The relationship between terminology and lexicology



Somers (1996) reports that terminology is conceived as a field that deals with specialised terms. However, to exercise such a role terminology relies on other subjects to establish some of its foundations. Somers (ibid) adds that while terminology focuses on the study of terms, lexicology as a sub-field of linguistics focuses on the study of words. That is to say, terminology gives much more importance to terms/words of a specialised field such as physics, anthropology, art, industry, trading…etc,  while lexicology goes deeper to analyse the speaker’s lexical competence starting from the assumption that all speakers know a set of words that allow them to communicate with other speakers of that language.

Starting from this, Somers (ibid) realises that the domain of lexicology is much broader than that of terminology and yet it includes it. Cabré (2003) in this respect emphasises the link of terminological units to lexical ones by stating that “among all these units we identify the terminological units because of their correspondence to lexical units which occupy a node in the conceptual structure of a subject field and because semantically they are the minimal autonomous units of this structure.” [su_pullquote align=”right”]Any lexical unit would be in the position of being considered a terminological unit.[/su_pullquote]

Additionally, Cabré (ibid) referring to the theory of natural language argues that the words belonging to a speaker’s lexical space are not considered separate terminological units but rather special meanings at the speaker’s command for that particular lexical unit. In fact, Cabré (ibid) states that by analysing the terminological units’ syntactic, morphological and phonological characteristics one would not find properties that could probably differentiate them from other lexical units, regardless of the fact that they are different in relation to their pragmatic and semantic aspects.

Based on this, and according to Cabré (ibid), the lexical unit could neither be considered general nor terminological. It is basically general by default but through both pragmatic characteristics and discourse that it adopts either a special or a terminological meaning. In the theory of language again Cabré (ibid) argues that “units of special meaning” refer to terminological units and therefore any lexical unit would be in the position of being considered a terminological unit.

Ultimately, such an overview shows the inter-related nature of terminology and lexicology and even though they are different disciplines, still in linguistics they are complementary to each other. And that is why most, if not all, terminological works rely heavily on the lexical approach and could hardly do without it. In this sense, Steffens (1993:73) says that “terminology can benefit from being viewed and treated in the context of pragmatics, corpus linguistics and other paradigms in linguistics and in philosophy dedicated to the study of text for investigating problems related to knowledge of language and knowledge of matters scientific and technological.”



  • Cabré Castellví, M 2003, ‘Theories of terminology: Their description, prescription and explanation’, Terminology, John Benjamins Publishing Company, Amsterdam , vol 9:2. pp. 164-199.
  • Somers, H 1996, Terminology, LSP and Translation, John Benjamin Publishing, Amsterdam . pp 15-22.
  • Steffens, P 1993, Machine Translation and the Lexicon, Springer, Berlin. pp 65-73.


Escrito por Yacine Chemssi
Visitante de estudio de terminología en TermCoord
Estudiante de la Universidad de Luxemburgo