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Plurilingual terminological competences in specialized domains: a competitive advantage?. EUNoM – Ljouwert 18 November 2010 Rita Temmerman Erasmushogeschool Brussel Theme 2.

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plurilingual terminological competences in specialized domains a competitive advantage

Plurilingualterminological competences in specialized domains: a competitive advantage?

EUNoM – Ljouwert 18 November 2010

Rita Temmerman

Erasmushogeschool Brussel

theme 2
Theme 2

The contribution that universities in general and the EUNoM network in particular can make to the development of the Council of Europe’s and the European Commission’s language policies, especially to the EU’s 8th Framework Programme.

shift from standardisation to realism
Shift from standardisation to realism

In today’s working environments patterns of linguistic diversity can be observed.

Evidence proves that on the workfloor in many European regions, a range of different languages and language variants are constantly in use, even if there is an agreement on one or more linguefranche.

Mutual understanding is more important than correctness.

Attitudes on standardised national languages and cultural purity belong more and more to the past.

As things stand, we know far too little about the impact of monolingualism - as compared to multilingualism and plurilingualism - on the dynamics of understanding and knowledge.

what we mean by plurilingualism
Whatwemean by plurilingualism
  • The ability to understand and communicate in at least one situational setting in severallanguages (codes) and in an intercultural reality (functionalmultilingualism)
    • e.g. in a hospital setting in Brussels a nurse canexplain how to prepare for a medical intervention in 5 languages (Spanish, French, Dutch, Arabic, Turkish)
    • e.g. in a bureaucratic setting in Ljouwert an administrative assistant can help citizenswho know Spanish or Turkish to fill out formsthatexist in 2 languages (Frysk, Dutch) becausehe/sheknows the terminologythatoccurs on theseforms in Spanish and Turkish as well
  • Themeslike:
    • Linguisticdiversity as a variant of biodiversity
    • Language planning and language management theory
    • Society/problem-drivenplurilingualism
  • More interdisciplinaryresearchisneeded
  • Researchmethodologies
    • action research
    • experiencebasedresearch
  • Research settings
    • In corporate-academicpartnership
research on language management
Research on Language Management

We need more research on the acquisition of plurilingual competences.

e.g. we need research aimed at facilitating the accelerated learning of specialised language skills (e.g. multilingual terminology) related to languages that already form part of a given learner’s repertoire (CASE 1).

Corporate-academic partnerships are needed to enhance the resolving of societal problems related to communication problems in intercultural and multilingual settings (field specialists)

Universities require programmes combining language study and acquisition with the study of other disciplines and they should engage in interdisciplinary research undertaken jointly by language specialists collaborating with e.g. sociologists, political scientists, medical scientists, economists, educationalists, etc.

e.g. research on the dynamics of terminological variation in European multilingual communication and on aspects of languages(s) and creativity from an interdisciplinary perspective is an asset (CASE 2).

national political and situational language planning
National (political) and situationallanguage planning
  • Language planning (LP) as a field of theoretical and applied research began with decolonisation and the subsequent nationhood of former colonies in the 1950s and 1960s.
  • A strong sociolinguistic interest in domains and functions of use led to the belief that language could be planned (Ricento 2000), and more and more linguists developed grammars for the languages of newly autonomous nations.
  • Because of its origins, LP discourses and research have connected to, and were limited by, language-nation typologies.
organisational language planning
Organisationallanguage planning
  • Governments used to engage in language planning mainly for political (power) purposes
  • Local (corporate) organisations need to cater for multilingual communication in order to be able to provide quality of service
    • An example: health care in multilingual and multicultural situations in line with the mission statement and values of a hospital
case 1 plurilingualism in health care
Case 1 plurilingualismin Health care
  • Language liaisons: Case study on Children’s Medical Center of Dallas
      • Chris Allen Thomas & Brett Lee “Language liaisons. Language planning leadership in health care“Language Problems & Language Planning 34:2 (2010), 95–119.
language liaisons project
Language liaisons project
  • communication barriers due to linguistic and cultural divergence limit the effective delivery of quality medical care
  • linguistic barriers cause ineffective transmission of medical information
  • This can lead to poor-quality health care and may even result in significant risk to the wellbeing of patients:


mission statement and values
  • the right of all patients to receive equal access to medical care, regardless of their language proficiency


