Interview with Miguel Sánchez Ibáñez (by Marina Gutiérrez)
Miguel Sánchez Ibáñez is a lecturer and researcher at the Spanish university UCAM (Universidad Católica San Antonio de Murcia). He holds a degree in translation and interpreting from the University of Salamanca (Spain). He also has a PhD in translation and intercultural mediation from the same university, with a focus on the Spanish language’s terminological dependency on English for vocabulary relating to Alzheimer’s disease. He worked as a research fellow and assistant lecturer at the University of Salamanca for four years. As a terminologist, he has worked for bodies such as the World Intellectual Property Organisation and TERMCAT. He is a member of the NeoUSAL group, as part of which he conducts research on terminological dependence and neology.
- The Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament (TermCoord) manages IATE, the EU’s terminology database. Do you use IATE on a regular basis? How do you feel about it? Do you have any suggestions for improvement?
IATE is a very useful tool for translators, terminologists, linguists and even people who are learning a new language and want to gain a little more specific vocabulary.
I use it whenever I work with terms, translate specialised texts or just want to check and compare terminological equivalents in different languages. In particular, I like the clear thematic division, which makes searches easier and helps me choose the right term in each context, and, of course, the fact that access is free and unlimited. Sometimes I would prefer a more visual, intuitive interface, but I think I can deal with the current one for as long as the termbase continues to be so useful!
- You used to work as a terminology lecturer at the University of Salamanca. How do you think most prospective translators feel about terminology? What methods or strategies did you use to get translation students interested in terminology?
I was in charge of giving the first terminology classes most of the students had ever attended. They had to deal with a theoretical issue which seemed completely unfamiliar to them, and far removed from their daily tasks. They tended to think it was a useless course because they were too used to practical courses. It took them some time to realise that the study of different terminological approaches could be useful in enriching their translation skills.
As I have mentioned, I was in charge of the theoretical, introductory seminars, so my challenge was to present a whole new world, with unfamiliar notions and concepts, in a pleasant, enjoyable way so that my students would see it as an appealing subject to study which was easily applicable to their work as translators. I wanted them to participate actively in the classes, so I included discussions and debates on key reading material. The two activities I think my students enjoyed most were the presentations they had to give, in which they suggested terminological measures to improve and enhance minority languages they had chosen, and a workshop on neology and term creation. The workshop was particularly entertaining because we made it a contest in which students awarded points to their classmates’ neological creations and chose the best one.
- In your opinion, what skills and abilities are needed to be a good terminologist? How do you try to nurture those skills and abilities in your students?
Terminologists must be constant, consistent and curious professionals who are willing to learn about a wide range of issues they may not previously have been familiar with. They have to be systematic and organised, and not be afraid to use new technologies or to network. Above all, they have to love languages, and especially words.
I tried to encourage my students to be autonomous learners by presenting real cases and enabling them to gain independent access to information sources and references. My ultimate goal was to help them connect what I was teaching in class with what was going on in real life and merge both aspects into a unified approach.
- Your PhD dissertation dealt with the Spanish language’s terminological dependence on English for vocabulary relating to Alzheimer’s disease. What is the extent of this subordination? As English is considered the lingua franca of sciences, do you think such permeation is unavoidable?
Having read about different disciplines, I realised that the way in which terms are created in this field in particular reveals subordination on a huge scale. I chose this subject as a point of reference, but it is merely an example of what happens in many other areas. I found traces of this dependency in aspects such as the semantic characterisation of Spanish terms, which were clearly influenced by their English equivalents, the modification of content by Spanish specialists in order to adapt new terms to Spanish texts, and even habitual translation strategies, which demonstrated that translation could be used as an opportunity to reduce (or increase) the gap between two languages. Putting together all these aspects, I came to the conclusion that terminology is a crucial factor in helping translators reduce asymmetries between languages and communities of speakers.
I think it is very difficult to stop this trend, given that we live in a global society in which the weight of English as a lingua franca is undeniable. However, terminologists and translators must actively try to reinforce the use of as many languages as possible, even though this aim may at first seem unrealistic. The more languages we use to express and transfer our knowledge, the richer that knowledge will become. This will give non‑English‑speaking communities a means of legitimising not only their languages but also themselves, since specialist language is ultimately another way to convey a particular culture.
- You studied translation and interpreting at degree level, with English and French as your main working languages. When did you decide to make terminology one of the pillars of your career? Why?
I first encountered terminology on a course I took during the third year of my translation and interpreting degree. Although I had enjoyed all the practical courses I had previously taken, I already felt that I lacked theoretical training regarding the possible philosophical and linguistic implications of specialised translation. As a student, terminology gave me a chance to stop and think carefully about my role as a translator and interpreter. I also found it very interesting to study and analyse the lexical units I had to translate: the way they had been created, and why I should choose one term or another depending on the context, the domain or the end-user. I also liked the fact that, although at first it appeared to be a rather dry and abstract field, terminology could easily be applied to practical work, reinforcing it and giving me a scientific framework on which to base my decisions as a translator. For all these reasons, after finishing my degree I decided to start a PhD, and I thought the study of terminology might be interesting. I knew I wanted to combine theoretical analysis with some kind of practical application for my findings. Fortunately, I can now say that this was the right decision, since my years of research have allowed me to learn a lot about terms and the implications of their translation. Not to mention the fact that I have very much enjoyed all the work I have done!
- Several universities conduct terminology research in Spain, and there are also some very active terminological centres such as TERMCAT. Where does Spain currently stand in terms of terminology on a global scale?
