Ashok R . Kelkar



The Semiotics of Technical
Names and Terms*

1.                  Technical names don’t come singly, they belong to some more or less loosely organized set, which one terms a technical nomenclature. Technical terms don’t come singly either; they belong to some more or less closely organized set, which one terms a technical terminologies. [There is a vital, if only vaguely recognized, distinction between names and nomenclatures on hand and terms and terminologies on the other hand. Perhaps it needs to be pointed out that a technical names or term may be grammatically verb or an adjective or even words like the legal whereas or and/or no less than a noun. Of the name-term distinction, more later.] A given expression, sentence [commercial expressions like cash on delivery or first come first served are actually sentences] or phrase or word or word element as the case may be, may belong to more than one nomenclature – an alveolar process is equally the concern of anatomists, dentists, and phoneticians and hence the technical name belongs to their respective nomenclature. So also with a technical term like concentration, which turns up in chemistry, pharmacy, demography, military science, and perhaps more essentially in a space. What is more, an expression that has a technical sense may turn up in ordinary, non-technical discourse-as when a newspaper reports a concentration of troops on the border. Certain expression that has a technical sense may turn up in chemistry, pharmacy, demography, military science, and perhaps more essentially in the statistical study of the distribution of a population of entities in a space. What is more, an expression that has a technical sense may turn up in ordinary, non-technical discourse-as when a newspaper reports a concentration of troops on the border certain expressions like live load or carcinoma or tetrahedron always have a technical sense to them: indeed some of them like gas or phoneme may have been specifically coined for this purpose. Other may have both technical and non-technical senses as when a student complains about his loss of concentration, or when he says, in a sense not intended by the psychoanalyst Adler, that he suffers from an inferiority complex. (A complex, in the technical sense, is essentially unconscious.) Some year ago, airlines had a dispute among themselves on the technical difference between snack and meal, otherwise innocuous ordinary expressions. Finally, one may suppose that pretty or sway always remain so innocuous. We should now realize that the phrase technical expression is only a shorthand for `a name or a term used in a technical sense and typically in a technical context’ Technical sense and technical together constitute the whole technical manner of using a language. Technical nomenclature and terminology simply constitute the heart of technical use of language. They both define and are defined by a field of experience and activity, a class of entities, a subject matter that is the special concern of a community of language users, be they dentists or phoneticians chemists or demographers, cricket-players or chess-players, Hindustani musicians or Ayurvedic physicians. Out of this intense concern of the specialist, the community is driven to use language in a technical manner in talking about its chosen field. Others, that is, those who are laymen in contrast to the specialist, in the field concerned may of course borrow some of the technical expressions in the ordinary, non-technical manner of using language. But the technical expressions essentially belong with the usage of the community of specialists in dentistry, chemistry, Muslim law, chess or whatever. (Needless to say, the technical manner of using language is not the monopoly if technologists. What is perhaps more important, the natural habitat of technical expressions is not the reports of committees on nomenclature or terminology but the live shoptalk of specialists. Indeed new names or terms are liable to arise and be shaped more of seminar or conference.)



            The upshot of the argument so far is that technicality is an attribute not so much. Of an expression or even its sense or its context as of a whole manner of language-wise. This technical manner stands in contrast to the ordinary manner of language use. The sense of expressions and syntactic constructions in ordinary language is liable to ambiguity, fuzziness, redundancies, and other muddles. Ordinary language very much depends on the good sense of its senders and receivers in muddling through. Indeed the muddles are occasionally even assets rather than liabilities-as in dealing with a slow child or a wily opponent. Muddles are anathema to technical language, which hates to depend on the good sense of the interlocutors. Technical language would rather depend on definitions a tetrahedron is regular if all its angles are congruent to each other, a regular polygon is a polygon that is equilateral and equiangular, and so on in linked definitions in an organized set and conventions in law, he includes she; in an arithmetical expression, inner-brackets take precedence over outer brackets. These definitions and conventions may be traditional or newly stipulated. Through these technical language achieves certain tidiness. But it does so at a price-the field does not remain unlimited as is the case with ordinary language that can talk of cabbages and kings, rather is it limited by some specialized concern. It is as if there are as many technical languages as there are fields. Technical language is a sort of departure from ordinary language.


