Dreams of better terminology tools

Terminology is at the very heart of our linguistic landscape. In everything we do — fixing our cars, preparing meals, taking medication, even enjoying our hobbies — we come into contact with specialized language units. In language science, these units are called terms. Terms are not just important for scientists or professional language workers; they play a significant role for all of us. By being more aware of terminology and its evolution, we can take better care of the treasures of our language.

As language workers, we see that correct, consistent terminology is becoming more important and complex than ever, thanks to the multilingual environment we live in. For instance, we have 24 official languages in the European Union. In many spheres of the linguistic landscape, texts must be translated in each of the official languages. Terminology is the key to making translation clear, consistent and precise.

With the rise of web technologies and the boom in online data, we are also seeing a huge increase in the number of texts that need to be translated. This is putting pressure on professional translators, who form the backbone of the linguistic landscape. Multilingualism is an important heritage feature that we are all struggling to preserve; our task as language professionals is to support these efforts on a professional level. Of course, each translator has his or her own unique knowledge, for instance, of a specific subject field. A translator cannot be an expert in everything. Therefore, the way we organize our professional activities, as well as acquire and manage our knowledge, is supreme.

This thriving multilingualism is originally what led me to become interested in language science and to devote my life to terminology. During my childhood, growing up in a multicultural family in the Ukraine, several languages always surrounded me: Ukrainian, Polish, Belarusian, Russian and, a bit later, Latvian. Sometimes I got these languages mixed up, and I am still not sure which was my first — it was probably a mixture of languages. For precisely this reason, we always had a lot of dictionaries at home. I loved to compare words in them, leafing through the entries, and clearly recall how the thickly bound volumes sat in a row on a bookshelf in my family’s home.

In today’s multilingual world, I’ve come to the realization (as have others in the language field) that we must take a new look at trends in terminology. We must think beyond the conventional praxis and static models that no longer fit user requirements. Changes are required, and innovation is being brought into focus to introduce novel patterns of language work. We need new tools to reflect, and to integrate, these profound changes into our terminology work. This raises a few questions, of course. What would our “dream” terminology tool or workstation look like? How would it work?

First and foremost, a dream tool should be friendly to its user. A language worker uses various language tools. Text editors, spelling and grammar checkers, electronic dictionaries and databases, computer-assisted translation tools, machine translation systems, voice recognition devices — these have become indispensable tools in our professional life. It is important that we enjoy the tools we use and the way we communicate with them. We want the tool to be friendly, even exciting. The less time we spend on routine operations (for example, term extraction and lookup), the more we have for our core tasks.

Language workers can spend up to one-third of their time on terminology work. In some cases, terminology can consume an even greater share of their working time. A terminologist studies a concept and creates a term or identifies it in a text. A writer utilizes the term in the text he or she is creating, and must use terminology consistently to prevent contradictions. A translator communicates the concept by means of a translation equivalent in a target language. Even two languages can pose a problem if your team is working with 24 official European languages. Without a doubt, a terminology workstation should guarantee a collaborative work process, ensuring that a language worker is no longer alone in his or her task.

A dream terminology workstation would also save us time and money. Diligent terminology work is time-consuming and therefore expensive. The more professionals make use of existing terminology, and the more they are involved in its elaboration, the higher the return on investment is. Conventional media for terminology work, such as desktop- and server-based tools, are not sufficient for engaging language workers of different profiles. Cloud-computing technology is one of the relatively recent revolutionary advances in information and communication technologies that allow for constructing flexible services. This is now becoming a novel pattern in language work.

Though a number of tools currently exist to support terminology work, there is no single solution that could cover all the major steps within a term life cycle, from identification to translation and further exploitation in other language applications. Existing or available tools are not adjusted to new trends in terminology work. For example, few tools integrate facilities for corpus work, most tools have limited language coverage, few tools have sharing facilities and are adherent to ISO standards, and no tool is based on cloud computing.

A terminology as a service (TaaS) project presents a brand new solution that brings sophistication and advanced approaches to terminology work. It proposes an automated approach to terminology identification applying linguistic intelligence. One of the main advantages of the new terminology service model over other existing terminology extraction tools is its capability for processing languages with rich morphology. Other functionalities include translation lookup using major terminology resources (for example, EuroTermBank and IATE) and web data; facilities for collaborative terminology refinement and approval; export in popular formats used by the community, such as TBX (TermBase eXchange), CSV (comma-separated value) and TSV (tab-separated value); refinement of raw monolingual and bilingual terminological data; and sharing and using the resulting terminology.

We foresee the necessity for an interoperable working environment supporting the evolution of the internet and emerging Web 3.0 technologies. It is therefore compulsory to implement standards that can be used to exchange terminological data between different applications and systems — for example, updated XML-based standards that allow for interoperability with the Linked Open Data community. Thus terminological data will be an important part of the semantic web and will be accessible not only by typical terminological applications.


Enabling smaller languages in emerging markets

This new service model could be particularly beneficial for language professionals who work in emerging markets. Many of our emerging markets have smaller languages. These areas have to rely on even more translation tasks and volumes to make their voices resonate across the world. For example, here in Latvia, where I work, our language is spoken by just over one million people. Therefore, translation is the only way we can make our language heard across Europe. Likewise, we are constantly inundated with texts from the major languages — such as English, Russian and German — that need to be swiftly translated into Latvian.

In these emerging markets, translation is often the way in which new terminology enters the languages for the first time. Translators are thus endowed with a great responsibility: to introduce terminology into their countries. The new TaaS terminology service is an effective solution for ensuring that the introduction of terminology is sound, consistent and logical, and that the same terms are chosen by a large number of translators.

These developments for terminology, and indeed for language as a whole, are something I could have only dreamed of as a language-loving child growing up back in the 1980s, leafing through those dusty dictionaries at my family home.