Prototypes and Discreteness in Terminology

By November 17, 2016,
Page 979-987
Author Pius ten Hacken
Title Prototypes and Discreteness in Terminology
Abstract Characterizing the nature of terms in their opposition to general language words is one of the tasks of a theory of terminology. It determines the selection of entries for a terminological dictionary. This task is by no means straightforward, because terms seem to have different properties depending on the field that is studied. This is illustrated by a brief discussion of examples: terms in mathematical linguistics, traffic law, piano manufacturing, and non-terms in the reporting of general experiences. Two properties can be derived from these discussions as candidates for the delimitation of terms from general words. Firstly, the degree of specialization. This property distinguishes specialized expressions in mathematical linguistics and in piano manufacturing from non-specialized expressions in traffic law and reporting general experiences. Secondly, the lack of a prototype. In mathematical linguistics and in traffic law, the definition of terms concentrates on the boundaries of the concept. In piano manufacturing and in reporting general experiences, concepts have a prototype and fuzzy boundaries. Defining the word term as a disjunction of the two properties implies that it is a less coherent concept than general language word, because it is only the complement of the latter. When the two properties are considered in isolation, it can be shown that the degree of specialization is a gradual property whereas the lack of a prototype is an absolute property. Whether or not we choose to use the name term for it, the latter property identifies a concept that is ontologically different from general vocabulary. I will reserve the name term for concepts that do not involve prototypes and call the professional expressions in piano manufacturing specialized vocabulary. By focusing on the boundary instead of the prototype, a terminological definition creates an abstract object for which there is no equivalent in general language words. Whereas general language words only exist in the competence of the speakers, the abstract object associated with a term can exist independently of the knowledge of individual speakers. There are interesting parallels between the nature of these abstract objects and the nature of a piece of music. The creation of such an object on the basis of general language words can proceed by the selection of properties or the choice of a specific boundary on a scale.
Session 5. Lexicography for Specialised Languages - Terminology and Terminography
author = {Pius ten Hacken},
title = {Prototypes and Discreteness in Terminology},
pages = {979-987},
booktitle = {Proceedings of the 13th EURALEX International Congress},
year = {2008},
month = {jul},
date = {15-19},
address = {Barcelona, Spain},
editor = {Elisenda Bernal, Janet DeCesaris},
publisher = {Institut Universitari de Linguistica Aplicada, Universitat Pompeu Fabra},
isbn = {978-84-96742-67-3},