Terminology and lexicography as language practice

Terminologists collect and translate existing terms or create new ones, and make them available to technical experts, scientists, translators and other language workers.


In modern science and technology, the emphasis is on exact, effective, unambiguous communication between colleagues. To achieve this, the precise meanings of terms must be determined by terminologists so that subject specialists, language practitioners and laypeople will utilise them in a universally accepted manner.


A day in the life of a terminologist

In a typical day, a terminologist may perform any or all of the following activities:

  • Collect and record terms and definitions for concepts in a particular technical field
  • Collaborate with experts and authorities such as subject specialists, linguists, national language bodies, etc. to verify the terms
  • Translate and create term equivalents
  • Process and manage terms according to the requirements of a particular project, dictionary or term bank
  • Edit and update terms (an activity that takes place on a continual basis)
  • Compile a glossary or dictionary (usually as part of a team)
  • Provide a terminological information service for users


Prospects for terminologists

The language of science and technology in South Africa is largely English. There are opportunities for the creation of term equivalents in Afrikaans and the African languages.


The Terminology Coordination Section of the National Language Service in the Department of Arts and Culture is one of the largest organisations that employ and train terminologists.


Becoming a terminologist or lexicographer


Key characteristics of terminologists

  • A thorough knowledge of the languages in which they work
  • Expertise in lexicography (compiling dictionaries) and terminography (compiling technical dictionaries)
  • Familiarity with subjects such as physics, chemistry, psychology, economics, political science and history
  • A good grasp of the specialist field in which they work
  • Attention to detail
  • Computer literacy with regard to data capture, retrieval and processing
  • Skill in using a terminological database program



A BA degree or other tertiary training with an official South African language as a major subject is recommended. Aspirant terminologists should consider a postgraduate course in lexicography or translation. No South African universities currently offer qualifications specifically in terminology, but modules on terminology development and terminography form part of courses in lexicography and translation.


Terminology offices usually give new terminologists in-service training.


Go to the Training page for details of language practice training in South Africa.


More information

Use the link below to download information in pdf format.




Terminology as a career (22206 bytes)




 < The Profession

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