Ways of term formation in the english language

Terms can be defined as linguistic designations of specialized concepts [5, p. 80]. They are more precise than non-terms and belong to systems of terms that correspond to concept systems. Traditionally, terms are associated with nouns, even though adjectives, verbs, and adverbs may also be terms. Term formation mainly follows the same rules as does general language vocabulary.

Term formation can be carried out in a specific environment, e.g. in a research laboratory, in a manufacturing company, at a conference, in a small enterprise, etc. Usually, term formation is influenced by the subject field in which it carried out, by the nature of the persons involved in the process of designation, by the stimulus causing the term formation, and of course, by the phonological, morphosyntactical and lexical structures of the language.

According to Sager, two types of term formation can be distinguished in relation to pragmatic circumstances of their creation: primary term formation and secondary term formation [2, p. 5]. Primary creation accompanies the formation of a concept and is monolingual. Secondary term formation occurs when a new term is created for an existing concept in the following two cases:

  1. as a result of the revision of a term in the framework of a single monolingual community, e.g. creation of a term in the concept of a normative document (standard) or rebaptism of a term as a result of the discovery of a new entity in the same subject field(e.g. “telephone” is now referred to as “fixed telephone” following the discovery of the “mobile telephone”);
  2. as a result of transferring knowledge to another linguistic community in which a corresponding terms needs to be created.

Primary and secondary term creation are governed by different motives and show the following differences:

in the case of primary term formation of a term there is no pre-existing linguistic entity, even though appropriate term formation rules exist. With secondary term formation, there is always an already existing term, which is the term of the source language, and which can serve as the basic for secondary formation;

primary formation is often quite spontaneous, whereas secondary formation is more frequently subject to rules and can be planned.

Terms are the linguistic representation of concepts. However, contrary to the situation prevailing in general language, where the arbitrariness of the linguistic sign is fully acceptable, special languages endeavor to make the process of designation systematic, based on certain specified linguistic rules, so that terms reflect the concept characteristics they refer to as precisely as possible. The aim of systematization of these principles is to achieve transparency and consistency in linguistic representation of knowledge. The following general linguistic schemes serve both of these principles:

  1. use of nouns derived from verbs with specific endings to designate concept which mean procedures and methods, e.g. “slic-ing”, “recycle-ing”, “evapora-tion”,etc;
  2. use of nouns derived from adjectives, as opposed to adjectives more frequently occurring in general language, in order to designate properties, qualities and states, e.g. “elastici-ty”, “conductivi-ty”,”shallow-ness”, etc;
  3. use of identical endings when terms are formed to name species or new parts in the same subject fields: “hard-ware”, “soft-ware”, “share-ware”, “free-ware”;
  4. use of regular patterns of complex terms, which reflect the hierarchical relations between concepts, e.g. the terms “lift bridges”, “swing bridges”, “folding bridges” all designate types of “movable bridges”.

Other more general recommendations which should be observed when connecting concepts to terms:

  • linguistic appropriateness: proposed terms should follow familiar and established patterns of meaning which are in use, e.g. the term “atomic energy” is confusing because it implies that this is energy produced by atoms, as opposed to the term “nuclear energy” which

is semantically and scientifically more precise;

  • linguistic economy: terms should be concise, in order to facilitate communication in situations which are not purely scientific, e. g term “bank” as opposed to more lengthy terminological “data bank”;
  • derivability: terms formation allowing for potential derivatives, should be chosen according to what is possible is a given language, e.g. in telecommunication terminology, the choice of the term “bit” allowed for the systematic formation of some hundreds of complex terms, such as “bit error”, “8-bit coding”, etc. [5, p. 89].

According to E. Mantzari and K. Valeontis (cc) the following methods of term formation are applied and recognized in the English language:

  1. creating new forms;
  2. using existing forms [2, p. 4].

New terms can be formed by using existing forms by the following ways: conversion, terminologization, transterminologization.

Conversion, one of the principal ways of forming terms in English is highly productive in replenishing the English word-stock with new words. The term conversion, which some linguists find inadequate, refers to the numerous cases of phonetic identity of wordforms, primarily the so-called initial forms, of two words belonging to different parts of speech. This may be illustrated by the following cases: “a loan to loan”; “to deposit a deposit”; “cost to cost”; “control to control”, etc.

It will be recalled that, although inflectional categories have been greatly reduced in English in the last eight or nine centuries, there is a certain difference on the morphological level between various parts of speech, primarily between nouns and verbs. For instance, there is a clear-cut difference in financial English between the noun “charge” and the verb “to charge”each exists in the language as a unity of its word-forms and variants, not as one form “charge”. It is true that some of the forms are identical in sound, i.e. homonymous, but there is a great distinction between them, as they are both grammatically and semantically different. If we regard such word-pairs as “to charge charge”, “margin to margin”, “fund to fund” from the angle of their morphemic structure, we see that they are all root-words. On the derivational level, however, one of them should be referred to derived words, as it belongs to a different part of speech and is understood through semantic and structural relations with the other, i.e. is motivated by it. It would appear that the noun is formed from the verb (or vice versa) without any morphological change, but if we probe deeper into the matter, we inevitably come to the conclusion that the two words differ in the paradigm. Thus it is the paradigm that is used as a term-building means. Hence, we may define conversion as the formation of a new terms through changes in its paradigm.

