Interview with Kostas Valeontis

Kostas Valeontis“In order to become a reliable terminologist, a person mainly should love knowledge and terminology as well as have a proficient knowledge of languages”. – Interview with Kostas Valeontis.

Born in Greece, Kostas Valeontis is the president of the Hellenic Society for Terminology (ELETO) and the Chairman of the Permanent Group for Telecommunications Terminology at the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization. He has a Certificate of Studies from the Computer Applications Centre of the Hellenic Physical Society, and a post-graduate Certificate in Electronics and Radio Science from the University of Athens.

He has researched and taught as a member of the Physics Laboratory of the University of Athens (1969-1972) and participated as a member of research and development staff of the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE) for 30 years (1972-2001) – research and studies on matters such as telecom engineering, applied acoustics and standardization.

Founder and leader of the “Acoustics Team” as well as the “Laser Communications Team” of OTE, Kostas Valeontis is author of papers, books, and terminology vocabularies as well as creator of the terminology databases: Telecommunications term base (TELETERM), Information Technology term base (INFORTERM) and Terminology term base (TERMTERM).

1. Mina Selimou: Mr Valeontis, how would you define “terminology”?

Kostas Valeontis: Well, there are two concepts designated by the term terminology. One is defined as a set of terms in a specific subject field, accompanied by the definitions of the corresponding concepts and/or their equivalents in one or more other languages (ISO 1087‑1:2000). The other is defined as “the science of terms”; more specifically, the science which studies objects, characteristics, concepts, definitions, designations, concept relations, principles and term formation mechanisms.

2. Mina Selimou: What is the mission of the Hellenic Society for Terminology (ELETO) and where do you think lies its importance? How does ELETO collaborate with similar organizations in other countries?

Kostas Valeontis: ELETO is the only Greek Association, which is devoted exclusively to terminology, providing terminological assistance to any other organization in Greece.

ELETO’s relations with similar organizations in other countries are within the framework of membership in European Association for Terminology (EAFT) and international organizations: Infoterm and IITF; ELETO board members take part and represent ELETO in international terminology conferences organized by these associations.

3. Mina Selimou: What are the biggest challenges ELETO is facing at the moment?

Kostas Valeontis: Since 1997, ELETO has organized every other year a series of terminology conferences under the common name Hellenic Language and Terminology. Since 1997 until 2011, ELETO has organized seven conferences in Athens and one in Nicosia (2005). All these conferences were quite successful, raised awareness for terminology and enriched the Greek terminological bibliography with eight volumes of proceedings containing a large number of papers on terminology.

So continuing this conferential tradition, ELETO is about to begin the preparatory work for the organization of the 9th Conference “Hellenic Language and Terminology” (late 2013). There is much work to be done by the Conference committees and ELETO Board members, but we hope that the 9th Conference will be successful too.

4. Mina Selimou: Please tell us in brief, how new concepts are born.

Kostas Valeontis: Greek terms equivalent to foreign terms (mainly English, but sometimes also French and German) are validated or created by the relevant ELETO’s “collective member”, that is the committee or working group in the specific subject field.

There are two levels of naming a concept: primary naming and secondary naming. Both levels follow specific naming (or designating) rules that belong to the language of term formation.

Primary naming is done by the creator of the concept who is a specialist in the subject field who first conceives and launches the new concept. This process occurs in all subject fields where knowledge is being developed. Unfortunately, today knowledge is being developed mainly in the English language; even Greek scientists write their papers in English; the same holds for other “minor” languages too. As a consequence, primary naming occurs mainly in English today; English is the source language for most new scientific and technological terms; are target languages. Each of them has to receive the new concepts and name them with its equivalent terms. This is secondary naming.

5. Mina Selimou: What term formation principles do ELETO bodies follow to introduce new terms in the Greek language?

Kostas Valeontis: Both, primary and secondary naming, are carried out according to certain term formation principles set by ISO in ISO 704:2000, and transposed into Greek by ELOT/TE21 in ELOT 402:2010, and according to proper term formation mechanisms of the relevant language.

Thus, ELETO bodies carry out mainly secondary naming. There are two inputs to their programmes. One is transposition of European or International Standards into Hellenic Standards; during this work all the concepts represented by English terms are named with Greek equivalent terms, thus forming the glossary of terms of the Greek document, annexed to the body of the document. Most of this terminology is systematic, given that for such a document there is always an underlying system of concepts. In this case, the whole draft document is subjected (by ELOT) to Public Enquiry (usually for two months), before final approval and publication.

The other input comes from an “ad hoc” terminology need submitted by a person or a body; in this case, generally, the Greek equivalent terms are not based on a fully known concept system (nonsystematic terminology). Many of these terms are submitted by the collective member to the ELETO’s General Scientific Board (GESY) for approval. GESY generally approves, and sometimes suggests improvements. Some of these terms are sent to all ELETO members for Member Enquiry before they are approved by GESY. Approved terms are publicized in ELETO’s Newsletter “Orogramma”

Almost all new Greek terms are of “non-foreign” origin; although most of the new scientific concepts are primarily named in English, the terms selected and/or adopted by ELETO mainly consist of Greek words, a significant number of which being neologisms.