But then technical language is not the only departure from ordinary language. It stands in contrast to another departure from ordinary language in an opposite direction-that of poetic language in the broadest sense. Thus we are not looking upon a dyad so much as a triad-technical, ordinary, and poetic uses of language. This means that we have to find out in what way the technical and the ordinary are non-poetic, the ordinary and the poetic are non-technical and the poetic are non-ordinary. We are ringing changes on the use of language.


A good opening to the discussion of the contrast between the non-poetic and the poetic is provided by Punya Sloka ray΄s discussion of the formation of prose 91962: 313=1963:138):


‘Let us begin with a dilemma. Language is impossible if the speaker and the hearer do not agree at all on what forms should carry what meanings. And yet, language is useless if the speaker and the hearer could agree completely without recourse to the meaningful forms between them. So language is usable only insofar as we do not depend upon it, and yet language is useful only insofar as we do depend upon it. Fortunately, the absoluteness of the paradox is only a metaphysical make-believe…But this formulation does serve to highlight a certain duality in our handling of language…the systematic cultivation of dependence on language will be defined as poetry and systematic cultivation of independence from language defined as prose…prose we shall define as a movement away from [poetry]…’


Actually, on Punya Sloka Ray’s own showing, prose is not just a movement away from poetry but also a movement away from ordinary language, which neither cultivates systematic dependence on language nor cultivates systematic independence from language. Since, like Molièrés Monsieur Jourdain we all speak prose, it would be wiser to drop the expression prose altogether. Again, it is awkward to use the term poetic for a whole area of which poetry proper is only an extreme example. The term stylized is probably suited to cover a movement towards a systematic dependence on language. So we now have: (a) technical language use: cultivating or moving towards systematic independence from language and thus permitting translation without any loss of meaning;(b) ordinary language use: neither technical nor stylized and thus intermediate in character;(c) stylized language use: cultivating or moving towards systematic dependence on language and thus excluding translation without loss of meaning.


Let us now proceed to flesh out this skeletal triad. To begin with, we can locate ways in which the technical differs from the latter two: (i) The technical permits translation without residue, but the latter two don’t-the stylized especially so. (ii) Individual variation in the way in which a sender expresses himself and in which receiver is impressed is freely accepted by all non-technical communication and is indeed the rule in stylized communication. Such variation is sheer distraction in technical communication. (iii) If we examine the relation between the interpretation of an expression in the one hand and the context on the other, we notice two things. First, the context may be either textual or situational. The textual context then operates within the linguistic code or system governing the text. Thus, the expression solution is interpretable as the process if the word rapid precedes in the text and as the resulting mixture if the word gaseous precedes in the text, the chemical terminology in English being what it is. The situational context operates within the communicative framework imposed on the situation. Thus the expression pressing the suit is interpretable legally in some communicative situations and sartorially in other communicative situations. Secondly, the interpretation of an expression may be function of the context in hand or of the context in which the expression has appeared on previous occasions. In the former case we describe the interpretation as context-rich as opposed to context-poor. Thus, the interpretation of solution and pressing the suit as just exhibit context-dependence. On the other hand to sneeze or not sneeze will strike one as humorous just in so far as the context-enrichment by the allusion to hamlet’s to be or not to be is operative. Coming back to our triad after this little excursion into semiotic theory, we may point out that technical minimizes dependence on or enrichment from the textual contexts. The only textual context that is really permitted to affect the interpretation of a technical expression is the defining context of a definition or a convention or a postulate. But this is context-dependence and context-enrichment of a very special sort. We shall have occasion to bring in the situational context at a later point. (iv) Finally, the extension or range of a technical expression is restricted to the specialized field or subject-matter. The latter two place no such a prior restriction, especially the ordinary language use.


