Научная статья на тему 'The Dictionary of geographical terms in Five languages: the purposes and practice of compiling'

The Dictionary of geographical terms in Five languages: the purposes and practice of compiling Текст научной статьи по специальности «Языкознание и литературоведение»

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Текст научной работы на тему «The Dictionary of geographical terms in Five languages: the purposes and practice of compiling»

Вестник МГУ. Сер. 19. Лингвистика и межкультурная коммуникация. 2005. № 1



With the progress of science, the terminology of different branches develops constantly as new scientific terms appear. Geography is no exception. Geographical science embracing the study of the earth's physical phenomena, people and their economic activities has always been in need of an extensive and varied terminology. Today very well developed terminologies of all the specialist fields of geography and related subjects exist in the main world languages. However, analysis reveals discrepancies or a lack of adequate correspondence between terms in different languages. Many terms reveal different approaches toward geographical problems and some of them have an individual character and are used only by a narrow circle of experts.

All along geographical terminology needed to be regulated and registered in lexicographic sources. Now geographical terms are registered in numerous dictionaries, reference books, terminological glossaries and lists of terms. But today more than ever before geographical terminology requires unification and international correlation. Equivalent terminology is an especially urgent need in connection with the various kinds of complex databases which are being created in many areas of geography, as well as in highly sophisticated geoinformation systems. These require very well organized scientific terminology both in national languages and at the international level. That is why it is important to select essential vocabularies of currently used internationally accepted geographical terms and to establish a closer coordination among geographical terms in different languages. Hence our proposal to compile a Dictionary of Geographical Terms in Five Languages (English, Russian, French, German, Spanish) by two authors: academician V.M. Kotlyakov, Director of the Institute of Geography, Russian Academy of Sciences, and myself.

The Dictionary contains terms covering the following main subdisciplines of geography: general geography; physical geography and landscape study; palaeogeography; geomorphology; soil geography; biogeography; meteorology and climatology; hydrology; glaciology; geocryology; oceanography; geodesy, cartography and geoinformatics; geoecology; social and economic geography and also terms of relatively new branches, such as

political geography; geography of tourism and leisure; resource management; medical geography, etc.

The Dictionary is compact: it deals with the major aspects of geography in one volume. The Dictionary comprises approximately 7 thousand main terms (head-terms) and their usual synonyms.

In compiling the Dictionary we have been guided by some strict lexicographic principles in choosing terms for definition. Our aim is to select and include into the Dictionary the essential terms commonly used and generally recognized in geography. We avoid commenting on the shades of meanings as well as on the nuances of the usage of the terms in different languages but rather find similarity and correlation between them.

The Dictionary consists of the basic table of the terms arranged according to the order of the English alphabet, with each term numbered. Each entry consists of a term in English and its equivalents in Russian, French, German and Spanish. Short definitions of terms are given in English and in Russian. Each definition contains a concise description of the object or phenomenon and in some cases explanations of the factors that cause it. We hope that these short and succinct scientific definitions would also help the users (especially those whose mother tongue is not English) to find equivalents in their native languages (Fig. 1):

1. Beach. An above-water part of the modern coastal zone subjected to the action of the upwash that brings pebbles, sand, gravel and shells.

R. Пляж. Надводная часть современной береговой зоны, подверженная действию прибойного потока, приносящего сюда гальку, песок, гравий и ракушки.

F. plage f

D. Strand m

S. playa f

2. Border moraine. An elongated body of debris deposited at the lateral margin of a mountain glacier.

R. Береговая морена. Моренная гряда, отложенная у бокового края горного ледника.

F. moraine f latérale

D. Ufermorane f

S. morrena f lateral

3. Cartographic projections, map projections. Mathematical methods of representing of the earth's ellipsoid surface on a plane which establish the dependence between the coordinates of the points on both surfaces.

R. Картографические проекции. Математические способы изображения на плоскости поверхности земного эллипсоида, определяющие зависимость между координатами точек на обеих поверхностях.

F. projections fpl cartographiques

D. Kartenprojektionen fpl

S. proyecciones fpl cartográficas

4. Cliff. The abrupt abrasion scarp formed as a result of the destruction of a high bedrock coast caused by the action of swash.

R. Береговой уступ. Отвесный абразионный обрыв, образующийся в результате разрушения высокого коренного берега под действием прибоя.

F. falaise f

D. Kliff m

5. acantilado m

5. Lichen tundra. Dry and stony tundra with the surface vegetation dominated by lichen.

R. Лишайниковая тундра. Сухая и каменистая тундра с наземным растительным покровом, в котором преобладают лишайники.

F. toundra f a lichens

D. Flechtentundra f

5. tundra f de líquenes

6. Erratic block. A rock fragment transported by glacier ice from a distance. This fragment being part of a glacier sediment preserves the nature of the primary bedding.

