Interview with Katerina Toraki

It is important to extend and develop Greek terminology in as many subject areas as possible, to involve more people in terminology work, (…) to participate more actively in international terminology debates

Katerina Toraki


Katerina Toraki studied Chemical Engineering at the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), while she also acquired a postgraduate title at the “Information systems and technology” program from the City University of London and a PhD in virtual libraries by the Ionian University. She has worked at the Technical Chamber of Greece (TEE) between the years 1981-2011, 25 of which at the Chamber’s Library. At the same time, she taught at the Department of Library Science of the Technical Educational Institute (TEI) of Athens, as well as at the undergraduate and postgraduate programs of the Department of Archives and Library Science of the Ionian University. She is actively engaged in issues of standardization and terminology through the Technical Committees TE21 and TE22 of the Hellenic Organization for Standardization (ELOT), as well as through the Hellenic Society for Terminology (ELETO), emphasizing her work particularly on scientific and technical terminology.


1. At what point in your career did you begin to work in terminology and what attracted you to it?

I first became involved with terminology, in particular the standardization of terminology, in 1987 when I became a member of Committee TE21 of the Hellenic Organization for Standardization (ELOT) (corresponding to ISO TC37). In fact, though, my involvement had begun some years earlier, in 1981, when I started working in the Library of the Technical Chamber of Greece, where I was involved in classification, subject indexing, databases and corpora, i.e. areas that require a conceptual and terminological approach. My involvement with TE21 was thus a continuation of my professional work with the Technical Chamber of Greece. However, I would add that I also have a personal interest in language issues in general and, as you know, these issues have had – and continue to have – a particular resonance in Greece, given the language issue that had plagued us for decades.

2. You are a coordinator and one of the most senior members of the Technical Committee 21: Principles of technical terminology. Could you briefly explain what the Committee’s basic remit is and how it works?

Firstly, I would point out that our Committee has been renamed ‘Terminology – Language Resources’ in line with the name of the corresponding ISO TC37 International Committee. The Committee’s main remit is to draw up Greek standards for terminology and set rules governing terminology. Furthermore, the TE21 Committee is a full member (P-Member) of TC37 and in this context, monitors and is briefed about the entire work of the Committee and either votes or simply takes part in discussions on new standards and any other standardization texts, depending on its relationship to date with its subcommittees (as a full, P-Member or an observer, O-Member).  The TE21 Committee also cooperates with the Hellenic Society for Terminology and other terminology bodies and organises workshops, seminars etc. with these bodies: it has, in my opinion, already done remarkable work in Greece. Recently, members of the Committee took part as speakers in the seminar for translators organised in May 2015 by the  Athens Office of the Commission’s Directorate-General for Translation, and it is also involved in the latter’s efforts to set up Greek Terminology Network.

As regards the structure and functioning of TE21, members of the Committee are appointed representatives of academic and scientific institutions which are interested in these issues, in particular the Hellenic Society for Terminology, the Academy of Athens, ELOT, the Technical Chamber of Greece, the Institute for Language and Speech Processing (ILSP), the NTUA, Athens University, the Association of Greek Physicists and the Association of Greek Chemists. Besides the members, there is a list of observers who are informed electronically about the Committee’s work, but also contribute their expertise in specific issues that arise. The Committee’s meetings are open to the public, and in drawing up and issuing standards, the procedures laid down by the ELOT Regulation are followed, in line with the corresponding international practice (i.e. a text is drafted, it is discussed by members, a public decision is reached, the text is issued and interested parties are notified).

3. You studied chemical engineering. How important is specialist knowledge in producing correct and consistent technical terminology?

Specialist knowledge in a given subject area is important in that it gives a terminologist an advantage in understanding and handling the concepts that form a necessary part of any terminology project. Of course, I would point out that this is not enough in itself, because a terminology project requires the application of terminological and linguistic rules. But I do believe that my studies have made – and continue to make – a decisive contribution to my work on terminology issues, especially standardisation issues, since standardisation is closely linked to engineering. At the risk of appearing to blow my own trumpet, I would also point out that both the Austrian Eugene Wüster, and the Russian Dmitrij Semënovič Lotte, who are considered the founding fathers of terminology as a distinct scientific field, were engineers.

