By Ravi Kumar, Founder, Modlingua Learning, New Delhi
The General Theory of Terminology (GTT), mainly conceptualized by E.Wüster in Vienna School, since 1930s, focuses on eliminating ambiguity from scientific and technical terminology through standardization.
The standardization of terms is achieved by using onomasiological approach, clear delineation of concepts, preference to intensional definition of concepts over extensional or part-whole definition, univocity, and synchrony (Temmerman 2000: 8-9). The methods used by the GTT do not allow the researchers to get details on the discursive and syntactic structures, grammatical rules and the language behavior. Moreover, the theory denies a formal and conceptual variation of specialized terminological units and reduces their functions to that of a denominative one (Cabré 2000:1). The need to find out ways to deal with the dynamic nature of the terminological units gave way to the new approaches.
AIMS AND OBJECTIVES
This paper aims to carry out an in-depth examination of the sociocognitive and the communicative approaches to terminology and present their key distinguishing features. The paper also involves comparison between the sociocognitive approach and the communicative approach in contrast with the GTT, followed by a discussion specifically on how the mentioned two approaches deal with the terminological issues on univocity and synchrony. At the end of the paper, I have presented my personal views while examining the strengths and weaknesses of the three approaches in question.
THE SOCIOCOGNITIVE APPROACH
The sociocognitive approach, as explained by Temmerman (2000: 223-229), has the following main principles:
Focus on units of understanding
This principle identifies that many concepts are prototypically structured and cannot be delineated using a set of restrictive conditions defined by the GTT. Therefore, instead of concepts as the starting point, it starts from units of understanding (the categories) and replaces the traditional method of first delineating a concept and then naming it, by an understanding approach that directly assigns names to the units of understanding. Moreover, they are studied within the discourse. The new approach helps to name new concepts identified within specialized fields like biotechnology, cloning, splicing and other similar fields of the life sciences (Temmerman 2000:224).
Similarly, breaking away from the fixed notions of the GTT, Cabré (1999:37-50), in her communicative approach explains how the specific and precise use of specialized texts helps in the identification and naming of the terminological units which are also studied within the discourse.
Categorization within existing cognitive models
This principle describes that most of the units of understanding have a prototype structure and, therefore, are referred to as categories. Each category is understood as existing within the cognitive models. Intra-categorial and inter-categorial structure of a given category can be observed within the discourse. This implies more modules of information depending upon varying levels of prominence and perspective associated with the categories. On the other hand, in the GTT, the distinction is made on the basis of the position each category holds within a logical and ontological classification of a clear-cut concept structure. (Temmerman 2000:225).
In the communicative approach, the terminological units remain key elements of the study. The various doors (cognitive, linguistic and communicative) to study multidimensional nature of the terminological units, provide wide options to carry out the hierarchical classification through subject fields, morphological and /or phraseological structures, various types of communicative situations, and perspectives (Cabré 2003: 184-187).
This principle recognizes the plurality of the meaning of a unit of understanding and provides the scope to rank the meaning based on the value assigned to the units of information. As most of the units of understanding are structured in categories, further differentiation in the meaning is achieved on the basis of the value assigned to them. These units of understanding can further help to create a template of understanding by including other factors such as perspective from where the unit of understanding is understood. Also, the extensional definition is preferred to exhibit family-resemblance structure and the degree of category membership. (Temmerman 2000:225-226). On the other hand, in the GTT, an intensional definition is preferred over an extensional or part-whole definition while defining a concept. This limits the scope to have a plural meaning and more options for the differentiation.
Similar to the sociocognitive approach, in the cognitive model of the communicative approach, importance is given to the dynamic structure of knowledge which is studied within the discourse.
Scope for synonymy and polysemy
In the sociocognitive approach, based on different perspectives of understanding of the text, and the categories, during their discourse analysis, synonymy and polysemy are considered as functional. Whereas, in the GTT, a term is permanently assigned to a concept, and the focus is to designate one term to one concept (Temmerman 2000:9). On the other hand, the communicative approach takes into consideration the plural meaning that a term may offer. A more detailed discussion on the univocity is presented in the following section.
Evolutionary nature of units of understanding and due recognition to metaphorical ICMs
This principle recognizes that units of understanding and the terms are constantly evolving, and that the historical periods in their evolution may be more or less essential for understanding of a unit. This principle also recognizes the cognitive models, for example, the metaphorical ICMs – the Idealized Cognitive Models, that play important role in the development of new ideas (Temmerman 2000:9). Therefore, the units of understanding and the terms are diachronic in nature. On the other hand, in the GTT, the concepts and terms are independent of history; the relationship between a concept and the term it designates, is permanent. Therefore, it involves synchronic study of terminology. A more detailed discussion on the synchrony is presented in the following section.