Next, we can locate the ways in which the stylized differs from the former two:(i) The stylized excludes any translation without residue, but the former two don’t the technical indeed demands it. (ii) The relation between the signant (Saussurè s significant or Hjelmslev΄s expression) and the signate (Saussrès signifiè or Hjelmslev΄s content) may be variously visualized. In the former two’ the signant is seen to be merely as a means to an end, namely communicating the signate. Consequently, there is a certain indifference to the way a thing is said so long as it is said; style doesn’t count for much; paraphrasing is freely possible, especially with ordinary language use. Such is not quite the case with the stylized, especially the poetic. The signant is not wholly separable from the signate, the means becomes integral to the end. Consequently, style is not merely utilitarian. (iii) As already seen, the stylized thrives on dependence on and enrichment from the textual context. This gives ample scope for and indeed implies need of hermeneutic activity. Such is not the case with the former two: one may read as one runs, so to say. (iv) Finally, the intension of an expression is restricted in respect of the technical and the ordinary by the universe of discourse as delimited by the specialized interest or the practical purpose in hand. Such is not quite the case with the stylized, especially the poetic. The poet is entitled to all the meaning the reader can get out of the poem, as Robert Frost reminds us. The reverberations of meaning continue for a long time, if they cease at all.


Next, we can locate the ways in which the ordinary differs from the two extremes, extremes that meet, as it were: (i) The ordinary language use muddles through, as already seen. The other two demand from the sender and even the receiver a certain willing suspension of casualness, a readiness to put in special effort and to put up with special difficulties, a certain initiation into the conventions of the technical specialty or the poetic craft, as case may be. (ii) Naturally, technical and the stylized not only tend to exploit the capacity of the natural language to its fullest but also occasionally tax it. The ordinary language use, on the other hand, is content to stay within the limits of what is normally effable and content not to take too many liberties with the language in hand. (iii) The density of communication effected tends to be rather low for the ordinary which tolerates a good deal of tautology, circumlocution, or simple repetition. The other two shirk these on the whole and maintain a high density of communication. This often gives scope for exegetic activity. (iv) The ordinary language use has what Waismann (1952) has called open texture, a certain indeterminateness-the technical effects this determinateness through prior codification, prior understanding between the interlocutors whether through linguistic custom or through linguistic contract; the stylized effects this determinateness through generating its own code such that the poem is, so to say, the only text admissible within its highly determinate grammar. (v) Finally, the operation of the situational context is maximal in the ordinary language-use-whether by way of context-dependence or context-enrichment of its interpretation. Situation-ally deictic-expressions like here, now, tomorrow, I, you, the garden, are used liberally, and they really point a finger at the situation at hand. Especially, when the interlocutors share a situation over a length of time as in a family or a working group, the signant can be pared down with a lot of things being left understood as recoverable from the situation. Such is not the case with the other two. In the technical the situational context is minimally operative. In the stylized the deictic impact of the text tends to be fictional-it gives local habitation and a name to a world of make-believe. The apparent situational context is really textual in nature; in Susanne Langer’s sense of virtual.


TABLE 1: The Three Contrasting Manners of Language Use



Distinctive feature of

Language used


Language use


Language use



Permitting Translation without residue




Individual variation expression and impression




Dependence on and enrichment from textual context




Restriction to some specialized field or subject matter




Excluding translation with residue





Availability of a paraphrase




Scope and need for hermeneutic activity




Delimiting intention by the matter in hand or universe of discourse




Need for a willing suspension of casualness





Exploiting the capacity of the natural language




Density of communication and consequent scope for exegetic activity




Open texture and indetermination of code




Dependence on and enrichment from situational context




Relationship between the meaning of the whole text and the respective meaning of its parts

the whole meaning wholly a

simple function of the parts

quite variable

the whole meaning is richer than the sum of the parts


We are now in a position to locate ways in which the three manners of using language differ each from the other. This can be seen in the relationship between the meaning of the whole text and the respective meanings of the parts. Ideally, the meaning of a technical text is wholly a function of the constituent expressions and syntactic constructions. The meaning of a stylized whole is never wholly a function of its parts-the whole is typically more than the sum or product of its parts, so to say. The meaning of an ordinary text shows no such clear relationship with the meanings of its parts. The whole may even be, as it were, even less than the sum of its parts. Thus not so much as does not usually mean the same as the technical not equal to as one may be led to expect; conversationally it tends to mean less than and exclude less than and exclude the possibility more than.


