Common Terms Used in the Language Industry and Linguistics
Updated: Jul 8, 2022
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The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. — Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophic
Abbreviations: An abbreviation is a shortened form of a word.
Acronyms: An acronym is a term that’s made from the first letters of a phrase and pronounced as a single word.
Accismus: Someone pretending they don’t want something they really do. For example, numerous book covers that loudly proclaim: “Do not read this book!”
Acrostic: A poem or series of lines in which certain letters, usually the first in each line, form a name, motto, or message when read in sequence.
Adjective: A word that describes a noun (small woman, tall man, windy day).
Adverb: A word that describes a verb (walk quickly, read slowly), another adverb (walk very quickly, read quite slowly), or an adjective (a very small woman, a remarkably tall man).
Adynaton: A declaration of impossibility for effect, usually an exaggerated comparison with a more obvious impossibility. “I will sooner have a beard grow in the palm of my hand than he shall get one of his cheek.” — William Shakespeare.
Alliteration: Words using the same letter for musical, mnemonic or immersive effect. In this example “sibilance” (the repetitive use of the letter “s”) is also employed: “She sells seashells by the seashore.”
Allusion: An indirect reference to a place, event, or text by way of easily understood emphasis. “Watch out for the estate agents’ noses growing as they describe the property” a direct allusion to Pinocchio.
Amphigory: Nonsense writing, usually in verse. “Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe; All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe.” — Lewis Carroll, “Jabberwocky.”
Analysis: Process of source-text analysis, before and/or during the translation process.
Analogy: The illustration of an idea by using a more familiar comparison. “The Conservative cabinet reshuffle was akin to the band on the Titanic switching instruments.”
Anthropomorphism: The attribution of human behaviour to non-human things. For example, cartoons that include animal characters using human speech and mimicking human behaviour, often to encourage emotional connection, such as “The Jungle Book” and “The Lion King.”
Antonym: A word of opposite meaning. “Love” as the antonym of “hate.”
Apocryphal: A fabricated but engaging story meant to impart a serious, often moral, point via suggested authenticity. For example, a made-up disaster featuring an imaginary driver meant to dissuade people against drink-driving. “Bob had five pints and then left me in the pub, only later to crash his Ford Focus into a chip-shop. You shouldn’t drink and drive!”
Aporia: An often insincere or rhetorical expression of doubt, about what a speaker should say, think, or do. “Oh no! Whatever shall I do now?”
Archaism: Translation technique or strategy involving the deliberate use of archaic forms in the target language; a form that is the result of such a technique.
Artificial intelligence: Branch of computer science devoted to creating intelligent machines that produced the first efforts toward machine translation.
Assonance: The repetition of the same or similar vowel sounds within words, phrases, or sentences. For example, “She seems to beam rays of sunshine with her eyes of green.”
ATA: American Translator's Association.
Attribute: A property defined and applied to a Translation Memory units/segment to help sequence retrieval. Attributes are also those fields that define and qualify term bases.
Automatic retrieval: TMs are searched and displayed automatically as a translator moves through a document.
Babblative: Given to babbling; prattling, prating, loquacious.
Back-translation: A translation of a translated text back into the language of the original text, made without reference to the original text. In the context of machine translation, this is also called a round-trip translation. It is analogous to reversing a mathematical operation; but even in mathematics such a reversal frequently does not produce a value that is precisely identical with the original.
Computer-Aided Translation (CAT) (computer-assisted, machine-aided or -assisted): Translation with the aid of computer programs, such as translation memory, terminology management and localization tools, designed to reduce the translator's workload and increase consistency of style and terminology. Not to be confused with machine translation!
Certification: A process by which a certifying body (a governmental or professional organization) attests to or certifies that an individual is qualified to provide a particular service. Certification calls for formal assessment, using an instrument that has been tested for validity and reliability, so that the certifying body can be confident that the individuals it certifies have the qualifications needed to do the job.
Cliché: An overused saying or idea which has lost its original meaning or power. For example: Time heals all wounds.
