructure in the Public Service of Canada).