THE COMMUNICATIVE APPROACH
Cabré (2003:183) recognizes the multifaceted nature of terminological units and explains that they are polyhedral in nature.
“They are at the same time units of knowledge, units of language and units of communication. The mentioned inherent polyhedral nature of terminological units can be studied separately or together” (Cabré 2000:11).
She further adds that the terminological units are the central object of terminology that in contrast with the other units of the same structure level (words), fulfil restricted conditions in their cognitive, grammatical and pragmatic constituent components. The focus is to study them under their natural language conditions. Consequently, Cabré (2003:183) presents the “theory of doors” that offers three different access points to approach the central object, the terminological units: the cognitive (concepts), the linguistic (the term) and the communicative (the situation).
It contrast with the GTT that follows one concept one term principle, it should be noted that, in all the three access points offered by the communicative approach, the terminological units are the central objects, and they are always observed in their discourse (Cabré 2003: 186).
1.The Cognitive model
In the cognitive model, the specialized knowledge of an individual is represented precisely in the conceptual structures in which each concept occupies a specific place and acquires a functional value. In contrast with the GTT, it starts from the concept, but the concept does not precede the term it designates, rather, it precedes its designation. Prior to the naming of a concept, a unified version of the given concept is constructed on the basis of a pre-established consensus resulting from the observation of the data. The concepts are expressed either by means of names or terms. In contrast with the GTT, in the Cognitive model the terms are not semantically isolated, nor are the knowledge of specialized words produced by means of the isolated terms. This model accepts the dynamic structure of knowledge; therefore it is not independent of the environment (discourse), ideas or the social situation. The hierarchical classification of knowledge based on the specific subject fields helps in the organization of data. This approach further helps to retrieve the stored information (Cabré 1999: 39-45).
2.The Linguistic Model
Unlike the GTT approach that prescribes to use the concept as the starting point for the term it designates, in the linguistic model, the lexical unit is the starting point. Moreover, the lexical units are dependent on the language and they find their place in the cognitive and social nature of the discourse (Cabré 2000: 12). This reflects the multidimensional nature of the lexical units, and when they are used in the specialized field, they assume the role of terminological units. The lexical structures help to understand the word formation and the process of acquiring new units. Beside the lexical units, the linguistic model also contains other types of units of specialized knowledge, namely specialized morphological, phraseological and sentence units that help in the structuring of data and subsequently, their differentiation. (Cabré 2003: 184-187).
One may also notice that the linguistic model of Cabré (2003: 185) appears quite similar to the lexico-semantic approach adapted by L’homme (2004: 10-11) who also recognizes the multidimensional nature of the terminological units which are embedded in a wide variety of relationships with other terms (lexical units).
As in the linguistic model, the starting point is a lexical unit, which finds its place in the discourse. The model can be adapted not only for specialized fields, but also for the general purposes.
The Communicative Model
This model is based on the assumption that the terminological units have to be studied in the framework of special communication. The special communication is influenced by external conditions (sender, receiver, and medium of communication), conditions of information treatment (such as a precise categorization determined externally by the conceptual structure, fixation and validation by the expert community), specific and contextualized treatment of the topic, and the conditions which restrict the function and objective of this communication (Cabré 2003: 188). Like the GTT, the focus is to eliminate the ambiguity from the specialized text, but the manner to achieve this goal is different. The precise use of the lexical and textual units forms the basis of representing systematic structure of knowledge, which is heavily controlled by the meaning of its concepts. The text types generated in scientific and technical communication are fundamentally informative and descriptive in nature, and their main function is referential.
In contrast with the rigid approach adapted by the GTT that does not give scope for interpretation of figurative expressions, the communicative model allows the text types to contain elements that indirectly lead to other communicative purposes: causative, expressive, and metalinguistic. Thus, it recognizes the multidimensional nature of the terminological units (Cabré 1999: 45-47).
UNIVOCITY VS. SYNONYMY AND POLYSEMY
As explained earlier, the sociocognitive approach involves the study of units of understanding in the discourse of a community which is dependent on time. This gives scope to think beyond the static model of the GTT that arbitrarily assigns a permanent and fixed meaning to a concept based on the principle of univocity. Termmerman (2000) demonstrates the polysemous nature of the term through the case study of the term ‘cloning’ which has various meanings and connotations and these terms can be understood from different perspectives. As per Temmerman (2000), polysemy is caused by changes at three levels:
“in the understanding of the category (the conception), change in the category as such due to e.g. technological or sociological innovation (the perception), and change in the means for expression of what one perceives and understands, i.e. the result of the mechanisms of change in language. These three reasons for polysemisation act simultaneously and are interdependent” (139-145).
