La variation synonymique dans la terminologie de l’énergie : approches synchronique et diachronique, deux études de cas


  • Pascaline Dury CRTT, Université Lyon 2
  • Susanne Lervad CRTT (Uni Lyon 2, France), Termplus Aps et Danterm


The prescriptive school of thought in terminology holds that terms should be fixed items and should not be prone to synonymic variation. Terminologists and translators have been trained to embrace terminological standardization, to disparage synonymy in favour of monosemy, and to employ consistency rather than lexical variation. However, despite this widespread assumption that synonymy is something to avoid in specialized languages, since it may hamper effective communication between specialists, a number of studies have revealed that even within the confines of specialized communication, synonymic variation does indeed exist. This paper sets out to examine synonymic variation from a double perspective: First, diachronically, by investigating a historical corpus in the field of petroleum geology, and second, synchronically, by reflecting on how to handle synonyms in the terminological database TERMplus Manager. The first part of the article presents the results of a corpus-based investigation into the semantic development of some synonyms of the term petroleum in 19th-century English. We will discuss two aspects of synonymic variation: Namely, first, the semantic ‘flexibility’ of several terms which were frequently used in the 19thcentury lexicon of petroleum geology (e.g. naphtha, bitumen, tar, pitch, asphalt) and secondly, the simultaneous co-existence and then the disappearance of ‘occasional’ or ‘temporary’ synonyms of the term petroleum (e.g. Rangoon petroleum, mineral pitch, rock oil, Trinidad bitumen, Seneca oil, etc.). The second part of the article deals with synonymic variation in today’s lexicon of wind energy and explains how TERMplus Manager database was used by the VESTAS Wind Systems company, but had to be slightly altered in order to integrate synonymy. The two examples in Danish of hydraulikstation and møllehat are then given to illustrate this part of the article. The paper concludes that devising computer tools that are really able to integrate synonymic variation is probably one of the main challenges that terminology and translation work alike will have to take up in the years to come.