Interview with Terminologist Clara Inés López Rodríguez



Clara Inés López Rodríguez is currently a tenured professor in the Department of Translation and Interpreting at the University of Granada, Spain, where she has been teaching for more than 20 years. She studied English Language and Literature at this university and then went on to specialise in English into Spanish translation. The object of her PhD thesis was Textual Typology and Cohesion in Biomedical English into Spanish Translation. She is a specialist in Corpus Linguistics, and, during her years at the University of Granada, she has done research in the fields of Scientific and Technical Translation and Terminology. Together with Maribel Tercedor Sánchez, she has worked on two projects dealing with terminological variation in Medicine, VARIMED and COMBIMED. For the latter, she was also a principal investigator. She has directed two projects of innovation in teaching as well, the first of them focused on self-learning for English-speaking and Spanish-speaking students about the European Union, and the second one focused on the promotion of health information in the EU with audiovisual resources.

1. How did you become interested in terminology as a field of study?

This happened 20 years ago. I was very lucky to be a research fellow under the supervision of Dr. Pamela Faber, who was working on lexicography and terminology. At the time, she was leading a research project on cancer terminology called OncoTerm.

2. You have been teaching Scientific Translation at the University of Granada for many years. How do you think your students approach this subject first?

Many students consider terminology a harsh subject, and think that translating a scientific text mainly involves finding appropriate and normalised terminology in glossaries and databases. Obviously, terminology is key in scientific translation, but it is not enough. Having an interest in science and technology (reading about science, visiting museums, watching documentaries, etc.), and understanding the source text and the main concepts underlying a specialised subject field are also essential. Finally, some students are not aware that scientific translators and technical writers should have a good writing style: they have to be clear, concise and precise to get the message across.

3. Terminology is a crucial factor to consider in specialised translation. What strategies have you developed over the years to make your students more aware of this?

Translator trainers should highlight the importance of the documentation phase and the need to use different types of resources while evaluating their reliability: reference works, lexicographic and terminographic resources, corpora, and human resources (experts). I propose some tasks to students in order to develop their documentation and terminological competence. For example, they compile their own ad-hoc specialised corpora with Sketch Engine, they have to provide definitions aimed at laypeople for relevant terms of a text, etc. I also encourage them to elaborate conceptual maps, either manually or with Cmaps Tools (López-Rodríguez & García-Aragón 2014).

4. In several of your research projects, VariMed and CombiMed, you focused on terminological evaluation, as well as how it can influence communication between patients and health professionals. How do you think that professional awareness can be promoted?

To my mind, most health professionals are quite aware of language and knowledge barriers, but they usually work in overcrowded and understaffed health systems. As a result, they do not have enough time to communicate with their patients (including those speaking a different language or different geographical or social dialects) or to explain medical concepts in plain language. In order to overcome language barriers in health settings, it is necessary to improve doctor-patient and nurse-patient ratios, to promote health education, and to invest on multilingual medical resources and interpreting services.

 Clara Inés López Rodríguez

5. You have also been working in the area of metaphors. Could you summarize which information these metaphors provide about the patients’ discourse?

Metaphors have been used in Medicine since Antiquity. Some of them are lexicalized in different languages despite the fact that metaphorical mappings sometimes contradict scientific evidence. Patients use some of those lexicalizations, as well as metaphors coined by doctors and science communicators. More interestingly, patients also create metaphors to describe symptoms and conditions. Patients frequently refer to medical concepts in terms of other experiential domains (plants, animals, everyday objects, sounds, etc.), and they focus on perceptual, cultural and functional features. For example, in cardiology, many metaphors produced by non-experts to describe the circulatory system are taken from recurrent source domains such as transportation, water systems, nature elements, electrical systems, etc. (López & Tercedor 2017).

We have included some of these metaphors in Varimed, an on-line medical vocabulary [], and in several publications (Tercedor, López, Márquez & Faber 2012, Prieto & Tercedor 2014)

6. Multimodality has been a key consideration for both the VariMed and CombiMed projects, and that is why the database built for the VariMed project contains images. Can you explain how and why you started working on modality?

In specialised translation, documentaries, videos and images are motivating resources that help students to understand texts. We have explored multimodality in different teaching innovation actions and in experiments led by Maribel Tercedor, Juan Antonio Prieto Velasco and myself.

7. You are also teaching audiovisual translation; a subject that is usually associated with entertainment. However, there are audiovisual works that can be approached as specialised translation from a thematic point of view. Do you think that students are aware of this?


Students frequently use multimedia resources from Vimeo, Youtube, TED Talks and the like as an introduction to specialised fields. They watch documentaries and series such a The Big Bang Theory, Suits, ER or The Knick in their leisure time. When they are asked to translate and adapt similar audiovisual texts in order to produce subtitles or prepare a voice-over script, they realize that these videos can be more terminology-laden than they initially expected. ­

8. You did your PhD thesis under the supervision of Pamela Faber, the proponent of the frame-based terminology theory. Can you explain how this theory influenced your terminological work afterwards?

The leadership of Pamela Faber and her passion for Terminology have led us to follow the premises of Frame-Based Terminology. We approach terminology from a cognitive, linguistic and communicative perspective, and we try to organize and represent specialized knowledge in terms of general knowledge.

Interviewer: M. Isabel Bolívar

Isabel is from Spain.  She holds a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree in Translation and Interpreting from the University of Granada, and is specialised in scientific and medical translation – a field in which she has also worked in terminology research. She speaks English and French and, of course, Spanish. She is a terminology trainee at TermCoord.