IATE, 10 Years Together for European Terminology

May 20, 2014 4:04 pm

IATE_10_Years_Anniv_1200x2000px_compressedArticle written by Francesco Rossi

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In the mid-1990s every institution had its own terminology database, and the necessity of a single point of access to interinstitutional terminology and of comprehensive terminology management became clearer. The Translation Center for the Bodies of the EU (CdT) worked on a decentralised database whose initial name was Inter-Agency Terminology Exchange or IATE. It aimed at helping manage terminology for the European agencies but later it was decided that all EU institutions should take part in the project. A feasibility study was assigned to the company Atos, which recommended merging all terminology data into a unique database with full interactivity and a more user-friendly interface, suggesting mechanisms for data management and common rules for data presentation.

In autumn 1999, the Translation Centre published a call for tenders for the development of a new EU terminology database. The contract was awarded to the Greek IT firm Quality & Reliability and the Danish research institute Center for Sprogteknologi.

20140519_163842In a document by the Telematics Between Administrations Committee (TAC) IATE was described in terms of its features, benefits and technological components. Mr Alastair Macphail presented the Global Implementation Plan (GIP) whose executive summary described IATE in its features, benefits and technological components. The objectives of the project were to provide an infrastructure for the shared management of terminology resources, a single point of access to all EU terminology resources and also to integrate terminology and documentary databases and enable future cooperation between EU institutions and relevant terminology bodies.

Many task forces were formed and disbanded during the three and a half years of development. While the Interinstitutional Committee for Translation (ICT) had the general responsibility, the project was funded by the Interchange of Data between Administrations (IDA) work programmes. Other groups, like the Expert Group for EU Terminology database (EGEUT), which was composed of representatives of the EU institutions, were created and they focused on technical and monitoring issues.

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The first prototype was delivered in March 2001 and used a common software architecture called “Oracle Forms”. Since it was considered neither user-friendly, nor suitable for linguistic data, it was agreed to rebuild the interface using HTML architecture.

The first pilot version was delivered in March and the second in June 2002. Both deliveries were followed by a phase of expert and user testing by translators. The user interfaces were revised based on the feedback from the first and second pilot phases.

Between December 2000 and January 2001 and March and June 2002 terminological data from the pre-existing databases were converted and uploaded to IATE. It was a big challenge to fit in the new IATE database fields all the pre-existing data, which were structured in different ways in each database.

The final version of IATE was delivered in December 2002 and it migrated to the Data Centre of the European Commission, where it is still hosted. Further large-scale user tests were done in the first four months of 2003. The contract between IDA and the contractors finally came to an end in March 2003. The total cost was €1.41 million between 1999 and 2003.

In the meantime, the European Union’s had drastically changed. The 2004 enlargement of the EU was the largest single expansion in terms of territory, number of states and consequently of new languages and terminology in IATE. In 2007, the enlargement wave was concluded when Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU as Member States. The same year Irish became an official EU language. Moreover, on the 1st of July 2013 Croatia officially joined the European Union. The number of official EU languages became 24 and the language translation combinations went up to 552. This had a profound effect on the management of work in the database.

IATE was officially launched in summer 2004 as an internal EU resource. It contained 8.4 million terms in 127 languages, the majority of which was in the 20 official languages of the time. The abbreviation remained the same, but it stood for Inter-Active Terminology for Europe. IATE became a well-established tool in the daily routine of EU linguistic staff who were performing on the average between 8,000 and 10,000 queries per day, adding 200 terms per day, and modifying and validating around 250 terms daily within the first twelve months of operation.

An important milestone was reached in June 2007 when the public version of IATE was launched. Making IATE public was a great challenge in terms of support and updates but it gained immediate popularity: the website received an impressive number of queries per year –almost 45 million in 2013 – and between 200,000 and 300,000 per day.

One further step was the creation of the IATE Management Group. It is composed of members of every institution, chaired by the CdT and it decides on strategy, formal communication, technical developments, best practice and cooperation with third parties.

IATE now displays entry-to-entry links and cross-references as active hyperlinks, in order to connect concepts to related, broader or narrower ones. This feature could be the basis of a further development of the terminology database with the approach of the most modern Semantic Web technologies.

In summer 2014 IATE will be 10 years old. Born as a daring idea, it is today a bright reality, a tool that serves millions of citizens every year and a great resource for EU staff. Many were the task forces, management groups, technical support committees that made IATE as it is today with great efforts and outstanding results. Further developments will surely come in the future in order to make the interinstitutional terminology database more and more mature, but for now let’s just wish IATE: HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

10 years of IATE (animated version)

Francesco Rossi is a PhD student of terminology and communication at the University of Salerno and a former TermCoord trainee.

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