From Concept to Terminology: Exploring the Efficiency of Specialised Language Based on Military Terminology


  • Reet Hendrikson




This study aims to explore how preference is used in military terms, taking into account the variations between terms, influence, understanding and, in a broader sense, the impact on specialised and professional communication. I seek an answer to the question whether and to what extent officers differ in their understanding of military terminology, while exploring the underlying reasons for these differences. Any linguistic interaction, including the understanding of terms, can be conditionally divided into three main aspects: socio-linguistic (non-linguistic, depending on the participants in communication), linguistic (related to the code, including the use of certain terms) and meta-linguistic (an assessment of the communication code). On this basis, I raise three lines of inquiry which on one hand deal with training backgrounds and service experience (socio-linguistic aspects) and on the other hand deal with the effect of terminological parameters (linguistic aspects). As far as the meta-language aspect is concerned, I investigate whether perceived difficulties in understanding and the assessed unsuitability of a term can be related to the (standards-based) understanding of terms. My starting point was the null hypothesis: the use of critical terms in specialised communication does not cause difficulties in understanding. I use “critical terms” to refer to those terms (taking into account related concepts) whose meanings are handled differently by different speakers and which typically result in conceptually or linguistically divergent interpretations among individual officers. The method of data collection was a questionnaire containing three battle scenarios. Each scenario contained 14 military terms for which a common understanding is presumed in all branches of the Estonian land forces. Findings of earlier studies suggested that there might be difficulties in understanding these terms. 164 land force officers, encompassing every structural unit of the Estonian Defence Forces, were selected to participate in the research. Analysis of term attributes revealed that the primary determining factor here is the length of usage: older terminology is statistically significantly better understood than newer. It seems that understanding more recent terms is influenced by military higher education and, hence, by non-linguistic factors. For understanding older terms, however, military higher education does not have a statistically significant impact, thus in that case linguistic factors are more clearly revealed. Still, the effect of other term attributes was also observed with more recent terms, keeping in mind that the latter attributes manifest as secondary. Evidently there is no causal relationship between the comprehensibility of certain terms and those factors that are considered to be primary issues in the field of military terminology. With each term the combination of term attributes derives different results, and determining which of these parameters will have the greatest impact depends on various internal and external linguistic circumstances. Research findings support the widespread view in classical terminology theory, and indeed among the officer corps itself, that the existence of both synonyms and non-standard terminology can, at least in a military setting, hinder comprehension. Predictably, terms that were directly relatable to English terms were understood less well than those not derived from English. In an analysis of both older and newer terms, the impact of figurative terms did not match the hypothesis: figurative terms were less well understood than terms of a more literal nature. The survey, however, draws attention to the fact that while imagery does not contribute to the ability to distinguish between closely-related concepts, figurative terms help to create a general, perhaps blurred vision of the concept and refer to the approximate location of the concept in a broader system of related ideas. In line with the hypothesis, it appears that neologisms (terms invented by the Military Terminology Committee and having the features of novelty words) are understood less well than less new terms. The results of this study suggest that a representative sample of the more recent terminology innovations such as sociocognitive terminology have if not ignored then at least paid little attention to such sub-categories of specialised language which possess complex systems of concepts and contain clusters of concepts. In addition to closely related concepts with finely-nuanced differences, the latter clusters of concepts are found to be interconnected (e.g., karpima/contain – siduma/fix – hoidma/retain – seiskama/block), as are terms of different origins that are therefore misleadingly motivated (e.g., term variants raskuspunkt and põhirõhk referring to main effort, cf. in German Schwerpunkt, cf. standardised term põhipingutus, vs. raskuspunkt, cf. In English center of gravity). Based on the third axis of inquiry, I examined how the officers’ assessment of the comprehensiveness and suitability of a term is related to a standards- based understanding of the term. One interesting fact was revealed: if the form of the term is distorted then it does relate to the difficulty in comprehending it, but neither is related to the standards-based understanding of the term. The results of my research should prove useful in the work of terminology management, especially for the Military Terminology Committee and for others involved in the development of military terms. They might also be applicable to the work of language planners. Various fields related to military management, including teaching work, might also be able to make use of my findings.


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