Interview with Licia Corbolante

Licia CorbolanteLicia Corbolante holds a degree in translation from the University of Trieste, Italy, and a diploma of advanced studies in applied linguistics and marketing from the University of Salford, UK; she also did further studies in computational linguistics at Dublin City University, Ireland.

She has been working in the localisation field since the early 90s, mainly at Microsoft, where she was instrumental in defining Italian localisation standards, developing target language processes and driving best practices across languages. Until recently she was Senior Italian Terminologist with Microsoft Language Excellence, an international team of terminologists and language specialists responsible for maintaining a multilingual, concept-oriented terminology database and supporting Microsoft product teams and localisation service providers (for additional information, see the outline of her presentation Working with terminology at Microsoft at tcworld 2008).

She currently works as an independent terminologist and localisation specialist and she is based in Milan, Italy.

1) Giulia Nardini: You studied translation at the University of Trieste. When and why did you decide to focus your career on terminology and localisation rather than on translation?

Licia Corbolante: Going into localisation rather than translation wasn’t something I had planned, but before graduating I had developed an interest in computers and I wrote my dissertation on the adaptation of culture-bound texts, so maybe it was not surprising that I ended up in Dublin, which at the time was the localisation centre of Europe.

2) Giulia Nardini: You have an important 20-year work experience in Microsoft as Italian Language Specialist and later Senior Italian Terminologist. What did you find most challenging in your job?

Licia Corbolante: I was responsible for the standardisation of terminology and language usage in Microsoft products and services for the Italian market. An aspect of IT terminology management that can be quite challenging, but also very rewarding, is the analysis of any new, highly visible concept and the selection of the most appropriate target term that is acceptable to experts and accessible to non-experts and is as such most likely to be adopted by the market. IT terminology, which has mainly English as its source language, is extremely varied, constantly growing and changing, often with no clear line separating specialised and low-end software. It includes terms from different domains with different degrees of specialisation and it is marked by innovation and rapid developments that give rise to a fast evolution of concepts but also a significant obsolescence rate and various degrees of inconsistency and indeterminacy. In this scenario, there are no unique strategies in the term formation process, and in each case a different mix of factors need to be taken into account – not only linguistic considerations, availability of different term candidates and consistency with existing terminology, but also product placement, user experience and preferences, learnability, market expectations, cultural differences, concept “point of entry”(e.g. via early adopters and influencers, or popularised through mainstream channels), and the prevention of any subsequent, costly terminology changes. In this framework, diachronic analysis can be helpful in identifying terms that are more likely to succeed based on existing trends and patterns, such as the evolution of similar competing terms.

3) Giulia Nardini: During those 20 years, how did IT terminology and the terminology management process change and evolve?

Licia Corbolante: IT terminology is better motivated now than it was 10 or 20 years ago. Internationalisation and Globalisation guides and other reference material have increased developers’ awareness of language usage. Also, reviews at early stages of the product life cycle help filter out terminology that is not suitable for a global market. However, IT terminology is still rich in jargon, idioms and colloquialisms that can make concepts hard to understand and to transfer adequately into another language, especially when it favours metaphors that are marked by indeterminacy and lack of transparency. In a comment to a TermCoord post, for instance, I remarked that cloud computing remains a fuzzy concept for many users; elsewhere I noted that incidental metaphors are not uncommon and gave the example of ribbon, an area in a window in which commands and other controls are displayed in functionally related groups, which was named after a prototype that was unrelated to the design of the final feature.

The terminology management process has also changed considerably over the years, both in the methods used and in the stages in the product life cycle in which terminology management takes place. When I started working in localisation, basic lists of terms were compiled at a relatively advanced stage of the localisation process, often by individual translators. Such lists soon evolved into product-specific glossaries with definitions, usually created by localisation teams at the beginning of the localisation process, sometimes with no direct input from product developers. It was still a reactive, term-oriented approach with no mechanism to share terminology across product teams and which had a limited effect in reducing inconsistencies between products. Nowadays large software companies prefer a proactive approach where new terminology is identified by product teams before localisation starts and is made immediately available company-wide in multilingual, concept-oriented termbases. Terminology management is part of a knowledge sharing workflow that helps achieve higher standardisation and better quality, not only in translation but also in the source language, for example in the authoring of documentation.

