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Kara Warburton, The Corporate Terminologist

John Benjamins Publishing Company
Alexandra Mestivier
p. 67-74
Référence(s) :

Kara Warburton. 2021. The Corporate Terminologist. John Benjamins Publishing Company. ISBN: 9789027208491. 249 pp.

Texte intégral

1Terminology has traditionally been associated with the public and academic spheres and in both contexts, it is mainly viewed as an aid to translation. Major term banks in the world (Termium Plus, IATE, UNITERM, Eurotermbank) have been developed, often by governments or by public sector institutions, to support the translation industry and, at the same time, translators are increasingly involved in developing and in managing terminological resources, mainly for their use with computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools (Bowker 2015), even though they may have no background in terminology. As an academic discipline, terminology management is almost exclusively taught within translation curricula, thus reinforcing the association between terminology and translation. According to Kara Warburton, this association has prevented terminography (the recording and presentation of terminological data in a termbase) from penetrating into other areas of content development, such as the authoring stage, where it is often needed most. However, Warburton shows that in the corporate world, even though translators remain the main end-users of terminological resources, translation is only one of the many potential applications of terminology management. In this rapidly changing environment, where market pressure imposes the heavy use of technology and rapid technological changes, terminology management is radically different from the way it is perceived in academic circles, by classically trained terminologists. Terminology needs to be versatile and adapt to all the Natural Language Processing (NLP) applications developed within companies such as content management, Content Authoring (CA), CAT, or Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) among many others, thus supporting the companies’ successes in multilingual global markets.

2The Corporate Terminologist, the 21st book of the Terminology and Lexicography Research and Practice (TLRP) series edited by Marie-Claude L'Homme and Kyo Kageura, sheds light on terminology management in production-oriented companies, institutions, organisations, or industries. Warburton convincingly argues that corporate terminology is an area where existing theories and methodologies of terminology management, especially those postulated by the General Theory of Terminology (GTT), do not necessarily apply and may even be contrary to commercial goals. She contends that:

the theoretical foundations of terminology need to adapt to modern applications; an application-oriented terminology theory and methodology is needed. A new paradigm for terminological resources needs to take shape, one that is less constrained by fixed semantic models and is sufficiently flexible to serve different linguistic contexts, communicative goals and end users of terminological resources (p. 230).

3The Corporate Terminologist provides a state-of-the-art review of corporate terminology by collecting information from resources scattered throughout the literature. Readers will find, among others, references to many articles contributed by Warburton herself (Warburton 2014; Warburton 2015 ; Warburton 2018), reports published by the Language Industry Standards Association (LISA Terminology SIG 2003, 2005) or commissioned by the Government of Canada (Champagne 2004). In so doing, the book raises a number of theoretical issues to be considered for the development of an extended theory of terminology that can be applied to commercial terminography. But the book is above all a valuable compendium of best practices for the different stages in the process of implementing a corporate terminology project. The Corporate Terminologist takes the readers from the proposal and planning stage of a terminological project to the choice of a terminology management system (TMS) and from the implementation of a termbase to its maintenance and quality assurance. These comprehensive best practices for developing commercial terminology resources contain useful references to existing terminology standards. In each case these standards are presented in a critical light, pointing out the ways in which they may not be entirely suitable for commercial applications. For instance, strict rules for crafting terminological definitions complying with the ISO 704 standard are rarely followed in commercial applications, where a more pragmatic approach, such as supplying a context sentence, may save time and effort and may be more adapted to the termbase users.

4The author has extensive knowledge of terminology management in corporate settings as she has worked for more than 25 years in the terminology, translation and localization industries for large international organizations and companies. She has been a contributor to the International Organization of Standardization (ISO), and specifically to Technical Committee 37 (ISO/TC 37) on Language and terminology for more than 20 years. She is also a regular lecturer at the University of Chicago, Urbana Champaign, where she teaches terminology, localization, commercial and technical translation and Computer Assisted Translation.

5The book is organised in 15 chapters grouped into four parts. While the first two parts have a theoretical orientation – they introduce the foundations of terminology and the specificities of commercial terminography respectively, the last two parts deal with very practical aspects of commercial terminography and take the readers through the different stages of a terminology project, from planning a corporate terminology initiative to implementing and operating the termbase.

