Interview with terminologist Dr. Detlef Reineke

February 8, 2019 3:41 pm



Detlef Reineke has been teaching and researching at the Faculty of Translation and Interpreting at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in Spain since 1994. He teaches courses on terminology, computer-assisted translation, software localization and XML technologies, among others.
His research activities focus on translation and knowledge-related terminology work and science, but he is also active as a consultant and trainer for industry companies and government institutions.
He has been editor-in-chief of the terminology journal edition for 12 years and vice president of the German Terminology Association (DTT). Detlef Reineke is a standards expert in DIN and ISO TC 37 and has recently joined the German Terminology Institute (DIT).


  1. Can you see some distinctive aspects of terminology work in the countries that you have worked in? Have these changed over the years?

This is hard to answer, because terminology work in multinational or export-orientated companies and in multilingual organizations depends not so much on countries rather than on corporate culture. However, if we take standardization activities, for example, as a barometer, it may be concluded that strong economies and countries with multiple official languages are most interested in terminology and develop/provide appropriate (technical) means and methods for terminology work/management. And this has not changed over the years.

  1. What are the crucial personality traits of a good terminologist? Should terminology be their passion? Why is terminology your passion?

Honestly, terminology is not my passion, but it’s a very interesting field, insofar as basic research, application-orientated research, and industry practice are very closely related and allow terminologists to be present in all of these areas. More than being passionate, terminologists should do a good job, because good results are contagious.
Regarding personal traits, terminologists working in corporate or governmental environments should be good team players in the first place, and this implies showing genuine commitment, being reliable and responsible, being determined (but also flexible), being a good empathic communicator, among others.

  1. As a university teacher and scientist, how do you view development in the terminology field? Should terminology be regarded as a discipline in its own right or as a combination of several different disciplines?

There will always be a wide bandwidth for research activities, study programs, and applications (in the broadest sense), inasmuch as terminology is a fundamental instrument for every segment in specialized communication. So, terminology work/science should be present in both directions, as a discipline on its own right, but also integrated as part of other disciplines or as a combination thereof.

  1. Do you see any particular challenges that terminology as a domain will have to face in the coming years? On the contrary, can we expect any promising developments that will facilitate the work of a terminologist?

I think terminology work has always been confronted with considerable lack of awareness among stack-holders, and this will be a tendency in the future too. Breaking into new ground has also always been a challenge for the terminology community, i. e. offer solutions and data migration interfaces for other (new) communities. So, on the one hand, it’s up to terminology associations like the DTT, EAFT, and others to create and increase the awareness for terminology, and to standards organizations to provide means for data migration and data reuse throughout the various (adjacent) communities. On the other hand, universities and training centres should keep on fine-tuning study programs,
particularly concerning project and data management aspects. On the development side, there is no immediate artefact visible on the horizon that will considerably facilitate terminology work. Due to its complexity, the elaboration and maintenance of good terminology will continue to be a tedious human activity. Maybe we can expect some results from definition extraction (data mining), but this will still depend on the quality of definitions in text.

  1. How much do you know IATE? Do you show it to your students at your courses and participants of your training? What do you think of it?

I only know the front-end IATE. IATE is a valuable resource to start terminology queries as long as definitions are provided. I also check the export features and the TBX output from time to time. As a user, I would prefer direct downloads also for IATE subsets to avoid the JAR file detour. And apart from providing TBX, it would be useful to offer direct downloads into other formats like spreadsheet, RDF/XML or SKOS, for example.

  1. Looking at things from a business perspective, are graduates of terminology programmes heading to work well prepared? Do you have any advice for the new generations of terminologists in any field that you are familiar with?