R. Отторженец. Блок осадочных пород, который перемещен ледником и стал составной частью ледниковых отложений, сохранив характер первичных напластований.

F. bloc m erratique

D. erratischer Block m

S. bloque m errático

Fig. 1. A page of the Dictionary

When necessary some explanations are accompanied by pictures or line drawings showing the most characteristic features of a given phenomenon or object. About 400 illustrations have been included. We agree with the authors of The Dictionary of Earth Sciences who said that "Generally, a dictionary is about words and their uses and should use words to explain the meaning of words. There are occasions, however, when a simple diagram can usefully illustrate essentially visual ideas". There is also material that is best displayed in tables, such as time-scales. The tables and illustrations make the information they contain easier to find and understand than it was when they appeared only in form of text.

The main body of the dictionary is to be followed by separate alphabetical indexes for each of the four languages (Russian, German, French, Spanish), as well as the indexes in English and in Russian (with cross-references) to facilitate the use of such an extensive dictionary and show the systematic relations of terms as parts of the terminological system of geography.

The Dictionary of Geographical Terms in Five Languages is intended for a wide variety of users: professional geographers (specialists in physical and human geography), undergraduate and postgraduate students of geography, teachers in colleges and universities, nature-lovers, and travelers. The Dictionary aims to be useful to those who are interested in environmental problems or who deal with the world resources and their use. It should serve the readers of geographical literature and books describing different countries and continents. It enables to see geography as an integrated academic discipline with a wide scope of its modern interests and directions.

We have been working on compiling the dictionary for 3,5 years; by the end of 2005 we are planning to complete the manuscript. Elsevier Science B.V. in Amsterdam has agreed to publish the volume.

This is only a general information about the work, now I would like to give some comments on the subject from the linguistic point of view.

In modern lexicography — the art and science of making dictionaries — it has been elaborated and accepted a certain sequence of stages in compiling dictionaries1. We consistently followed these stages in our work:

1. At the I stage the type of the future dictionary and its main lexicographic parameters are determined: the purpose and functions of the dictionary, the scope of the lexis devoted to description and the way it would be described, the approximate volume and the principles of selecting the words for the dictionary, the information that would be given in the entries and the structure of the entry as well as the whole structure of the dictionary.

2. At the II stage the list of head-words is made: terms (words and word-combinations) are selected to be included in the dictionary. The lists of head-words are compiled separately for each subdiscipline and submitted to reviewing.

3. At the III stage the dictionary entries are formed: the terms selected for the dictionary are supplied with short definitions in Russian and in English, the equivalents in French, German and Spanish are found and necessary grammatical notes are supplied (gender and plural of the nouns). Separate thematic lists are united in the basic table of the terms arranged according to the order of the English alphabet, with each term numbered.

4. At the IV stage the final reviewing and editing is realized. The alphabetical indexes for Russian, French, German, Spanish terms are made. The introduction is written. The cross-checking is done to make sure that every word used in definition is itself defined in the dictionary. The camera-ready copy of the dictionary is prepared.

Following those stages proved to be very effective. As far as the first stage is concerned, some of the features had been very difficult to determine apriori and later on they were corrected or changed, but all the same they had to be formulated at the very beginning, at least, in a general preliminary form, in order to keep the balance and the unity of the purpose of the Dictionary and its composition, i.e. the balance between its content and form. Lexicographic parameters of the Dictionary are listed in Fig. 2:

1. Type • defining multilingual dictionary

2. Coverage • essential terminology of 20 geographical


3. Description of headwords • concise definitions in English and Russian

• equivalents in German, French, Spanish

4. Volume • about 7000 entries

• approximately 1000—1200 pages

5. Form of presentation • alphabetical order of English and numbers

6. Grammar information • gender and plural of nouns

7. Indexes • alphabetical indexes for Russian, German,

French, Spanish

Fig. 2. Lexicographic parameters of the Dictionary

So, the first question for us was the following: What kind of the dictionary do we make? In general, there exist two major types of dictionaries: encyclopedias and defining dictionaries (depending on the way the words are explained in them). Encyclopedic dictionaries contain comprehensive information and give explanations in sufficient detail including some facts of historical character. Usually, it results in a big length of the entries and often more than one term is described within one entry. We do not aim at compiling an encyclopedic dictionary; our Dictionary is a defining one, which gives short definitions of the terms of geography.