Colloquialism (slang): Slang and colloquialisms are informal, nonstandard words or phrases that are used in informal, ordinary conversation but not in formal speech or writing and are identified in standard dictionaries as “slang,” “colloquialism,” or “informal.”
Concordance: This feature allows translators to select one or more words in the source segment and the system retrieves segment pairs that match the search criteria. This feature is helpful for finding translations of terms and idioms in the absence of a terminology database.
Conference interpretation: Simultaneous interpreting of a speaker’s statements at a conference, symposium, or any other large meeting.
Conjunction: A word that connects other words or parts of a sentence (and, or, but, since, because, etc.).
Consecutive interpretation: One of three modes of interpreting (along with simultaneous and sight interpretation), in which a speaker pauses every few sentences to allow the interpreter to interpret what has just been said.
Consistency: Measure of how often a term or phrase is rendered the same way into the target language.
Consonance: The combination of consistently copied consonants, when the same consonant sound appears repeatedly in a line or sentence, creating a rhythmic effect. For example: Heorot trembled, wonderfully built to withstand the blows, the struggling great bodies beating at its beautiful walls… (Beowulf)
Context: Information outside of the actual text that is essential for complete comprehension.
Copy adaptation: The goal of copy adaptation is to produce a translation that maintains the tone and style of the source in a way that is effective, appropriate, and natural for use in the target market. It's a creative process of converting information into an appropriate format for the target language and culture.
Copyediting: Involves all proofreading tasks and also improves phrasing and organization to make the writing more effective.
Copywriting: Writing of advertising or publicity copy. Advertising copy will not translate satisfactorily due to the different cultural contexts and advertising cultures of other countries and regions and should always be produced in those countries. There are some advertising agencies who provide this service.
Court/Legal interpretation: Interpreting at legal proceedings, which is performed by a court interpreter who has special subject matter knowledge.
Cultural adaptation: Adjusting translation to the cultural environment of the target language to make it suitable for the target audience.
Dentiloquy: Speaking through clenched teeth.
Desktop Publishing (DTP): Using specific software (apps like FrameMaker, PageMaker, and QuarkXPress) to combine and rearrange text and images and creating digital files. Some of the most common uses of DTP include brochures, newspapers, newsletters, technical documentation, web pages. Before the 1980s, all printing and publishing was done manually and could take hours. Paul Brainerd, founder of Aldus Corporation and PageMaker coined the term “desktop publishing” after printing a hard copy of a document from a desktop terminal. Although closely related, DTP should not be confused with graphic design, which involves the creative process of coming up with the concepts and ideas and arrangements for visually communicating a specific message.
Descriptive translation: In translation, this mode amounts to a “free” translation.
Disambiguation: Differentiation of different senses of a word.
Electronic format: Material in a form that can be sent or received electronically; for example, via email.
Em dash (—): A dash the width of a capital M in whatever typeface you’re using. It signals breaking news—a whole new thought, more information, or an explanation.
En dash (–): A dash the width of a capital N (half the width of an em dash). It’s most often used in a range of dates, times, and numbers.
Etymology: The study of word origins and changing word meanings.
Euphemism: The substitution of a harsh, offensive, or unpleasant word with a nicer alternative.
False friends: Pairs of words or phrases in two languages or dialects (or letters in two alphabets) that look or sound similar but differ in meaning.
Font: A complete assortment of a given size and style of type, including caps, small caps, lowercase, punctuation marks, accents, and commonly used symbols.
Footer: A repetitive text entry at the bottom of each section of a document or the entire document. Different headers can be used for the first page of a chapter and for subsequent odd and even pages.
Freelancer: A self-employed translator or interpreter who works independently directly with the clients and might as well do projects for translation agencies.
Free translation: A translation that modifies surface expression and keeps intact only deeper levels of meaning.
FTP (File Transfer Protocol): A protocol for exchanging files over the Internet instead of by email—especially useful when transferring extremely large files.
Fuzzy match: An approximate translation offered by a translation memory system. The degree of approximation is stated as a percentage. This match can be accepted and edited to produce an exact match.
