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Above and Beyond: The Future of Terminology

What is the future of terminology, and specifically terminology in Canada? In a language industry dealing with increasing demand and limited resources, is terminology management becoming a luxury that most can no longer afford? A closer look at the field shows that there are exciting new directions opening for terminology and terminologists, and that we have considerable development to look forward to.

By Elizabeth Marshman

Where is terminology going?

Choosing a few key words to describe the terminology of tomorrow is not necessarily an easy task, but here are predictions for the signposts that will direct terminology into the future. One absence may at first seem surprising: technology will not be included as a keyword in the list, for the simple reason that it is so well established in the terminology of today. Terminology management systems, term extractors and other software tools provide a valuable kickstart to many terminology projects now, and as technology evolves, the starting point they provide is becoming more and more efficient and useful. While we will no doubt continue to call on a wide range of tools for terminology work and will make good use of new developments, anticipated contributions from technology will be integrated into the discussion of the other key predicted directions for the field.

Wherever it is, we are going together

To begin with, tomorrow’s terminology will be connected and collaborative. This is not revolutionary, since terminology work has always required exceptional skills in obtaining and synthesizing information from clients, experts and colleagues. Technology can certainly not hope to replace these human skills. This is a key point in the picture of terminology’s future, and one made strongly by Melby (2012): despite the widespread availability of useful and user-friendly tools such as corpora and concordances (as highlighted e.g. in Bowker (2011)), high-quality professional terminology work offers strengths that are undeniable. While recent developments in both tool design and performance (e.g. bilingual extraction of terminology, extraction from comparable corpora) are improving technological performance, human performance, that is, the skills of a highly trained language professional remain necessary to filter and refine the results of automatic processing. We can, however, see the effects of increasingly available and useful technologies both in providing frameworks for collaboration and in changing our expectations of collaborative work, of how we collaborate, and with whom.

Cloud-based resources and client-server architectures for terminology management systems and other computer-aided translation technologies—which allow users to access software and resources from almost any computer—continue to make it easier for a variety of stakeholders not only to consult but also to add to and enhance termbases. The option for translators, writers, revisers and terminologists to share large-scale textual resources (e.g. translation memories, corpora) and to access and/or modify termbases in different ways based on user profile and needs, are making it easier for various participants in the documentation process to make contributions to terminology resources. By sharing the load of tasks such as identifying and researching new terms and building preliminary entries in termbases, terminologists can be better informed about user needs and potentially devote more of their time to the tasks that require their particular, highly developed skillset. Starting from contributions from users and translators may help free up terminologists’ time to carry out tasks such as in-depth analyses of tricky conceptual distinctions, coining new terms when needed, evaluating and recommending the most suitable among competing terms, and providing expert advice on using those terms. This can ultimately allow us, together, to develop more complete and comprehensive terminology products for the future.

Collaboration in creating and maintaining terminology resources is of course not limited to team members or freelancers and clients; the wider community is also increasingly able to share in the creation of shareable terminology resources through services such as TermWiki.1 By making their term records available, and contributing to editing and evaluating those of others, users are sharing their knowledge and the fruits of their research in innovative ways. While the resources created are undeniably different from those created by experts and terminologists, the very fact of sharing and consulting term resources helps highlight the need for terminology research and management. This practice has the potential to help users better appreciate the quality, completeness and rigour of resources created by professional terminologists. In turn, user-created resources provide unique insights into the needs and practices of language professionals and users of terminology that may help the field evolve in productive ways and perhaps even shape the future of terminology training.

We are breaking new ground

Not only the recording and description of terminology, but also the coining and recommending of terms, are promising areas for collaboration with a greater pool of language professionals, subject field experts, and others with an interest in terminology. While terminologists’ expertise in term coinage and evaluation is both valuable and necessary, the issue of usage and adoption (i.e. terminology implementation) is a complex one, and it is critical to gather feedback from potential users to fully understand the potential of terms and what makes them work (or not).2 Tools such as websites, discussion boards and social media open new channels of bidirectional communication: users can be invited to contribute suggestions, feedback and opinions to terminologists at a scale and speed we have rarely seen previously. The seeds of this approach have been seen in a few previous projects (e.g. FranceTerm’s WikiLF3), but have not yet fully borne fruit. We will see more growth in this direction as we seek to respond better to user needs.

