Interview with Lina Malouli Idrissi

Lina Malouli IdrissiBorn in Fez, Morocco, in 1988, Lina Malouli Idrissi gained a BA in English Studies at the local Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences. She then moved to Tangier, where she obtained a Master’s degree in translation at the King Fahd School of Translation. Top of her class for two years running, she was granted an ERASMUS scholarship to finish her Master’s programme at Lessius Hogeschool, Antwerp, Belgium, where she attended classes in specialised translation, terminology management and CAT tools. She is now preparing for the ECQA certification exam after her participation in the Terminology Summer School 2015 that took place in Cologne, Germany. In 2013 she started working at the Arabization Coordination Bureau (BCA) – ALECSO as an expert in the terminological and lexicographical research unit, and since then has been in charge of communication and management for ARABTERM projects, as well as content creation and management of its website www.arabterm.org. Since joining the BCA, she has taken part in the management, revision and updating of numerous multilingual terminological and lexicographical projects in fields such as law, education, medicine, literature and the environment. She has also been supervising trainees majoring in translation, in addition to managing and running workshops on terminology and arabisation for high-school students.

  1. Ms Idrissi, why did you decide to focus on terminology and lexicography in your professional life?

I first discovered my passion for terminology in specialised translation classes back at the King Fahd School of Translation (KFST). I enjoyed extracting terms, understanding their context and looking for their equivalents in the target language, and the rest just fell into place. My story with terminology continued after graduation, when I was working as a conference interpreter. The complexity of the topics and their highly technical nature never scared me, because I believed that all I had to do was read up on the subject matter and prepare a bilingual list of terms before the conference. Then I started working at the Arabization Coordination Bureau, and my professional life moved to a completely new level. Today, I have the good fortune and privilege to be part of the arabisation movement, which aims to promote my language – Arabic – by creating, updating and unifying Arabic terminology.

  1. You have been working for the Arabization Coordination Bureau (BCA) within the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO) since 2013. Could you please tell us about your role as a linguist there?

The Arabization Coordination Bureau is the only official Arab entity with the remit of coordinating the efforts of all Arab countries in arabising and unifying terminology. For the last three years, I have been working as an expert in the terminological and lexicographical research unit. My main tasks consist in the management of dictionary projects at every stage, coordination among project teams, and scientific and linguistic revision of dictionaries’ content before their publication as unified dictionaries.

  1. In December 2015 you participated in the Fifth International Platform on Integrating Arab e-Infrastructure in a Global Environment (e-AGE), organised by the Arab States Research and Education Network (ASREN), a platform that promotes collaboration among experts and scientists in the Arab region and the rest of the world. Why do you think it is so important for linguists to connect with experts in other fields?

It is of the utmost importance for us at the BCA to be constantly in touch with the scientific community around the world. Events such as e-Age allow us to interact with scientists, researchers, students, teachers, etc. in order to determine which areas need to be covered in Arabic, gather their opinions on what we do, and ask for recommendations so as to better meet their expectations. We also take advantage of opportunities like this to promote our projects and to seek the expertise of participants who can help us create new terminology projects or scientifically revise and review existing ones.

  1. Communication and cooperation are key factors in every terminological process. Could you tell us how industry, academia and governments in 22 member states interact in order to unify terminology? What is the role of terminology producers outside the Arab World (e.g. the United Nations) in this process? How are users involved in it?

Communication and cooperation are indeed key factors in every terminological process. The BCA is no exception to this, since all the parties you mention in your question play an essential role in our terminological work. Every dictionary project has to follow a set of 15 different steps before publication, the most important of which can be listed as follows: first we choose the project team, made up mainly of experts in the field to be covered by the translators and linguists. We then begin the unification process by sending the dictionary project to Arabic language academies and national committees in ALECSO’s 22 member states. These academies and committees go through the project’s entries, either approving the proposed equivalents or suggesting different ones based on what is most commonly used in their respective countries. Dictionary projects, together with the countries’ stipulations, are then presented at the Congress of Arabization that is held every three years by the BCA in one of the member states. During this congress, government representatives, university professors, scientists and linguists involved in the fields being presented are invited to attend work sessions dedicated to each of the dictionary projects in order to unify and validate their content. Terminology producers from outside the Arab world, such as the UN and the European Commission, are important terminology resources for us. We rely on their databases to find the proper designations of concepts in English and French. As for our end users, they are also invited to contribute actively to the process of term selection, revision of published terms and the choice of new fields to cover in Arabic via our interactive forum, surveys, social media pages, regular seminars and other initiatives.

  1. What are the most difficult domains to cover in the Arabic language, and why?

In my opinion, scientific and technical fields are more difficult to cover in Arabic. Because of language variations, diglossia, and the lack of precision and consistency in the Arabic equivalents of technical and scientific terminology, Arab researchers find themselves obliged to conduct their studies and research using a foreign, up-to-date, precise language. The absence of scientific and technical corpora in Arabic, which are the main sources of terminology, is a real hindrance to the process of creating unified dictionaries.

