The Preparatory Work for an International Technical Terminology

By Henry Jacob

Reprinted from "The British Steelmaker", December 1945

The problem of international communication is becoming an increasingly important factor in many branches of technology, and will have to be solved sooner or later either in the form of an agreed international technical nomenclature or as a complete auxiliary language. The subject introduced here is fully treated in a book to be published shortly by Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons "On the Choice of a Common Language," edited for the New Education Fellowship by H. Jacob. This book traces the development of proposed international languages from early beginnings to the chief systems of to-day, and includes a special article by the author of "Basic English." The problem is no less vital than the standardization of weights and measures, and is likely to prove of the greatest importance in the future.

THE appearance of a number of different systems of proposed international languages since the end of the last century is an indication of the urgency of a problem for which a final solution is yet to be found and adopted. Since Esperanto made its first appearance in 1887, others have been put forward, including such recent additions as Interglossa by Professor Lancelot Hogben, in which the author attempted to reduce the problem to the simplicities of the isolating principles in Chinese, the "monling" of Mr. Kenneth Littlewood, operating on the basis of monosyllables, and Basic English by Professor Ogden, drastically reducing the standard English vocabulary to a mere 850 to 1,000 vocables. All these projects were designed as complete languages in order to solve the whole vast problem of international communication, rather than selecting a particular branch of science, preparing data, and assembling specific proposals for the solution of limited problems. It should be borne in mind that the question of a common auxiliary language is not necessarily identical with proposals for international, standardised nomenclatures. Here, highly specialised questions are involved which can only be solved by co-operation among both technical experts and linguists with the dual object of defining the principles of denotation and of selecting the most suitable linguistic material for it.

An attempt to find a solution to the problem of technical nomenclature was made or rather begun in 1935 by the International Federation of National Standardising Associations known as ISA, on the suggestions of the Soviet Russian Standardising Committee, working under the auspices of the Academy of Sciences. The terms of reference of the ISA-37 Committee (terminology) were strictly limited to the task which can be briefly described as the finding of principles for and selection of terms and their definition in order to arrive at a terminological code by international agreement.

In September, 1936, Dr. E. Wuester, who was later to direct all research work and comparative studies, gave a comprehensive report on the linguistic aspects to the Budapest conference. Two ways were open to ISA, (a) to use as the basis for the code the elements of the ethnic languages of Europe, with or without modifications, (b) to use the basic principles of an existing auxiliary language, or a synthesis of several systems for the definition and fixing of terms. Experiences were recalled which had previously been made in other sciences in which the principles laid down by international agreement for the denotation in organic chemistry were of special interest. It had been decided not to standardise the names but to agree on the selection of roots, invariable in meaning but differing in spelling, and to assign one function to each of a number of defined affixes on the principles of the agglutinative language pattern. The affixes [e.g., -ide, -ite, -ate, hypo-, per-] indicated different degrees of oxidation of salts or different degrees of saturation of hydro-carbons [-ane, -ene, -yne], giving the code such terms as sulphide, sulphate, hyposulphite, persulphate, ethene, ethane, ethyne, etc., understood in all countries among chemists.

Although it was not intended to do more than to establish the principles for and a workable basis of an international technical terminology, the committee examined a number of planned language projects which were of demonstrated usefulness, including Esperanto, Ido, Occidental, Latino sine flexione, and prepared comparative studies both in the planned and the ethnic languages. The table on the following page [here below] is an example of the type of work undertaken and compares terms in English, French and German with those of the auxiliary systems, the latter showing a considerable degree of similarity.

The war interrupted the work before definite conclusions could be reached by the committee. Tentative proposals which formed the basis of all discussion, were, that the code should be constructed by taking the fullest advantage of the experiences gained through planned language systems, and that a terminology should be supplemented by a set of grammatical rules allowing of the descriptive definition of all terms in order to eliminate ambiguity, and of allowing and providing for the widest possible development for thousands of new code terms which will have to be called into being as technology advances.

The different systems of international auxiliary languages which are described as of demonstrated usefulness, i.e., which have been used for a variety of purposed in speech and writing and have proved to function more or less efficiently, fall roughly into two distinct categories. The first, mainly represented by Esperanto and Ido, is referred to as the autonomistic school, so called because it stipulates that all elements (roots and affixes and particles of speech) are autonomous, i.e., independent of the peculiarities of ethnic languages. The elements of autonomistic systems are - as far as practicable - of one signification only; (2) the naturalistic school, mainly represented by Latino sine flexione and Occidental, so called because it stipulates that all forms shall have the closest possible similarity to the existing forms of ethnic languages, and preferably to the Romanic group. The chief differences can be briefly summarised:-
SPELLING: The autonomists adopted phonetic spelling for their systems [f instead of ph, k for every k sound, c to be pronounced as ts, never as k, in short: each symbol one sound value]. The naturalists adopted orthographic spelling [c before e, i, y as ts, otherwise as k; y to be used as a consonant in yo = I, and as a vowel with the value of French u, e.g., analytic], and they admitted double consonants to shorten the preceding vowel [frottar]. Occidental uses diacritics to denote deviations from customary stress (necù); t in -tie, -tia, -tion is pronounced as ts.

