What is terminology and how to write a glossary



Looking at a terminology card, do you know what each field represents and what its function is? Cos’è la terminologia e come si fa un glossario (What is terminology and how to write a glossary), by Hellmut Riediger, aims at answering some of the questions you might come up with while creating a glossary entry.

Firstly, Mr. Riediger, a professor at the Civica Scuola Interpreti e Traduttori in Milan, gives a definition of terminology, i.e. the «set of designations belonging to one special language». [ISO 1087:2000]

After a brief introduction on special languages and on the history of terminology, particularly on the importance that the internet has had for its diffusion, he moves on to describe what a term is as well as what relation lies behind the term itself, what the concept and the object is. To do so, he uses the semiotic triangle.semiotic triangle

Contrary to what most people believe, states Mr. Riediger, special languages do not always rely on neologisms to form their vocabulary, but rather take existing terms and re-categorise them, thus giving them a new meaning. Terms can therefore be divided into polysemic and monosemic types, the former being homographs that have different meanings within different domains and the latter being terms that have a single meaning within a single domain.

Before describing how a glossary is structured, Mr. Riediger identifies three phases a terminologist has to go through while writing it. During the preliminary phase the work must be organised, the domain must be defined and relevant documents related to the topic have to be analysed. During the following phase, the main one, the terms are selected and validated in each language, and the terminological cards are filled out. Lastly, during the conclusive phase, the glossary is finished and ready to be published.

Starting from the domain (medicine, economy, chemistry…) and the subdomain (“psychiatry” could be, for instance, a subdomain of “medical and biological sciences”), Mr. Riediger lists all the fields a terminological card could contain: term, variants, definition (and related source), context (and related source), synonyms, antonyms, notes, equivalents, reliability.

As a conclusion he gives three examples: a glossary in MS Excel, a card from SDL Multiterm and an entry in IATE… What we mustn’t forget, in fact, is that although the general idea behind each termbase might be the same, each one still has its own structure.


Written by Maria Bregolato
Terminology trainee at TermCoord