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Glossaries and lexicons

The essentials:

Glossaries and lexicons are bilingual lists of terms for a given field or subject. If need be, other non-terminological statements may be included. The goal of glossaries and lexicons is to harmonize inter-professional communication.

Billing practices for this service are variable and depend on client needs.

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If your activity is concerned by the harmonization of international communication, glossaries and lexicons can be very useful. The goal is to reduce as much as possible terminological inconsistency in an organization, thus improving the clarity of internal or external communication. It is a tool, if you will, for managing the accident-prone intersection of "terminological synonymy" with speaker and listener semantic analysis and interpretation in a bilingual environment.

There is a difference to be noted between creating a glossary or a lexicon (I will use just 'glossary' from here on) and the terminological research that is done for a translation, although both target the establishment of true equivalency. Translation is done on a given document, in a given subject, at a given time; the situation is singular. This context actually eases terminological research. A glossary however is an official, finalized (but not inflexible) document that will be a reference point in numerous situations. Because of this, glossaries have supplementary requirements.

A particularly interesting requirement for the French-English combination is a glossary's need to establish terminological equivalence while leaving space for cultural norms of use. For example, from a very strict terminological point of view, "myocardial infarction" is the English equivalent of the French term "infarctus du myocarde". These terms describe the same thing in the same register: ischemic necrosis (infarction/infarctus) of the muscle (myo/myo) of the heart (cardial/carde). However the job is not finished: terminological equivalence has been established but a difference in usage has been neglected. Greco-Latin terms are much more frequently used in French, not only in the medical community but among the general population as well. Using "infarctus du myocarde" in a French conversation is not particularly surprising. But English speakers, including medical personnel, tend to avoid Greco-Latin terms if they have a choice. Our glossary must therefore make room for "heart attack" as a 'usage-equivalent' term to "infarctus du myocarde" (and inversely for "infarctus du myocarde" as an equivalent to "heart attack"). But be careful not to oversimplify: I am in no way saying that "infarctus du myocarde" should always be translated by "heart attack". In some situations "myocardial infarction", the true terminological equivalent, must be used.

Helping the end-user understand how and when to employ different terminological choices is only a small part of the art of establishing glossaries. Indeed, creating glossaries is demanding and close collaboration between parties is needed to insure satisfactory results.

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