Defining dictionaries in its turn may reflect (cover) the lexis in a different scale. Defining dictionaries of an inventory type collect as much words belonging to a certain historical period or certain subject area as possible, for example contemporary general-purpose dictionaries Oxford English Dictionary (which was published in 12 volumes, comprising 15,487 pages and covering 414.825 lexical items); Academic Dictionary of Russian Literary Language (consisting of 17 volumes). Some terminological dictionaries may also collect not only terms proper but gather words from related disciplines or many words used in scientific texts. In contrast to those big dictionaries our Dictionary is a standard one in the sense that it contains only the essential vocabulary of modern geography and is not aimed at gathering the maximum of terms used in geographic publications.

As for its conceptual coverage, the dictionary could be called polygeo-graphical (polydisciplinary). It shows the whole spectrum of modern geography in a compact form of one volume.

In order to achieve this goal we had to answer the question: How could geographical terms be separated from the terms of other sciences and from the words of general language?

This problem of the choice of words is very serious.

We are fully aware of the fact that geography, in addition to its own diversity, is dependent on the flow of concepts and techniques from other fundamental disciplines such as physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics as well as more specialized areas as medicine, engineering, informatics. That is why a lot of terms of those sciences are often used in geographical texts. But it would be wrong and impossible to include all of them into our dictionary, however useful they may be for geographical discourse and however frequently they are used in geographical texts, because it would destroy the unity of the subject and overload the dictionary.

Every compiler of a dictionary begins with setting intellectual boundaries of the scientific discipline or disciplines the concepts of which, and therefore words and expressions, should be included in the dictionary. In his famous book "Geography: The Global Synthesis" its author, professor P. Haggett, metaphorically said — "Geography is a Los Angeles among academic cities in that it sprawls over a very large area and merges with its neighbours. It is also hard to be sure which is the central business district"2. In order to determine this "business district" of geographical discipline and to draw the demarcation line between the terms of geography and those of other sciences we had to treat them not as separate words, but as lexical representatives of underlying concepts. In compiling the Dictionary we proceed from the assumption that the terms only embody the classification of geographical facts, their hierarchy and oppositions, thus forming a close-knit system called terminosystem.

Here I would like to explain the basic difference between the understanding of what is Geography by the Russian scientific tradition (to which we definitely belong) and that typical of some western dictionaries of geographical terms. Hence we have different starting points to approach the selection of headwords for the Dictionary.

Geography has evolved from a simple descriptive science of the nineteenth century into the major academic discipline and applied science today. It concentrates on the interaction of people with the earth's natural environment. We agree with A. Clark, the author of the "The Pinguin Dictionary of Geography" in that "Geography today — a core, synthesizing subject spanning the humanities, the natural and social sciences — has many specialists branches. It is concerned as much with the ecological and social effects of human activities as it is with the physical phenomena of the planet itself"3. But we strongly disagree with the opinion of A.Clark and some other compilers of the dictionaries that Geography in addition to terms pertaining to it, garner the terms from such disciplines as "geomorphology, hydrology, soil science etc., as well as that of technical subjects as cartography, remote sensing..."4 In the Russian scientific tradition it is regarded that geomorphology, hydrology, climatology, oceanography, cartography have always been and still remain part and parcel of the integrated geographical discipline. They cannot be separated from Geography and it is not fair to consider that Geography only "adopts some of their terminology". On the contrary, we claim that

the terms of those branches form an indispensable part of the terminological system of Geography and should be included into our Dictionary not as terms "coming from them and only used by geographers" but as geographical terms proper reflecting the concepts of the Family of Geographical subdisciplines.

The compilers of "A Dictionary of Earth Sciences", for example, think that "The task of a dictionary is descriptive, not prescriptive. It records words and expressions that are in current use and explains the meanings attached to them, but... in no sense it is intended to be a textbook in its own right"5. Our position is different. By including or excluding this or that term we show our understanding of the subject, we express our position (opinion) with regard to the scope of Geography. In this sense we do not regard ourselves as simply "recorders, who express no opinions"6. We definitely express our opinion by selecting for the Dictionary the concepts, and therefore the terms, we believe, pertaining to the sphere of modern geography.