6Part 1, “foundations of terminology”, places corporate terminology in the historical and professional context of terminology as a discipline and practice and very briefly presents the key notions of terminology and terminography (chapter 1) and reviews at an elemental level some of the classical theories, methods (chapter 2) and principles (chapter 3) of classical terminology. The three chapters are very brief and probably slightly too concise for readers lacking some prior knowledge of terminology. The author proposes a “further reading and resources” section to address any knowledge gaps. This part does not seek to provide any extensive introduction to the General Theory of Terminology (GTT), the theory that has had the greatest impact on mainstream knowledge, nor to the alternative, more recent views of terminology theory and methodology such as the socio-cognitive theory (Temmerman 2000), the lexico-semantic theory (L'Homme 2004), the textual terminology theory (Bourrigault & Slodzian 1999), the frame-based terminology (Faber et al. 2005) or the Communicative Theory (Cabré 1999). Rather, the first part aims to look at these theories with a critical eye in order to identify and select the key principles for managing terminologies and for developing termbases that are applicable in commercial environments –some of which are actually inherited from GTT– such as term univocity and concept orientation, term autonomy, data granularity, elementarity and integrity as well as repurposability and interchange. Part 1 also discusses the characteristics of commercial terminography, namely the fact that:

It is not normative, it is not confined to subject fields (in the classical sense), and especially, it is not preoccupied with concept systems. Terminology management in these environments is oriented towards communicative acts (authoring, translation) in widely ranging contexts, genres and media, it leverages technology to the highest degree, and it is repurposed for content management, CA, CAT, SEO, and various other NLP applications. (p. 106)

7Commercial terminography is mainly semasiological (i.e., terminologists collect and record terms that are already used), text-driven (i.e., term selection and description are based on the analysis of the organization's written documents, which Warburton calls the company corpus), ad hoc or one-off (task-based or project-based approaches as opposed to thematic or systematic terminography which aims to document terms used in a subject field comprehensively) and adopts a hybrid mixture of descriptive and loosely prescriptive approaches –some prescriptive techniques such as recording “approved/ preferred” terms are means of regulating language in the discourse of corporate communication in order to increase clarity, avoid errors and improve efficiency.

8Part 2 introduces commercial terminography. Chapter 4 (definition, motivation, challenges) proposes an interesting demonstration that language used in commercial companies constitutes a Language for Specific Purposes (LSP). The language is domain-specific and it exhibits a closed set of linguistic properties, lexical patterns and stylistic conventions (e.g., precision, concision). It is used in specific communicative contexts and in specific genres with specific communicative functions. It is also consciously acquired and it contains terminology. The chapter also presents the motivations for managing terminology in the customer satisfaction framework. It provides examples of challenges that become apparent when terminology is poorly managed or not managed at all. These include unintentional synonyms in the source language (SL) or target language (TL), intentional synonyms with only one equivalent in the TL, distinct terms with only one equivalent in the TL, or issues with proper nouns, which are very common in commercial documents. Chapter 5, entitled “terms in commercial content”, examines the types of terms that occur in corporate documents from different points of view: the word classes to which they belong, their length and the management of variants, which have a key role to play in some applications such as SEO where they can improve content retrieval. Chapter 6, “applications”, presents the applications other than translation in which terminology resources can be used in a corporation. Knowing the purposes for which a terminological resource is designed has a bearing on what is considered a term and on the type of data categories that need to be recorded in the termbase. Some of these applications are discussed in detail, while others are only briefly mentioned. For instance, the role of termbases in specialising neural machine translation models could have received more attention. Finally, chapter 7, “Towards a theoretical framework”, introduces the notions of microcontent, termhood and unithood (see discussion hereafter) and proposes a number of observations and questions which might support the establishment of a new theoretical framework for corporate terminology.

9Part 3, “planning a corporate terminology”, could prove useful before embarking on a terminology management initiative, be it in a corporate environment or not. In chapter 8, “the Proposal”, the author provides a step-by-step guide on how to write a proposal for a terminology initiative. She discusses, among other practical details, how to create a business case to obtain approval and funding, how to develop an implementation plan and how to engage all stakeholders (authoring community, translators, etc.) in the terminology initiative. Chapter 9, “the process”, is dedicated to designing user interfaces, typical workflows and different types of access mechanisms such as deciding which type of information in the termbase should be available to which user. Part 3 deals with how to determine what data categories a termbase should contain for optimal repurposability, taking into account the application it is used for or it is likely to be used for in the future (chapter 10, “data category selection”) and the key features to be considered when selecting a TMS (chapter 11, “the terminology management system”). The author more particularly claims the TMS should guarantee concept orientation and term autonomy, support standard import/export file formats, and provide a customizable data model, view and search functions, and access control mechanisms among many others.

