Terminology? What is that?

Today we’re going to ask the community of linguists and dabblers in general to address the question of the how useful terminology is in a localisation project. The answer should be unanimous: terminology is absolutely vital, regardless of the content of the project – whether legal, scientific, advertising or even fiction.
“We need to communicate to understand each other,” as the saying goes, and the correct terminology can mean life or death. An incorrect term may mean that instructions are misinterpreted or may bore someone to death even though they are reading a literary gem.

But what is terminology or a term? In simple terms, let’s say that a term is a concept with a specific definition in a certain field or context. It can also be an idea or identity for a client or for a company – something that defines them. Just like the metaphor that translation is the bridge that links languages, terminology is the bridge that links a text to its meaning. And when a number of terms are used often and in the same context, they end up being associated with this context (a patient information leaflet or instruction manual, for example). This context also ends up instilling meaning in the terminology used. It’s basically a symbiotic relationship.

Terminology is also present in our everyday lives. During the COVID-19 pandemic, people learned and used new terms like coronavirus, lockdown and social distancing or even expressions such as takeaway hatches that our representatives used in their press releases. A new situation introduced new conversations and suddenly everyone was a virologist, sociologist or some other kind of specialist spouting these technical terms.

On the other hand, improper use of certain terms can be harmful to individuals or communities. There are terms that, over the years, have acquired pejorative connotations, such as sanzala, which we still see in business names, in spite of their historical meaning.
Referring to the War in Ukraine as a Special Military Operation is demeaning of such a tragic situation. The term climate change has been altered to climate crisis or emergency to reflect the necessary urgency.
In a lighter-hearted vein, we have an Uruk-hai (a creature in Lord of the Rings) shouting the famous words Looks like meat’s back on the menu, boys (in Peter Jackson’s Twin Towers movie). This may give us pause if we think that the definition of the term menu as we know it is odd in a context of a medieval fantasy.

Which is why we want to underscore the extreme importance of investment in and subsequent management of terminology databases, regardless of the context! In a survey of a number of localisation agencies in 2020, around 46% of them said that they had invested in the process for 2022 and beyond. As the content requiring localisation is increasing progressively, along with the demands in terms of costs and timelines, the agencies are expecting a return on this investment when it comes to meeting clients’ needs.
Whatever your business, the time and effort invested in the creation of a term base for your product and brand will be considerable and vital to the development of your business. By ignoring the terminology associated with it, you may be jeopardising any future development and success. As we said in the previous article (insert Do you want to make your business global? Localise it), localisation should not be a business accessory, and we say the same for localisation with the right terminology. Although we realise that keeping up global and cultural consistency is another major challenge, the balance will always be positive when it comes to fluid communication and strategy, which will bring a good financial return.

We can clearly see that terminology is not just pretty words and expressions to decorate a text. They are words and expressions that lend weight and meaning to a text. Which, in turn, lends weight and significance to these words and expressions.

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