LOGIC: Autonomists define logic applied to an auxiliary language as the logic of relationship between roots and formative elements = grammatical logic. For Ido, Couturat has formulated the rule of reversibility based on the assumption that the words of an auxiliary language consist of invariable elements (morphemes) of three sorts: roots, derivative affixes (prefixes and suffixes), and grammatic inflections. Couturat's rule means that if we combine a root and an affix, the new word must represent the combined meaning of both root and affix [labor/ar = to work, -ist = person professionally occupied with, labor/ist/o = a worker]; if we add further prefixes or suffixes, the meaning of the word thus obtained should be the cumulative meaning of root plus affixes. Naturalists divide logic as applied to language into (1) regularity, (2) monosignificance, i.e., the invariable meaning of each element, (3) reversibility, (4) elimination of ambiguity. As these four demands cannot be attained, logicality should be abandoned as a criterion for an auxiliary. It is replaced with convention or usage, and analogy. Both schools recognise that the smallest complete unit of thought is the phrase.

DETERMINATIVE ENDINGS: The autonomists use determinative endings for word classes -a for adjectives, -o for noun singular, etc., except for conjunctions and prepositions, to facilitate recognition of parts of speech. Naturalists describe endings which do not fulfil grammatical functions as pleonastic endings. They only admit endings which have a grammatical function -(e)s for plural, -men for adverbs, etc. but make an exception for mute e in certain cases.

CONJUGATION: Autonomists discard auxiliary verbs and use synthetic conjugation [I will go = me iros]. Naturalists use analytic conjugation, "va" to indicate futurity, "vell" to indicate conditional forms, etc. [yo va ear = I shall go, yo vell ear = I would go].

DERIVATION: Apart from Esperanto, no system uses unlimited direct derivation, or uses affixes as independent roots [Esperanto yes/i = to say yes, or, to affirm]. Ido does not derive verbs from substantival roots directly but uses an affix to indicate action [martel/ag/ar = to act with a hammer]. Occidental and Novial admit a limited number of cases for direct derivation.

The autonomistic systems conform to the agglutinative principle, i.e., they combine root and suffix without inflecting the root [decid/ar = to decide, decid/o = decision]. The naturalistic systems use agglutination as well as flexion. They derive deci/s/ion from decid/(e)r according to de Wahl's rule which says: (1) If, after removing the grammatical ending from the infinitive [-r, i(e)r], the root ends in a vowel, add t or change y into a t [crea/r, crea/t, crea/t/or]; (2) if the final consonant of the root should be either d or r, change this consonant into s, [decid/er, deci/s, deci/s/ion]; (3) in all other cases, except for six exceptions, the removal of the infinitive ending gives the required perfect stem. By virtue of this rule the naturalists have been able to derive many words which are internationally known [curr/er = to run, curs]. Autonomists were obliged to adopt those words which could not be regularly derived by agglutinative principles as new vocables [kur/ar, kurs/o].

These, briefly, are some of the outstanding points which have a bearing on the problem if it is decided to solve it by means of a constructed planned auxiliary, both in its technical aspects for a nomenclature and in its wider application as a second auxiliary.

Should an ethnic language be chosen, which seems most likely at the moment, for example English, either in its classical or in a simplified form, some measure of agreement on the formation of its terms will inevitably have to be reached, terms which are logical and whose roots admit of the indefinitive progressive development of modern technology.

So far language, the chief vehicle of international communication, has hindered rather than furthered the essential co-operation among nations.

Comparative Table

English.French.German.Esperanto. Ido.Occidental.Latino s.f.
benzenebenzolBenzol, Reinbenzolbenzenobenzolo (pura)pur benzolbenzol pur
benzolbenzolMotorenbenzolbenzolomotor-benzolobenzolbenzol pro motor
gasolineessenceBenzinbenzino or gazolinogazolinogasolingasolin
petrolessence moteurMotorenbenzinmotor-benzinomotor-benzinomotor-gasolinpetrol pro motor
kerosineessence à pétrolePetroleumpetrolokeroseno (petrolo)petroleocerosin
burning oilpétrole lampantLeuchtoellum-oleolumiz-petrololamp-oleopetrol lampant
long-time burning oilhuile combustibleBrennoelbrul-oleooleo kombusteblabrul-oleool combustibile
(crude) petroleumpétrole brutRohoelkruda petrolokruda petrolocrud petroleopetrol brut
crude oilhuile bruteErdoel, Rohkruda oleonaftocrud oleool brut
metercompteurMengenmesserkvanto-metromezurilo quantesalamesuratormetro de quantitat
flow meterappareils pour la mesure de débitDurchflussmesserfluo-metrofluo-mezurilotraversmetremetro de proflux
flow measurementmesure de débitDurchflussmessungfluo-mezuradofluo-mezurotraversmesurationmensur de proflux
throatdispositif d'étranglementDrosselgeraetstringilostrangulilo, droselilostrangulatorstragulator
nozzletuyèreDuese (Muendung)beko or ajutotuyerobectuba (tùbla)
standardizednormaliséGenormt(laù) normanormizitanormatnormalizat

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