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Information technologies the focus of International Mother Language Day 2011

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International Mother Language Day – 21 February 2011

by A. Drame

Linguistic diversity is dwindling fast. Already, half of the world’s 6,000 languages are endangered, according to official UNESCO figures.

While the Internet is now the major driving force when it comes to the spreading of information, knowledge and culture, it is dominated by very few languages, like English, French, Spanish or Chinese. Even languages which are spoken by millions of people, like Kiswahili, Tamil, Hindi are virtually not present in the World Wide Web.

This fact has two major effects: it promotes the dominance of these languages as de-facto global linguas francas; it also still prevents the Internet to develop its full potential as global medium and repository of knowledge and culture. New information technologies these days have ventured into the remotest places of the Earth and reach more people than ever before in history. However, lacking content in “smaller” or less dominant languages hampers the possibilities that this development could open to promote democracy, equal opportunities and development, and to prevent discrimination. All because it still does not allow access to vital information, to education and resources for millions of people with limited knowledge of these few dominant languages.

The neglect of “smaller” languages in the new technologies has yet another adverse effect. While technological development and the evolution of the Internet proceeds ever more rapidly, those languages which miss out to follow suit now, risk to lose more and more of their functions ever faster. With increasing “monolingualisation” and simultaneous permeation of the Web to various social and geographical regions, even languages which may seem healthy and strong today may lose their ability to evolve and develop further through this medium.

At the same time, many contributions from speakers of other languages will not be heard now and in future. Many ideas and innovations that can best be expressed in a person’s mother tongue will thus be lost. The result is a true pauperization of our emerging knowledge societies.

The true danger is that the process reinforces itself to the advantage of some and on the costs of many others. And once gone it is hard to revive.

UNESCO set the theme for this year “The information and communication technologies for the safeguarding and promotion of languages and linguistic diversity” to highlight the new technologies’ enormous potential for safeguarding, documenting and promoting the use of mother languages.

TermNet supports this effort and, therefore, calls for joint efforts to promote linguistic diversity in the new media for the mutual benefit of all.

Language Portal of Canada launched

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Canada has been regarded by most of us as the linguistist’s and terminologist’s paradise for many years. And derservedly so. Hardly any other country puts so much real effort into preservation and promotion of linguistic diversity. And above all, these efforts are crowned with professionalism, efficiency and success!

Canada now finally has her one-stop-shop for anything related to her linguistic heritage. The country’s rich linguistic resources are now accessible at the newly launched Language Portal of Canada.

“Through this portal, anybody can finally obtain access free of charge to TERMIUM®, the Government of Canada’s linguistic and terminology data bank. With TERMIUM® finding the right words has just become easier with more than 3,900,000 terms of which some 200 000 are in Spanish” says Gabriel Huard, Director of the Translation Bureau.

He further notes that “the portal also contains a vast array of language tools, a magazine, exercises dealing with problem words in French and English, and a directory of useful links to resources and organizations active in the language field.”

In June 2008, the Government of Canada published the Roadmap for Canada’s Linguistic Duality 2008-­2013: Acting for the Future. Within the framework of this initiative, Public Works and Government Services Canada mandated the Translation Bureau of the Government of Canada to design and put online the language portal.

Go to www.ourlanguages.gc.ca

India on its way to a modern, multilingual knowledge society

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The Indian government has initiated something that could turn out to be one of the most pioneering projects towards the establishing of the famed knowledge society. Highly multilingual and diverse societies like India have long relied on English as the medium of choice to disseminate knowledge to her people. At the same time it has recognized the fact that a large part of the people do not have sufficient proficiency in that language to make the best possible use of the information transmitted to them in that language. India’s Prime Minister therefore set the stake by demanding to make knowledge, especially in critical areas, available to every citizen – for the sake of nothing less than an educated and informed multilingual society through all levels.

NTM-main

The Prime Minister’s speech was starting point for the National Translation Mission (NTM in short): http://www.ntm.org.in

The initiative is located at the Central Institute of Indian Languages (CIIL) in Mysore from where it operates. NTM experts cooperate with various governmental, non-governmental and academic institutions, media houses, publishers and other companies.

Terminology planning, management and standardization are major aspects for the overall success of the mission.

Who will benefit? Well, according to the initiative’s Website all those who have otherwise little access to the knowledge, liker rural and students of weaker sections, teachers of various subject fields, NGOs, volunteers in non-formal education, government and private agencies, media producers and journalists, translators and interpreters, etc.

