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How do you construct a vocabulary list?

Wednesday 2 March 2005


Who does it ? At the core of Babels, the working group VOC drives things. At the 2003 ESF the group was mainly made up of French people, owing to time constraints. However now it’s an international group open to everyone. From the 2004 ESF on, we’re hoping for loads of you! The aim being to work through networks between different groups of ‘vocabularists’ formed within language groups all over the place.

How ? By theme and by language. We look at the programmes of the social forums and we try and work out overriding themes and then divide them into narrower topic-areas of subjects. People then choose subject. They aim to identify any indispensable key words. They work together with organisations, movements, NGOs, unions, networks and collectives who in turn take these subjects off to each country, looking for any already-existing vocab lists, glossaries or explanations. We also try and find human resources to guide us through our reading and research. After that, a list of key words (about 50) is put together. A closer reading gets rid of words that are too generic and obvious, and then those that are too loaded. The translations are double-checked. Then they’re uploaded, and if possible, a copy is kept at hand for the use of interpreters during the forums. At the moment, the group is very France-, in fact very Paris-oriented, which enables face-to-face meetings. Otherwise, we work through email lists.

Here are some pointers: – website of the archives from the 2003 ESF

Work by Françoise F on key-words from the 2003 and 2004 MSFs.

Try using organisations who work on particular themes, as starting points for searching.

Google is also very useful for finding organisations with word lists, glossaries or online dictionaries, and interesting links.

Check the index in books, keep reading, really immerse yourself... underline words which seem important, symbolic or problematic. Having a colour-code for yourself can be handy when a topic is so broad you need to divide it into sub-themes.

How do we choose the number of key words? The goal: the word-lists constitute the list of key words within the jargon attached to a theme. They include the terms you cannot make up: acronyms of the active parties within the topic-area, technical and juridical terms, dedicated expressions and concepts and notions. The aim of the first vocab lists was to provide a memory jogger of a dozen or so words for simultaneous translation on the one hand, and a further, more exhaustive kind of list, on the other.

This distinction remains, but we enrich the lists now with definitions of words, and with contextualisations.

Definition: What do you give as a definition ? What about the use of the word? Both things are necessary: to give a definition of a word with no example is restrictive, but just giving contexts in which the word is used without giving a definition is not very useful.

Contact: the email list There you can identify the themes it would interest you most to work on, and we try to organise multilingual mini-working groups.

What next? : We need to increase the scale of our work to cover all of the subject areas which keep come up at the social forums, and to cover all of the languages present there. We also need to figure out a more efficient way of working over long distances. This is the...

... quest for a magic tool. For the 2003 ESF, individual people took responsibility for a vocabulary list in a couple of languages, and then their work was translated into all the languages which we were interested in. This may seem efficient, but it didn’t allow for any comparison between what exists in one language and what exists in another. So, for example, there was no way of dealing with the difficulty of elucidating language-specific concepts. Translating from one central language outwards unfortunately comes back to translating a specific “world vision” – that is, you end up translating into other languages the way in which fair trade works in France, or social rights in the UK. Now, what’s really interesting is to build up a better knowledge of the visions in different cultures, and to see their differences emerging.

What we need is a tool for long-distance work, which would allow several people from different languages to work on the same topic-area at the same time. A sort of interactive table, divided into several columns, each column being a work-space for a language. So far, we’ve discussed:

a wiki

a translators’ space on spip :

a market tool, TRADOS

an Indymedia translation tool.

Nothing’s really got anywhere yet :-(