This is another key direction: tomorrow’s terminology will be proactive. Terminology work has always been carried out based on an understanding of stakeholder and user needs, and the scope and content of terminology products (term banks, termbases, glossaries, etc.) are adapted to meet these requirements and to work with available resources. The evolution of terminology products has been constant, with technology contributing its part by offering increasingly powerful frameworks for terminology description. Many term banks and bases are now adapted to offer features such as access to multimedia elements (e.g. links, images, graphics, sound, or even video), information that goes beyond standard term record fields (e.g. information on collocations or semantically related terms).

We are building solid new frameworks

The customization of terminology resources such as termbases and their increasingly diversified structures may have unintended consequences for the potential for connection and collaboration, as bases with different fields and conventions for recording information can be challenging to merge and harmonize. The search for a happy medium between exchangeability and customization is illustrated clearly in the initiative behind the ISO Standard 30042 (Systems to manage terminology, knowledge and content – TermBase eXchange). Designed to boost the potential for termbases to be exchanged, shared and merged (and thus increase the return on the investment in developing them), the TBX standard nevertheless needed to recognize the value of customization to terminology users. By developing not only strategies for handling inter-termbase variation, but also different variants or ‘dialects’ of TBX to suit different goals and uses of terminology resources (including manual and automated use), the creators are attempting to ensure that the standard fulfills its mandate while also adapting to real-world usage.

It is also worth noting that the work is not limited to terminology resources per se. Core elements of terminology work are also closely linked to tasks such as the development of ontologies, which provide rich, formal descriptions of subject fields for purposes ranging from information management to the construction of computer tools in the field of artificial intelligence (and beyond).

Nevertheless, even the central skills and working methods of the terminologist may well evolve with the changing needs of users and applications. While, terminology work has traditionally remained highly concept-centred, recent developments in terminology theory have introduced new approaches that place more focus on the linguistic and semantic aspects of terms and how they work in texts. By seeing terms from novel angles, approaches such as socio-cognitive, lexico-semantic and frame-based terminology (e.g. Temmerman 2000, L’Homme 2012, Faber et al. 2014)4 have shed light on their characteristics and uses that have previously been overshadowed by the description of concepts. Increasing attention to the connections between terms, and between terms and other elements of specialized language, to the nuances of those relationships, and to the similarities, overlaps and conflicts between meanings in specialized language, has led to the creation of terminology resources that constitute rich repositories not only of conceptual but also of linguistic knowledge. While these approaches may require terminologists to adopt a somewhat different approach than they are used to, they may well be exactly what some users are looking for in terminological description. Responding to those needs will help terminology remain both current and valuable, as well as meet users’ needs effectively and efficiently.

We are seeing the field from new perspectives

The sine qua non of this proactive approach is, of course, understanding and appreciating user needs. As the focus on process-based translation studies research grows, the use of these approaches will expand further into the realm of terminology. The descriptive value of approaches using methods such as eye-tracking, keystroke logging, screen recording and interviews, is being increasingly recognized in translation and translator training (e.g. Enríquez Raído 2014, Massey and Ehrensberger-Dow 2011, Désilets et al. 2009)). In the near future, such methods will be used increasingly to study how terminologists carry out their tasks (e.g. with the aid of computer tools), and also how users consult and interpret the fruits of their labours in the form of term banks and termbases. This opportunity to not only hear about, but also see how users actually work with terminology resources and tools will enable tool developers, terminologists and other stakeholders to assist in streamlining processes and in creating more adapted resources.

We are moving forward

All this will involve change, and yes, as difficult as it sometimes may be, tomorrow’s terminology will be dynamic. Certainly, with ever-shorter deadlines and ever-changing expectations, terminology already is a changing and changeable occupation. And it will become even more so.

There are few examples that so clearly demonstrate that terminology is a field on the move than the course Termino à vélo / Terminology Bicyclass,5 given for the first time in August 2016 by Jean Quirion of the University of Ottawa. A first in terminology training, based on a model created at Montreal’s HEC,6 during a two-week cycling trip through Québec, students were brought into contact with terminology work in real-life situations. The trip introduced budding translators (and, dare we hope, terminologists) to the field, exposing them to diverse, genuine, current, and variable issues by meeting individuals who face such challenges every day. They had time to reflect on what they had learned in the company of their fellow students. The course helped them gain a new appreciation for the potential of, and interest in terminology and the important role it plays in the language industry and beyond. While short, the trip was a great opportunity for the students to see how dynamic terminology can be. Trainers of future translators and terminologists can certainly benefit from this spirit of innovation to help introduce their students to the multifaceted and complex world of terminology.

