Fifth Terminology Seminar in Brussels (TSiB 2012)

Organised by CVC & Termisti

Theme: "Culture-bound terminology and the process of harmonization: Research questions and methodologies"

Seminar pictures are available here and here!


Recent approaches in terminology theory question the functionality and usefulness of standardization. The effort to eliminate polysemy and synonymy in terminology in order to achieve the unrealistic ideal of univocity and unambiguous communication has been shown to interfere with natural language processes.

Still, both the standardization of terminology by an authoritative body and the democratic negotiation process of harmonization can be important, e.g.:

  • for the transmission of scientific and technical knowledge in a particular linguistic community,
  • for the development of smaller languages in a variety of scientific, technological and formal domains and communicative settings,
  • for the development of an international or global overarching legal order (Tsakona 2007).

Speakers at this seminar will highlight several issues related to culture-bound terminology in the process of harmonization which will be approached mainly from two perspectives.

First, in cultural terminology (Diki-Kidiri 2008) the object of study is to facilitate the acquisition of new knowledge and technologies, with people mastering and changing their environment while preserving their cultural heritage and how terminology in the native languages is developed.

A number of linguistic communities in several parts of the world experience a serious lack of terminology in scientific and technological domains. Under these circumstances new terms are coined that are preferably embedded in the culture and the language that is in need of terminology development. Language’s creative force allows for coining terminology in several ways. Variation in scientific terminology used by different textbooks in schools might be a result of poor language planning by some governments. This situation may call for harmonization and standardization in order not to complicate access to and even cause exclusion from scientific research and progress at a national and international level.

Second, in a global setting, drafters of law as well as legal translators and interpreters have to take into consideration that most legal texts are connected to the historical and cultural background of their legal systems. Consequently, legal terminology in an intercultural and multilingual setting is difficult to harmonize (Derlén 2009).

Within the European Union, for instance, efforts are being made to get away from one particular cultural heritage, in order to move into a new era of agreed upon legal documents, regulations, rules, directives. Some contributors to the seminar will share their research results on the confrontation of known, agreed upon European concepts with the existing legal orders in the member states. One of the themes is how European secondary terms survive the confrontation with existing terminology at the national level of the member states. National legal terminology is bound by national legal and cultural traditions. The interpretation of the terminology takes place within a particular legal order. When legal terminology appears in a multinational context and when a common reference point for the actors of different legal systems is at stake, a harmonization process will be triggered.

The EU legislation is expressed by a series of equally authentic language versions of the legal acts. Whether official European texts actually mean the same in different cultures and different languages is debatable, because of different world views in each country with its own legal system and cultural traditions. Even though the rule of law forms part of our shared European cultural experience, how the term is interpreted may depend on several contextual factors.

All invited speakers to the seminar will be asked to concentrate on possible research questions and methodologies bearing on one or several of the following issues: culture-bound terminology, specialized translation, intercultural communication, Euro-language, language planning, harmonization, standardization, multilingual communication, legal language, scientific and technical language.

A call for papers for a publication on the topic of this seminar will be launched.


You can read the short summaries of the presentations here.

  • Mattias Derlén (Umeå University, Sweden): Multilingual interpretation of European Union law from a practical legal perspective
  • Marcel Diki-Kidiri (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, France): La terminologie culturelle entre appropriation et harmonisatio
  • Arvi Tavast (Estonian Language Institute, Estonia): Terminology standardisation: what are we standardising and why
  • Susanne Lervad (University of Copenhagen, Denmark): Structures verbales et non-verbales de la terminologie des textiles - une étude diachronique et culturelle
  • Isabel Durán Muñoz (University of Malaga, Spain): Terminology disharmonisation in tourism. Extreme sports in Spanish legal language
  • Rosalind Greenstein (Université Panthéon-Sorbonne, France): Not just “what?” and “how?”, but also “why?” Is the machine the new Humpty Dumpty?
  • Katia Peruzzo (University of Trieste, Italy): Potential translation pitfalls in EU legal terminology: the case of victims of crime
  • Alenka Kocbek (University of Primorska, Slovenia): Legal translation - Beyond the perspective of terminology
  • Sunniva Whittaker (Norwegian School of Economics, Norway): The harmonization of legal cultures and legal terminology. Contrasting national legislative texts and white papers