Saturday, 21 July 2012

Proposing Terminology Development Principles (part v)

One of the problems with terminology development exercises is that Inuit Language specialists (such as translators, interpreters and teachers/instructors) very often have to rely upon "plain" language explanations of specialized terms (whether scientific, medical or legal, etc.) done up by well-meaning practitioners but who often forget that these terms aren't just words but have a logic or theoretic system behind them. That is, an accepted word in a specialist field is a logically productive construct that is part of a larger framework that keeps the discourse consistent and conceptually sound.

A specialised word has an etymological basis usually different from superficially similiar words in common usage so that its declension (its variation in form) retains grammatical, conceptual and technical sense, or that which makes the word productive and useful to a given field.

The term "gravity" before Newton meant something somber or serious (weighty or heavy indeed), but the use of the word "weight" he foresaw wisely would create a kind of a circular argument in relation to gravity (because weight depends on gravity) so in order to forego presupposing gravity he coined the term mass (as in the sense of a coherent "body") as the source of gravity: Newton's "laws" are kinds of sequential arguments that are some of the most beautiful in my estimation, much of whose terms he coined himself.

But the word mass comes not from English itself but from old French masse meaning "lump, heap, pile; crowd, large amount; ingot, bar" which in turn comes from Latin massa for "kneaded dough" or "that which sticks together like kneaded dough"; through Newton the technical term acquired a very specific sense: that which creates gravity or quantity of weight.

Making use of the rich diversity of Inuit dialects would make such processes of coining "standardized" scientific terms truly possible using indigenous root morphemes alone. Archiac Inuktitut terms that are no longer in use are likewise a rich source of terminology.

Using this conceptual strategem, we might suggest such terms as:

ittaq for the concept of mass rather than a word like uqumainniq;

tatituk for the concept of inertia from the root Inuktitut word for stubbornness...

The point here is that we'd want to avoid explanatory phrases like uqumainninga (its weight) or aulajjagunnannginninga (its resistence to being moved - ie, inertia) as much as we can for such technical terms, because these types of phrase-level constructs easily become unweldy and cumbersome even in normal discourse. Starting from root morphemes this way allows declensions naturally as we begin to use them in normal speech without losing grammaticality or elegance (usually the final test of survival for newly minted terms in a language).

Jay

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