E-MELD School of Best Practice


Terminology Mapping

Technical terminology that is specific to the linguistic community enables linguists to communicate complex concepts as efficiently as possible. Precise terms present information more effectively than everyday language, but they are only useful when their definitions are universally understood and the mapping between a term and the concept it represents is unique.

Longterm preservation of language documentation requires that the terminology used be intelligible to future generations. However, at present a multiplicity of different terminology sets are in use by different linguists, not only for language names (e.g. Sami vs. Lappish) but also for concepts referenced in morphosyntactic markup (e.g., possessive vs genitive). Different linguistic traditions have given rise, not only to different terms for the same concept, but to use of the same term for different concepts (e.g., "absolutive" doesn't mean the same thing for Australian languages as it does for Uto-Aztecan).

One of the mandates of the E-MELD project is to promote community consensus about best practices in morphosyntactic markup in language documentation. However, it would be impractical to try to encourage the use of any single set of terms--to try, as it were, to promote a "gold standard" in morphosyntactic annotation. Instead it seems best to accept the fact that many different terminology sets will continue to be used, but to attack the problem of cross-translation by developing an ontology of linguistic concepts and encouraging linguists to relate their preferred terminology to concepts defined in the ontololgy. In this way, the ontology can serve as an interlanguage, ensuring not only that different markups can be compared but that idiosyncratic terminology will continue to be intelligible in the future.

A start has been made on creating an ontology of linguistic concepts, called GOLD (General Ontology for Linguistic Description).

Various groups are currently involved in developing software which references the ontology. This software includes a terminology mapper, which will allow a linguist to relate his/her preferred terminology to the ontology in a systematic way.

In addition, through the E-MELD workshops, the linguistic community has agreed on a number of markup schemas for lexicons and interlinear glossed text. These schemas are being mapped to the ontology via metaschemas, so that anyone who uses one of these schemas will automatically have his/her terminology mapped to a constant reference. For more on metaschemas and terminology mapping, see:

The Electronic Encoding of Lexical Resources: A Roadmap to Best Practice, Gary F. Simons, SIL International


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Related Links
Terminology Mapper (Alpha Version)
Ontology Tree