Interview with Terminologist Dr. Juan Antonio Prieto Velasco

September 6, 2018 10:15 am


Dr Juan Antonio Prieto Velasco is a lecturer at the Department of Philology and Translation of the University Pablo de Olavide in Seville (Spain), since 2009. His most preferred research interests are Terminology, Specialized Knowledge Visualization and Scientific and Technical Translation. He got his PhD in Translation and Interpreting at the University of Granada; a MA degree in Medical and Healthcare Translation from University Jaume I, Castellón, and a BA in Translation and Interpreting from the University of Granada. He is a member of the LexiCon research group, coordinated by Dr Pamela Faber, and has worked in a series of terminological projects both in the field of Environmental Science and Medicine in the framework of the Frame-based Terminology, whose main results have been published in high-impact journals such as Terminology, International Journal of Lexicography and the Journal of Specialised Translation.

1- What are the most crucial traits and responsibilities of a terminologist or a translator to deal with technology, social networks and the growing number of neologisms nowadays and what, in your opinion, lies in the future for terminology and translation?

The work of both terminologists and translators has changed significantly along with the shifts in information technologies, artificial intelligence and computer-assisted translation, which have contributed to advanced tools improving quality and efficiency. We should probably stop speaking about new ICTs, since they are no longer new; they have come to stay and are in constant evolution to help professionals working in the field of language and linguistics. Translators resisting the use of terminology-enhanced translation tools and terminologists who remain unaware of the multimodal and multimedia nature of information channels where new terms are coined are out of date. Translation and terminology will need to take multimodality more into consideration when dealing with specialised texts, but also pay closer attention to their cognitive and communicative implications, which means incorporating knowledge-based terminological resources in the daily routine of specialised translators.

2- In your article “Semantic Relations, Dynamicity, and Terminological Knowledge Bases”, two ways are suggested to increase the coherence and dynamicity of terminological knowledge bases. What are the most serious problems and development challenges related to these knowledge bases of terminology and translation units?

From the perspective of Frame-based Terminology, for terminological databases to be really useful and representative of a given domain, they must evolve towards knowledge-based resources, which show greater coherence and dynamicity. This can be done, on the one hand, by identifying a frame structure to represent all concepts belonging to a specialised domain and, on the other hand, by providing a wider range of conceptual relations. The main problem terminologists find when developing this kind of resources is an expensive, time-consuming task which must be carried out in interdisciplinary working teams; we first need to extract semantic and syntactic information from a large corpus of texts in as many languages we want to contemplate in order to study how the concepts represented by terms relate one another; then, we have to include the information provided by definitions and contexts in specialised dictionaries and other reference material; finally, we also need the help of experts in the field to guarantee accuracy, and computer engineers to make it possible to represent the domain in a meaningful, consistent terminological resource and to make queries about domain-specific terms or concepts.

3- Could you please inform us about your recent research exploring terminological variation in the language of medicine? What is the importance of this research and what are the most prominent expected outcomes?

My research deals with the depiction of specialised concepts by means of different types of visuals (pictures, drawings, diagrams, charts, etc.). We know that images are not only useful to make texts more attractive, but also to aid knowledge transfer by means other than language. So far, we think that whereas a concept can be designated by several terms, for the sake of synonymy and terminological variation, an image is a visual representation of the concept, rather than the term. This implies that a concept can only be depicted by a single image; the same goes for definitions: a concept can only have a definition. However, we are now questioning this. If multidimensionality can give rise to variants of the standard definition of a concept, could the same happen to visual representations? Incorporating specialised knowledge visualisation into knowledge-based terminological resources can be helpful to complement the conceptual information provided by definitions, but it poses a big challenge, as terminologists should be aware of the specific dimensions depicted. In the language of Medicine this is particularly relevant, due to register differences between experts (healthcare providers) and non-experts (for example, patients). We expect to develop a methodology to select representative images on the basis of the recipient’s profile.

4- Have you been recently involved in any other interesting projects? Could you please elaborate?

