Interview with Gerhard Edelmann

Gerhard EdelmannGerhard Edelmann studied Law, Economics, Translation Studies (Spanish, Portuguese), Romance Studies (Hispanic and Portuguese Studies) and Sinology at the University of Vienna. Apart form dealing with terminology, he is a business consultant and used to be a member of the Board of an Austrian investment bank.

Gerhard Edelmann is also a professor at the Centre for Translation Studies of the University of Vienna, University CES Felipe II-UCM in Aranjuez (Spain), Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration and Vienna University of Applied Sciences. He is a member of the board of the Austrian Society for Financial Analysis and Asset Management (ÖVFA).

1) Wojciech Szmidt: You are primarily an economist, but have also been working with terminology quite intensively. Why did you decide to have a focus on terminology?

Gerhard Edelmann: I worked as an economist and company lawyer, first as a member of the Board of an Austrian investment bank and now as an independent consultant. However, I have a degree in translation studies as well. That is why my focus on and interest in terminology rests on two pillars.

From the very beginning of my professional career in business, I have had a strong focus on terminology. When you are dealing with international clients you have to use business and legal terminology correctly in order to be clear and to avoid costly or irritating misunderstandings.

On the other hand, I have been a lecturer at the Centre for Translation Studies of the University of Vienna for nearly three decades where I teach legal and economic translation. In this special field of translation, terminological work is of utmost importance, i.e. a translator of legal and economic texts also has to be an excellent terminologist

2) Wojciech Szmidt: Does your expertise in the field of economics help you a lot when dealing with finance-related terminology? How important is it to have a financial background in order to provide the right and consistent financial terminology?

Gerhard Edelmann: Of course, it is very helpful to have knowledge and expertise in the field of economics, when dealing with finance-related terminology, as in order to choose the adequate terminology, you have to understand how the finance business works.

So, in my opinion, it is indispensable to understand the area in which you do your terminological work. You do not necessarily need to be a trained economist to become a qualified terminologist in the area of finance. However, you have to be willing and able to acquire the necessary knowledge, which enables you to understand business and to follow new developments in order to keep your know-how up to date. So, if you are interested in the field and have experience, you will be able to do a good job.

3) Wojciech Szmidt: How crucial is the quality of terminology work? Could you name some examples of negative consequences caused by using inaccurate terminology?

Gerhard Edelmann: The quality of terminological work is extremely important. Let me just mention two examples:

In German and Austrian companies we have the two-tier corporate system with a supervisory organ, the Aufsichtsrat, and a management organ, the Vorstand, whereas in other countries companies are organised according to the one-tier system with just one administrative organ, which is called, for example, Board of Directors, Conseil d’Administration, etc. A translator who translates a document that is to be submitted to a German/Austrian Trade Register translates this term by Aufsichtsrat, might get into trouble, when the competent judge, for example, considers the German/Austrian Aufsichtsrat incompetent for the action described in this document.

Another example refers to the distinction between reserves and provisions in the statement of financial position, which is essential, as reserves belong to equity and provisions to debt. In the Slavonic languages the terms are very similar: reserves: Polish kapitały rezerwowe, Russian резервы, Croatian rezerve; provisions: Polish rezerwy, Russian резервы предстоящих расходов, Croatian rezerviranja.

An error would entail grave consequences and perhaps even lead up to third-party liability claimed vis-à-vis the translator.

4) Wojciech Szmidt: You deal a lot with changes in financial terminology, especially terminology related to the International Accounting Standards. Are these changes frequent? Is it difficult to track them?

Gerhard Edelmann: Changes in the International Accounting Standards (IAS) and the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) are extremely frequent. Just let me draw your attention to one of the most fundamental terms of accounting.

The Commission Regulation (EC) No 1126/2008 of 3 November 2008 states that one element of the set of financial statements comprises the balance sheet, whereas the Commission Regulation (EC) No 1274/2008 of 17 December 2008 speaks of a statement of financial position, with the further difficulty that a company may use a designation other than that used in the Standard. Some national legal systems of EU member states follow the new terminology, others, like Germany, don’t. A further problem arises when some companies use in their documents the new terminology and others don’t.

The only way to track these changes is to closely follow the new developments and carefully screen the information documents published by the companies.

5) Wojciech Szmidt: Do you find terminology tools run by the EU Institutions, such as the interinstitutional terminology database IATE, useful?

Gerhard Edelmann: The database IATE is extremely useful and an indispensable tool for the translator. It provides you not only with equivalent terms but also refers to the relevant conceptual systems.

However, when it comes to translating a text, a translator will never be dispensed from studying the legal systems of both the source and target languages and the relevant documents published by the EU and the national legislators and other sources.

6) Wojciech Szmidt: How did finance terminology and terminology management process change and evolve during your career?

Gerhard Edelmann: In my professional career, the process of terminology management has changed dramatically. On the one hand, we have been facing a rapid process of internationalisation in business. Nowadays, in a financial transaction which is done, for example, in Austria we apply the same rules and use the same instruments as let us say in the UK. On the other hand, financial instruments and procedures have become much more sophisticated.

The internationalisation of business and the growing sophistication of instruments and procedures have inevitably led to the necessity of adhering to an accurate finance terminology and establishing efficient terminology management systems. Terminological consistency is an important contribution to creating a uniform corporate identity.

7) Wojciech Szmidt: In your opinion, is terminology awareness among business people rising?

Gerhard Edelmann: With the internationalisation of business and the growing sophistication of instruments, business people increasingly recognise the importance of terminology. Without high-quality and standards-based terminologies, it is impossible to achieve the necessary precision and efficiency in business. Companies are becoming aware of the fact that terminology and terminology management are important concepts even if you don’t translate texts, because an efficient terminology management helps you reach consistency in your written communication.

When companies have to translate texts, the necessity of efficient terminology management systems becomes even more evident, as these systems help translators do their work rapidly and efficiently. The use of inadequate or incorrect terminology might lead to costly misunderstandings and/or mistakes in the business processes.

The business sector shows great interest in the work that is done, for example, at the Centre for Translation Studies of the University of Vienna, where a considerable number of terminology projects are carried out in cooperation with other academic institutions, public entities and private companies.

8) Wojciech Szmidt: Can you give us any advice on how to manage terminology in big companies? Are there any financial terminology tools you could recommend?

Gerhard Edelmann: First of all, a company should recognise that terminology management refers to the whole range of its business communications. So, terminological management should start at the source level. I would not mention a concrete provider of terminology management services, I would rather focus on the main criteria these tools should meet:

In the first place, the system should help reach terminological consistency within the different products, departments and documents of a company in order to create a uniform corporate identity. When it comes to multilingual communication and translation, the tools applied should allow translators to use databases with the relevant terms and, in the post-translation stage, provide translators with an efficient and rapid translation review and a reliable quality assurance tool.

wojciechhInterviewed by Wojciech Szmidt

Wojciech Szmidt is a trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Transcultural Communication (PL-DE-EN) and a Master’s Degree in Translation Studies (PL-DE-EN) from the University of Vienna. He is currently enrolled in the Master’s Programmes in Law and Finance & Auditing. Wojciech speaks Polish, German, English and Spanish.