The issue of terminology in
African languages: some
observations
Prof. Elsabé Taljard
Department of African Languages
[email protected]
Presentation made at a seminar presented by
CentRePoL, IFAS & Umalusi
Why terminology is important
• Terminology is not an end in itself, but
addresses specific social needs, and
• attempts to facilitate and optimize
communication within a specific subject
field.
• Primary aim is knowledge transfer within
scientific community
It’s not about the term (only)
• Terms are labels representing abstract
concepts
• Terms can be learnt without understanding
the underlying concept – rote learning
• The underlying concept should be
explained in a language which is
understood by the user of the term
Terminological definitions (1)
• Terminology practice in SA is often limited
to finding / provision of translation
equivalents in African languages for
English source terms.
• Terminological definition, which is the link
between the term and the concept, is often
neglected.
Terminological definitions (2)
• ‘When I use a term, it means just what I
choose it to mean -- neither more nor
less.‘ (With apologies to Humpty Dumpty
and Lewis Carrol)
• Function of the definition is to fix the
intention / reference of the term, to delimit
the exact meaning of the term
When it is indeed about the term
When term creation takes place, cognisance
needs to be taken of the full spectrum of
available term formation strategies:
• Language internal word formation processes
– Semantic transfer
– Paraphrase
– Compounding
• Borrowing
– Loan words / foreign words
– Transliterations / adoptives
Transliterations: friend or foe?
• Definition: when a term is taken over from
a source language and phonologically
adapted to the target language:
• Example:
Source term: documentation
– Xitsonga: tidokhumente
– Tshivenda: dzidokhumennde
– Sepedi: ditokumente
Transliterations: pros and cons
• Pros:
– easy shortcut,
– keep the visual link between ST and TE
• Cons:
– resistance in especially academic community
against their use
– give no clue as to the conceptual meaning
which underlies the term
Challenges for terminology in SA
• Standardization of terminology
• Effective dissemination of terminology
Standardization
• Purpose of standardization:
– fixation of meaning by means of
terminological definition
– choice from amongst competing terms
– standardization of spelling
Proliferation of terms
ST
TE1
TE2
TE3
bond
setlamo
pofo
tlemagano kamanyo
gas
kese
gase
moya
dissolve
nyaoga
nyaoša tologa
point
ntlha
khutlo
negative nekethifi neketifi
TE4
tološa
Dissemination of terminology
• Accessibility
– Target users of terminology must have access
to standardizes terminology
• Awareness
– Target users must be made aware of the
existence of standardized terminology
Role of PanSALB & NLS
• National Language Bodies are PanSALB
structures, responsible for the validation of
terms
• Final standardization body is NLS, who is
also responsible for the dissemination of
terminology.
Terminological wish list
• First prize:
– electronic multilingual terminological
database,
– containing not only terms, but also definitions,
which is
– available online,
– with an option of simultaneous feedback by
users
Terminological wish list (2)
• Second first prize:
– Compilation of lexicographically sound, good
quality LSP dictionaries in and for the African
languages, and
– Textbooks in the African languages, with
glossaries, containing the core terms of the
subject field, accompanied by sound
terminological definitions
Multilingual LSP dictionaries
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The issue of technical terms in African languages: myths