words-cant-describeLast week I gave Timothy Cooper’s wonderful insight into the field of terminology. This week, with the theory about terminology mainly out of the way, I will share with you what Timothy said about IATE itself. The database is a share database for all the European Institutions, bodies and agencies, for all activity fields for LSP. It includes terms, definitions, references and snippets of context.

The aim of the second half of the talk was to equip translators with the information to use IATE effectively in our work. Whilst IATE boasts a huge amount of information, there are drawbacks, which are outlined below, along with useful tips about how to overcome these pitfalls to get the most out of IATE.


The issue with domains stems from the fact that IATE was not created from scratch, it was based on EuroVoc. Automatic mapping was necessary, and this often does not result in very accurate allocation of domains. Therefore it is not advisable to search by domain, as it may exclude entries that could be useful, and include entries that are not.

Reliability scores

These are also not reliable as different individuals and different language departments have different systems for allocating reliability scores. Timothy, for example, would only allocate four stars to unequivocal terms, such as the terms for different organisations, created by a legal instrument. However, for example the Greeks allocate this to any term that has gone through the terminology committee and has been validated. Timothy would allocate three stars for a validated term. Therefore looking at the context, the references in which these terms can be found is much more important. Reliability scores are generally more accurate for more recently added terms.

Language pairs

It is not recommended that you search solely in your language pairs as this is too restrictive and will often exclude useful information. The more languages you include then the better the chance of finding what you require. You can select personal preferences to be remembered on your computer, but if you select “to any” language this will give you the widest search results. If the search throws up a very high number of hits, you can then restrict language pairs. Even when searching to all languages, if you click full entry, you can then select the language you are interested in and it moves to the top of the screen, to look at the appropriate language pair together.

Irregularity in the entries

Different people enter different things into the IATE database. Whilst the description is supposed to be a delimiting definition of the concept behind the term, often this is not what is included, merely a description of the use of the term in a particular context. Some entries will include an encyclopaedic entry, others dictionary entries and others do actually give the concept definition. For this reason it is always important to look at the references to find the terms in the different contexts in which they are used.


There are some bugs in IATE such as the fact that the hits that show up in the internal database sometimes come up in a different order to the public database.


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–          Icons on the right of the screen with search results, from left to right – References for term, Context, Note term.

–          Misspelled items or items spelled with different style practices (i.e. American spelling) will sometimes show up if the terminologist provided these alternatives in a look up form when creating the entry.

–          If you cannot find a term, make sure you are not putting it in the plural if it is usually used in the singular.

–          Search to all languages, and then select the language that you are interested in. Why would you be interested in other languages? Because there is often interesting or useful information in the full entry of other languages. You may be able to follow a link to texts which include the term, and you may be able to find the text in your language there.

–          Follow links in texts to find the terminology in context. For example if there is a link to a document in the EuroLex database – this has documents in all the current EU languages. You need to copy the document number and search by Celex number. This will give you a hit list, and include the original document and also any corrigendum linked to this document. This is essential to check the validity of the term, as IATE may be out of date. Also in EuroLex the bilingual display of documents is possible.

–          The note section in an entry can be particularly useful as it serves as encyclopaedic information. It does not form part of the definition (if information in the note changes it does not stop the term from representing the same concept).

–          Feedback button – make comments about specific entries to the EU Commission.

To finish, IATE is a facilitator of information, and a good starting point in a search as it may lead you to the references you require to confirm a term. If it is employed in this way it is a very useful tool.







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