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TERMINOLOGICAL SYSTEMS




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Sharply defined extensive semantic fields are found in terminological systems.

Terminology constitutes the greatest part of every language vocabulary. It is also its most intensely developing part, i.e. the class giving the largest number of new formations. Terminology of a. language consists of many systems of terms. We shall call a term any word or word-group used to name a notion characteristic of some special field of knowledge, industry or culture. The scope and content of the notion that a ‘term serves to express are specified by definitions in

1 Шайкевич А.Я. Дистрибутивно-статистический анализ текстов: Автореф. Дис. ...д-ра филол. наук. Л., 1982.

2 See, for instance: Щур Г.С. Теория поля в лингвистике. М., 1974.


literature on the subject. The word utterance for instance, may be regarded as a linguistic term, since Z. Harris, Ch. Fries and other representatives of descriptive linguistics attach to it the following definition: “An utterance is any stretch of talk by one person before and after which there is a silence.”

Many of the influential works on linguistics that appeared in the last five years devote much attention to the problems of sociolinguistics. Sociolinguistics may be roughly defined as the study of the influence produced upon language by various social factors. It is not difficult to understand that this influence is particularly strong in lexis. Now terminology is precisely that part of lexis where this influence is not only of paramount importance, but where it is recognised so that terminological systems are purposefully controlled. Almost every system of special terminology is nowadays fixed and analysed in glossaries approved by authorities, special commissions and eminent scholars.

A term is, in many respects, a very peculiar type of word. An ideal term should be monosemantic and, when used within its own sphere, does not depend upon the micro-context, provided it is not expressed by a figurative variant of a polysemantic word. Its meaning remains constant until some new discovery or invention changes the referent or the notion. Polysemy, when it arises,1 is a drawback, so that all the speakers and writers on special subjects should be very careful to avoid it. Polysemy may be tolerated in one form only, namely if the same term has various meanings in different fields of science. The terms alphabet and word, for example, have in mathematics a meaning very different from those accepted in linguistics.



Being mostly independent of the context a term can have no contextual meaning whatever. The only meaning possible is a denotational free meaning. A term is intended to ensure a one-to-one correspondence between morphological arrangement and content. No emotional colouring or evaluation are possible when the term is used within its proper sphere. As to connotation or stylistic colouring, they are superseded in terms by the connection with the other members of some particular terminological system and by the persistent associations with this system when the term is used out of its usual sphere.

A term can obtain a figurative or emotionally coloured meaning only when taken out of its sphere and used in literary or colloquial speech. But in that case it ceases to be a term and its denotational meaning may also become very vague. It turns into an ordinary word. The adjective atomic used to describe the atomic structure of matter was until 1945 as emotionally neutral as words like quantum or parallelogram. But since Hiroshima and the ensuing nuclear arms race it has assumed a new implication, so that the common phrase this atomic age, which taken literally has no meaning at all, is now used to denote an age of great scientific progress, but also holds connotations of ruthless menace and monstrous destruction.



Every branch and every school of science develop a special

1 There may be various reasons for it.


terminology adapted to their nature and methods. Its development represents an essential part of research work and is of paramount importance, because it can either help or hinder progress. The great physiologist I.P. Pavlov, when studying the higher nervous activity, prohibited his colleagues and pupils to use such phrases as the dog thinks, the dog wants, the dog remembers; he believed that these words interfered with objective observation.

The appearance of structuralist schools of linguistics has completely changed linguistic terminology. A short list of some frequently used terms will serve to illustrate the point: allomorph, allophone; constituent, immediate constituent’, distribution, complementary distribution, contrastive distribution’, morph, morphophonemics, morphotactics, etc.

Using the new terms in context one can say that “phonologists seek to establish the system pattern or structure of archiphonemes, phonemes and phonemic variants based primarily on the principle of twofold choice or binary opposition11. All the italicised words in the above sentence are terms. No wonder therefore that the intense development of linguistics made it imperative to systematise, standardise and check the definitions of linguistic terms now in current use. Such work on terminology standardisation has been going on in almost all branches of science and engineering since the beginning of the 20th century, and linguists have taken an active part in it, while leaving their own terminology in a sad state of confusion. Now this work of systematisation of linguistic terms is well under way. A considerable number of glossaries appeared in different countries. These efforts are of paramount importance, the present state of linguistic terminology being quite inadequate creating a good deal of ambiguity and misunderstanding.



The terminology of a branch of science is not simply a sum total of its terms but a definite system reflecting the system of its notions. Terminological systems may be regarded as intersecting sets, because some terms belong simultaneously to several terminological systems. There is no harm in this if the meaning of the terms and their definitions remain constant, or if the respective branches of knowledge do not meet; where this is not so, much ambiguity can arise. The opposite phenomenon, i.e. the synonymy of terms, is no less dangerous for very obvious reasons. Scholars are apt to suspect that their colleagues who use terms different from those favoured by themselves are either talking nonsense or else are confused in their thinking. An interesting way out is offered by one of the most modern developments in world science, by cybernetics. It offers a single vocabulary and a single set of concepts suitable for representing the most diverse types of systems: in linguistics and biological aspects of communication no less than in various engineering professions. This is of paramount importance, as it has been repeatedly found in science that the discovery of analogy or relation between two fields leads to each field helping the development of the other.

