I have been a lecturer in terminology for over 20 years now. I began my teaching career at the University of Granada and am now a member of the Spanish Philology Department at the Autonomous University of Madrid (the UAM). I have also been teaching applied linguistics for a short while now at Complutense University of Madrid. I have combined my teaching work with professional practice: I helped clean up the Eurodicautom databank; I was the Spanish terminology manager at the translation agency C&L; I also managed the Documentation and Terminology Department at a language services agency. As regards research, I belong to the research groups Ecolexicon and Aula.int, both of which belong to Granada University.
1. You studied Spanish philology and have a doctorate in translation and interpretation. Could you tell us how you came to specialise in terminology? How did you discover your passion for terminology?
I graduated in Spanish philology at UAM in 1990. No sooner had I finished my degree than I started the usual teacher training courses as I had already decided that this was my vocation. However, through a series of coincidences, I came across terminology a few years later: I went to a summer school at the Sorbonne and returned to Spain with a recommendation to start work in the terminology department of a translation agency. At that time I did not have the slightest idea what the work entailed, nor did I know of course what a term was, but I do remember that I became excited about it when I realised I would have to work with ‘words’, which was in fact what I had liked most in my philology studies. That was towards the end of 1992 and I have not stopped since.
2. IATE is the European Union’s interinstitutional terminology database, with entries in 24 official languages. What is your opinion of IATE and what improvements would you recommend?
First of all in my opinion it is an essential tool for the mediators in communication community. But I would emphasise especially that, thanks to the EU’s institutional and financial backing, this is a tool for everyone: anyone can propose a new entry for the database or search in it. Thanks to this constant input IATE is a living tool as it is constantly being expanded and brought up to date. I consider it right that, using the Eurovoc structure, it represents specialist knowledge in a systematised way that is key to communication mediators being able to carry out reliable searches. However, in these days of the semantic web, I could wish for a more versatile interface that would enable users to rearrange all this information so future searches match their needs. I recognise that the simplicity of the current system makes it easier for the average person to consult it, let us not forget that this is a tool for everyone to use, but I would like to see users with a more linguistic profile offered interconnected data along the lines of knowledge databases.
3. Translators and interpreters are the main terminology consumer group. Would you say, however, that the terminology resources on offer to them are underused or, even, that many do not know about them?
First you have to ask, what is considered to be a terminology resource? What is it like? When is it needed? How is it used? If we answer these questions with reliable data then we will be able to know whether the resources available at present meet the expectations of the professional community. I believe therefore that an assessment is needed of what translators use as terminology resources and how they use these terminology resources in order to redefine utilities and products.
Tools have evolved in recent years with the result that search habits have too. However, terminology products have retained the same traditional search format, which is, in my opinion, a big problem. Today more than ever, professionals need efficiency, versatility and immediacy and this can only be achieved by gathering together all the information available on one single support enabling a simplified search procedure that produces satisfactory hits.
4. As a lecturer and coordinator of Applied Terminology in Translation at the Autonomous University of Madrid, do you sense that your students suffer from ‘terminologiphobia’ (term minted by Mark D. Childress¹)? How do you motivate them?
I would say that I have encountered this feeling of ‘terminologiphobia’ around 50 % of the time in my teaching career; students approach the subject with negative or positive expectations and during the course they either hold to their initial view of the subject or change it. Personally I try to make them see that, thanks to terminology work, they can resolve their lexical needs from any one of its perspectives: cognitive, socio-functional, grammatical. Of course this is somewhat theoretical as they are not working in the professional field and nor, more importantly, do their own translation and interpreting lecturers require them to do so as they tend to simplify solutions to terminology problems just by using dictionaries. I mean that the tendency is usually to seek an ad hoc solution, rather than systematically resolving the problem, which is, in the long run, more satisfactory. In my classes I insist on making a distinction between those occasions requiring systematic work and those just requiring ad hoc work for whatever reason.
5. You are a lecturer, but also a researcher working on various projects related to the lexicon and terminology. What are the main challenges you encounter in your research work?
I think that one of the challenges of terminology research, from my personal perspective at least, is widening the spectrum of terminology consumers. Generally speaking, research is oriented primarily towards professional translators and interpreters and I believe that this outlook restricts the scope for results in this discipline. It is true that considerable progress has been made in the last 10 years in basic linguistic description, but the results are not being applied to other groups: documentalists, journalists and scientific disseminators, teachers of foreign languages for specific purposes, etc.
