Interview with Terminologist Dr. Antonio San Martín Pizarro



Antonio San Martín Pizarro holds the position of Assistant Professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Translation of the University of Quebec in Trois-Rivières, Canada. His research interests vary from terminology, knowledge representation to cognitive semantics, lexicography, and specialized translation. He holds a PhD in Translation and Interpreting from the University of Granada, Spain. He is a member of both the LexiCon Research Group (University of Granada) and the Observatoire de linguistique Sens-Texte (University of Montreal).

1. You studied Translation and Interpretation; however, your publications show a deep-rooted  interest in terminology. At which point did you become drawn towards terminology and linguistics and why?

I have always been interested in everything related to languages. For example, when I was a little boy I was fascinated by dictionaries and spent hours reading the ones that were in my house. I have also always enjoyed learning languages and, at one point, I realized that I wanted them to form the basis of my professional life. That is why I decided to study Translation and Interpreting at the University of Granada. My interest in terminology and linguistics increased as I learnt more about them during my studies. By the end of my undergraduate studies, I got a research initiation grant with the vague idea of doing something related to terminology. It was then that I got to know more about the work of Pamela Faber and other members of the LexiCon Research Group, such as Pilar León Araúz and Arianne Reimerink. This is what made me decide to go for terminology research, and I ended up doing a PhD supervised by Professor Faber and Professor León Araúz.

2. Technology and social media play an increasing role in our everyday lives. As this phenomenon is constantly evolving, it also means there exists a growing number of neologisms. What are the most crucial traits and responsibilities of terminologists and translators of our time and what lies ahead in the future of terminology and translation?

I believe that, despite the changes that technology has brought to the world of translation and terminology, it is very important that we do not lose sight of the fact that language professionals must be people with a high level of communication skills in various contexts and modalities, as well as having vast general knowledge on very diverse subjects. To acquire these skills, the language professional has to be, among other things, an avid reader and a lifelong learner. The absence of these skills acquired after so many hours of reading and studying over a lifetime cannot be replaced by the use of technology. However, I do not mean by this that technology is not essential for the translator and terminologist, quite the opposite. Technology is an indispensable complement for language professionals. Technology allows them to adapt to today’s world in which knowledge production is faster than ever and, with it, the creation of neologisms. In this respect, the latest generation of corpus analysis tools such as Sketch Engine are, in my opinion, the perfect ally for today’s translator and terminologist.

3. You are especially interested in the definition of terms. In your article “Definition patterns for predicative terms in specialized lexical resources”, you give instructions how to generate the definitions of sets of morphologically related terms only by knowing the definition of one word of the set. Is this an answer to the changes terminologists have to face? What are the advantages of generating definitions this way and where are its limits?

I wrote the article to which you refer to with Professor Marie-Claude L’Homme of the University of Montreal. The idea arose when we were working on the elaboration of definitions in one of the terminological resources that she created (DiCoEnviro). The challenges faced by terminologists in writing definitions in any resource are innumerable. However, with the research presented in that article, we intended to make a small contribution in two senses. The first one is the standardization of the wording of definitions, which could facilitate their intelligibility for human users and their eventual computer processing. Secondly, our intention was to create instructions for the generation of definitions of morphologically related terms as a first step towards the future automation of the task. Since knowledge and terms are created at a faster rate than terminologists can collect them in dictionaries or databases, automation can help close the gap between the creation of terms and their inclusion in terminology resources.

Dr. Antonio San Martín Pizarro

4. Your recent research deals with the EcoLexicon, a multilingual terminological knowledge base mainly concerning the environmental domain. How important are databases with specialized terms and why?

Electronic terminological resources, whatever their form, are essential in today’s society. Many users employ them and this includes not only translators, but also anyone who has to write a text about a specialized field (especially in a foreign language) such as researchers, students, legislators, journalists, etc. Additionally, we should include computers in the list of users, since they also make use of these resources (depending on their format) for different natural language processing tasks.

5. Do you think the choices terminologists make, for example, which kind of databases they create or work on and, consequently, which domain they provide linguistic tools to, affects other sciences or even public perception and, therefore, politics?

Unfortunately, most terminologists generally do not have the freedom to create terminology resources for a domain of their choice. The creation of a terminology database requires funding to pay the terminologists who work on it, as well as the IT staff who create and maintain the database. Therefore, at the end of the day, the decision on which domains are covered in the terminology resources is up to the public and private entities that fund these projects. In the academic sphere, terminology researchers probably have a little more freedom to choose which domains they work on. However, academic researchers need to convince the funding entities that working on a given domain is useful too.

6. Which research or project are you recently working on? Could you please elaborate?

My most important project at the moment is the one on the flexible terminological definition approach that I created in my PhD thesis. It is an approach that applies cognitive linguistic principles to terminological definition creation. Among other things, it advocates the abandonment of the traditional approach of creating definitions based on the determination of sufficient and necessary characteristics, which cognitive linguistics has shown to be unfeasible. The main objective of the flexible terminological definition approach is the creation of definitions that are capable of reflecting the effects of context (understood as any linguistic or extralinguistic factor that affects the interpretation of a sign) in the construction of specialized meaning. For this reason, I currently focus on the study of contextual variation in terminology, as well as on the methodological development of the approach so that any terminologist can apply it to their work.

7. Regarding the relation between translation and terminology, could you observe any trends over the last few years?

On the one hand, I would highlight the fact that technology allows the translator to access an ever-increasing number of terminology resources with a simple click or even automatically through suggestions offered by their translation environment tool. On the other hand, it is increasingly easier for the translator to carry out effective terminology searches because of the growing availability of texts in electronic format and the fact that translators now have very powerful corpus analysis programs at their disposal.

8. Do you have any books, papers, projects, etc. you could recommend to interested non-professionals and/or terminologists and translators?

Although it is not a book on terminology, but on cognitive linguistics, I would recommend Alan Cruse’s Meaning in Language to anyone interested in understanding how meaning works. Among others, this book has greatly influenced the way in which I approach the study of meaning.

9. Assuming you are familiar with IATE, what is your opinion on it? Do you think it is useful to terminologists and translators? Is there anything you would want to see improved?

IATE is undoubtedly an indispensable resource for any translator thanks to the wide coverage of domains and languages it offers, as well as the quality guarantee from the Translation Centre for the Bodies of the European Union. All terminology resources can be improved, but their development context and the function assigned to them must be taken into account. For example, IATE lacks an underlying conceptual structure or phraseological information. However, it is easy to understand that given its institutional context and its intended functions, other aspects have been prioritized.

Written by Annemarie Menger – Communication Study Visitor at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament (Luxembourg) and a student of the Master’s Program in Learning and Communication in Multilingual and Multicultural Contexts at the University of Luxembourg. She holds a teacher’s degree in the form of the First German State Examination for Elementary Education, a BA in Cultural Basic Skills and an additional degree in Global Systems and Intercultural Competence from the University of Würzburg.