4. In the context of your teaching experience in the Graduate Programme in Information Science at the Ionian University, what role does the teaching of terminology play?

Information Science covers fields such as thematic analysis, classification, subject indexing and accessing, organising and representing knowledge. It is essential for students to learn about and understand the world of concepts so that they are able in their professional lives to combine thematic with conceptual analysis in handling resources. Furthermore, Information Science is an academic discipline that is constantly evolving and follows developments in the fields of Information and Communications Technologies. This means that there is a continuous need to produce new concepts with new terms in Greek, since most of these new these concepts are in English.

At the Ionian University and the Technological Educational Institute of Athens, I had previously taught courses such as ‘Thematic Access Systems’, ‘Documentation’, ‘Metadata’, ‘Information Science in a Modern Environment’, etc. in which I incorporated lectures on terminology to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the situation. Moreover, I have regularly been invited to give special lectures on this subject to undergraduate and graduate students of the Ionian University (most recently in May 2015 a lecture entitled ‘Standardization, Terminology and Libraries’). Moreover, in this context, I have been a member of a team involved in designing and building the Greek Corpus of Scientific Terms on behalf of academic libraries, while also being a member of the Technical Committee ELOT / TE22 ‘Documentation’ (corresponding to ISO / TC46).

5. You are also a member of the Hellenic Society for Terminology (ELETO). How is ELETO’s very important work disseminated to the general public?

The Hellenic Society for Terminology is an active scientific body with a dual role: firstly, it serves terminology as a scientific discipline in its interlingual dimension and, secondly, it promotes Greek terminology, thereby serving the contemporary development of the modern Greek language. ELETO’s contribution to the work of the TE21 Committee and the other ELOT Standardization Committees in terminology-related issues is crucial. Furthermore, every two years it organises the ‘Hellenic Language and Terminology’ Conference (this November we are already staging the 10th Conference) and it s also organises terminology workshops and seminars in collaboration with other bodies.

It publishes the bimonthly newsletter ‘Orogramma’ which is available free online and contains articles, work on terms, terminology and news from the world of Greek and international terminology. It works with any body or person who expresses an interest, on a permanent or occasional basis, and  extensive discussions are held on all special terminology issues in the Hellenic Society for Terminology,  decisions are taken (often after public consultation where necessary) and the results are published in Orogramma. It is a principle of ELETO is that terms must be freely available resources and it therefore posts all its terminological work on its website ( ELETO has for years been engaged in an ambitious Terminology Coordination Programme, which, unfortunately, has not so far received the necessary support even though such a programme is sorely needed in Greece. Finally, I would like to mention the President of ELETO, Kostas Valeontis, a tireless, unassuming scholar with very high standards, who has made an invaluable and pioneering contribution to terminology and standardisation and the rest of us follow in his footsteps.

6. In a modern, globalised environment which is constantly creating new communications needs, terminology plays an important role. How is it possible to accommodate the growing number of new foreign terms in the Greek language?

I could spend all day talking about this! There are many issues involved here, in particular understanding and interpreting new concepts and then the process of ‘transferring’ them to our language, which requires and presupposes a sound knowledge of Greek, but also a good knowledge of the source language, usually English. These are the issues that we grapple with in TE21, we are constantly confronted with them, since the Greek standards that we draw up are for the most part transferred and adapted from ISO International Standards.

We have dwelt at considerable length on the policy and rules to be followed in processing of the standard ISO 860 on the harmonisation of concepts and terms. In practice, accommodating foreign terms in Greek is no easy matter. ELETO, TE21 and ELOT collectively endeavour to publicise the relevant issues and the need for a collective, scientific approach. On the plus side, the various bodies collaborate and thematic terminology groups have already been established in cooperation with ELETO that operate permanently – or have occasionally operated ­– in a given field and at all events have produced useful results. I should, of course, say that the Research Centre for Scientific Terms and Neologisms of the Academy of Athens is also engaged in registering new terms and concepts. In any case, we are interested in ensuring that efforts be made to record newly introduced terms, and more importantly that they should be rendered into Greek and understood.