  • A need for organisational language policy in a health care network
problem driven interdisciplinary research and action research
Problem-driveninterdisciplinaryresearch and action research
  • Thomas & Lee (2010) reports on the effectiveness of a language liaison program implemented by Children’s
  • A language policy inclusive of its Spanish-speaking patients and their families in the SW of the USA
  • English proved to be insufficient to adequately complete patient medical histories or explain treatment procedures.
  • Children’s hospital engaged in language planning to develop its employees and serve its patients
  • Data for this case study came from a variety of sources:
    • stakeholder interviews
    • focus group interviews with the parents of hospital patients (children)
    • internal corporate documents
    • quality control surveys focusing on communication effectiveness.
language management theory lmt
Language Management Theory (LMT)
  • Competitive organizations ensure their survival through:
    • quality control measures
    • human capital development
    • the elimination of barriers to the usefulness of the goods and services they provide.
  • Research into the effects of language policies is also relevant to the field of human resources, not only to linguistics or sociolinguistics.
  • There is a need for Language Management Theory (LMT) (as opposed to Language Planning)
three possibilities for overcoming communication problems in hospitals
Threepossibilities for overcoming communication problems in hospitals
  • Medicalinterpreters(communityinterpreting)
  • Implication of bilingual staff
  • The language liaison project
possibility 1 medical interpreting
Possibility 1: Medicalinterpreting
  • Some health care institutions are addressing the need for intercultural communicators and interpreters.
  • They are committed to:
    • providing the highest quality of care
    • their interpreters provide accurate and complete interpretation services
    • they deliver culturally competent care and facilitate access to hospital services for non-English- or limited-English-proficient patients
possibility 2 to rely on bilingual staff
Possibility 2:to rely on bilingual staff
  • With wait times for qualified interpreters at an unacceptable level, care centres rely on bilingual staff members to provide ad-hoc interpreting.
  • This practice introduced medical and legal risk to the organisation, since speaking Spanish in the home does not adequately prepare an employee to provide complex medical interpreting.
  • Studies have shown that bilingual staff members providing interpreting without adequate training and certification make significantly more errors than professional interpreters, and the errors made may have clinical consequences
possibility 3 language liaison programme
Possibility 3: Language liaison programme

All bilingual staff at Children’s hospital in Dallas were given the opportunity to sit for the interpreter qualification examination to determine their ability to safely provide medical interpreting when a staff interpreter was not available

a smal set of medical terminology
A smal set of medicalterminology
  • Each clinic routinely treated a relatively narrow scope of diagnoses (compared to the inpatient hospital), so bilingual employees could master a smaller set of medical terminology and still provide safe interpreting.
local and national political support
Local and national political support
  • In Texas, bill HB 233 passed into law in 2009, creating an advisory panel to develop training and certification standards for individuals providing medical interpretingwithin the state.
  • The International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA) is leading an effort to create a national certification program for medical interpreters.

The areas of focused instruction in this programme were defined as follows:

  • medical terminology, culture and medicine, legal and ethical issues related to interpreting,
  • anatomy and physiology, diseases and conditions, tests and treatments,
  • and the use of formal (rather than idiomatic) Spanish
competencies required

Upon completion of the course, trainees are expected to be able to demonstrate:

  • appropriate interpreting techniques
  • understand the United States code of medical ethics
  • utilize medical terminology appropriately
  • demonstrate basic knowledge of anatomy and physiology.
  • demonstrate understanding of ethical responsibility
research in corporate based learning
Research in corporate-basedlearning

Examples like the one just discussed should be the focus of future research in corporate-based learning

The targeted skill in the example was the ability to facilitate doctor-patient communication through the development of English and Spanish formedicalinterpreting

case 2 research on the dynamics of terminological variation in european multilingual communication
Case 2 Research on: The dynamics of terminological variation in European multilingual communication
  • societal dynamics in the European multilingual reality: e.g. what happens to metaphorical and evocative language in translated texts on invasion ecology?

Parameters explaining terminological variation can be retrieved from textual archives of a discipline.

  • We have been reading and analysing a number of publications in the discipline of invasion ecology in order to:
    • try and understanding the parameters that make specialists prone to linguistic variation
    • search parameters in the creation process (in English) of neologisms in scientific debates, controversies and negotiations in .
    • get insight in the creative potential of language as a cognitive and rhetorical tool

Our objective was to try and find the parameters that lead to variation in terminology and dynamics of ideas as they are explicitly mentioned by field specialists giving surveyed information on the development of their discipline.