In fact, the ongoing changes in the field will have many implications for the training of future translators. Instructors now have even more varied opportunities to help students explore the world of terminology, from the needs and opinions expressed by users to various strategies terminologists use in their work. We are seeing increasing innovation in the ways that students are being exposed to the potential—and the pitfalls—of terminology work. Moreover, students have increasing opportunities to share their discoveries and reflections with others and to potentially make a real contribution to advancing terminology work even as they acquire new skills. It will be critical for instructors to continue to innovate in the design of their courses to take advantage of the possibilities these new developments offer to ensure students become engaged with the problems they are working on from the beginning, and to see the possible contributions they can make to the language industry and beyond.

We are going above and beyond

This raises one final but central point: tomorrow’s terminology will hopefully be visible and valued, since if members of the language industry and their clients lack the opportunity to see the contribution that terminology makes, they cannot fully appreciate its value. It is essential for terminologists to call attention to the important role that terminology work plays in the language industry. The challenges of quantifying the return on investment in terminology work are well known and difficult to surmount, but by calling attention to the benefits (financial and otherwise) of effective and high-quality terminology work—whatever the scale or the nature of its contribution—we can continue to promote the value of terminology and move towards opportunities to continue to go above and beyond.

1 TermWiki. CSoft International, Ltd. For some discussion of this resource from a terminological perspective, see Gariépy (2013).

2 For more on this issue, consult studies on terminometrics, including e.g. Quirion (2003).

3 WikiLF. FranceTerm. For some examples, consult the EcoLexicon (Faber et al., and the DiCoEnviro (L’Homme et al.,

5 Gillet, B. “Prof to lead course on two wheels.” The Gazette, University of Ottawa. 6 July 2016.

6 Original course developed at HEC by Anne Pezet and Brian King.


Bowker, Lynne. 2011. “Off the record and on the fly: Examining the impact of corpora on terminographic practice in the context of translation.” In A. Kruger and K. Wallmach (Eds.), Corpus-based Translation Studies: Research and Applications. Manchester: St. Jerome Publishing.

Désilets, Alain, Christiane Melançon, Geneviève Patenaude, and Louise Brunette. 2009. “How translators use tools and resources to resolve translation problems: An ethnographic study.” Machine Translation Summit XII, 26-30 August 2009, Ottawa, Ontario.

Enriquez Raído, Vanessa. 2013. “Using Screen Recording as a Diagnostic Tool in Early Process-oriented Translator Training.” In D. Kiraly, S. Hansen-Schirra, and K. Maksymski (Eds.), New Prospects and Perspectives for Educating Language Mediators. 121-138. Tübingen: Gunter Narr.

Faber, Pamela, Pilar León-Arauz and Arianne Reimarink. 2014. “Representing Environmental Knowledge in EcoLexicon.” In E. Bárcena, T. Read and J. Arus (Eds.), Languages for Specific Purposes in the Digital Era. Educational Linguistics 19. 267-301. Springer.

Gariépy, Julie L. 2013. « La collaboration en terminographie : étude de cas comparée de la terminographie collaborative et de la terminographie classique. » M.A. Thesis, University of Ottawa.

L’Homme, Marie-Claude. 2012. “Adding Syntactico-semantic Information to Specialized Dictionaries: An Application of the FrameNet Methodology.” Lexicographica 28: 233-252.

Massey, Gary and Maureen Ehrensberger-Dow. 2011. “Investigating information literacy: A growing priority in translation studies.” Across Languages and Cultures 12 (2), 193-211.

Melby, Alan K. 2012. “Terminology in the age of multilingual corpora.” JoSTrans 18: 7-29.

Quirion, Jean. 2003. « La mesure de l’implantation terminologique : proposition d’un protocole. Étude terminométrique du domaine des transports au Québec. » Langues et sociétés 40. Montréal, Office québécois de la langue française.

“Systems to manage terminology, knowledge and content -- TermBase eXchange (TBX).” ISO 30042:2008. Geneva: International Organization for Standardization.

Temmerman, Rita. 2000. Towards New Ways of Terminology Description: The Sociocognitive Approach. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Elizabeth MarshmanElizabeth Marshman is a member of l’Observatoire de linguistique Sens-Texte / Joint Committee on Terminology in Canada and an Associate Professor, School of Translation and Interpretation, University of Ottawa.

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