6. Mina Selimou: Ancient Greek and Latin have been the founding languages in International Terminology databases. Could the gap between these “pioneer” languages and the newly born terms be bridged constructively from a terminology perspective?

Kostas Valeontis: Any language needs new terms to designate all new concepts that are continuously produced within the developing subject fields. Ancient Greek and Latin will always be present in the terminology corpus of most modern languages, since not only whole words but also roots, affixes (prefixes and suffixes) as well as derivational endings from these two classical languages will always form a firm ground on which term formation is based. For example, can you imagine the English terminology without the Greek-origin word term and suffixes -ic and -oid or without the Latin-origin word concept and suffixes -tion and -al? In their everyday term formation practice, ELETO bodies (boards, committees and working groups) frequently use such elements from Ancient Greek, to designate modern concepts. It would be foolish not to utilize the tremendous derivation and compounding capabilities of the Greek language in any of its forms.

7. Mina Selimou: You have created two terminology databases TELETERM and INFORTERM that cover two of the most contemporary domains, telecommunications and information technology. Could you please tell us more about these databases?

Kostas Valeontis: Yes. Since 2003, ELETO, in cooperation with the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE), has been offering free use of TELETERM, a database of Telecommunications terms produced by ELETO’s collective member MOTO (Permanent Group for Telecommunications Terminology). MOTO has been continually operating since 1989 and has produced a large number of Greek telecommunications terms. Since 2001, ELETO also has been cooperating with the Athens University of Economics and Business in offering, on the Internet, free use of INFORTERM, a database of Information Technology terms produced by ELETO’s collective member ELOT/TE48/OE1 (Information Technology Terminology). Both groups have produced many Hellenic Standards published by ELOT.

I have personally created and manage both databases, but their content is the outcome of persistent and consistent teamwork. Without the members’ eagerness, love for knowledge and language, and their uninterrupted participation in the meetings of the two groups, this result would have never been achieved. Terms will continue to emerge in the domains of telecommunications and IT since both fields are under continuous development.

8. Mina Selimou: Which domains lack terminological attention nowadays?

Kostas Valeontis: There are, unfortunately, lots of domains that need terminological attention as far as the Greek language is concerned. Hundreds of thousands of concepts in the EU Interactive Terminology for Europe (IATE) have not been designated with Greek equivalent terms. This means that in many subject fields of EU activities there have not been standardized and adopted Greek terms. ELETO had actively participated (1999–2000) in planning the “National Programme for Terminological Coordination” (EPOS), a programme that would produce about 600.000 standardized Greek terms, from 180 subject fields. EPOS was submitted to the 3rd Community Support Frame for funding, but, unfortunately, was not approved.

9. Mina Selimou: Do translators in Greece use IATE in their daily work and what concrete actions would you suggest for the European Institutions?

Kostas Valeontis: I think that most translators in Greece use IATE in their work. I believe that many of them would have comments to submit so that IATE be continually improved by correcting any errata; this could be done by a closer communication and cooperation. IATE is a powerful tool for translators and it should be enriched with proper Greek terms in all its entries. ELETO’s collective members and special groups have produced several thousands of Greek equivalent terms for IATE. If EPOS had been approved and implemented, IATE would have been supplied with more than 500.000 Greek terms. Nowadays, surrounded a terrible economic crisis, everything is more difficult. I hope that ELETO will continue being active and will eventually manage to increase the interest of the Greek State competent bodies in terminology and the development of the Greek language.

10. Mina Selimou: In your opinion, what aptitudes and skills are needed in order to become a reliable terminologist?

Kostas Valeontis: In my opinion, in order to become a reliable terminologist, a person mainly should love knowledge and terminology as well as have a proficient knowledge of languages. She/he will have to study a specific subject field and become specialist in it. They should study well both theory and application of terminology (all) relevant ISO/TC 37 standards starting from ISO 1087 and ISO 704. Even if this person is a linguist, he/she should digest the terminological concepts and methods, which are not quite the same as the linguistic ones. Be a good user of computer programs and other applications used in terminology today (word processing programs, terminological databases, etc.) is another requisite.

Interviewer: Mina Selimou

mina-selimouMina was born in 1980 in Athens. She studied Communication, Media and Culture. During the last year of her studies she participated in the Erasmus-Socrates program in the department of Political Studies in Catania, Sicily. As a member of AEGEE (European Students’ Forum) she took part in the organization of several national and international workshops. After voluntarily working for the Institute of International and Economic Relations in Athens, she worked for the “Athens 2004″, Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games. From 2005 onwards she worked for five years as a publications coordinator in two medical journals and websites in Athens while also being responsible for communication for two art exhibitions. It was then that the existing seeds of multiculturalism urged her to consider foreign languages, culture and travelling again as part of her professional life. Considering that, she completed a 7 month- traineeship in a cultural tours operator in Lucerne, a four months cooperation with the Athens Cultural Festival, an international workshop on cultural tourism in Venice and a traineeship in the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament.