Terminology Glosses: Mobile

A vintage version of The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines mobile as an adjective meaning “capable of being easily moved.” In a similar way, the 1905 edition of An American Dictionary of the English Language, based on the then-latest conclusions of the most eminent philologists, also classifies it as an adjective meaning “can be moved.”

Neither of these sources lists mobile as a noun. As a matter of fact, we are faced with an evolution of the term, since current online dictionaries and glossaries have an entry for mobile as a noun, too. The online version of the Oxford dictionary, for instance, proposes two definitions for the noun mobile: the first one being “A mobile phone” and the second being “The Internet as accessed via smartphones or other mobile devices, especially when regarded as a market sector.” In short, if we attempted to schematically describe the recent evolution of the word, we would end up with something not far from Figure 1.

Whereas the adjective mobile is rather generic and therefore not an optimal candidate for our ideal termbase, the noun versions of mobile are sound terminological entries in that they carry a specific meaning. It is important to notice how it is the newer meaning of the word mobile as in “A mobile device,” that is more and more often utilized as an adjective to qualify other nouns. A simple Google search revealed about 1,950,000,000 results for mobile, one of the occurrences being mobile app, of course.

When used as a noun in adjectival position, mobile is a valuable term candidate for our ideal termbase. We will therefore look at how mobile is used in our three main areas of interest: technology in the language industry, terminology management and education.

In terms of mobile apps for the language industry, if technical translators and localizers take a look at the internet offerings available, they will find at least nine free mechanical dictionaries, some of which were originally designed for students. For instance, consider the Mechanical Engineering Dictionary app. Medical translators, on their end, will be able to choose from a plethora of dictionaries, from bilingual EN>target language dictionaries to monolingual reference dictionaries used in university classes, like the Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary. Legal translators will find some good options as well, and scientific linguists will find downloadable apps for all areas: from physics to biology and so on.

Terminologists will find the first mobile app that opens any .tbx or mtf.xml file, browses through the contents, displays terms, shows descriptive fields and languages, runs searches in the file, and allows users to suggest term changes and updates that can be sent to clients and colleagues in the form of a changelog. For lovers of machine translation, there are countless mobile apps. As a language professional and a terminologist, my attention was captured by the Spanish-Occitan Translator because it testifies (like the Spanish-Aragonese Translator) of a certain attention and sensitivity toward minority languages.

Mobile is also used in some unexpected combinations. Take, for instance, mobile ethnography, a term that can be defined as “ethnographic research performed using data self-reported by users through mobile devices.” Information retrieved from social media is then analyzed by companies to identify their customers’ hidden needs. This concept marks a shift from pure anthropology to a mix of research and marketing. On these same lines, the term mobile engagement is defined by the Mobile Marketing Association as “The act of engaging a user through available messaging channels inside and outside of an app.” Such engagement “typically starts the moment a user downloads [an] app” and is confirmed every time a user comes back.

As far as the domain of education is concerned, mobile learning is another term worth noticing. UNESCO has defined it as the “use of mobile technology, either alone or in combination with other information and communication technology (ICT), to enable learning anytime and anywhere.” From a terminology management perspective this definition is not perfectly crafted, as it is not possible to define a term using the term itself. Nonetheless, the idea of mobile learning includes facilitating personalized learning, enabling of learning anytime and anywhere, building new communities of learners, and bridging formal and informal learning. These are carefully detailed in the UNESCO’s Policy guidelines for mobile learning in what turns out to be an extremely captivating concept for a terminologist.

When I was retracing the evolution of the word mobile and its transformation into a term, I came across the online version of the Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson. Published in 1755, Johnson’s dictionary remained the reference dictionary for a long time. It was more complete than any work that preceded it, but it was far from being comprehensive. The Daily Telegraph in its Technology column notes that “the first edition contained just 42,773 entries, compared to more than 250,000 words in the English language.” I could not avoid looking for mobile, which only appears as an adjective in the second edition of the dictionary (1827 by the Rev. H. J. Todd) and is defined as “Movable. Obsolete.”