The peculiar features of technical names and terms then flow from the peculiar features of the technical manner of using language as distinct from the ordinary and stylized manners of using language. Before we look at these features of technical names and terms it will be useful if not necessary to look at the difference between technical names and technical terms or, what comes to the same thing, between technical nomenclature and technical terminology.


2.                  In order to give a rough idea of the sort of distinction that is involved it may be useful to exemplify technical names and technical terms from some specialized field, say, chemistry. Expressions such as oxygen, carbon dioxide, Sulphate, ammonium2 are technical names and together constitute the technical nomenclature of chemistry. On the other hand expressions such as atom, molecule, react, reaction, reagent, acid, catalyst, valence are technical terms and together constitute the technical terminology of chemistry. It is interesting that persons writing about chemistry in Indian languages usually simply borrow the technical names directly from English and proceed to write of āksijan x (oxygen)x kārban x (carbon) and so forth, while they would much rather borrow the technical terms from English through translation and proceed to write, say, of au, reu, kī pratikriyā honā, pratikriyā, and so forth. (Hindi for atom, molecule, react, reaction) As shall observe later, there are good semiotic reasons for this discrimination.


As with all linguistic expressions, the signant of that technical expression is not direct but mediated. Let us call this point of mediation the sign-focus of that expression. At the moment we are not concerned with the way the sign-focus is hitched on to the rest of the text (for example, as a subject or an object) or the rest of the stock of expressions in the language (for example, as a verb, as a homonym). Nor are we concerned with the way the signant is hitched on to the sign-focus-that is to say, we are not concerned with expression-form. We are rather concerned with the way the sign-focus is hitched on to the signate–that is to say, we are concerned with content-from,. In short we are concerned with the second half of the semiotic chain constituted by the following five elements in that order:



a)   the terminal sign-ant (heard or seen by the receiver, uttered or written by the sender);

(b)   the expression –form (recognized by the receiver; rendered by the sender);

(c)    the sign-focus (placed at such a point that the links a-b and b-c are relatively independent of the links c-d and d-e);

(d)   the content –form (comprehended by the receiver; formulated by the sender);

(e)    the terminal sign-ate (attended to by the receiver; entertained by the sender).


When we say that a certain expression has a technical sense, we are saying that its content-form serves technical ends, the ends of the technical manner of using language. Again, as with most linguistic expressions, the sense or content-form of a technical expression is twofold in character-it consists of (d1) a presentation of some kind and (d2) a range of some kind.  The link of sense (c-d), in other words, is really a set of two links in a parallel fashion- the link of intension (c-d) and the link of extension (c-d2). The link between the content-form and the terminal sign-ate is the link of reference (d-e), whether intentional (d1-e) or extensional (d2-e).





(a)--------(b)-------------(c)---------                                      -----------(e)




In the semiotic chain of a linguistic expression, the link between (c) and (d) is intentional sense and that between (c) and (d2) is extensional sense.  The link between (d1) and (e) is intentional reference and that between (d2) and (e) is extensional reference.



A sample would be:                                                <flower

                                                                                scented, etc>                               





               /ləuzs /-----/rōz/----    rose as ----------        

entry in the                                                       

vocabulary                                                           and plant

  out there        

                                                                                    the genus

                                                                                    Rosa with

species and

breed; their



            The proper functioning of any sign requires a certain fit between the signant and the sign-ate.  With mediated signs such as linguistic expressions the fit that is important to us here is the fit between the sign-focus and the terminal sign-ate.  We describe a good fit either by saying that the terminal sign-ate satisfies the sign-focus (say, the thing satisfies the word) or by saying that the sign-focus is appositely applicable to the terminal signage (say, word is appositely applicable to the thing).  Since content-form( say, sense of the word consisting of the presentation or the range associated with the word) intervenes the sign-focus and the terminal sign-ate, we are in a position to add the following details to the description of the fit:


            (i) The terminal sign-ate satisfies the sign-focus if and only if either the terminal sign-ate conforms to the presentation or the terminal sign-ate falls within the range (say, the thing satisfies the word if and only if either the thing conforms to the presentation or the thing falls within the range). (ii)          The sign-focus appositely applies to the terminal sign-ate or the range covers the terminal sign-ate (say, the word appositely applies to the thing if and only if either the presentation appropriately displays the thing or the range covers the thing).