10In part 4, “implementing and operating the termbase”, chapter 12, “create the termbase”, deals with how to create a data model that adheres to ISO 16642 (TMF) standard, how to decide which data are mandatory and which should be optional. The chapter also gives several indications on how to set up views and filters and how to define different workflow scenarios for project-driven, process-oriented and usage-oriented workflows. Chapter 13, “launch the termbase”, describes how to create an initial population and beta-test before launching the termbase. The chapter also provides a description of how to write documentation, conduct community outreach, set up simple mechanisms for gathering feedback, as well as use key performance indicators, such as the number of entries or the number of terms actively used, to report to management. Chapter 14, “expanding the termbase”, introduces term extraction and concordance tools, which are necessary to identify terms quickly across the entire corporate corpus and import them into the termbase. Finally, Chapter 15, “maintain quality”, addresses the questions related to the quality of the termbase: Does it meet its objectives? Does it contain the right terms? Do the fields deliver the required information? Is it repurposable? Does it guide towards the ideal language (prescriptive approach) while at the same time reflecting the current usage, with its imperfections (descriptive approach)? Most importantly, the chapter discusses ways to deal with the gap between the termbase and the company corpus and how to avoid both unoptimised terms (i.e., terms that appear in the termbase but are not actually used in company documents) and undocumented terms that are frequent in the company corpus. Warburton draws attention to the importance of corpus-based approaches and proposes some criteria for selecting and optimizing terms such as term length, term frequency, translation difficulty, or legal/marketing importance. We believe it is a pity that the author only mentions WordSmith tools in chapters 14 and 15, which are dedicated to term extraction from the company corpus. Other platforms, such as Sketchengine, are perfectly well suited for tasks such as contrastive term extraction, collocation extraction and extraction of specialized bigrams and trigrams, which have a higher frequency than in a reference corpus.

11One recurrent theme that underlies the entire book is that corporate terminology is conditioned by the interplay of two types of constraints: economic and technological. On the one hand, large corporations must generate large volumes of multilingual content (product interfaces, records, technical reports, marketing material, websites, etc.) for products and services that are constantly changing to match strategic organisational objectives in the global market, often in time-constrained and limited-budget conditions. The same time-labour and cost-effectiveness constraints apply to corporate terminology, which must support the company’s business objectives by optimizing communication thus ensuring customer satisfaction, increasing productivity, reducing production costs (associated to translation or authoring) and reducing time-to-market (Champagne 2004). On the other hand, in order to survive market pressure, large companies heavily rely on technology to automate or semi-automate authoring, translation or publishing. To meet these new needs, a vast and constantly evolving set of NLP applications has developed over the last few decades: CA, CAT, content management and retrieval, desktop-publishing, machine translation, SEO, query expansion and correction, predictive typing, accessibility testing, voice recognition, document classification and summarization, sentiment analysis or content forensics. Corporate terminology must support all these applications in a cost-effective manner, which has a bearing on how termbases should be structured and managed: they should be interoperable in different computing environments and for different applications thanks to standards such as TermBase eXchange (TBX, an XML standard for terminology data, ISO 30042), repurposable for different applications that extend beyond translation, extensible to accommodate new requirements, and representative of the company corpus.

12Warburton convincingly explains why corporate terminologists must have an understanding of these two types of constraints imposed by this dynamic, fast-paced environment and have a view of terminology that extends far beyond its use by translators and far beyond the mainstream understanding of terminological work which is traditionally defined as the activity concerned with “the systematic collection, description, processing and presentation of concepts and their designations” (ISO 1087: 2019). Corporate terminologists must do much more: they must be involved in overseeing the entire corporate terminology initiative and its integration in the extended corporate system: planning, budgeting, designing, staffing, ensuring quality control, and communicating with stakeholders of terminology in the organisation. They must anticipate what data categories are indispensable for present and future potential applications (for instance controlled authoring requires part-of-speech for disambiguation and most NLP applications require semantic relations) and what categories and terms would incur unnecessary costs of data management and translation. Following Lynne Bowker and Tom Delsey (2016), Warburton notes that the infusion of corporate-specific terminology resources in applications such as SEO, indexing or cross-language information retrieval tends to blur the boundaries between terminology and information science and that many of the tasks corporate terminologists are engaged in have to do with the storage, organisation, retrieval, transformation and utilisation of information. Corporate terminologists could fit under the umbrella vocation of information professionals together with other emerging job titles such as information developers, content managers, information architects, etc. Warburton suggests that within a corporation, the terminology unit should be positioned as subordinate to an information management unit, higher in the structure of an organisation in such a way that clearly demonstrates that terminology can serve not only the translation community, but the authoring community as well.