reflective text fragments
Reflective text fragments
  • Zooming in on terminological discussions between field specialists, we discovered how specialists point out the weaknesses of the terminology used in their field and go into debate on the pros and cons of using particular terms. In doing so, they unintentionally reveal a number of parameters that account for dynamics and variation.
  • We found “background impact factors” that set the scene for the development of terminology in invasive ecology and the importance of terminological discussions in a scientific debate culture on the same subject .
parameters that account for dynamics and variation
parameters that account for dynamics and variation.
  • Metaphorical language
  • evocative language,
  • Awareness of connotations of words,
  • Provocative language in order to capture the attention of the world at large and most specifically of policy makers.
terminological discussions in a scientific debate culture
Terminological discussions in a scientific debate culture
  • Research is often conducted within a larger social milieu of contentious environmental values and politics. Consequently discussions take place in an emotionally charged and intellectually dynamic environment where controversy and disagreements thrive.
invasive species terminology in translated european texts
Invasive species terminology in translated European texts
  • If in the European Union, Euro-English has become the lingua franca and if Europeans continue to have the right to information in all official European languages the issue of approximate meaning will have to be tackled all the time.
  • We studied some examples (inspired by an ongoing project on variation (Kerremans et al. 2008 & 2010)) on how European texts on invasive species get translated from English into French and Dutch.

The examples we give here are from a European Council document (2008). We have confirmation that the English text was the source text and the French and Dutch versions are translations.

  • In this text invasive species is defined. The terminology used in the definition is elaborated on in the text giving rise to terminological variation. This is the case in the English source text and even more so in the translations.
  • Research on anisomorphism between languages and secondary term formation in translation as related to European discourse is interesting.
anisomorphism and approximate meaning
Anisomorphism and approximatemeaning
  • The reasons why translations are hardly ever a word for word transfer from a source language to a target language have been dealt with extensively in the literature on translation theory.
  • Basically, translation shifts like e.g. modulation and transposition, are often the result of the inherent lexical and structural limitations of each language.
  • Moreover each language carries historical and cultural elements that allow its users to express messages in particular ways (e.g. figurative language based on metaphorical understanding, allusions to culture-specific elements).
Example 1: Variation of invasive species in English, French and Dutch in [SEC(2008) 2887 et SEC(2008) 2886]
example 3 free modulation and explicitation
Example 3: Free modulation and explicitation

IN DUTCH: The translator decided to add a hyperonym of uitroeiing of regulering van IS: bestrijdingsmaatregelen. This is an example of optional modulation and explicitation.


The three examples illustrate that the translated texts, like the Euro-English originals show variability and have characteristics of the dynamics and plasticity of all living languages.

  • They also show that readers of the texts in translation find the same information, but not quite, as there is asymmetry between languages.
  • At the same time these examples of interlinguisticanisomorphisms show that communication involving several languages is not likely to cause huge problems.
a european field of study
A European field of study
  • In today’s transcultural and multilingual European Union, we have a laboratory of diversity, inter- and transcultural variation and dynamics in a plurilingual environment.
  • A lot of European discourse in several languages is available on the internet.
  • Researchers engaging in contrastive linguistics, translation studies and terminology studies have access to materials for studying variation and secondary term formation in all European languages as related to primary term formation in English.

We suggest that given the fact that Euro-English has become the main lingua franca in the European Union, the study of variation, dynamics and standardisation of European terminology will have to distinguish between two tracks.

    • On the first track the negotiations on European terminology in policy-making processes, mostly happening in Euro-English at an encompassing-European level, needs observation and analysis.
    • On the second track, the translation of European texts into all official European languages involving finding ways to express the European content in all languages needs detailed analysis.
  • There are many immanent research questions on both tracks for researchers in terminology wanting to bring about a better understanding of terminological diversity, variation and standardization in the Euro-English area and on secondary term formation in all European languages.
diversity must serve a purpose
Diversity must serve a purpose
  • For Evans & Levinson (2009) language diversity is a crucial fact for understanding the place of language in human cognition. In their opinion the belief in language universals i.e. “the impression that languages are all built to a common pattern” (429) is a fallacy.
  • They point out how diversity can be found at almost every level of linguistic organization and how this fact changes the object of inquiry altogether from looking for universals to studying the diversity offered to us by the world’s languages (estimated to number between 6000 and 8000).
  • They remind us that each language has built-in cultural-historical factors and implies opportunities and constraints for human cognition.
  • From this perspective, exciting new research directions become apparent pertaining to the power of and the reasons for diversity, variation and dynamics in languages.
  • Their position also calls for a redefinition of the phenomenon of standardization in language. The European Union offers many possibilities for interesting research and case studies given that there are 23 different official languages and that Europe is now confronted with the extraordinary plasticity of plurilingual and intercultural communication.
plurilingualism and multilingualism a competitive advantage in research
Plurilingualism and multilingualism: a competitiveadvantage in research

We presented some ideas on how plurilingualism and cultural diversity in the educational setting can lead to competitive advantages for Europeans in higher education

  • Case 1: plurilingual language liaison competences
  • Case 2: European content in all languages


  • Merci!
  • Dank u wel!
  • Gracias!
  • Tankje!
  • Tapadhleibh! (Scottish)
  • Go raibhmaithagaibh! (Irish)