Another relatively recent change has seen major software companies make their terminology publicly available (cf. Microsoft Language Portal, SAP terminology, IBM terminology etc.). End users can also be involved in the terminology selection process via forums or other initiatives.

4) Giulia Nardini: You created a really interesting blog about terminology, localisation and translation. When did you start it? How do you get ideas and inspiration for writing your frequent posts?

Licia Corbolante: My blog, Terminologia etc., started in 2008 as one of ten language-specific terminology blogs of the Microsoft Language Portal. It was part of a community engagement effort aimed at making terminology work better known to localisation professionals, developers and end users. It generated considerable interest and when I left Microsoft I decided to continue blogging using my own domain, retaining the original blog name and republishing the old posts. I enjoy working with terminology and I have always been fascinated by languages and their quirks, so anything can be a source of inspiration. I jot down ideas, and I add links and notes whenever I find anything relevant, so I have plenty of material I can draw on when I write a post. A number of entries, particularly the ones tagged lavoro terminologico, are based on issues found in terminology projects I worked on, with the original examples replaced by equivalent material that is openly available on the web.

5) Giulia Nardini: Could blogs and websites about terminology and linguistic issues become a key tool to popularise terminology and make it more accessible to a wider audience?

Licia Corbolante: There are excellent sites and blogs on language and on translation that help popularise complex linguistic issues, and I am sure the same could be done for terminology. I saw that the TermCoord blog has reached the 200,000 visits milestone (congratulations!) and I think its success proves that there is a great interest in terminology, in the type of work done by EU institutions, in experts’ insights as well as practical examples, and recommendations on resources and tools, with a mix of topics that can appeal to different audiences.

The need for better terminology awareness is probably more acute in some languages than others. Italian, for example, lacks an established tradition in terminology, and although there are now excellent programs like the ones described by Franco Bertaccini in Forlì and in a few other Italian universities, not everybody had the opportunity to acquire terminology research and management skills. I hope that by sharing information and providing hands-on experience in my own blog, I am also helping to popularise terminology to a wider audience.

7) Giulia Nardini: How will the fast development in new technologies affect terminology management and the translation process?

Licia Corbolante: Technology has already changed translation and terminology management considerably, and it can only get better. Just to mention one example, further developments in corpus linguistics and any related tool will have a great impact also on the work of individual terminologists and translators. Needless to say, getting the best out of tools will always rely on an adequate understanding of terminology management and of any related workflow, a further reason for promoting better terminology awareness.

8) Giulia Nardini: What do you think about the EU’s Interinstitutional Terminology Database, IATE? Do you consider it an important resource for the wide public?

Licia Corbolante: IATE is an excellent resource, very much used not only by translators but also by the wide public. If I might make a suggestion, in addition to the Quick Reference Guide I’d like to see a brief explanation on how query results should be used, for instance explaining that some terms are only applicable in specific contexts or that some older entries might no longer be applicable.

9) Giulia Nardini: You have been invited twice to seminars at the European Parliament. How do you find TermCoord’s approach in trying to follow the evolution of terminology in universities, technologies and communication?

Licia Corbolante: I am really impressed by TermCoord’s work and their constant attention to what is happening also outside EU institutions. I appreciate their strong communication effort in the promotion of EU terminology and of terminology best practices, supported by the organisation of seminars and workshops aimed at sharing knowledge and expertise. It was a pleasure to take part in seminars they organised: TermCoord enthusiasm and passion for terminology makes any speaker welcome.


Interviewer: Giulia Nardinigiulia_nardini

Giulia Nardini is Italian and studied at the Advanced School of Modern Languages for Interpreters and Translators of the University of Trieste, where she obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Translation and Interpreting and a Master’s Degree in Translation (English, French and Italian). She also holds a Certificate in Terminology Management issued by the ECQA.

After her studies she worked as a translator and terminologist trainee both at the European Parliament in Luxembourg and at the European Central Bank in Frankfurt.

She currently works as a freelance translator, interpreter, terminologist and teacher of foreign languages.

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