And hopefully the international professional community from the expertise, products and services by NTM for the Indian languages.

Long walk to freedom for new terms in France

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This great article from Wall Street Journal online describes the way of neologisms through French institutions and expert groups before they become approved new terms.

An excerpt:

PARIS — The word on the table that morning was “cloud computing.”

To translate the English term for computing resources that can be accessed on demand on the Internet, a group of French experts had spent 18 months coming up with “informatique en nuage,” which literally means “computing in cloud.”

France’s General Commission of Terminology and Neology — a 17-member group of professors, linguists, scientists and a former ambassador — was gathered in a building overlooking the Louvre to approve the term.

“What? This means nothing to me. I put a ‘cloud’ of milk in my tea!” exclaimed Jean Saint-Geours, a French writer and member of the Terminology Commission. “Send it back and start again”…

Read the full article on Wall Street Journal online.

A few thoughts on terminology planning

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Terminology planning for many years has been regarded part and parcel of language planning, in particular the area dealing with corpus planning and lexical expansion. More recently, with the emergence of fast-paced globalization and the rapid development of modern information and communication technology, and its impact on global, multilingual communication and knowledge transfer, the role of terminology has been reassessed by many scientists as well as communities of use, such as industry and service providers, language planning institutes, etc.

 

A number of arguments speak in favour of regarding terminology policies as separate entities. For one, terminology is increasingly regarded as a strategic and central element for communication and knowledge transfer processes that requires regulation.

 

Furthermore, terminology does not only affect linguistic affairs. Rather, it may be an important issue in education, economic development, information and communication, and other sectors of a nation. In some of these sectors a national language policy may not, or only partly, valid. And even if we continue to regard terminology planning as part of language planning, we may argue that the complexity and interconnectedness of terminology matters with others justifies a separate treatment.

 

An article by Galinski, Budin and de V Cluver, titled Terminologieplanung und Sprachplanung, and published in Hoffmann, L.; Kalverkämper, H; Wiegand, H.E. (eds.) Fachsprachen/Languages for Special Purposes (1999) elaborates on differences and overlapping areas between the two. It is published in German language, but in the UNESCO Guidelines for Terminology Policies (http://portal.unesco.org/ci/en/ev.php-URL_ID=20896&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html) a synapsis of the paper is available in English and French.

 

Terminology planning, while still being a major constituting element in language planning processes, is now regarded from many different angles beyond linguistics, too. With the number of stakeholders growing in the different communities of use, so does the variety of requirements for the development and management of terminologies. Which these are, always reflects their pragmatic environment, the real situation with all its features. Terminology policies therefore must be designed to fit perfectly into this environment, yet be adaptable to change, when the environment changes. Some studies exist with regard to terminology planning.

Most notable the study by Bassey Antia “Terminology and language planning”, which, in an example from language planning from his home country Nigeria describes and examines principles, methods and workflows for terminology creation and standardization in language planning. The institutional situation and frame is of utmost importance for an efficient (i.e. under best-possible deployment of infrastructure, human and financial resources), and effective work (i.e. sustainable, with measurable results that have a real perceived impact on a defined target group).

Such frame conditions only in very rare cases are given and guaranteed long-term by a funding and supporting body, e.g. a government. Therefore, it falls under the tasks of the terminology planner or planning organization to create, or to sustain them and thus enable the expert work of terminology planning, management and standardization over as long a time as necessary.

To achieve this goal, a policy is needed, in the meaning of an officially approved systematic plan and recorded regulation with regard to the creation, management or handling of terminology in an organization or language community. Infoterm’s research and expertise concerns the pragmatic environment in which terminology planning takes place.

 

There are a number of studies by Infoterm on the policy-making process on their Website and in Wikipedia. And Infoterm also compiled the UNESCO Guidelines for Terminology Policies. In 2006 a standardization project was initiated under the International Organization for Standardization to develop a methodology standard based on the Guidelines, but including also the interest of professional organizations. If you are interested in terminology planning and minority languages you might want to read the Proceedings of the Special Seminar on Terminology Policies and Minority Languages, organized by the European Association for Terminology in Dublin in 2007.

The proceedings are available at TermNet Publisher or contact termnetpublisher@termnet.org.

Infoterm Website: http://www.infoterm.info/activities/terminology_policies.php

Article on Terminology Policies (in German): eDITion, magazine of the Association for German Terminology (DTT)

Glossaries Breakfast Group – Day: Definitions and Contexts

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On day 2, the request came in to discuss how to write good definitions. Slides were presented on good definition form and context form, and we discussed critical issues. Sample definition:

account

A login directory (1) restricted for the use of a particular person, (2) usually password- protected, (3) that provides access to a system.