Over the past few decades, terminology studies have steadily gained popularity in Spain. I think it is important to point out the leading role of many regional institutions, such as TERMCAT, UZEI and Termigal, in defending and promoting the use and creation of terms in Catalan, Galician and Basque. Numerous terminology professionals, including Amelia de Irazazábal, and Teresa Cabré and her team at Pompeu Fabra University back in the 1990s, paved the way for many young researchers in Spain who, like me, are now delving into the study of specialised language. There are numerous research groups, university departments and institutes devoted to the study of terms, not only as a component of translation and interpreting degrees but also as a discipline in itself, a branch of applied linguistics which is bound to become increasingly relevant in the current global context, in which Spanish has to deal with the fact that English is the lingua franca in so many contexts. However, I fear that all the cutting-edge work carried out by this diverse group of professionals, who are leaders in their field, is often ignored (or, at least, not sufficiently supported) by Spain’s national and regional authorities. In Spain, securing funding for this kind of research is often a real challenge, meaning that terminologists have to work in precarious situations. Stronger support for all the existing research groups and institutes, and the creation of a central institution to regulate Spanish terminology (similar to those which already exist for the other languages spoken in Spain) would help to organise, support and promote the work of all terminology professionals, giving us the chance to develop our careers in a stable, secure way. Our language needs it!
- You are a member of NeoUSAL, a group that conducts research on neologisms. What have been its main projects so far? Also, NeoUSAL is hosting CINEO 2015, the 3rd International Conference on Neology in Romance Languages (III Congreso Internacional de Neología en las Lenguas Románicas), in Salamanca in October 2015. What are your expectations for this conference?
We are currently developing two research projects which are distinct yet somehow complementary: firstly, we are analysing and classifying all the neologisms appearing in newspapers published in Castile and León, the region in which the University of Salamanca is located. We started more than five years ago, and the results of our work can be found on our webpage: neousal.usal.es.
The second project, known as Neuroneo, aims to analyse and classify specialised Spanish terms created by neuroscientists, and to draw conclusions about that process. Together with the Institute of Neuroscience of Castile and León, we are currently trying to develop and implement a methodology to help scientists record the point at which they come across a new concept and name it in Spanish. This will enable us to analyse neologisms in their earliest stages, taking the work and decisions of real users as the starting point for our research. This is an innovative approach to the study of neology, and we think it may lead us to new discoveries about how scientists create terms and their motivations for choosing one lexical unit over another.
In addition to these two main projects, we are currently organising CINEO 2015 (http://diarium.usal.es/cineo2015/), the 3rd International Conference on Neology in Romance Languages, which will take place in Salamanca in October. I believe that this event, like the two previous conferences in Barcelona (2008) and São Paulo (2011), will be a milestone for those studying the creation of lexical units in languages with Latin roots. All of these languages currently face similar challenges, and I think it is vital to build bridges between them and devise common strategies for updating and adapting them in response to new circumstances. Many of the most prominent lecturers and researchers in this field will gather in Salamanca, and I am sure the speeches will be very inspiring, so I encourage anyone interested in romance languages to join us in October.
- Which disciplines are producing the largest number of neologisms these days? Are there any new trends that may change the current situation in the future?
It is very difficult to say which fields of knowledge are producing the most neologisms (actually, this difficulty is one of the main reasons behind the launch of NeuroNEO), but it seems logical to assume that the more dynamic a community of scientists is, the more new concepts and discoveries it will have to write about, and that, as a result, it may use more neologisms to convey all of those new ideas. However, this depends on a wide range of factors, such as the language spoken by the scientists, their level of proficiency in English and the social, economic and cultural context in which they are working.
- Are you aware of TermCoord’s external cooperation with terminology experts and bodies? How do you think you could work with TermCoord, and in which fields of expertise?
I am aware of this cooperation and I think is very enriching and useful, both for the external partners and for Termcoord. I would be pleased to participate by arranging internships for my students on the modern languages degree course at the Catholic University of Murcia, where I currently lecture, so that they can put everything they are learning in their courses into practice. I would also be happy to take part in as many terminology conferences, events or workshops as you believe I could contribute to. I am always glad to share my research and, of course, to learn from other experts!
- Finally, as a young professional making your way in the terminology world, what advice would you give aspiring terminologists?
My advice is very simple: never give up. Even if study programmes for fields in which terminology plays a central role are scarce, even if terminologist posts are difficult to come by, even if our tasks as language professionals are sometimes blurry and ill‑defined, we must be tenacious, consistent and always willing to learn and to update our professional skills. I am only a young terminologist who has just started his career, and I fear that my relatively limited experience means I am not the best person to give advice on anything, but I have always known that terminology is my passion, despite the difficulties I have come across along the way, and I am quite happy with the path I have followed so far. I always try to remember that I have a long way to go, but I do know what I ultimately want to become: an experienced, skilled terminologist who is able to adapt to different working contexts and is always willing to learn and improve. I think that if aspiring terminologists take all these factors into account, at least they will have found a promising starting point!
Interviewer: Marina Gutiérrez
Born in 1991 in Santander (Spain), Marina Gutiérrez holds a degree in translation and interpreting from the University of Salamanca, with English and French as her main working languages. During her degree she gained experience as a translator, reviser and project manager at the Guardia Civil (Spanish Civil Guard), the NGO Umoya and the United Nations. After graduating in 2013, she worked as a freelance conference interpreter for organisations including WiLD10, the European Students’ Forum (AEGEE) and Initiatives of Change (Switzerland). As regards translation experience, from January to March 2014 she completed an internship at the Spanish Translation Service of the United Nations Headquarters (New York). Before joining the Terminology Coordination Unit, she was working for Altalingua, a translation agency in Madrid.