Words, Terminology, and Translation


How many of you think that the word “terminology” is only a fancier way to say “word”?

Or even, how many of you think that terminology and term refer to the same thing?

Let’s start with bringing some order into this chaos.

Terminology, if we decide to decipher the word itself, is the science of terms (termino=term, logy=science).

In fact, terminology is “the set of terms related to a given subject field or discipline”.

Each field or discipline has developed its own terminology; hockey has its own, the car industry has its own, painting has its own, and so does publishing. Each tangible or abstract concept within any field is identified by its own term.

This is where it becomes truly interesting: one word can be a term in more than one field.

For instance, the term bridge identifies different concepts in different fields. Just to name a few, you have bridge (the card game), the bridge of a nose, the bridge you drive on, the bridge you wear in your mouth, and the bridge you walk under when there is construction work above the sidewalk you walk on.

Do you have a question? Yes. Well, please ask it.

What is the difference between a word and a term?

Ah, very good question indeed! Let’s make this a hands-on exercise. If I tell you the word “pin”, what comes to mind? Some of you might already have in mind the pin you wear on your coat, or the pin that holds your watch to your watchband, or even the pin you used this morning to have that important memo pinned to the cork board. Some of you, however, have a confused look on your face. You are likely thinking “In which context?” as “pin” is a word used to identify various “types of objects”. Well, I gave you a word, and all of you were looking for a term. Your mind needed a context to decide which “pin” I had in mind and it either gave you one by default or enquired for one. To put it simply, a term is a word that belongs to a field; without a field, a word is only a word. However, not all words can be used as a term.

Yet, do not think this is all there is to terminology. This is such a complex matter that terminology has its own expert: the terminologist.

Terminologists establish the terms specific to a field of activity, define them, and then find equivalents in another language. They also define the terms in use for businesses, databases, glossaries, dictionaries and lexicons for the purposes of standardization.

(Source: OTTIAQ)

Now that the difference between terminology, term, and word has been explained, let’s introduce the role of terminology in translation.

As you would guess, terminology is a key component of translation. All translators are well acquainted with the use of terminological databases, glossaries, and dictionaries. All these resources have been created by their colleagues, the terminologists. In his search for the accurate word, he often has to establish which term is best suited to the task, sometimes he has to build his own terminological records, but he uses already existing terminological resources most of the time.

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