GILT: Acronym for “Globalization, Internationalization, Localization, Translation.”
Gist translation: Use of human or machine translation to create a rough translation of the source text that allows the reader to understand the essence of the text.
Glyph: A symbol, such as on a public sign, that imparts information without words, especially a figure or character incised or in relief.
Grammar: Grammar is a system of principles that govern the way a language works. Grammar describes how words are related to each other, particularly how they function in sentences.
GUI (Graphical User Interface): A program interface that takes advantage of the computer’s graphics capabilities to make the program easier to use. Basic GUI components: pointer, pointing device, icons, desktop, windows, and menus.
Guide interpreter (escort interpreter): Interpreter who accompanies visitors from a particular country abroad or foreign visitors that come to visit a country to ensure that they are able to communicate during their stay. This requires frequent travel and ability to interpret on a variety of subjects both professional and informal.
Hard copy: A printed copy of a translation or document.
Header: A repetitive text entry at the top of each section of a document or the entire document. Different headers can be used for the first page of a chapter and for subsequent odd and even pages.
Healthcare interpreting: Interpreting that takes place in healthcare settings of any sort, including doctor’s offices, clinics, hospitals, home health visits, mental health clinics, and public health presentations. Typically the interpretation occurs during an interview or encounter between a healthcare provider (doctor, nurse, lab technician) and a patient (or the patient and one or more family members).
Homonym: A homonym is one of a group of words that share the same spelling and the same pronunciation but have different meanings.
HTML (Hypertext Markup Language): An authoring language used to create documents on the Web. HTML defines the structure and layout of a Web document by using a variety of tags and attributes.
Human translation: Translation performed by a real human translator as opposed to translation performed by a machine.
Hyperbole: Exaggeration for emphasis or rhetorical or dramatic effect. “There are a billion reasons why Donald Trump is a terrible President.”
Icon: A symbol used on screen to represent a computer entity or function.
Idiom: An idiom is a speech form or an expression of a given language that is peculiar to itself grammatically or cannot be understood from the individual meanings of its elements.
Initialism: An acronym that’s pronounced letter by letter.
Intensifier (marker): Any word or phrase giving emphasis or precision to a description (e.g., adverbs, adjectives) or statement (e.g., can be grammatical in form), including time movement (e.g., the day after tomorrow, last night, next week).
Interjection: A phrase consisting of words such as oh!, alas!, and ouch!, often marked by emphasis usually shown with an exclamation point.
Interpretation, interpreting: The process of understanding and analyzing a spoken or signed message and re-expressing that message faithfully, accurately, and objectively in another language, taking the cultural and social context into account. It is often confused with translation, which, within the language profession, is restricted to the process of converting written messages.
Interpreter: A person who renders a message spoken or signed in one language into a second language. It is often confused with translator who translates a written word rather than a spoken word.
Interpreting assignment: A period of time during which an interpreter performs his or her duties.
IoL: Institute of Linguists.
ITI: Institute of Translation and Interpreting.
Kenning: Replacement of a common noun by a more exciting compound, for example “Information superhighway” rather than “Internet.”
Kerning: The adjusted space between letters in a font.
LAN (Local Area Network): Computers linked within a limited area by high performance cables to enable information interchange, shared hardware resources and which use a powerful secondary storage unit called a file server.
Landscape: In printing on a letter- or legal-size sheet of paper, landscape means printing with the sheet placed horizontally (with the longer edge at the top). See also: Portrait.
LISA: Localization Industry Standards Association.
Literal translation: Translation that closely matches the wording and structure of the source language. The literal meaning of words is taken as if from the dictionary (out of context), but target language grammar is respected. Literal translation often appears unnatural, hard to read and understand, and therefore should be avoided unless a translator is specifically asked to do a literal translation.
Literary translation: Translation of work of literature such as novels, short stories, poetry, etc.
Localization: Modification and presentation of a text in a form that suits the local market or user.
Logorrhoea: Excessive use of words.