It is necessary to call attention to the fact that the paradigm plays a significant role in the process of term formation in general and not only in the case of conversion. Thus, the noun “debitor” is formed from the word ‘to debit’ not only by the addition of the suffix “– er”, but also by the change in its paradigm. However, in this case, the role played by the paradigm as a word-building means is less obvious, as the word-building suffix “–er” comes to the fore. Therefore, conversion is characterized not simply by the use of the paradigm as a word-building means, but by the formation of a new word solely by means of changing its paradigm. Hence, the change of paradigm is the only word-building means of conversion. As a paradigm is a morphological category conversion can be described as a morphological way of forming words. The most common productive form of conversion in financial English is verb to noun conversion, such as: “to increase-an increase”, “to judge-a judge”. Another productive form of conversion is noun to verb conversion: an invoice-to invoice, “a cost-to cost”.

Terminologization is a very productive way of term formation. It is transition of everyday word into a term, when a noncharacteristic linguistic unit from common language is used for special purposes. Terminologization deals with the semantic way of term formation, i.e. creating new terms my means of scientific or technical reconsideration on the base of metaphorization or metonymization of the meaning of well-known words. The general common words with the simplest semantic structure are used more often in terminologization than other ones.It sometimes occurs as an extension of everyday word meaning when the words used in different context acquire new connotations and new meaning, e.g. in the lexical structure of the term “confrontation” the primary meaning was “quarters, collation and comparison”. Lately this word was used in military term combination (confrontation of armed forces) and acquired the meaning “contiguity of armed forces”. Now the word “confrontation” has acquired the meaning “collision”, “opposition”.

The changes in everyday words meaning can follow three direction:

  1. the appearance of the new meaning of everyday word on the base of reconsideration on the earlier existed word meanings. Thus, one of the terminological meaning of the word “elementary” in combination “elementary particle” is “basic, fundamental particle” (one of the general meaning of the word “elementary”-“simplest, simple”);
  2. the transferring the name on the base of association. As a result, terminology meanings of the following words have appeared : “Google wallet, targeted tweeter”, “Open MAMA”, “Red Hot Summit”, “Harlem Sheik technology”, etc.; с) the appearance of new terms after the names of new inventions of devices: “Apple i Watch”, “Android Beam”, “Gigabit WI-FI”.

The process of terminologization of everyday words can follow one of the patterns:

  1. a simple usage in terminology system: “a sun ray”“a geometry ray”;
  2. a terminology derivation: “conductivity physics”, “the property of power of conducting heat”, “superconductivity”;
  3. an assimilation of foreign words or borrowings from other languages: “Haemangioma”, “ablaut”, “diphthong”;
  4. borrowings from other terminology system: “a virus of flu” and “a computer virus”, “military attack” and “heart attack”.

The secondary terminologization includes determinologization and transterminologization. Determinologization of terminological vocabulary is a process of transition of terms from a certain special, professional sphere to the sphere of general use. Such determinologized terms are not deprived with literary and official elements. These kinds of terms can be met and in the colloquial speech.

Contemporary researchers prove that there is no clear borderline between scientifictechnical categorization and classification where meanings of words and utterances show a high degree of ambiguity. But different types of meaning and parallel processing at different fields are highly productive in coping with any communicative situation. Usually narrow professional words are not highly distributed in literary language: i.e. the sphere of their use remains limited. Moreover, the speech of representatives of one or another professionals is often colloquial. That is why secondary terminologization of professional words and expressions appear quickly: terms existing in the boundaries of one terminology system pass to another one. In a new sphere of knowledge such terms can modify the meaning, so the reader cannot understand them in the sense he knew them before. But sometimes the clear division between these factors is practically impossible to be conducted. This process is called transterminologization, while the term which obtain other semantic meaning are called transterms, e.g., term “reaction” represents the different concept in the different fields.

The objective process of transterminolgization consolidates the influence of such factors as scientific, technological, economic development of countries, mass media, political situation in the world, extension of multilateral cooperation in the economics and science. Verbal speech, systematic transmissions of proper themes on radio and television promote the process of determinologization and transterminologization of professional and technical terms. But the main reason of transterminologization is the tendency to economize language material.


  1. Cabre M.T. Terminology: Theory, Methods and Applications. Amsterdam: John Benjiamins Publishing Company, 1998. 245 p.
  2. Mantzari, K. Valeontis. The Linguistic Dimension of Terminology: Principles and Methods of Term Formation // Access mode: http: // www.project2007.hau.gr//
  3. Rey A. Essays on Terminology. Amsterdam: John Benjiamins Publishing Company, 1995. 221 p.
  4. Packeiser K. The General Theory of Terminology: a Literature Review and a Critical Discussion. Copenhagen: Copenhagen Business School, 2009. 83 p
  5. Wrignt S.E., Budin G. Handbook of terminology management. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1997. – 207 p.
Year: 2015
City: Oskemen
Category: Philology