Terminology Development in Amerindian Languages

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Wed May 10 12:57:42 UTC 2006

Forwarded from Linguist-List,
Message 1: Terminology Development in Amerindian Languages

Date: 07-May-2006
From: Jos lvarez <jalvarcantv.net>

Regarding query: http://linguistlist.org/issues/17/17-1090.html#1

My thanks to the following respondents (alphabetically ordered):

Abolfazl Zarnikhi [a_zarnikhi2002yahoo.com]
Ana Maria Schmitt [dookitaweb.de]
Bernadine Raiskums [bernagci.net]
Bob Richmond RSRICHMONDaol.com
Christopher Miller [miller.christopheruqam.ca]
Doris Fagua [dorisfaguayahoo.com]
Gordon Bronitsky [g.bronitskyatt.net]
Harold F. Schiffman [haroldfsccat.sas.upenn.edu]
Jon Reyhner [Jon.ReyhnerNAU.EDU]
Judith M. Maxwell [maxwelltulane.edu]
Pius ten Hacken [P.Ten-Hackenswansea.ac.uk]
Ray Stegeman [ray-dee_stegemanuuplus.com]
Tania Granadillo [taniagemail.arizona.edu]
William H. Wilson/Pila Wilson [pila_wleoki.uhh.hawaii.edu]

Regarding references, I received different sorts of replies. Some of them
directed me to bibliographical items dealing with the specific problem of
terminology development, while others refer to the wider area of language

- Calvet, Louis-Jean. (2005). La guerre des langues. Hachette.
- Calvet, Louis-Jean. (2005). Sociolinguistique. PUF.
- Fishman, Joshua A. (2006). Do Not Leave Your Language Alone. The Hidden
Status Agendas Within Corpus Planning in Language Policy. Lawrence Erlbaum
- Hinton, Leanne and Ken Hale. (eds.) 2001. The Green Book of Language
Revitalization in Practice. Academic Press.
- Kennedy, Elaine. (1997) Terminology: A Practical Approach. Linguatech.
- Landau, Sidney I. (1989). Dictionaries: The Art and Craft of
Lexicography. Cambridge University Press. 2nd edition (April 26, 2001)
- Maxwell, Judith. (2003). Runuk'ik K'ak'a' Taq Tzij: Creacin de
Neologismos Pedaggicos. Guatemala: Ministerio de Educacin.
- Wright, Sue Ellen and Gerhard Budin (eds.). (1997). Handbook of
Terminology Management: Basic Aspects of Terminology Management (Vol. 1).
John Benjamins.

I also received information about past, present and future projects in
this area. Pius ten Hacken gives information about work beginning on
terminology in Benin (Edo in Ethnologue), spoken in Nigeria. Abolfazl
Zarnikhi gives news about a terminology project headed by Shahin
Nematzadeh in Iran.  Judith Maxwell informs about the experience in
Guatemala with Mayan languages, under the Direccin General de Educacin
Bilinge (DIGEBI), the bilingual branch of the Ministry of Education. She
was kind enough to fax me a boolet with guidelines for that work. Jon
Reyhner pointed out a comprehensive report on The Mohawk Language
Standardisation Project, in Ontario, Canada. Christopher Miller suggested
contacting the Commissioner of Official Languages for the Territory of
Nunavut in Canada. Harold Schiffman commented on the situation in India
where various languages have tried to develop registers for science and
technology, but have failed.

Schiffman, who has reflected and written considerably about language
policies, feels "very pessimistic about register development for science
and technology, because people who do serious science want to be in the
same ''loop'' as serious international scholars, who tend to use English
or another LOWC." He included part of a larger article on diglossia and
language policy in and around Afghanistan, where he outlines the problems.
He thinks that it's not feasible to put every language on an equal basis,
among other resasons, because many languages lack scientific and technical

"Another issue in creating new registers is that, as we noted above, new
registers are created by the users and developers of the particular
discipline or subdiscipline that they are working in. Language purists
always want to show that their language is capable of being used for
scientific purposes (i.e. it is sophisticated enough and 'intellectual'
enough to serve this purpose) but what this entails is creating vocabulary
for everything that has already been developed in another language. This
is a daunting task, not only for the committees tasked with the job of
translating (usually) the vocabulary and terminology of another language,
but also a daunting task for the users, who must now become comfortable
with terminology provided to them, not by users or scientific researchers
in their field, but by language pundits intent on creating vocabulary that
is wholly based on indigenous sources. Earlier in the industrial
revolution, this was less difficult, and nations like Japan that decided
in modernize beginning in the 19th century were able to adapt by borrowing
much of the vocabulary already in use in other, more 'modern' languages.
But 'late modernizers' often resist borrowing, so are faced with an almost
insurmountable task-create new terminology, and convince their own people
to adopt and use it."

I must confess that I found his fears justified and his arguments very
persuasive, although they refer mainly to higher education and scientific
research, whereas my query refers to primary and secondary education. Of
course, his arguments do not address the problem of technical feasibility,
but the problems of desirability and economic viability of such
terminological enterprises. Creating new terms using whatever means are
available is feasible, though not always viable and socially relevant. It
may be the case that we must come to terms with some degree of inevitable
diglossia. However, it is a matter of life-or-death to develop scientific
terminology for schools, if bilingual education and language maintenance
programmes are to have any sense at all.

Although the number of replies does not allow me to evaluate the general
situation of terminological projects for minority languages, it seems to
me that one of the most interesting success stories is the one of The
Hawaiian Lexicon Committee, headed by Larry Kimura Hawaiian (as several
respondents also seem to agree). I was fortunate enough to receive a very
kind and informative letter about the experience from William/Pila Wilson,
whom I quote in extenso:

"[Y]ou might be interested in learning about the work of the Hawaiian
language lexicon committee housed here at the University of Hawai'i at
Hilo. I work in the College of Hawaiian language (Ka Haka 'Ula O
Ke'elikolani) which was mandated by the state government legislature in
1997. Among research, teaching, and curriculum development and lexicon
development duties, our college also has a P-12 laboratory school program
where we try out new methodologies, terminologies, and teacher training

Hawaiian is currently used as a medium of education from preschool through
grade 12 in selected Hawai'i schools serving about 2,000 students
annually, most of whom are descendants of speakers, but who have grown up
speaking English rather than Hawaiian in the home. With the protection of
these schools, the number of native speakers is growing along with the
strong increase in second language speakers. There was a history of
Hawaiian being used in this way in the 1800s, but Hawaiian medium schools
were made illegal from 1896 until 1986. There was thus much work to be
done to create materials for the schools. While much work remains, quite a
bit has been done by the lexicon committee and its work is available on
the web under Mamaka Kaiao. Other sites of interest are under the Aha
Punana Leo, Kualono and Ulukau."

Finally, Gordon Bronitsky kindly informs that he is "working to create
Native Nations, Native Voices--a festival to honor contemporary Native
language writers. To honor Native language authors, Native language
writers have been invited to participate in a week-long festival. Writers
will read from their works in their own languages; National language
translations will be made available to the audience at the option of each
writer [...] throughout Native America and beyond, a small but growing
body of writers are giving new voice to Native languages, using their own
languages to write about and confront the world they live in, the world of
the Twenty First Century. Often unknown outside their own communities,
such writers have much to say to all of us."

Here I list some useful links suggested by my respondents:

The Commissioner of Official Languages for the Territory of Nunavut in
Canada, and other links related to this experience:








The Hawai'i experience:





A report from The Mohawk Language Standardisation Project can be found


The document where Harold F. Schiffman addresses this can be found here:



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