Machine Translation (MT): Translation performed by computers using various computer programs without a human translator's input in the process. MT cannot be relied upon as its accuracy is very low and the meaning in most cases is distorted. MT provides “raw” translations of documents for certain language pairs, based on a system of bilingual dictionaries and linguistic analysis. It can help to save time but requires great care; the output usually has to be corrected (post-edited) and should always be carefully checked.
Marker (intensifier): Any word or phrase giving emphasis or precision to a description (e.g., adverbs, adjectives) or statement (e.g., can be grammatical in form), including time movement (e.g., the day after tomorrow, last night, next week).
Marketing translation: Translation of marketing and advertising materials that requires a creative approach so that the target text reads and flows well, sounds appealing, resonates and engages the target audience.
Masthead: This is the section of a newsletter or magazine that gives details about staff, ownership, advertising, subscription, etc.
Medical interpretation: Interpreting in various medical settings such as doctors’ offices, hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers, etc. This type of interpretation is done by medical interpreters who have a special subject matter knowledge.
Metadata: Information that describes data.
Metaphor: Unlike simile, which suggests something is directly comparable to something similar using “as” or “like,” metaphor compares two things by suggesting that one thing is something else altogether. “Love is a battlefield.” Simile would have it: “Love is like a battlefield.”
Match: Indication that words or sentences are matched—either partially or fully-to previous translations.
Modem (MOdulator/DEModulator): A piece of equipment that converts computer file information to a form that can be readily transmitted via a telephone line and received and demodulated by compatible equipment.
Monitor: That part of your computer that displays the information with which you are working. Also called the screen.
Morpheme: The smallest unit of meaning in a language.
Mouse: A piece of equipment that attaches to your computer and allows you to move a pointer around the screen and perform file processing activities.
MultiTerm: The SDL Trados terminology tool.
Native language: It is the first language a person learns and usually is known as a person’s “mother tongue.”
Natural language: This is a term used to differentiate a naturally-occurring language (such as English, French, or German) from a computer programming language.
Neologism: New word or term.
Noun: A word that indicates a person, place, thing, or idea. Proper nouns represent unique, named people or things and always start with a capital letter (Mike, London). Common nouns indicate one or more of a whole group of things, and unless they begin a sentence, they start with a lowercase letter (tree, freedom).
Nymrod: A person who insists on turning every multi-word term into an acronym.
OCR (Optical Character Recognition): This is a technique for recognising printed text using computer software. The graphic shapes of characters are matched up to internal tables and the corresponding ASCII text is derived from them.
Onomatopoeia: A word referring to a specific sound, whose pronunciation mimics that sound.
Oxymoron: An apparently contradictory term or statement that nonetheless often makes emphatic sense. “You’ve got to be cruel to be kind.”
Palindrome: A word or phrase spelled the same forward and backward. “Dammit! I’m mad!”
Paradiastole: A figure of speech in which a vice is portrayed as a virtue. “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.” —George Best.
Paradox: A contradictory statement that nonetheless may state a truth. “The child is the father of the man.” —Wordsworth.
Parechesis: The repetition of the same sound in words in close or immediate succession.
“Veni, vidi, vici.” —Julius Caesar. See also: Alliteration, Assonance, Consonance.
PDF (Portable Document Format): The format in which a file in Adobe Acrobat is saved. A PDF file will appear exactly as its creator intended it to, regardless of who reads it or what platform displays it. And in most cases no one else can directly alter that file.
Pleonasm: The use of a superfluity of words, often deliberately, for emphasis. “I’ve never seen anything more obscene in all my 80 years on this Earth.”
PM: Abbreviation for “Project Manager.”
Point: The basic unit of typographic measurement, equal to 1/72 of an inch.
Portrait: In printing on a letter- or legal-size sheet of paper, portrait means the sheet is positioned vertically (with the shorter edge at the top). See also: Landscape.
Post-editing: Process by which one or more humans review, edit, and improve the quality of machine translation output.
Pronoun: A word that stands in for a noun (I, he, them, who, that, which, all, anyone, one, none, etc.).
