Interview with Terminologist Pascale Elbaz


Pascale Elbaz BannerProfessor Pascale Elbaz lectures in terminology and Chinese into French translation at ISIT (Intercultural Communication School), Paris. She is also a partner of the ChinForm training center. Pascale recently completed a study visit at TermCoord, where she visited multiple language units and worked with the IATE database.

1. Your doctorate thesis focuses on the “Precis de Calligraphe”, exploring how to approach the history of calligraphic genres. How did you become interested in calligraphy?

I was a master in philosophy, and I was interested in Chinese philosophy and eastern philosophy, and so I did a lot of things related to Chinese culture, like chi-kung, tai-chi chuan. I learnt Chinese traditional medicine. In one of my workshops, I practised some calligraphy, and it was a shock for me, because I loved writing. In Chinese culture, writing is an art, and it’s the art. So that’s how I began with Chinese calligraphy, and then I didn’t stop until I did my PhD thesis.

My teacher once looked at one of my pieces of work and he said: “Oh, you got the ‘gu’, but you don’t get the ‘jin’ yet. I was like, “What is he talking about?” And so, my PhD thesis is on the terminology of calligraphy.

2. You are behind the creation of cultural association “La pierre à encre” in your country. An association intended to improve awareness and knowledge of Chinese language and calligraphy in France. How was this received in your country?

We had to work  on intercultural differences a lot and that is what makes teaching Chinese interesting. Now I am not teaching Chinese anymore but I am teaching translation from Chinese to French, especially based on the media and the press.

3. When it comes to teaching Chinese culture in your country, what differences do you find about conceptualisation?

We always have to deal with concepts that don’t exist, here or there. So we have a lot of work, especially working with cultural matters. For example, there is a term in Chinese, which is ‘renwen jingshen’, which in English would be like a spirit of human thought, of human culture. In French, we would say ‘l’esprit de l’Humanisme’, or simply ‘l’Humanisme’. Sometimes it’s not translated very well, it’s translated like ‘humanitarism’.

4. Metaphors also work as a mechanism for terminology creation, and Chinese characters convey metaphors more easily than European languages. How do you think that this affects neologisms?

The Chinese language is very creative because the characters can be added together. It is not that simple, but it is more simple than in French, and so it is very easy in Chinese to create a new term. So it is not only a question of metaphors, it’s also a question of plasticity of the language.

5. You specialise in translating from Chinese to French – how does the Chinese language convey different meanings in its characters and how does this affect terminology work, both in Chinese and in multilingual projects?

I was working recently on the official discourse of the Chinese president, in the occasion of the 19th Congress of the PCC, and about the terminology of culture, and we could see that the expressions using the term ‘culture’ could be almost five to six characters put together, which in French is very difficult to translate. You have to use like ‘qui’, ‘quoi’, ‘donc’, ‘où’, or other big phrases and prepositions to try to convey that.

6. You teach terminology to university students and in your school you take a progressive approach. For the first year, you do more basic training, and for the second year, more advanced training. Other schools usually teach everything in a single year. Why do you take this approach?

We do not force students to go into terminology very deep, so we want them to have a first approach on terminology and then in the first year, which is the first year of the master’s, they can choose terminology, specialized terminology, so we go a little bit further. Then, in the second year, we lay on what they have learnt the first year. We will ask them to produce a master’s thesis on terminology work. That is to say that everything they have observed, everything they have questioned, will become a master’s thesis. They will work on it, go deeper in their research, and, in the second year, they will link terminology with history, sociology, art.

7. You have recently completed a study visit in the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament. Why did you decide to apply?

As I am teaching Terminology, and as some of my students might come and visit and do a traineeship here, I wanted to be more alert, to know what you are doing here. Secondly, I wanted to understand how translators and terminologists work together.

8. Can you tell us about what you learnt during your study visit?

The thing that I like much here is that you are working as a team, and so I had the occasion also to go to the Greek department, your unit, to the French unit, and I can see that each unit is working as a team and TermCoord is working with each other’s unit. That was what I really was looking forward for. I wanted to see how you are working together, and you are working together.

9. During your study visit, you have been working and receiving training in IATE. What is your opinion of this term base?

I had been using IATE before with my students, and we had a lot of questions, so that is also one of the reasons I am here. I wanted to speak with the people using it and making it. I think it is very useful. The kind of questions I had, mostly were answered during my stay, especially regarding the stars in IATE. There are some stars, like four stars, to tell people, like translators, if the term is reliable or not. So I had a lot of questions about that. I understood that mostly we had to view the three stars and four stars, like terms and definitions. Because first and second stars are not that reliable, because the terms are not frequently used, because the materials where the terms are found are not from the Parliament or from the institutions. So we should use the three and four stars, which means it is from the European institutions, it is frequently used, frequently documented and it has always the same meaning.

I am really happy about using IATE, and I wish that the terminologists could put everything they think would be useful for translators into IATE

Interviewed by Emma Wynne (Communications Trainee at TermCoord) and Maribel Bolívar (Terminology Trainee at TermCoord)