On 14 and 15 December 2017, an international symposium on terminology, La terminologie dans les langues peu dotées : élaboration, méthodologie et retombées, took place in Rabat, Morocco. The event was organised by the Centre de l’Aménagement Linguistique (CAL), part of the Institut Royal de la Culture Amazighe (IRCAM), and brought together European and African linguists specialising in terminology and lexicography, including prominent terminologist María Teresa Cabré.
In the opening session, IRCAM’s President, Moroccan linguist and sociologist Ahmed Boukouss, pointed out that the meeting was specially conceived as an occasion to share experiences. It was a moment to present different methods and solutions that people working with the different languages present in the symposium –i.e., Amazigh, Catalan, Basque, Portuguese and Sardinian– had found in their eagerness to preserve and study their language and culture. This exchange is interesting because although all this languages share the characteristic they suffer or had suffered a lack of terminology, the truth is that each of them had faced different situations and problems, resulting in a more different and, therefore, enriching group of possibilities of analysis and approaches. And those differences, given by an specific context (because of geography, politics…) is, according to terminology professor Rute Costa, what determines the usage of one method beside another in order to ensure a successful language study.
It is hardly surprising that the symposium focused on terminology, due to the importance of this discipline, because, as Cabré reminded us, terminology is everywhere. However, specialists seem to be more concerned with the meaning (concept) than with the form (term), so that they usually turn to English. This that some call multilingualism has very negative consequences to those called minority languages, as it turns out a lack of corpus, which can only be created by using the language. According to some opinions, there are languages that cannot be used in all situations; however, according to Cabré, every language must offer speakers the possibility to express precisely and properly in all contexts. And such a thing can be only achieved by using the language; otherwise, terms will not appear naturally.
María Teresa Cabré studied theory in Vienna, then learnt practice in Canada and finally she applied this knowledge to Catalan language. Thus, thanks to the cooperation between the Government of Catalonia and academic institutions, TERMCAT appeared. TERMCAT, which “mission is to ensure the development and integration of Catalan terminology into both specialist sectors and society in general” , improve the content of its terminology database also thanks to users involvement, specially through surveys and Cercaterm query service. Likewise, terminologist Begoña Arrate showed us the activities performed by other Spanish centre working with terminology: Terminologia eta Lexikografia Zentroa (UZEI), which aims to represent Basque terminology in an international level.
Another European linguist who share its views was Diegu Corràine, who works with Sardinian language, spoken in the Italian island of Sardinia. Although in 1999 a political law appeared to allow its official usage, this language is in danger because of a poor generational transmission – only 13% of children speak it. Corraine explained to us that the first step they performed in order to awareness people about the importance of using their own language, was the elaboration of signs to be used in the sanitary context (e.g. building signs, basic medical terminology…) and multilingual guides (Ditzionàriu Sardu de su Tempus Nostru, DSTN). In the future, they want to offer this material also for veterinary terminology.
So every language is characterized by its own features; for example, Sardinian does not really suffer from lack of terminology. Corràine told us that this language has many words that refer to the same concept, so most of activities were to unify terminology. Unification and creation processes are not easy tasks: impartiality, as well as good command of language and linguistic in general are required, said CAL’s Manager, researcher Meftaha Ameur.
Why in Morocco?
Amazigh language is spoken in North Africa: from Morocco to part of Egypt and, in the south, from the Mediterranean Sea to part of countries such as Mali and Niger. In Alger, for example, Amazigh is a national and official language ; in Morocco, it is an official language since 2011, as well as Arabic , although many other languages can be found in this country – Moroccan Arabic, French and Spanish. In this country, Amazigh language it is divided in three varieties: Tarifit (north region), Tamazight (Middle Atlas region) and Tachelhit (south and High Atlas regions) . As Boukouss said, what had encouraged IRCAM to develop activities related to terminology was this change of the status of Amazigh language because it implies the need to use accurate terms in order this language to become completely institutionalised.
The Institut Royal de la Culture Amazighe was created in 2001. As Ameur reminded us, the main problem Amazigh language faces is the lack not only of technical words, but also of everyday words, in particular those to be used in school (i.e., stationery related words and linguistic terms). In order to solve this situation, researchers have used neology following always the guide of a formation savante. That means working with Greek or Latin roots to be adapted for Amazigh by affixes, derivation, composition and metaphors – what Lakoff and Johnson called “conceptual metaphor” in Metaphors we live by, as researcher Noura El Azrak showed us during the event. Linguists have also had to work with several terms and, eventually, to select one among those words that have being created spontaneously by speakers because, as researcher Malika Sabri said, there is not an official pattern to create terms. In order to avoid this, lexicographer Teresa Lino pointed out the need of working in collaboration with scientific community to follow the same criteria with regional or international standards – like ISO.
Brief, this symposium showed us that languages are not themselves less able to communicate, but simply less used. But communication is essential, so that speakers finally use words and expressions to transmit their ideas; unfortunately this might damage language life. Terminologist Cabré encouraged us to motivate users through using the language in all contexts (television, Internet, school…), so that they can and want use the language; a language that represents them and which identity is totally compatible with modernity. So, let’s languages use their own words so that they continue talking to us and transmitting knowledge from yesterday, today and tomorrow.
–  Ameur, M.; Bouhjar, A.; Boukhris, F.; Boukouss A.; Boumalk, A.; Elmedlaoui, M.; Iazzi, E.M.; Souifi, H. (2004) Initiation à la langue amazighe. Rabat : Institut Royal de la Culture Amazighe.
– Institut Royal de la Culture Amazighe (IRCAM).
– Institut Royal de la Culture Amazighe (IRCAM). (2017) La terminologie dans les langues peu dotées : élaboration, méthodologie et retombées.
–  Secrétariat Général du Gouvernement. (2016) Constitution de la République Algérienne Démocratique et Populaire, titre premier, chapitre I, article 4. Algérie: République Algérienne Démocratique et Populaire.
–  Secrétariat Général du Gouvernement, Direction de l’Imprimerie Officielle. (2011) La Constitution, titre premier, article 5. Maroc: Royaume du Maroc.
–  TERMCAT.
Written by Ana Bennasar
Former Terminology Trainee at TermCoord (April – September 2016), she recently completed a traineeship in the field of terminology in the Centre of Translation for the Bodies of the European Union (Luxembourg). Ana was born in Tenerife (Canary Islands, Spain) and she holds a degree in Translation and Interpreting at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria with Spanish, French, English, Portuguese and Arabic as her main working languages. Since 2010, she has been collaborating as a translator for several international organizations and NGOs translating texts about human rights, immigration and international cooperation. Ana is interested in finance and law, especially when related with regions such as Africa, the Middle East and Europe. She also holds a MA in Institutional Translation and the ECQA certificate in terminology management. In addition, Ana is passionate about every linguistic and cultural feature of her birthplace, the Canary Islands. You can follow her on Twitter at @AnaMBennasar.