To prove our position we had to apply the following methodology at the stage of making the list of the Dictionary headwords. First we made word-lists for each subdiscipline which forms part of Geography. The initial word-lists are not alphabetical ones, but rather ideological or conceptual, i.e. each "conceptual list" shows how the terms are grouped into "areas of meaning" or "topic areas". For example, in the subdiscipline "Geocryology (the study of frozen grounds and rocks — permafrost)" the terms have been grouped into "Processes (related to low temperatures)": ground freezing, ground thawing, permafrost aggradation, permafrost degradation, frost fracturing, frost heave, ice segregation, thermo-planation, thermal denudation, ground subsidence, cryogenesis etc.; "Objects related to permafrost zone": frost mound, frost polygon, frost fissure, edoma, alas, stone pavement, drunken forest, talik, thermokarst; "Properties of permafrost": frost resistance, frost stability, frost danger; "Elements of permanently frozen ground": evident ground ice, freezing front, buried ice vain, epigenetic ice wedge, intrapermafrost water, and some other areas of meaning (topic areas).

In this way it was possible to establish semantic links between the terms of Geocryology more clearly, without missing important elements, and to exclude the terms denoting too small elements of geographical objects or too detailed concepts.

Setting up similar classification and oppositions was also helpful for other subdisciplines. Thus for example: natural environment — antro-pogenic environment, biotic factors — abiotic factors, freezing front — thawing front (in permanently frozen ground), man-made hazard — natural hazard, renewable — non-renewable resources; types of permafrost occurrence: continuos permafrost — discontinuous permafrost — sporadic permafrost; different types of pollution: chemical, noise pollution, thermal pollution, visual pollution; different kinds of protected areas: national park, preserve, nature reserve, reservation, sanctuary,

refuge, marine park. By applying this method it was possible to establish and reflect systematic links between geographical concepts, and therefore headwords.

On the basis of the position of a term in the classification and the similarity of their meanings it was possible to find synonymic terms and decide whether both of them should be included in the dictionary as synonyms or one word is preferable to the other.

Another big problem which was solved by making conceptual list of head-words was to exclude the terms which do not belong to geography: because there is no place in conceptual lists for such words as refraction, for example, since it refers to physical processes and belongs to absolutely different system of oppositions of light effects refraction — reflection — diffraction — interference, while the term wave refraction meaning "the process by which water wave crests change direction as they approach a shoreline, owing to the shallowing of water" finds its place in the system of geographical terms (oceanography) together with other terms describing coastal processes.

This example shows that along with occupying its place in the conceptual list it is very important for a term to pass the so-called "definability test"7, i.e. its definition should refer the term to geography. There is such a physical term diffusion (the process of slow mixing of liquids, gases, or solids intermingle as the result of molecular interpenetration). It must not be included into our dictionary, because it belongs to the system of concepts of Physics. But at the same time there exist the geographical term diffusion (the spreading out, the propagation, the dissemination or scattering over an area of the earth's surface of a phenomenon, e.g. epidemic diseases, information, ideas, political believes, culture, languages, innovation, techniques, from its initial source). This meaning allows to regard the word as a homonym of the physical diffusion, and the geographical definition makes it to be included into our Dictionary.

It was not less important to separate terms from "words of general language":

Words not to be included Terms to be included

accident accident emission

absolute absolute humidity

monitoring environmental monitoring

As you may see, the word accident (a sudden breakdown of a technological process or other economic activity resulting in material losses and often environmental damage) is a word of general language, it is impossible to find a place for it in the "conceptual list", while the term accident emission (income of pollutants to the environment as a result of an accident or breakdown of a technological process) is a geographical term forming part of the whole system.

The word absolute has no specific geographic meaning, but such terms as absolute humidity is definitely the geographical term being in opposition to relative humidity and deserves to be included in the Dictionary as a meteorological compound term (consisting of two words).

The word monitoring is widely used in many spheres of modern life having the meaning — regular checking or examining of the progress of something — is not included in the Dictionary, while environmental monitoring is a full-fledged geographical term.

Later on those separate "concept lists" were transferred into alphabetic order to be reviewed by experts in respective branches of geography.

In this connection I would like to say that no dictionary maker starts completely from scratch — all lexicography is standing on giants' shoulders. We also used some dictionaries in our work. As you know, the number and variety of terminological dictionaries and encyclopedias of geography and related subjects is enormous and some of them were of great help to us.

Unfortunately, (and it has been strongly criticized in special linguistic literature) "there exist some current a-systemic tendencies in lexicographic inventarization of units: very few terminological dictionaries are really consistent in their choice of head-words and present a properly rounded-off system of terms"8.

