Terminology and Attitudes towards Language

September 13, 2017 9:55 am

One of the most prominent area in which terminology has a role to play is in the corpus and status (language) planning. The development and the expansion of terminology during the 1980s was also due to the debates in language planning and sociolinguistics. The history simply shows that studying terminology has always been connected to the studies in sociolinguistics and planning for languages.

Terminology and Attitudes towards Language banner - Planet Earth and the word "Language" in several languages

The term language planning was first “introduced by the linguist Einar Haugen in the late 1950s” (Deumert, 2000, p. 384) and it is defined as follows:

[Language Planning] refers to all conscious efforts that aim at changing the linguistic behavior of a speech community. It can include anything ‘from proposing a new word to a new language’ (Haugen 1987: 627).

According to Fishman (1987, p. 409), language planning is:

[…] the authoritative allocation of resources to the attainment of language status and corpus goals, whether in connection with new functions that are aspired to, or in connection with old functions that need to be discharged more adequately. (as cited in Jernud, 1993, p. 133)

In Cooper’s terms, “language planning refers to deliberate efforts to influence the behavior of others with respect to the acquisition, structure, or functional allocation of their language codes” (Cooper, 1989, p. 45).

Language status is the position of a language in relation to other languages. Thus, status planning deals with any attempt to govern or to manipulate this status. For example, the language of the courts (juridical status of a language), or the norms for the official languages, the dominant language of literature or the language of the education are consequences of status planning, which are undertaken by authoritative bodies and legislators.

Status planning, on the one hand, deals with the identification of problems and allocation of norms; and on the other hand, it takes part in language cultivation by evaluation and correction (Based on Einar Haugen’s model).

The language corpus refers to the form and structure of languages where the implementations of decisions result in the changes in the structure of the language. According to Haugen (1950), language corpus planning deals with the codification (standardization procedures) and elaboration (functional development).

In the context of language planning, terminology is not only about proposing a new term but also “changing the attitude of others toward a language by manifesting the abilities and potentials of a language in scientific domains” (Fathi, 2017, p. 37).

M. Teresa Cabré is one of the terminologists that has stressed the importance of terminology and terminology planning in the framework of language planning systems. She believes that to achieve the desired status of a language across the development of the corpus, planning for the specialized language or language of science is indispensable.

Teresa Cabré believes that unstable or recently stabilized languages require terminology to be entirely at the service of language planning goals.

“The underlying belief of this type of language planning is that the use of an unstable language can change with systematic, strategic intervention carried out by official bodies, with the right legislation and appropriate measures aimed at implementing the change”. (Cabré, 1999, p. 14)

In this sense, “not only terminology assists the development of a language by expanding its vocabulary and its functioning in all areas but also it supports the political rights and conditions of languages” (Fathi, 2017, p. 37).


  • Cabré, M. T (1999). Terminology: Theory, methods, and applications. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. [English edition of La Terminologia. La teoria, els mètodes, les aplicacions. 1992]
  • Cooper, R. L. (1989). Language planning and social change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Deumert, A. (2000). Language planning and policy. In Introducing sociolinguistics. R. Mesthrie, J. Swann, J. Deumert, & WL Leap (Eds.), Edinburgh, 384-418.
  • Fathi, B. (2017). PhD thesis, Unpublished.
  • Jernudd, B. H. (1993). Language planning from a management perspective: An interpretation of findings. In Language conflict and language planning. Jahr, Ernst H (ed.). De Gruyter Mouton, 133–142.

Besharat Fathi

Written by Besharat Fathi, a PhD student at Universitat Pompeu Fabra at IULA where she participates actively in some ongoing projects of the institute mainly related to terminology and specialised corpora.

Prepared by Pedro Ramos. Translator, Social Media and Content Manager, Communication Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament (Luxembourg).

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  • Reed James

    I got lost. It was hard to navigate the technical definitions of this post. I mean, if I sat down and studied hard, I could probably get the gist of it. Can you provide some real world scenarios in less technical language?

  • Horváth-Militicsi Attila

    Well, let see: in different languages in different times new expressions where proposed – some of them where accepted some not. My examples are from the Hungarian language spoken in the 19th century: “nyakorján” instead of “zsiráf” (necklong instead of giraffe), “mocsári dalnok” instead of “béka” (marsh bard instead of toad), “havasi futár” instead of “szarvas” (mountain runner instead of deer), and so on. Practically only the terms from medicine where accepted : “górcső” instead of “mikroszkóp” (microscope), “vény” instead of “recept” (recipe).
    In the English language one can find in the mid-XIth century French expressions : the Anglo-Saxon ones where for living animals, the French for the dead ones. In Hebrew the word for library is “mausoleion” – which expression means in Greek “The Temple of Mausoleus”. Some words in Arabic have different meanings even though the same pronunciation: “kabus” can mean both the gun and the gun’s bullet, “askari” can mean both police and soldier. So as it is seen here, the above mentioned technical terminology is not uniquely connected to the 1950-ies and later – such terms are widespread in all cultures and all times from the very beginning of human civilization.

  • Ioan Prislopeanu

    Well, it seems to me that some of our colleagues, either smoked some very powerful stuff lately, thereby starting to “see things” – or they were trapped by their own misconception vs. technology and tools thereby, due to their lack of understanding of how technology works… I remember my high-school terminal years, when the classes were split between ” humanistic studies” (languages – Latin included – literature, biology, psychology & social sciences a.s.o.) and ” positive sciences” ( math, physics, mechanics and the like); while dropouts from the first section were split 80% to 20% in favor of the female population and unable to understand what a two-stroke engine was, the others kept their grease – smeared hands in the bowels of their fathers’ cars and were, by and large, incapable of writing a literary essay. I was pushed in this second section and later thrown in what was the Romanian equivalent of M.I.T. After two years I abandoned ship and joined the University’s School of Foreign Languages. “Au cheval” on the two worlds, I was able to better understand both; but I also knew that linguists, translators, literary freaks and the rest are tempted to look at CATs and other “tools” proposed to our profession with endless awe and admiration. Simply because most of us do not understand how these things actually work. Going back to the matter at hand, high-tech translation work is fully justified in the case of TECHNICAL TRANSLATIONS, while the “literary” stuff can be assisted by specific means. Bottom line? Don’t ask a Porsche to understand Shakespeare ! … or the other way around.