  1. Taking into account the widespread use of English in the fields of science and technology, how has Arabic terminology evolved? Could you tell us how new terms are born (e.g. arabisation, transcription/transliteration, literal translation) and how they are finally included in ARABTERM?

The pace at which Arabic terminology is evolving unfortunately cannot keep up with the rapidly emerging knowledge fields and new terms that are continuously being coined. That is why the BCA has decided to change its perspective in terms of terminological work and policies. One of the projects we are currently working on to solve this problem is the Arabic linguistic observatory, a revolutionary project that will allow instantaneous tracking of new terms. These terms will be then arabised, validated and published in our online terminological bank.

There are numerous techniques for coining new terms in Arabic. However, we opt for only a few, excluding, for example, transliteration. Arabic has a very rich linguistic heritage in all fields (medicine, philosophy, architecture, mathematics, chemistry, economics, astronomy, etc.), so for a new term to be born, we tend to handle it in accordance with the field covered by the dictionary project, and use linguistic tools such as derivation. Another option is arabisation. This technique is used when dealing with terms that are global in nature, terms and phrases that have Greek or Latin origins, or/and the names of commonly quoted scientists, in addition to chemical elements and compounds. In these cases, arabised terms are considered Arabic terms, i.e. they abide by the same linguistic rules as Arabic. Of course, translation is also an option, especially when dealing with compound terms, names of institutions, regional and international treaties, etc.

  1. ARABTERM is a series of standardised dictionaries. What kind of terminology policies does ALECSO have for lexical generation? Do you perceive a lack of policies or standardisation of terms in any specific fields?

ARABTERM, as the fruit of a collaboration between the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and ALECSO, adopts the same terminological policies and standards for creating and arabising terms as the BCA. These are a set of 18 concept-oriented standards that govern the classification of fields and sub-fields, the criteria for term selection (linguistic economy, ease of use, derivability, etc.), the techniques used to avoid synonymy and ambiguity, etc. However, the application of such standards remains a not-so-easy task, especially given the fact that Arab countries have different historical and cultural backgrounds and speak different dialects, which influences their choice and creation of new terminology. That is why on ARABTERM we opt for a policy that allows us to cite – when necessary – the different equivalents of a certain concept in the different countries and their dialects, while of course putting the standardised/unified term as the main equivalent.

  1. Because of the particularities of the Arabic language (e.g. letters written right to left, but numbers written left to right), linguists may not be able to enjoy all the advantages technology has to offer. Do you have this problem? How do you deal with it? What kind of CAT tools does ALECSO use to create corpora?

No, we do not have this problem at the Bureau. We used to use Microsoft Excel and Access to manage terminology databases, and both these software programmes support Arabic writing and even have an Arabic interface available. I personally never noticed the difference when switching from English or French into Arabic. Today, we have developed our own platform for terminology management, corresponding to our specific methodological needs and offering equal technical advantages for all the languages used.

  1. On the ARABTERM website there is a link to useful linguistic tools, including IATE. Could you please tell us what the general opinion is of this database and the linguistic work of the European Parliament in the Arabic language context?

IATE is undeniably one of the richest, most reliable terminological databases available online. At the Bureau, we rely largely on this tool for the revision of English and French equivalents. As I mentioned earlier, the BCA has developed its own platform for terminology management, offering its users a tremendous number of terminological resources. Thanks to IATE, we have now enriched it with more than 600 000 terms, made accessible for free and downloadable via the website.

With the growing interest in the Arabic language, especially in European countries, the addition of Arabic equivalents to the database can be very useful for IATE users. Recently, the BCA has contributed to the revision and review of a list of Arab organisations, a list that is meant to be at the disposal of IATE translators with some knowledge of or interest in Arabic. The BCA and ALECSO are open to any new forms of collaboration that could link our institutions, and are ready to share their expertise in the field of terminology and lexicography.

  1. Arabic is the official or co-official language in 22 countries and one of the official languages of organisations such as the United Nations (UN) and the African Union (AU); it is also one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. What advice could you give to aspiring terminology managers who want to deal with the Arabic language?

My only advice would simply be to “GO FOR IT”. Nowadays, there is a growing demand for Arabic terminologists and translators. Because of the strategic and economic importance of the Arab market, more and more companies are investing in Arabic (translating manuals, games, localising software and apps, etc.). To conclude, I would say that Arabic has an outstanding capacity to adapt to developments in any field because of its derivability. Moreover, what makes Arabic intriguing is that the language used today is nearly the same as that which has been used for more than 15 centuries. So, when you work on Arabic, you are opening endless doors towards learning and discovery thanks to an incomparably rich heritage of books and resources that are easy to read and understand.

Ana-BennasarInterviewer, Ana Bennasar

Born in La Laguna (Tenerife, Spain), she holds a degree in Translation and Interpreting at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria with Spanish, French, English, and Arabic as her main working languages. Since 2010, she has been collaborating as a translator for several international organizations and NGOs to improve her professional skills in the field of translation of texts about human rights, immigration, and international cooperation. Ana is interested in law and finance, especially in regions such as Africa, the Middle East and Europe, and she recently finished a MA in Institutional Translation and obtained the ECQA certificate in terminology management.

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