April 12, 2017 10:30 am
Language is a living thing and as such it is born, it develops, and eventually it might die. Let’s start from the beginning: How is a language born? How do its words come into life? We could say that languages are born when a reality that needs to be communicated is born because, as Sapir said, “Language does not exist apart from culture”and it is “a guide to ‘social reality’” , as he “acknowledged the close relationship between language and culture, maintaining that they were inextricably related so that you could not understand or appreciate the one without a knowledge of the other” . When a new reality appears, language becomes richer and new terms are created in order to name this new concept. Terminology is a very important area of linguistics studies because, as Cabré said, “[o]ne of the basic components of any language is the lexicon, which consists of words of the language and the rules accounting for a speaker’s creativity. Words are also units of reference to reality and connect us to the real world” . For example, we can find many words referring specifically to camels in Arabic, as it is an animal that is a part of the Arab culture; but we can also find new words that do not belong to a specific culture, but rather refer to a completely new reality. Nowadays this is typical in the field of technology and science, and some examples we could mention are selfie, bitcoin, app, drone, or any other words you can find in our neologism database.
When a new term is coined in a language, there are different ways to add it in other languages. That is, we need to put a name to this new reality, and choosing the most appropriate one could be quite difficult. In fact, many linguists would agree that “[n]eologisms are perhaps the non-literary and the professional translator’s biggest problem” . To face this issue, languages may resort to different techniques such as borrowing (using exactly the same term in the other language), calque (literary translation of the term), or creation (creation of a completely new word). Sometimes a word that already exists adopts a new meaning, depending on the context, such as the word mouse – the animal or the technical device. This is the developing phase of every language, as social groups are in contact and share their realities.
As you can see, language is always moving and changing, and its life can be either more or less long, so with a little luck, it will not die or sink into oblivion. When a language dies, a culture does too; this is why it is so important to care for endangered languages and record their last speakers. You can take a look at the status of every single language in the world at the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger.
But let us go back to the beginning of the process and take a look at neology. According to Cabré, “whereas linguistics distinguishes between and includes both synchronic and diachronic features of words, terminology is only concerned with synchronic aspects” ; and she adds that classical lexicologists consider neology as the study of “linguistic phenomena that appear at a given time” . Our neologism glossary is based on this idea, so there you can find the date and context where a new word started to be used. Collecting new terms in all the 24 official languages of the European Union is a great challenge, so our database will become bigger and bigger step by step. Of course you can also participate by commenting under our section or suggesting new words you may know in order to contribute to the spreading of linguistic knowledge.
Written by Ana Bennasar, Terminology trainee at TermCoord
Edited by Iris Rinner – Terminology trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament, BA in Modern Foreign Languages and Cultures from the University of Sassari and MA in Specialized Translation from the University of Vienna, and Serena Grementieri, – Terminology trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament, BA in Intercultural Linguistic Mediation and MA degree in Specialized Translation at the School of Foreign Languages and Literatures, Interpreting and Translation (ex-SSLMIT) of Forlì, University of Bologna.
Sources: Cabré, M.T.: Terminology: Theory, Methods, and Applications, 1992.  Sayadi, F.: “The Translation of Neologisms”, Translation Journal, vol. 16, 2011.
– TermCoord: Funny Neologisms, 2014.
– TermCoord: Neologism Database.
– TermCoord: Neologisms’ Websites.“The importance Of Teaching Culture In The Foreign Language Classroom”, Radical Pedagogy, 2001.
– United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization: UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. Wardhaugh, R.: An Introduction to Sociolinguistics, 2006.
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