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13This change of perspective on the terminologist’s work is equally associated with an extended view of a termbase, which should be considered as a corporate knowledge repository for the different applications, and to an extended notion of what a term is for commercial terminography, a notion for which Warburton suggests the alternative term microcontent. The concept, which is one of the main innovations from the book, was inspired by blogging pioneer, Anil Dash, and corresponds to univocal, discreet and reusable “content that conveys one primary idea or concept"1. It is a “contextually-dependent expression fulfilling a given communicative purpose” (p. 106). Warburton suggests that using words such as terms and terminology may have contributed to a general misunderstanding and marginalization of corporate terminology and even undermined the terminology work itself. Using the alternative terms of microcontent and microcontent management (for the terminological work carried out in enterprises) could free terminology management in companies from the weight of convention.

14Corporate termbases cannot limit themselves to terms that correspond exclusively to the GTT notion of the term, which is defined as a nominal designation of a language-independent LSP concept, which corresponds to an object in the real world and which can be classified systematically. The author suggests that pragmatic, application-oriented criteria such as statistical measures of frequency, a term’s visibility to customers (for instance on packaging) or translation difficulty should prime over strict semantic criteria when selecting terms, and that these criteria should be subordinate to cost-efficiency ones. In other words, the effort and cost for managing terms should bring the company a net benefit: “for commercial applications, a term could simply be defined as any lexical entry that, when managed according to certain suitable methods, supports the realization of a business goal (efficiency, speed, quality, cost savings, etc.)” (p. 97).

15Thus, commercial termbases must include different types of microcontent, many of which do not correspond to the traditional notion of a term. This is the case for terms important for the marketing of a product (features and technologies), proper nouns (which ones should be translated and which should be left unchanged?), difficult-to-analyse multiword expressions –e.g., “direct network measurement” could be analyzed as “measurement of direct networks” or as “direct measurement of networks”–, general lexicon words with a specialised meaning (e.g., “talent” in HR), marketing slogans (e.g., Starbuck's “chocolaty sweet + a kiss of heat”), set phrases (e.g., “terms and conditions”, “return for refund”), figurative expressions (e.g., “gold standard”, “bottom line”). These types of microcontent have a strong “unithood”, which Kyo Kageura and Bin Unimo define as “a degree of strength and stability of syntagmatic combinations and collocations”, but a weaker “termhood”, defined as “the degree to which a stable lexical unit is related to some domain-specific concepts” (Kageura & Unimo 1996: 260). Warburton suggests that in corporate terminography unithood has to take precedence over termhood, and candidates with a weak or moderate termhood may be included if they present a translation difficulty, if they are frequent in the company corpus or if they are essential for a given application. In addition to these types of microcontent, terminological description should equally be extended to specialized verbs (e.g., “to rasterize an image”) and specialized adjectives (“agile” and “smart” in marketing communication), which may equally represent challenges for translation and are necessary resources for CAT, CA, SEO and other applications. The inclusion of adjectives and verbs in databases is a position supported by defenders of Lexico-Semantic Theory (L'Homme 2004) and text-based approaches to terminology (Bourrigault & Slodzian 1999). Including all these types of microcontent in a company’s termbase serves to achieve goals such as ensuring content quality and brand consistency as well as improving translation quality.

16According to Warburton, the book is primarily meant for staff members who manage the terminology of a company or institution (whether they have a formal training in terminology or not) and to seasoned terminologists who may gain a fresh perspective from the presentation of enterprise-scale terminology management in a corporate setting. The book is also meant for key decision makers and executives seeking to leverage language resources to benefit not only translation, but also CA, SEO, CAT, information retrieval and other NLP applications. The fact that the book is not uniquely addressed to an academic audience is reflected in the enjoyable and accessible style of the book, with plenty of illustrative examples for theoretical and technical concepts. However, we believe that other types of readers could benefit from The Corporate Terminologist. For instance, university teachers developing a course on terminology management could use the book as an introductory textbook for corporate terminology or in order to provide students with an alternative perspective to “classical” terminology management. We believe it could be a useful reference for students in a translation/terminology or information management curriculum who may wish to work in a corporate environment. The book will undeniably help them become acquainted with its constraints. More generally, anyone involved in a terminology management project in any setting –be it corporate or academic– may find relevant discussions on how to render a termbase repurposable for different applications, on what data categories are necessary for different applications, or on how to choose a TMS, among many other topics. We believe that The Corporate Terminologist can greatly improve the reader’s understanding of the dynamic environment in which corporate terminologists work as well as the many opportunities they have.

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Alexandra Mestivier, « Kara Warburton, The Corporate Terminologist »ASp, 81 | 2022, 67-74.

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Alexandra Mestivier, « Kara Warburton, The Corporate Terminologist »ASp [En ligne], 81 | 2022, mis en ligne le 01 mars 2022, consulté le 21 mai 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Alexandra Mestivier

Université de Paris

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