Preposition: A word that “positions” other words in a sentence (about, above, between, in, on, out, to, up, etc.).
Pre-editing: Process by which a text is edited prior to translation in order to clarify ambiguous terms and increase translatability.
Prescriptive translation: An approach to translation which seeks to dictate rules for “correct” translation. See also: Descriptive translation.
Pre-translation: Phase of translation process in which documents are prepared for conversion into another language. Usually includes an automated analysis against translation memories so that previously translated text is inserted in a file, therefore avoiding rework and associated costs.
Proof: A final copy of a text or document submitted for approval.
Proofreading: Practice of checking a translated text to identify and correct spelling, grammar, syntax, and coherency and integrity errors (usually carried out by a second linguist or translator).
Pseudoantonym: A word that appears to mean the opposite of what it actually means (unloose, inflammable, ingenious, despoil, impassive).
Pseudo localization: The process of faking translation of software or web applications before starting to localize the product for real. It is used to verify that the user interface is capable of containing the translated strings (length) and to discover possible internationalization issues.
Pseudo-translation: A procedure which simulates how a translated document will look after translation and how much extra DTP or other work will be required before actual translation is done. This can help in setting the appropriate timelines of projects.
Pubilect: A dialect unique to teenagers (puberty + dialect). Coined by Marcel Danesi, a professor of linguistics and semiotics at the University of Toronto.
QA (Quality Assurance): A process designed to ensure translation quality, in which specific processes are followed with the purpose of minimizing errors.
QC (Quality Control): Process designed to ensure translation quality, in which the target text is reviewed with the purpose of catching errors.
Reduplicative: A word or phrase formed by the doubling of a syllable or other part of a word, sometimes with modifications. For example, “so-so,” “helter-skelter,” or “beriberi.”
Register: A stylistic level of language used by a speaker; a key element in expressing degrees of formality, including curses, profanity, and taboo words. A speaker’s choice of register is generally adapted to a particular topic, the parties spoken to, and the perceived formality of the situation.
Repetition: Sentence or phrase that is repeated in the source text, often referred to a Translation Memory analysis.
Rhinestone vocabulary: Words or phrases chosen only because they appeal to a particular person or group. For example, political speakers using the likes of “family values,” “equal rights,” and “lower taxes” for easy impact.
Ricochet word: A word or phrase formed by the doubling of a syllable or other part of a word, which involves modification of the initial or middle or final part of the root. For example, mish-mash, higgledy-piggledy (possibly a reduplication of “pig”), “hankypanky,” “honky tonk,” “criss-cross.” See Reduplicative.
ROM (Read Only Memory): Part of a computer’s primary storage that is not volatile.
Saying: A short expression such as an aphorism and proverb that is often repeated and familiar, setting forth wisdom and truth.
Scroll bar: In software applications or on the Web, a narrow bar that appears on the side or bottom of a window that lets the user control which part of a document is currently visible.
SDL: Publishers of the SDL Trados CAT Suite, which consists of the former products Trados and SDLX.
Sight interpretation: One of three modes of interpreting (along with consecutive and simultaneous interpretation), in which an interpreter reads a document written in one language and orally interprets information into another language.
Sign language interpreter: Interpreter who facilitates communication between people who are deaf or hard of hearing and people who can hear. Sign language interpreter must be fluent in English and American Sign Language (ASL).
Simile: A figure of speech in which two things are compared, usually with “as” or “like.” “He was like a tornado.” Unlike metaphor, where something is described as being something else altogether, without the use of “as” or “like” (He was a tornado.)
Simultaneous interpretation: One of three modes of interpreting (along with consecutive and sight interpretation), in which an interpreter interprets the message orally at the same time as the speaker is speaking. The interpreter usually sits in a booth and listens through a headset or other equipment.
Slang (colloquialism): Slang and colloquialisms are informal, nonstandard words or phrases that are used in informal, ordinary conversation but not in formal speech or writing and are identified in standard dictionaries as “slang,” “colloquialism,” or “informal.”