For example "The Dictionary of Ecology and Environment", belonging to a series of terminological dictionaries published by Peter Collin Publishing and which we found quite useful and had to consult in connection with the geoecological terms, contains a lot of words which are very distant from ecology:

"radar — instrument of finding objects by sending out high-frequency radio waves;

generator, accumulator — rechargeable electric cell;

physics — scientific study, including electricity, radiation, magnetism and other phenomena which do not change the chemical composition of matter;

laser — instrument which produces a highly concentrated beam of light which can be used to cut or attach materials, (these words, no doubt, belong to physics and technology);

placenta — tissue which grows inside the uterus in mammals during pregnancy and links the embryo to the mother; (purely biological medical term);

plastic — artificial, usually organic, material made from petroleum and used to make many objects;

pilot-project — small-scale project carried out to see if a large scale project will work;

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to offend — to be unpleasant to someone;

fact — something which almost everyone agrees is correct;

occupation — job or work"9.

All these adduced words have little if any relation to ecology, being either terms of physics, biology, etc., or ordinary English words, which probably were used and have right to be used in the texts on ecological issues. But why should they be included into the terminological dictionary? If to follow this way of compiling the dictionary, then why not include such entries as 'chair' and 'computer', since the ecologist "my sit on a chair recording on the computer some facts about ecological pilot-project', and many, many other good and useful words?

This approach towards compiling dictionaries, which we regard a wrong one, results in ecological terms proper being dissolved in the sea of semantically unrelated words. Hence the terminlogical system of ecology gets vague and disarranged. If we followed this way, we would have several volumes of our dictionary and no integrated terminosystem of geography compiled — which is not at all our purpose.

In this connection I would like to refer to a very well known linguistic fact (which should be born in mind when dealing with terminology): in any scientific text the proportion between terms and non-terms is 1:9, i.e. only 10% of the vocabulary of scientific discourse is terms, the rest being the words of the general language. In means that it is not necessary to include into terminological dictionary all the words which people use in scientific texts, because they have only a slight relation to the given subject.

In linguistics it has long been estimated that the number of essential terms of each of the main fundamental sciences is approximately 7000— 8000 terms, subdisciplines containing about 500 — up to 800 terms. That is why when we come across a terminological dictionary of a subdiscipline containing more than 8000 entries, as it was the case with the quoted above "The Dictionary of Ecology and Environment", we may be sure that it contains many terms of related topics and probably words of the general language.

This is the problem of the choice of terms.

Then, after the list of headwords is made, the dictionary entries are formed. For this we wrote short classificatory definitions for each term. We call the definitions "classificatory" because they establish the relation between generic terms and specific terms (per genus proximum et differentiam specificam).

We begin by defining the term for our own purpose. We examined the way it was used by other authors. When we confronted with different opinions on the meaning of one and the same term, we tried to find what those different meanings have in common, to find consensus between them, and show the generally accepted understanding of the term, rather than commenting upon the nuances and discrepancies.

The equivalents in different languages were treated in the same way: they are far from being in one-to-one correspondence but we tried to harmonize them as much as we could.

Analyzing and comparing terminologies in Russian, English, French, German and Spanish we noticed that those branches which emerged

relatively recently when computers and information networks started to be widely used (such as geoinformatics, remote sensing, environmental management) have much better coordinated terminologies, than the terminologies of traditional branches of geography, which developed in less international contacts or even in isolation.

We designed our terminological dictionary not as a mere collection of terms but as a coherent body of thought, though presented in the form of isolated entries — terms.

At the same time we understand that it is not possible to eliminate the subjective element from dictionaries and no grouping of words can be ideal or the only possible. We agree with the opinion that "Lexicography is fundamentally about exercise of judgment"10. In order the Dictionary be what we designed it to be — compact, with wide coverage of subjects, integrated, and coordinating terms in 5 languages — we had to be bold enough to make hard but well-founded choices based on the strict lexicographic principles which we have elaborated and consistently applied.

We also know that terminology is always one jump ahead of lexicography. And since always there is room for improvement, constructive criticism and suggestions will be of great value while the work is in progress.


1 См.: Гринев С.В. Введение в терминологическую лексикографию. М., 1986; Марчук Ю.Н. Основы терминографии. М., 1992; Гринев С.В. Введение в тер-миноведение. М., 1993.

2 Hagget P. Geography: The Global Synthesis. L.; N.Y., 2001. P. xxx.

3 Clark A. The Pinguin Dictionary of Geography. L., 1993. Preface.

4 Clark A. Op. cit.; Mayhew S. A Dictionary of Geography. Oxford University Press, 1997. Preface.

5 A Dictionary of Earth Sciences / Ed. by A. Allaby and M. Allaby. Oxford University Press, 1999. P. v.

6 A Dictionary of Earth Sciences.

7 Akhmanova O.S. Linguistic Terminology. M., 1978. P. 16—42.

8 Ibid. P. 14.

9 The Dictionary of Ecology and Environment. L., 1999.

10 Longman New Universal Dictionary. L., 1982. P. xiii.

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