On the other hand, although, the communicative approach advocates concision and precision of lexical and textural units through certain restrictive conditions, it always focuses on the multidimensional nature of the terminological units and the communicative situation and calls for the adaption of the text as per the characteristics of the interlocutors and their level of knowledge about the topic, therefore, it advocates the plurality of the meaning (Cabré 1999: 42-43). This principle is well explained by Cabré (2000) through the principle of variation:
“It involves variation of lexical forms, which manifest themselves as alternative denominations for the same concept (synonymy) or in the semantic openness of one form (polysemy)” (2000:11)
Although the principle of univocity (one term to one concept principle) applied by the GTT helped to develop standardized terminology for the specific purposes, it failed to support the plurality of the meaning of a term that may come from a wide variety of fields, different sets of people and different situation.
SYNCHRONY VS. DIACHRONY
The GTT does not accept the dynamics of change that a terminological unit may undergo over a period of time. This weakness is addressed by the new approaches that consider evolutionary nature of the terminological units as inherent part of their multidimensional characteristics. As the sociocognitive approach recognizes the polysemous nature and evolutionary nature of the units of understanding, and the relationship between them, one cannot treat them synchronically.
Similarly, in the communicative approach, the terminological units serve special communicative purposes and they depend on various situation and perspectives, consquently., they are dependent on time, therefore, diachronic in nature. The study of history and evolution of the meaning of the terms help to trace the development of conceptualization, naming and understanding. Thus, this approach gives enough scope to address the change in the meaning owing to the development of technology, social changes and various other factors such as a change in the meaning of the category, evolution of the meaning and mutual influence of elements of language over a period of time.
We notice that the GTT failed to meet the communicative and social demands that came from within the discipline of terminology and from various other disciplines, specially the life sciences and information technology. On the other hand, Temmerman (2000:229), through five principles of the sociocognitive approach offers a movement in the terminological studies and prepares a solid theoretical background to explain terminology based on the units of knowledge that can be tested and improved upon.
Similarly, the communicative approach offers three different models to deal with the terminological units. Depending upon the social and communicative needs, any of the three models can be applied to study the terminological units or a combination of these can be used to develop an integrated model that can allow a better description of data and explanation of terminological units. Cabré has already developed some integrated models, such as GEROME project (Cabré 2006: 101).
It is also important to note that these different models explained in communicative approach cannot be studied in isolation to other models. They all complement each other. They have at least the following five features in common, as they:
- accept terminological units as the central object
- accept multidimensionality of the terminological units studied within the discourse
- accept cognitive and social nature of the linguistic units
- study and refer terminological units under controlled conditions
- identify, classify and differentiate the terminological units from the descriptive and referential point of view
Like the GTT which has developed quite a considerable degree of authority in the field of standardization and its international presence, the new approaches such as communicative approach can also be used in the formulation of language policy of a country. It offers wide options and helps to study the multifaceted nature of the given language. In addition, this also offers various options to address the neologism and check the influence of other languages in the given language of a particular country through standardization.
One may also notice that the development of new approaches in the study of terminology coincide with the new developments in translation studies. At first, the focus shifted from comparative study of translation to its study in the context of target culture, followed by the cultural and social turns that look at translation as the texts embedded in the network of source and target culture and their relations with agents involved in the translation process respectively. Thus, the multidisciplinary nature of the translation finds its reflection in multifaceted nature of terminological units explained by the communicative approach.
In addition, the development of computational linguistics combined with new approaches to terminology adds new dynamism to the disciple of terminology, and offers a host of opportunities to the translators through development of text banks, tagged banks, specialized knowledge databases, etc. that can be used by the translators to carry out their work and research more effectively.
It should also be noted that the sociocognitive approach failed to deal with the multilingual terms (Temmerman 2000:235). The communicative approach helps to deal with this problem. Through any of the three models of communicative approach; it is possible to develop the multilingual term banks that hold very important position for the translators. Similarly, multilingual term banks are also important in the globalized context where there is constant rise in the development of supra-national identities such as European Union, NAFTA, SAFTA, etc. Tagging as an option, already used in the text-banks, may be adapted to provide additional information on categorical structures that may help to increase the usability of the old databank developed on the basis of sociocognitive approach.
It also important to note that, a professional translator may find it complicated to deal with various models that tend to confuse the users. As a translator, one may like to have a simplified model that helps to deal with the terminological needs. Within this context, one may find the GTT more useful as it offers options to have a clear-cut and standardized term that can help a translator increase his/ her efficiency. By adapting a more flexible approach that permits study of terms within their context, and the situation in which they exist, along with new approaches, the GTT can still continue to play its role in a wider network of activities.
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