Interview with Louis-Jean Rousseau

Louis-Jean Rousseau is a major player in international cooperation on language planning and terminology. During his career, he served as Secretary General of the RĂ©seau international de nĂ©ologie et de terminologie (RINT) and the RĂ©seau international francophone d’amĂ©nagement linguistique (RIFAL), Chairman of Sub-Committee 1 (terminologie et ressources linguistiques: principes et mĂ©thodes) ISO/TC 37 Terminology and other language and content resources. He remains very active in the RĂ©seau panlatin de terminologie (REALITER), as well as within many other networks. Louis-Jean Rousseau


Read our interview with Louis-Jean Rousseau in French here.


1) Mr Rousseau, what is it about terminology that gets you so fired up?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been passionate about words – their form, their meaning and the way they are used in different contexts. That’s definitely what prompted me to study linguistics. Terminology then seemed like the obvious next step.

What I love about terminology is not just the process of naming things, but also the cognitive aspect. The ability to name things helps us to understand the world around us and classify our knowledge. The ‘communication’ aspect is also very interesting – as the modern world becomes more and more technologised, terminology and, more broadly, technological jargon are becoming part of everyday language. Terminology is therefore a valuable tool for acquiring knowledge and disseminating it to an ever wider audience.


2) You have spent most of your career working for the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF). How has terminology changed since you started?

At that time – in the 1970s – terminology, which had emerged in Canada as a branch of translation, was being used in Quebec as a language policy tool as part of the drive to make French the lingua franca in public life and, in particular, working life. In order to respond properly to the huge need for terminology in Quebecois society, we had to develop a methodology that could be used to create, process and disseminate terminology in many walks of life. The methodology we developed combined the cognitive approach to terminology, corpus linguistics (long before terminotics was invented) and something that would later be called socioterminology, given that we saw the need to take account of the way the language was used in everyday exchanges. This huge project laid the foundations for the Banque de terminologie du QuĂ©bec (Quebec terminology bank), which we now call the Grand dictionnaire terminologique.

Nowadays, given the plethora of terminological resources available, terminologists mainly work on updating terms, keeping an eye out for neologisms and monitoring the way existing terminology is evolving. The biggest change has been the introduction of IT tools at every stage of terminology work: the many tools that can be integrated into or linked to terminologists’ work stations have boosted productivity and efficiency enormously.


3) You worked for three years at the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) as the head of language policy and language development. Could you tell us a little more about your work there?

My work at the OIF concerned the promotion of linguistic diversity, which was seen as a key issue at the time. In 2001, the ministers of culture and the governments of the French‑speaking countries had adopted the Cotonou Plan on cultural and linguistic diversity, which encouraged French-speakers to reflect on the issue of languages (French and partner languages), their status, their use and their development.

The objectives of the Cotonou Plan were to implement language policies and create structures which would foster the harmonious development of the French language and its partner languages and to strengthen the role played by those languages as vectors of expression for creators and in the areas of development, education, training, information and communication in the French-speaking world – the common denominator in all those activities being the use of those languages. The plan set out three areas of action:

  • the French language;
  • the partner languages;
  • relations with other linguistic communities (Spanish-speaking, Portuguese-speaking, Russian-speaking, etc.).

My work involved creating programmes and activities that could help to achieve those objectives, in particular in collaboration with many other partners and networks, including RIFAL (RĂ©seau international francophone d’amĂ©nagement linguistique), REALITER (RĂ©seau panlatin de terminologie) and other national and international organisations.


4) You are a founding member of REALITER. When Parliament’s terminology work was presented at the 2015 research day, what were your impressions?

The REALITER network, which has existed for more than 20 years, is very important and can serve as an example for other language communities. The main objective in setting up the network was to promote the harmonised development of the modern Romance languages, given that they have common roots, similar lexical forms and similar morphemes. In the minds of its founders, the purpose of REALITER was to achieve the following:

  • to establish common methodological principles for joint projects;
  • to carry out joint research and create tools to promote the development of modern Romance languages;
  • to carry out joint multilingual terminology work in shared areas of interest that affect society;
  • to share reference materials;
  • to give language communities the chance to learn from each other by fostering exchanges of specialist teachers, experts, students and educational materials.