Where:

the term is:  “account”

the superordinate concept is: “A login directory”

the critical (essential, distinguishing) characteristics are:

(1) restricted for the use of a particular person

(2) usually password- protected

(3) that provides access to a system.

The slides are available at TermNet Website.

Collaborative terminology management in language planning and for corporate purposes

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We are discussing this morning the problem a South African participant brought up. South Africa has 11 official languages and terminology projects for language planning are undertaken by a variety of organizations, governmental, private or academic. What can one do to make sure that terminology data stored in databases of various sorts and degree of sophistication can be coordinated, maybe linked, etc. There are costly and efficient tools on the market that have their advantages and disadvantages. They are mostly easy-to use by a large number of terminologists who may be working from different locations thanks to web accessibility. They also “guide” the person who makes the entry how to proceed. On the downside of it they are often very costly. But there are also solutions that do not require a lot of money – just some knowhow of data modelling and strict consistency of how data are entered and managed. Excel is such and example and data managed this way can be quite easily imported into existing other systems.
wikis are strong in the field of collaborative work, dissemination and discussion of terminology. However, they are weak when it comes to structuring data entries. Some companies in Germany, for instance are already using a combination of Excel and wikis for their terminology work.

What to do when you have to create a glossary

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UPDATE!

The “glossaries” focus group reports what they did:

Essentially, we introduced ourselves to each other and as we did this, established the various frameworks in which different members of the group create different kinds of glossaries and other terminological resources.

Environments, glossary types, target groups

  • Resources designed to respond to distributed development in large enterprises; problem of communication among distributed sites;  getting clear definitions in English
  • Resources designed for the purpose of translating EU legislation based on multilingual glossaries with master en equivalents (languages: Croatian & Turkish)
  • Regulatory affairs in order to support translation activities by outsourced translators
  • Language planning in the context of the Welsh language boards; Welsh/English; issues of acceptance and term creation
  • Fachsprache= special language in business; (English and Slovenian) for use by freelance translators
  • Bilingual lexicology for special languages
  • WIPO terminology database
  • Transportation industry; dictionaries and glossaries for Latvian, Russian, English; how to make the terminologies parallel
  • Translation department glossaries for EU agencies in a wide range of domains; how to foresee problems and solutions for translators, auditors, interpreters, etc.
  • Freelance technical writer: glossaries; technical solutions
  • Technology companies where people are creating terms in industry and business
  • Technical terms, medical terms, processes to establish preferred terminological usage
  • South African experience: language planning and term introduction in languages for which many terms must be created
  • Translation unit of the eu: exercise in the combination of various different glossaries into Euroterm; problem of legacy data; problem of unification of entries
  • Communications support – total communications management for translation and document production
  • Technical translation and terminology management for enterprises, multiple languages
  • Modernization of legacy systems and importation of legacy data
  • Secretary to a commission in a minority language region; translation of legal terms & laws into a minority language that is a majority language in a neighboring country (i.e., German in Belgium, parallel)
  • WIPO – World Intellectual Property Organization; patent translation and terminology management

Problems

  • How does one transfer terminological and lexicographical information from tabular Excel glossaries into a structured terminology management system, such as MultiTerm? (Answer: xml output, manipulation and importation into the master system; more of a tools question, but nevertheless related to “glossaries”. Similar issues exist for glossaries found on the web, which may also need to edited for stylistic presentation.
  • How does one deal with copyright issues? (To be discussed on Thursday)
  • How do we come with new terms in different environments:
  • Terms used in well established languages (e.g., German terms for Italian or Belgian law)?
  • Terms or even general language words for use in languages where some areas of science, law, etc. have not been as rigorously developed in the past
  • How do we introduce and educate the general public so that terms created in such environments will be accepted for general usage?
  • Community action procedures and introduction in the school system in order to familiar children, families and interest groups in focused areas of terminology (e.g., family health, water management, childhood education, etc.), with the result that the introduction and acceptance of terminology can actually take a generation!
  • How do we deal with the fact that terms are coined in English and tend to be both very compact and short, in addition to being ambiguous with regard to noun/verb/adjective relationships, when some languages require more explicit, longer phrasal terms?
  • How do we keep people from just giving up and using the English terms?

No clear solutions here, but we commiserated with each other!

Critical insight: “Nothing is so easy as I thought it would be.”

To be continued tomorrow…

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