There is no unique answer to this question (either), since three variables are implied: study programmes, graduates, and job profiles. A motivated and well-trained MA terminology graduate might perfectly fit into a larger company and assume responsibilities right from the start, whereas a BA graduate is quite probably destined to work in less complex environments. So generally speaking, graduates are well-prepared if the three variables are adequately conjugated. However, and as stated before, language industry, thus terminology work, will be more and more data vs. application-driven, a fact that will attribute paramount importance to data engineering skills. And as almost all current study programmes still lack data engineering content/skills, my advice would be to continue training in this field at specialized workshops, also because this kind of skill has already been introduced, or will be soon introduced in primary and secondary schools and current graduates will have to compete with skills of future generations.

  1. What are the unanswered needs and demands in the domain of terminology for enterprises? Are there any specific difficulties that you face in terminology training?

The main challenge has been and will still be on the soft skill side. You mostly find very qualified personnel in each of the departments, be it research, design, production, authoring and terminology, marketing, distribution, and technical service, but when it comes to taking terminology and terminology procedures company-wide on board, many irrational hurdles have to be dismantled in order to get things going. In this sense, a very important aspect in terminology training is to acquire a basic understanding and ability of persuasion techniques based on facts and charisma (the latter is of course hard to train). In my terminology courses, the principal difficulty is that most of the terminologists come from the humanities and have little awareness for data engineering issues.

  1. How do you perceive the role of terminologists when dealing with new methodologies, for instance, machine translation or software localization?

As occurs with other disciplines/work profiles, terminologists too need to approach new technologies and/or methods with a high grade of open-mindedness and creativity. Usually, new technologies are equipped with means for at least basic terminology handling (terminologists rarely participate in the design and development of these technologies, unfortunately), but if it comes to enhancing terminology-relevant features or issues, terminologists should take over the job with self-confidence and know-how. Machine translation may not be considered a new technology or even a methodological challenge for terminologists, since these systems (at least the rule-based ones) are supplied with
terminology elaborated and managed as in ancient times. Software localization is more tricky concerning the texts. It requires different views on what should be considered terminology and what should not, and how it should be processed.

  1. What project have you been dealing with recently? Can you tell us more about your work in the German Terminology Association?

In the recent past, I’ve been actively co-working on a series of ISO standards projects such as ISO 30042 (= TBX), ISO 12620 (Data categories), ISO 16642 (Terminological Markup Framework), or ISO 26162 (Design of terminology databases and terminology management systems), just to mention the most important. Apart from standardization projects, I headed a project where we developed a series of interfaces and routines for a governmental terminology department. The DTT is the most important altruistic terminology association worldwide and covers a wide range of activities both for the benefit of its individual and company members, and also for the benefit for everyone outside the association who is involved in terminology work and terminology science. Among others, the DTT distributes very valuable publications such as a Best Practice Guide, an
indexed biannual terminology review called edition, as well as the proceedings of its always well-attended conferences that take place every two years (for more information see

  1. Do you plan new research or other activities in the close or distant future?

I’ve several irons in the fire. The focus in upcoming research projects will be on improving existing and on providing new data exchange interfaces for data migration between the terminology community and data models/formalisms of other, adjacent communities, particularly (conventional) knowledge management, audio-visual and gaming, augmented reality, and pertinent sectors in the field of artificial intelligence. On the other hand, I’m still leading the ISO 26162 standard’s project (which will be published in autumn 2019), and have joined another interesting ISO project that aims at creating and extending Common (Industrial) Data Dictionaries. And last, but not least, I’m planning to implement a centralized, web-based terminology circle and database for internal use in our university with the objective of standardizing university terminology and documents and, thus,
improve administrative procedures.


Thank you for your answers!

A pleasure.

On behalf of the Terminology Coordination Unit, I wish you success in your further work.

Interviewed by Veronika Lovritš Communications Study Visitor at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament (Luxembourg) and a student of the Master Program in Learning and Communication in Multilingual and Multicultural Contexts at the University of Luxembourg. She holds an MA in Law and Legal Science and a BA in Sociology from the Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic. She speaks Czech, English, German, French and Luxembourgish.


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