The most recent projects I have contributed to are VariMed and Combimed, where the terminological resource VariMed ( was developed to account for the different term variants in both medical English and Spanish. We studied the cognitive and communicative causes which underlie the selection of a given variant of a medical term. In collaboration with researchers from the Gent research group (University Jaume I, Castellón), I focused on the patient-friendliness of images used in medical texts addressed to patients, what images patients consider disturbing or disgust-evoking and how they perceive them. Our findings suggest that sensory stimuli, especially visual, are behind the patient-(un)friendliness of images: for instance, the unhealthy appearance of the concept depicted and the negative emotions evoked, such as disgust, pain or fear. The emotions of patients as lexicalised in texts are a field we would like to explore next.

5- In the light of your article “Using Multimedia Materials in the Teaching of Scientific and Technical Translation”, would you please give us some insight about the important link between the graphic information and the text among the growing challenges of translation?

Texts have long been regarded as monomodal, that is, essentially linguistic. But they have never been like that, and much less since the ICT revolution, which encouraged the use of multimodal resources for information representation in texts which were no longer just printed. We all know that translators of specialised texts are not experts in the field, although they need to acquire knowledge by means of documentation techniques and the development of information literacy so as to be able to translate specialised concepts. In my opinion, the first source of information for translators is the text they have to translate, including images, which are often out of focus, mainly when they are not part of the translation brief. Pictures, diagrams, figures, sketches offer valuable information in a graphic manner which converges with the linguistic information by complementing one another. Sometimes, it is the image which helps to decipher a complex text; other times it is the text which provides an explanation of what the image depicts. When multimodal materials are used in the training of student translators, they are able to increase their awareness of, and sensitivity to complex translational problems in multimedia scenarios, for example the need to make non-linguistic textual content accessible for people with disabilities.

6- Regarding the translator’s role as a terminologist, could you observe any trends over the last few years? If so, what are they and what has changed?

Translators are more and more aware of the importance of documentation skills to solve terminological problems; they do not rely just on bilingual dictionaries and are conscious of the need of using quality, rigorous terminological resources for documentation purposes. Moreover, they now use the terminological management module in CAT tools in their professional activity. However, they should turn more to experts for help and counsel, since they are important information sources, often underestimated by translators and terminologists.

7- Which book, paper, project, etc. would you recommend to people, and especially terminologists and translators, to read/ follow? And why?

That is not easy to answer, because there is plenty of research in the field. If I had to highlight a piece of work in relation to my own work and the work of my LexiCon colleagues, I would choose A Cognitive Linguistics View of Terminology and Specialized Language (2012), because it offers a comprehensive look over Frame-based Terminology. I think it well condenses the findings resulting from years of hard work in a range of terminological projects.

Beyond the canonical handbooks of terminology, which are a must, I would like to recommend a paper publish in Translation Studies by Anne Ketola (University of Tampere, Finland) in 2016 entitled “Towards a multimodally-oriented theory of translation: A cognitive framework for the translation of illustrated technical texts”. She is carrying out an interesting research project in order to elaborate a theory of translation with a focus on the multimodal nature of specialised communication. In this article she proposes that “translators of illustrated technical texts process both verbal and visual information and that, consequently, their translation solutions are built on information interpreted from the combination of two different modes.” I think the article gives an idea of the course research in terminology is taking.

8- Assuming that you are familiar with IATE, do you find it helpful for a translator’s daily work? In your opinion, are there any drawbacks to it that should be fixed?

IATE has been used by translators since its very beginning as EuroDicAutom. For years it has been making significant efforts to extend its contents and include the new official EU languages. In my opinion, apart from the wide range of fields it covers, the possibility of finding equivalents in multiple languages, which are particularly helpful for institutional translators, one of IATE’s most relevant features is the fact of including a reliability mark, which is something few terminological resources contemplate and translators tend to obviate when desperately looking for an equivalent.

However, IATE seems to lack a consistent underlying structure, which results in a repository of terms which are not interrelated by a set of conceptual relations. This may be neither fast nor easy to solve due to its multidisciplinary character. I guess it might not be cheap, either, but I think it should evolve to become a knowledge-based terminological resource, actually built upon knowledge extracted from EU documents, where concepts are somehow related thanks to a sort of ontology.

Ahmad Almohammad – terminology Study Visitor at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament (Luxembourg) and a student of the Master Programme in Learning and Communication in Multilingual and Multicultural Contexts at the University of Luxembourg.  He is an English Teacher and holds his BA in English literature and linguistics. He speaks Arabic and English.

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