7. In your opinion, should terminology adopt a descriptive or prescriptive approach?

Terminology, both as a theoretical discipline and as the result of work with and on concepts and terms, is prescriptive in nature, since it is based on principles, rules and standards and one of its main purposes is to create ways and tools for expressing and communicating and since the creation of these tools requires standardisation in language i.e. standardisation in terminology i.e. a terminology policy. And we must also not forget that in the context of a particular country and language, the role of terminology work and terminology policy is to protect (in the sense of preserve) and develop and nurture each separate national language in a number of specific thematic areas and, then harmonisation, i.e. a ‘conversation’ with rules so as to achieve communication and interoperability which is the ultimate goal.

On the basis of this analysis, terminology cannot generally be descriptive. It has to work with concepts rather than words, to understand concepts and describe them with specific words in each case, i.e. with terms; it should enlist the prescriptive interventions it deems necessary, following the principles and rules that have already been laid down.

 8. What is your view of the IATE database managed by TermCoord? Do you have any suggestions on how it could be improved?

I use IATE very often. It is a very useful tool and contains an invaluable store of linguistic and terminological data. Allow me to make some brief comments and suggest how it could be improved. First, the interface should have a more friendly design. The categorisation in areas needs to be overhauled, as it is not always easy to separate the content of each domain. And because it is difficult to differentiate between the various categories, searching everywhere very often produces many pages of results, so that the user can’t find what she is looking for and loses confidence in the effectiveness of the database in general. What we need therefore is a more flexible system with more scope for the user to set parameters when searching.

Finally, I would add that it needs to include more terms, particularly in Greek, and this depends primarily on those of us in Greece who deal with terminology.

9. What do you think is the greatest issue currently facing terminology in Greece?

Allow me, instead of singling out a particular issue, to mention two issues that in my opinion are very important for Greece and that in any event are directly inter-related and inter-dependent. These are terminology policy (i.e. the lack of such a policy and the need for planning at national and sectoral level) and training (the need for training programmes – both special courses in language and linguistics departments and supplementary courses with various forms of teaching in other departments).

Beyond that, it is important to extend and develop Greek terminology in as many subject areas as possible, to involve more people in terminology work, to identify and promote cooperation between the various bodies dealing with terminology and to provide support to enable us to participate more actively in international terminology debates, etc.

10. What do you consider the most important achievements in the area of ​​Greek terminology? What do you expect for the future?

Here I will again mention the establishment of ELETO and Technical Committee TE21: both these bodies have been operating continuously for many years and been actively involved in terminology and language issues. In particular, I could mention the ELETO conferences, the Greek Terminology Standards, the proposal for a National Terminology Policy (even as a proposal, it is a very serious project), Orogramma journal, the wealth of concepts and terms that have been analysed, cooperation with a number of scientific and professional groups. I hope they will continue to flourish and I hope the Greek language will continue to be enhanced and preserved. If expectations are wishes, I hope and expect that the old tag: ‘The investigation of the meaning of words is the beginning of education …’ will be understood and acted upon.

DimitraInterviewer: Dimitra Tsagkogeorga

Born and raised in Athens (Greece). She studied “Greek Philology and Literature” at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. She also holds a Master degree in “Language Technology” from the same Institution. It was then that she became cognisant with the field of Terminology. She has worked in Greece for several years as a Greek literature teacher in high school and she decided to further her studies by undertaking a Master’s degree in “Learning and Communication in Multilingual and Multicultural Contexts” at the University of Luxembourg. She joined the TermCoord’s team as a study visitor in September 2015.


In collaboration with Alexandros Papageorgiou
Translator trainee at Greek Translation Unit