Technical Terminology

From: Peter Bernard Ladkin < >
Date: Sat, 30 Apr 2016 07:57:01 +0200


It seems the issue of technical terminology interests a lot of List participants, and we have heard various views expressed on apparently controversial concepts such as software reliability.

For those motivated to try to do something concrete about improving technical terminology in the area of electrotechnical safety and security, here is some info about what is going on and how you can contribute.

The SmartTerms project ran at the PTB in Braunschweig (the government lab which inter alia determine measurements and calibration standards for physical quantities), the Technical University of Braunschweig Institute for Traffic Safety and Automation Technology (IVA), and my RVS group in Bielefeld. (The English name for Braunschweig is Brunswick, which is close to the old German name Brunswiek.) The object of SmartTerms was to capture and compare new terminology being generated in the new areas of electrotechnology, and propose unified terminology that, well, does everything everyone wants from technical terms.

In my view, the task is massive and there is no way it could be solved in 6 person-years of work. Two-thirds of the effort came from professional linguists, Suzanne Arndt at TU-BS IVA and Tatyana Sheveleva at PTB. The project ended at the end of September 2015 and the final report is due "any day now".

TU-BS IVA runs a terminology database and visualisation tool named iglos which captures and displays connections between concepts. Part of the SmartTerms project was to enhance the iglos term base and make use of its tools to rationalise (more precisely: to suggest to standards committees a rationalisation of) new terminology. People here might be interested in iglos http://www.iglos.de/doc/?language=en . Many person-years of work have gone into iglos and, we hope, will continue to do so.

One of the first results of SmartTerms was shown to the 61508 Maintenance Team IEC SC65A MT 61508-3 in November 2014. Chris Goeker at Bielefeld compiled a def-use graph of terms in IEC 61508-3, referenced to the terminology definitions in 61508-4. Terms are arranged right and left, written in 10pt font with double- or triple-spacing. The graph is some 3m long. You take one look at it and wonder how on earth any of this terminology can work at all well.

There will likely be a follow-on project to SmartTerms, called Harbsafe, which concentrates on safety and security terminology in electrotechnology. The project is seen as strategically important by the German electrotechnology standardisation authority DKE. It was technically approved in June 2015, but the formal (administrative) criteria couldn't be fulfilled. We are still trying to bring it to fruition.

Let me suggest what safety engineers who are motivated enough to pursue concretely the improvement of technical terminology can do.

First, you can download the IEC comments form from the IEC WWW site. It is a table in A4 landscape format. There are columns for source (who you are), location and content (a specific place in a specific document which you wish to modify), reasoning (you have to say what is unsatisfactory) and suggested resolution (you are expected to formulate a satisfactory alternative to what you criticise). All that is quite reasonable, but the form is unwieldy for people who don't use Microsoft Word :-(

Then you can send that filled-out comments form to your <country> National Committee which mirrors SC65A MT 61508-3. You can find out how to do that by contacting your country's electrotechnology standardisation agency. It's usually pretty simple - a specific person with an e-mail address to whom to send it. Every comment - *every comment* - must be processed by the National Committee. There is a column for "action taken", and that will be filled out by the NC delegates, and the result returned to you. There is, of course, no guarantee of satisfactory action.

The National Committee gathers the comments on which it believes action should be taken, and passes those comments on to IEC SC65A MT 61508-3, whose Terminology subgroup will consider them and propose action. That proposed action will be passed back to the originating <country> National Committee and thence theoretically to the proposer. That proposed action will be incorporated into a draft new version of IEC 61508, which ultimately will be sent out for review and comment by the National Committees of all participating countries, and voted on. That cycle is a few years long.

How well this works is a matter for a separate debate. The point is that there is a process for it. And the process is almost certainly more effective than airing one's views on a mailing list such as this and hoping that standards committees will somehow absorb them through the ether.

One guess as to who is currently chairing the Terminology subcommittee of IEC SC65A MT 61508-3 :-)

PBL Prof. Peter Bernard Ladkin, Faculty of Technology, University of Bielefeld, 33594 Bielefeld, Germany Je suis Charlie
Tel+msg +49 (0)521 880 7319 www.rvs.uni-bielefeld.de



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