Terminology management

Translation Quality 101. Part 2

Managing terminology

This is the second part of Translation Quality 101 series. The first part, dealing with source materials for translation, can be found here.

ISO 1087-1 (2000) defines the term as a “verbal designation of a general concept in a specific subject field.” Some terms consist of more than one word. These terms are called multiword terms or compounds.

At present, terms are the most flexible part of the vocabulary. The terminology is the first to face shifts in the lexical system including designation methods.

TIS BUT MY TERM THAT IS MY ENEMY

Are the terms that much important when translating corporate communications and materials? According to TermNet, 80% of mistakes in translation relate to term usage. A recent survey conducted by SDL showed that correct and consistent term usage remained one of the major challenges for translation buyers. 48% of respondents mentioned inconsistency in terminology among issues with translation quality.

Global businesses and corporations tend to choose a coordinated approach to terminology management. They devise policies, hold terminology bases with metadata, create reference materials.

Product managers, engineers and developers, marketing teams, technical writers and translators are all get involved in terminology management here.

But even a small Excel database helps improve translation quality, prevent unnecessary questions and clarify doubts, and speed up the work for writers and translators.

In-house term management should always correlate with job responsibilities. Who provides the data? Who approves terminology? What are the areas of responsibility? The first stage is to determine the aims and objectives of terminology management, the target audience (or audiences), and the scope of communication covered.

Three steps for an efficient terminology management include: creation – approval – usage.

TERM CREATION

The life cycle of a term includes: request, approval, discussion, description, translation, editing. When devising the procedures, it is recommended to find an easy and convenient way to make requests, to discuss terms, to approve definitions and translations.

Possible key stakeholders are the company’s technicians, industry experts, branches and local offices, local and foreign partners, linguists and translators.

ISO’s criteria for the selection and formation of terms are transparency, consistency, appropriateness, linguistic economy, derivability, linguistic correctness, and preference for native language. Full definitions for each criterion are covered in the ISO standard 704 “Terminology work — Principles and methods.”

  1. Transparency

A term or appellation is considered transparent when the concept it designates can be inferred, at least partially, without a definition or an explanation. In other words, the meaning of a term or appellation can be deduced from its parts.

  1. Consistency

The terminology of any subject field should not be an arbitrary and random collection of terms, but rather a coherent terminological system corresponding to the concept system. Existing terms and appellations and neoterms and appellations must integrate into and be consistent with the concept system.

  1. Appropriateness

Proposed terms and appellations should adhere to familiar, established patterns of meaning within a language community. Formations that cause confusion should be avoided. Terms should be as neutral as possible. They should avoid distracting connotations, especially negative ones.

  1. Linguistic economy

A term should be as concise as possible. Undue length is a serious shortcoming. It violates the principle of linguistic economy and it frequently leads to ellipsis (omission).

  1. Derivability and compoundability

Productive term formations that allow derivatives and compounds (according to whatever conventions prevail in an individual language) should be favoured.

  1. Linguistic correctness

When neoterms or appellations are coined, they should conform to the morphological, morphosyntactic, and phonological norms of the language in question.

  1. Preference for native language

Even though borrowing from other languages is an accepted form of term formation, native-language expressions should be given preference over direct loans.

In Russian these principles are прозрачность, последовательность, адекватность, лингвистическая экономия, выводимость и сочлененность, лингвистическая корректность, предпочтение родного языка, according to GOST R ISO 704-2010 currently in use.

Basic rules applied to formation of terms and appellations:

  • For a standardized terminology, it is desirable that a term be attributed to a single concept.
  • Before creating a neoterm, it is necessary to ascertain whether a term already exists for the concept in question.
  • Well-established usage has to be respected.
  • Established and widely used designations, even if they are poorly formed or poorly motivated, should not be changed unless there are compelling reasons.
  • If several designations exist for a single concept, the one that satisfies the largest number of principles listed below shall be selected as the preferred designation.

APPROVAL OF TERMS

Terminology work requires regular analysis, documentation, storage and distribution of terminology data. A terminology base (term base) is the most common way to collect, document, and control terms.
 
Before creating a term base, it should be clear who handles coining and approval of terms and who is going to use the base (including outer stakeholders like translators, business partners, and end users).
 
In terms of translation quality, the key task of a term base is to show preferable (recommended), possible and rejected (forbidden) terms.
 
When managing terms at a corporate level, it is advisable to cover all words and phrases important for your business. Do not limit yourself to terms that belong to a sublanguage in a specific subject field. If a word is being used in marketing collateral, it should have an approved, consistent  translation.
 
It takes a lot of time and effort to prepare definitions and descriptions for concepts in a term base. Therefore, it’s perfectly ok to include definitions only for terms absent in standard dictionaries, acronyms, abbreviations, and proper names (corporate units, products, etc.). Pay greater attention to known usage issues and to entries with preferable and rejected variants of translation.
 
An approved term base backed by a solid terminology policy will be a first step to efficient handling of terms at a corporate level.

TERMINOLOGY USAGE

To start using correct terminology you need a team that shares your values. Terminology management is successful only when every company employee contributes to preparing and updating the termbase or keeps using it.

A well-managed, standartised terminology develops into higher quality collaterals and technical documents, lower research and lookup time. Materials aimed at a certain target audience enjoy correct terms. The lower risk of misunderstanding brings better customer satisfaction and improves retention rate. The audience is no longer exposed to unclear abbreviations and jargon. Moreover, a comprehensive term base containing definitions is a way to transfer knowledge capital accumulated by employees.

But if terminology management is neglected, everybody is free to choose terms to their liking. Inconsistent terminology looks unprofessional at best. Moreover, it means potential problems with product usage. As a result, texts will be re-edited later with even more time and effort invested.

All in all, terminology is a key to efficient publications and documents, better corporate image and visibility, and higher quality documents including the translated ones.

WHERE TO START

  1. Analyse your goals: Why do you need terminology management? What are you planning to implement, improve, or prevent?
  2. Check collections of terms that you already have: size, format, languages, quality, sources.
  3. Approve a format for your custom term bases: definition, sphere of usage, source, picture, notes on usage, etc.
  4. Agree on priorities: the most important projects, texts, languages, etc.
  5. Create a path toward implementation involving inner resources and/or outer partners. If you choose to rely on your own resources check if your employees are competent enough.
  6. Draw a plan: who does what, when and how.
  7. Go on with a pilot project: a certain product or a service, small budget and scope of tasks.
  8. Be prepared to regular activities; your goal is not a single error-free message.

ADDITIONAL LINKS AND DOCUMENTS

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