Small caps: An abbreviation for small capitals—capital letters equal to the height of the lowercase letters without ascenders or descenders.
Smart quotes: Microsoft’s term for apostrophes and quotation marks that are curly as opposed to straight.
Source language: The language in which text was originally written.
Slurvian: English characterized by slurred pronunciation. Examples include “gimme” instead of “give me,” “d’jo” instead of “did you,” and “Frisco” instead of “San Francisco.”
Stump-word: A word formed by shortening another word, such as “math,” “gym” or “ad.”
Substantive editing: Calls for a greater level of rewriting and reorganization and even for suggesting new approaches and ideas.
Synonym: One of two (or more) words that have the same (or very similar) meaning: big and large; error and mistake; run and sprint.
TA: The Translators Association of the Society of Authors.
Target language: The language into which text is translated.
Technical translation: Translation of technical texts, such as user or maintenance manuals, catalogues and data sheets.
Technopropism: The unintentionally funny misuse of a technical word or phrase (for example “We'll release the product once it passes the fault infection test.”).
Telephone interpretation: Interpreting a conversation over the phone.
TEP: The “Translate —Edit —Proofread” Process.
TMX (Translation Memory Exchange): Standard for converting translation memories from one format to another.
Toolbar: In software applications, an onscreen strip that contains clickable items (buttons or menu options) that perform specific functions.
Track Changes (TC): The feature in Word that allows you to show all your suggested changes and queries in a way that’s easily distinguished from the rest of the text. Anyone reviewing your work can then accept or reject the changes.
Transcreation: Transcreation goes beyond a marketing translation. The focus is to convey the idea, meaning and concept; recreating with the local voice in mind. There is more thought and creative energy into how the message will sound and resonate with a local user.
Translation, translating: The process of facilitating written communication from one language to another. It is performed by a translator. Translation should almost always be done by a native speaker into his/her own mother tongue.
Translation Memory (TM): A system that automatically searches for text segments that have been translated before and stored in the memory. These translated segments are then inserted in the new translation and the translator can decide whether to keep, amend, or discard them. This is particularly useful for repetitive or highly standardized documents.
Translator: One who renders written text from one language into another language.
Transliteration: The letter-by-letter rendering of a source language name or word in the target language when the two languages have distinct scripts (e.g., Russian and English).
Unit of translation: The linguistic element (word, clause, sentence, text) used by the translator in the process of translation.
URL (Uniform Resource Locator): The address of a Web location.
Verbicide: The destruction of the sense or value of a word.
Virus: An undesirable set of computer instructions that can corrupt information on your computer. The results can be devastating.
Whispering, whispered interpreting: Similar to simultaneous interpreting, whereby the interpreter sits close to the listener and whispers the translation without technical aids.
Word count: A standard measure of the size of a text. Translation projects, for example, are often priced on a per-word (US) or per-1,000-word (UK) basis.
Word-for-word translation (verbatim): The process of matching the individual words of the source language as closely as possible to individual words of the target language. It is often referred to as literal translation. One will rarely see a true word-for-word translation, which is at all readable and with the exact same meaning as the original.
WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get): A screen display that approximates to what will be printed on paper. Earlier software that did not display directly in WYSIWYG usually had a page view facility that offers the same display.
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DiYanni, Robert, and Pat C. Hoy II. The Scribner Handbook for Writers. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1998.
Samuelsson-Brown, Geoffrey. A Practical Guide for Translators (4th ed.). Clevedon, Buffalo, Toronto: Multilingual Matters, 2010.
Hatim, Basil A., and Munday, Jeremy. Translation: An Advanced Resource Book for Students. London, New York: Routledge Applied Linguistics, 2004.
Shuttleworth, Mark, and Cowie Moira. Dictionary of Translation Studies. London, New York: Routledge Applied Linguistics, 2014.
The American Heritage College Dictionary, Third Edition, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1997.
“Literary Terms.” Literary Terms. June 1, 2015. Accessed December 30, 2019. https://www.literaryterms.net.