Such notions and terms as quantity of information, redundancy, enthropy, feedback and many more are used in various disciplines. Today linguists, no less than other scholars, must know what is going on in other fields of learning and keep abreast of general progress.


Up till now we have been dealing with problems of linguistic terminology. These are only a part of the whole complex of the linguistic problems concerning terminology. It goes without saying that there are terms for all the different specialities. Their variety is very great, e. g. amplitude (physics), antibiotic (medicine), arabesque (ballet), feedback (cybernetics), fission (chemistry), frame (cinema). Many of the terms that in the first period of their existence are known to a few specialists, later become used by wide circles of laymen. Some of these are of comparatively recent origin. Here are a few of them, with the year of their first appearance given in brackets: stratosphere (1908), gene (1909), quantum (1910), vitamin (1912), isotope (1913), behaviourism (1914), penicillin (1929), cyclotron (1932), ionosphere (1931), radar (1942), transistor (1952), bionics (1960), white hole (1972), beam weapon (1977).

The origin of terms shows several main channels, three of which are specific for terminology. These specific ways are:

1. Formation of terminological phrases with subsequent clipping, ellipsis, blending, abbreviation: transistor receiver → transistor → trannie; television text → teletext; ecological architecture → ecotecture; extremely low frequency → ELF.

2. The use of combining forms from Latin and Greek like aerodrome, aerodynamics, cyclotron, microfilm, telegenic, telegraph, thermonuclear, telemechanics, supersonic. The process is common to terminology in many languages.

3. Borrowing from another terminological system within the same language whenever there is any affinity between the respective fields. Sea terminology, for instance, lent many words to aviation vocabulary which in its turn made the starting point for the terminology adopted in the conquest of space. If we turn back to linguistics, we shall come across many terms borrowed from rhetoric: metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche and others.

The remaining two methods are common with other layers of the vocabulary. These are word-formation in which composition, semantic shift and derivation take the leading part, and borrowing from other languages. The character of the terms borrowed, the objects and ideas they denote are full of significance for the history of world culture. Since the process of borrowing is very marked in every field, all terminology has a tendency to become international. An important peculiarity of terms as compared to the rest of the vocabulary is that they are much more subject to purposeful control. There are special establishments busy with improving terminology. We must also pay attention to the fact that it is often possible to trace a term to its author. It is, for instance, known that the radio terms anode and cathode were coined by M. Faraday, the term vitamin by Dr. Funk in 1912, the term bionics was born at a symposium in Ohio (USA) in September of 1960. Those who coin a new term are always careful to provide it with a definition and also to give some reasons for their choice by explaining its motivation.

Terms are not separated from the rest of the vocabulary, and it is rather hard to say where the line should be drawn. With the development and growth of civilisation many special notions become known to the


layman and form part and parcel of everyday speech. Are we justified to call such words as vitamin, inoculation and sedative or tranquilliser terms? With radio and television sets in every home many radio terms — antenna, teletype, transistor, short waves — are well known to everybody and often used in everyday conversation. In this process, however, they may lose their specific terminological character and become similar to all ordinary words in the intentional part of their meaning. The constant interchange of elements goes both ways. The everyday English vocabulary, especially the part of it characterised by a high index of frequency and polysemy, constitutes a constant source for the creation of new terms.

Due to the expansion of popular interest in the achievements of science and technology new terms appear more and more frequently in newspapers and popular magazines and even in fiction. Much valuable material concerning this group of neologisms is given in two Barn-hart Dictionaries of New English from which we borrow the explanation of two astronomical terms black hole (1968) and white hole created on its pattern in 1971. Both terms play an important symbolic role in A. Voznesensky’s first major prose work entitled “O”. A black hole is a hypothetic drain in space which engulfs matter and energy, even massive stars. A white hole is a hypothetical source of matter and energy through which what was sucked in through black holes may reappear in other universes.

Dictionaries for the most part include terminological meanings into the entry for the head-word. The fact that one of the meanings is terminological is signalled by showing in brackets the field where it can be used. For example, the word load as an electrical term means ‘the amount of current supplied by a generating station at any given time’; power in mathematics is ‘the product obtained by multiplying the number into itself, and in mechanics ‘capacity of doing work’; the optical term power denotes ‘the magnifying capacity of a lens’.

The above survey of terms as a specific type of words was descriptive, the approach was strictly synchronic. Investigation need not stop at the descriptive stage. On the contrary, the study of changes occurring in a group of terms or a whole terminological subsystem, such as sea terms, building terms, etc. during a long period of time, can give very valuable data concerning the interdependence of the history of language and the history of society. The development of terminology is the most complete reflection of the history of science, culture and industry.


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