Many of these objectives have been achieved at least in part, and joint research has been put into practice in the form of the annual research days. I was not able to take part in the 2015 REALITER day you mentioned, but I think we should be pleased that this network, which must remain a source of inspiration for terminologists, is still active.


5) The 12th REALITER research day will have the theme ‘Terminology and Standardisation’. In your view, what is the relationship between terminology and standardisation?

Terminological standardisation is not only used in national terminology organisations, but forms part of technical standardisation at international level, in particular under the ISO. To my mind, we have to distinguish between terminology work, the main objective of which is to describe and organise sets of terms, and terminological standardisation, which must be based on rigorous terminology work, but takes that work a stage further by assessing real‑life usage for the purpose of harmonising terminology use to some degree in an effort to facilitate mutual comprehension. Terminology work can be carried out in many different settings: firms, public authorities, national or international organisations, university research, etc. However, terminological standardisation is usually done by authoritative organisations specialising in the area. What is more, terminological standardisation is usually the result of consensus between terminology users, because it has to be based on real usage and meet certain linguistic and socioterminological criteria.


6) You are now working as a private consultant. Does your work involve terminology?

My work in terminology concerns issues of methodology and the research underlying terminology. I attend many conferences and publish on a regular basis. I also contribute to the work of ISO Technical Committee 37 (Terminology and other language and content resources) and get involved in the organisation and implementation of terminology work, in particular in the context of language planning programmes.


7) Are you familiar with IATE, the EU’s terminology database? What do you think of it? Do you use it?

Even though I no longer regularly use term banks, I have worked extensively in the area. All the large term banks which now exist have individual characteristics which reflect, in particular, the needs of their target users, their IT infrastructure, their dissemination policy and their original objectives. IATE was created in response to the challenges of multilingual translation in the European Institutions in their various policy areas. Having consulted IATE on a number of occasions, and having familiarised myself with its structure, I think it meets its objectives well. As is always the case with large terminology databases drawn from a wide range of sources, it inevitably contains multiple and sometimes conflicting entries, but that’s a problem that can be fixed by means of continuous updating work. IATE’s best qualities are its wealth of content, its topicality and its user‑friendliness.

While we’re on the subject of terminology databases, the use of multiple databases by translators is an issue that comes up frequently. Given the large number of terminology databases available, and given that they cannot all be consulted at once, it has been suggested that they should all be merged into one. A few years ago, I chaired a working group that proposed the creation of a terminology portal that could give translators simultaneous access to several databases at once, making their work and the work of other users easier. We can hardly expect all databases to be merged, given the diverse nature of their content, structures and dissemination policies, and so the portal would have been the ideal tool for all translators working privately or in‑house. Unfortunately, the lack of financial support from the organisations that had initially backed the project meant that it never came to fruition.


8) How do you envisage the future of terminology as a discipline? Do you think it offers opportunities for young people?

Today, terminology is omnipresent in the following areas:

  • design;
  • knowledge creation and transfer;
  • information processing;
  • information and textual and documentary data management;
  • economic, scientific and cultural exchanges;
  • e-commerce.

It is used in information and communication technologies, which are becoming ever more complex and involve a great deal of linguistic creativity:

  • documentary computer science;
  • the creation of ontologies;
  • expert systems;
  • text analysis and generation tools;
  • computer‑assisted translation tools, lexicomatics and terminotics;
  • revision and editing tools;
  • automatic text entry;
  • speech recognition tools;
  • localisation;
  • road traffic tools (navigators, search engines, etc.).

Listing just a few of its areas of application shows that there is a bright future for terminology, even if it sometimes goes by other names.


Read our interview with Louis-Jean Rousseau in French here.


Interviewer Photo Lucile

Lucile Mirande-Bret studied Translation (French, English and Spanish) and graduated with a MA in Terminology at the Institut Libre Marie Haps in Brussels. During her MA, she volunteered as a Dialog Assistant Liaison during the Special Olympic European Summer Games in Antwerp to provide language assistance in a variety of tasks to the Slovak delegation. Then, after an enriching terminology traineeship in a translation agency in Madrid in 2015, she decided to stay in the city in order to gain experience and worked for a few months in a technology company as a translator. She joined the TermCoord trainee team in April 2016.