words4Timothy Cooper from the English terminology department at the European Commission braved snow to come to speak to us about how to make the most of the IATE (Inter-Active Terminology for Europe) Database on Friday 18th January 2013.

The beginning of the talk focused mainly on the importance of being clear in our minds about what terminology is. Terminology is not about terms, but about concepts, and therefore about the relationship between concepts and the terms allocated to them.

IATE is a database concentrates solely on Language for Special Purposes (LSP), so if you want to know more about collocations, for example, the British National Corpus will be much more useful.

To make this point, Timothy gave the example of if one of his underlings came to ask him about “How do you translate the word “coeur” to English?” As a terminologist he would have to say that he was sorry but that he could not possibly answer that question.

How about, “What is the equivalent term?” This would be met with a similar response, but it can be either “heart”, or “core”.

However, the question that needs to be asked is, “What does “coeur” mean in the context of the document that I am translating? What is the English term for this concept?”

The importance of this is that before we can look for the term in the target language, we need to go through a process in which we find the underlying principle of the source language term, to be able to find to correct term to use in the target language. In this case, as regards anatomy, coeur refers to a muscular organ that beats pushing blood around the body of a living thing, and therefore would refer to the English term “heart”. However, in the domain of nuclear power, it refers to the innermost part of a nuclear reactor, the English equivalent of which is the “core”.

Whereas lexicography is about words, and dictionaries are usually ordered from A-Z, with homonyms together and synonyms apart, terminology deals with terms and concepts and terminology databases follow a concept structure in which synonyms are kept together but homonyms are apart.
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In an ideal world then it would be possible to have one concept linking to one term, but in the real world this is not possible, and so this must be borne in mind when considering the set up of IATE.

So, in the mind of a terminologist you have four elements:

Object – concrete or abstract “thing”

Concept – the mental abstraction of the object

Definition – the representation of said concept by a description statement (this should always be delimiting and differentiate the object from all other objects)

Term – the verbal designation of the concept in a specific subject field

To be able to successfully work as a terminologist, or to use tools such as IATE to their full potential, you must always bear these elements in mind. Next week I will post about Timothy’s advice on how to make the most out of IATE.



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