How to perform terminology research

Translation and terminology truly go hand-in-hand; precise, context-specific, and consistent language is a must in any quality translated document. Each industry, domain or realm has its own terminology, and since language keeps evolving, performing terminology research is never really a completed task.

So whether you are building a glossary, are trying to become familiar with a new branch or simply performing timely queries in your day-to-day work, here a few tips.

Where to look for

A non-exhaustive list. Please note that sometimes the distinction between a dictionary, a database and a metasearch engine can be murky.

Online Dictionaries: For instance OneLook, Dictionary.com

Metasearch Engines: These sites perform online queries just like regular search engines, but they do it simultaneously across several platforms. These include Le grand dictionnaire terminologique from the Office Québécois de la langue française, Linguee, Tradooit, and Metacrawler.

Termium Plus: The Canadian government terminology database.

ONTERM: The Ontario government terminology database.

IATE: Standing for InterActive Terminology for Europe, this resource is a peer-based terminology database in the 24 official languages of the EU, created for standardization purposes. Any translator from an approved government institution in member countries can suggest new terms, which are then validated by others.

PAJLO: Jurilinguistic documentation in both official Canadian languages

Bilingual/Multilingual Websites: When a (renowned, trusted) company or a government body presents the same information in different languages, it can be a great source for terms relating to this specific industry or field! Due diligence is always important though; some (probably smaller and not-so-well established) companies sometimes still have questionable translated content.

Where not to look for

Wikipedia is a great source of information, but it certainly cannot be trusted as a terminology resource, at least not all the time. It remains a database that can be edited by basically anyone and everyone, even anonymously. Therefore, it could be used in the first steps of a specific terminology search –the fact that topics often exist in multiple languages is quite practical and useful-, but should not be considered an authority.

Advanced searches

Any translator, linguist or other terminology expert should get familiar with the “advanced” parameters on search engines and metasearch engines. Precise searches can save up a lot of time and resources.

For instance:

• How to exclude a term in a search phrase
• How to include a specific and exact phrase in the search
• How to search in Pictures
• How to search for documents such as PDFs
• How to use operators, for instance OR, AND…
• How to place a wildcard within a search (*).

For example, the majority of Canadian federal sites are professionally translated and have the .gc.ca extension.
By writing the desired term inside quotes, and adding the word site: gc.ca, it is possible to search for the exact term, while considering only the pages of the Canadian government.

terminology research

Once on the desired page (not a PDF), it is possible to switch to French and find the equivalent term relatively easily.

Outside the internet

Even when do not possess a glossary, companies still often have plenty of documentation that hints to/defines/establishes their terminology. Terminology terms can sometimes be found in annual reports, marketing flyers, operating and user manuals, product descriptions, and so on.

In certain cases, this terminology could even be directly imported into a glossary.

Source quality

As with anything found on the Internet, it cannot be stressed enough how important it is to assess the quality of sources –and to only trust ones that pass the test.

Red flags for finding proper terminology include:

• Sites that have not been updated regularly and/or in a long time
• Badly designed sites
• Poor grammar and style
• Lack of transparency about who owns the site; “trustworthiness” should be somewhat apparent
• Opinions, biases, “agendas”; terminology resources should strive for a maximum of objectivity.

In a more general fashion, it is moreover crucial to not rely on a single source. Specific terms should be verified elsewhere before being selected.

Presenting Terms

Generally, terminology finds should be presented in their canonical form in a database, glossary or lexicon.

This means:

• Infinitive verbs, unmarked in English (e.g. “work”, not “to work”)
• Singular nouns, without articles and with the masculine form if applicable
• Adjectives in the uninflected form if applicable
• Capitalization only when applicable (e.g. nouns/adjectives in English)
• Phrases with more than one word, when applicable, should be written as in the spoken form (unlike bibliographical notes or indexes)