6. In a world led by technology and social networks, how do terminologists address the growing number of neologisms?
As nothing more than a linguistic phenomenon. By this I mean that for a terminologist neology is a subject for study, for analysis, which must be considered in regard to its necessity, origin, adaptation, dependency, or coexistence with existing forms. Contact occurring between languages creates favourable condition for the appearance of new forms representing concepts that may or may not already exist in the receptor language. In the case of terminology in knowledge fields, neology is a language resource for updating scientific thinking. Faced with these possibilities, the work of a terminologist, that is someone who works on the most practical aspect of terminology, consists in compiling these new terms and their special characteristics in order to record them in such a way that the user-consultant has the information needed to decide how to act.
7. The number of international companies is constantly rising, as is transnational work and collaboration. Do you think that companies would find it useful to have their own terminology database? And if so, how would you convince them that they need a terminologist?
Some multinational companies do create and maintain their own terminology databases as, for commercial reasons, they find having a terminological record of their products practical and necessary. However the majority of companies are not aware of the potential advantages of having linguistic control over their products nor of how this can help them in the way they present their products, from a multilingual perspective, to their customers. I remember the case of a Spanish multinational which was forced to withdraw from the international market some sandals it had named ‘slave sandals’ in Spanish, because in other languages this name produced such a negative reaction that they did not sell. This, and other cases, can be used to demonstrate to these corporations that if they did terminology work beforehand they would avoid situations of this kind; that this has economic consequences for them as they would achieve greater lexical cohesion and identity which would, in the long term, prove advantageous.
8. How do you think terminology has developed in Spain? What is the outlook for it in the future?
Terminology studies have gained ground in Spain since they were introduced in translation and interpreting faculties in the last 10 years of the last century. A great deal of progress has been made in the past 20 years, thanks to teaching, research and the work of some institutions. All the same there is still a fair amount to be done in achieving greater visibility for the subject as I do not think researchers in all the other languages fields apart from translation and interpreting know much about it. All of us working in terminology have the challenge of disseminating research findings and ensuring this becomes part of other university curricula.
Terminology also needs to become more visible in the institutions. Many of us working in this field have therefore set up a group formed of more or less like-minded people and linked to an association, AETER, which meets periodically and whose objectives are focused on terminology as a discipline. One of AETER’s most ambitious projects has been to propose an initiative, which has been given the name of TERMINESP, with the aim of turning this into a body dedicated to organising terminology from the whole Spanish-speaking world while, at the same time, coordinating with other bodies from the autonomous regions, such as Euskalterm, Termcat or Termigal. It seems that the project is currently going being revitalised so I therefore have great hopes of seeing it become a reality.
9. What do you think of the role played by the European Union as regards languages? Do you believe it encourages the development of terminology?
The European Union institutions have always supported initiatives in the field of languages. Because, I think, of the necessity imposed by its multilingual situation. This respect for the diversity of European cultures results in support for the different languages. Terminology has therefore benefited too, although in the past more obviously so, nevertheless I do not think it is a priority at present. If it were, to give an example, I am sure that how IATE is consulted would improve significantly.
On the other hand, I believe that the institutions in each country are needed for terminology in each language to develop and spread, as is cooperation between them and the European Union. Only thus can a more autonomous terminology be created that is less dependent on other languages.
10. Finally, given that you are surrounded in your daily life by students, do you believe that young people of today can have a career in terminology? And if so, what advice would you give them?
I think that, although terminologist as a profession could be a reality, there is no real demand on the labour market as such. However, I do think that having an excellent skill in terminology management does add value to language professionals’ CVs whether working in languages from a monolingual or a multilingual perspective.
 Childress, Mark D. Terminologiphobia. Multilingual Magazine, June 2006 (page 86)
Interviewed by Carmela Blanco
Carmela was born in Madrid (Spain) the year in which the Treaty of Maastricht on European Union was signed. She holds a BA in Translation and Interpreting from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and a MA in Conference Interpreting from the National University of Ireland, Galway. She gained experience as a translator at the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, working with English and French. Prior to coming to Luxembourg, she worked as a freelance translator and a conference interpreter at the UN in Geneva and in a range of conferences, most of which were in the medical field. She is also gifted at playing the piano and enjoys a wide range of sports.