            These detailed descriptions of the fir between the sign-focus and the terminal sign-ate serve to bring out that this fit calls for a certain harmony between the presentation and the range of any sign-focus-or, what comes to the same thing a certain harmony between intentional reference and extensional reference and extensional reference of the sign-focus.  How is this harmony ensured?


This harmony is to be ensured in either of two ways.  Linguistic expressions differ as to the favored way of ensuring the harmony between intentional reference and extensional reference.  The sign-focus may be either extension-oriented or intension –oriented (say, the linguistic expression may be either a name or a term).


(i)                  A sign-focus is extension-oriented if and only if a good fit for intentional reference presupposes a good fit for extensional reference (say, a word is a name if and only if a good display of a thing presupposes a good coverage of that thing).

(ii)                A sign-focus is intension –oriented if and only if a good fit for extensional reference presupposes a good fit for intentional reference (say, a word is a term if and only if a good coverage of a thing presupposes a good display of that thing).


You have all heard of the young princess who drew a picture displaying the young man she wanted to marry and the king΄s emissaries who looked for a man that will conform to the picture.  The picture in the story is somewhat like a word that is a term. If the proposed man fails to conform, he has to go but the picture stands. And then there is the other story in which the shy prince sends his picture to the princess in the hope of marrying her.  When the princess actually sees the prince, she says the picture fails to do justice to his handsome looks.  The picture has to go but she has found the prince all right. The picture in this latter story is somewhat like a word that is a name.



Expressions like horse neighs are names—when one hears or utters these names, one sees a horse or hears a neighing.  Dictionaries typically fail to do justice to their presentation or intentional sense.  Horse gets glossed as an animal with four legs, a tail, and a mane΄ which so called definition actually fits a lion also.  The dictionary that is content with billing a horse as a kind of animals is at least more honest.  The fact of the matter is that the words horse and neighs are actually more like proper names than traditional grammar and logic may care to admit.  Substituting ΄Equus caballus ΄for΄ kind of animal΄ is not much of an improvement in that Equus caballus is as much a name as horse or Bucephalus or as oxygen or carbon or gram or vitamin B12 is.  The zoologist could certainly offer a presentation that displays a horse better, that is, a better portrait of a horse, but only after the name horse or equus caballus has served to establish the range to be considered.


In contrast bird, flew, and similar expressions are terms. Even a layman may wonder whether a bat is a bird or not.  If he decides to withhold the expression bird from a bat, he ay even offer reasons that are perfectly respectable—only his reasons will be cruder than the zoologist’s reasons for withholding Avis from a bat.  There may even be a debate as to whether the bat’s mode of locomotion is properly described by the word flew or by the word glided. These are all terms as are reaction, acid, the centre of the earth, and molecule.  One may well raise the question whether a crystal is properly described as a single molecule


Being a name and being a term are two favoured ways of ensuring harmony between presentation and range.  Actually, in a given communication situation an expression that normally operates as a term may be used as a term or an expression that normally operates as term may be used name. If this shift takes place persistently, a historical change may occur—a name may become a term or a term may become a name.  Consider the well-known scene in Bhavabhūtí’s Uttara-rāmacaritam Where the young pupils in Vālmīkisā shrama who have never seen a horse come to see Rāma΄s horse and ask in wonderment whether this strange animal may indeed be what they call a horse.  This is a cause for amusement precisely because what is ordinarily a name is here being used like a term.  As D.N.S. Bhat has very perceptively pointed out, in the degenerate period of classical Sanskrit what started out as rather insightful terms often ended up as mere names.  I have seen the same tragedy overtake many terms in English as used in an Indian English -medium classroom.  So much for names and terms.


We shall now move on to a consideration of technical names and technical terms3  Early in our discussion we stressed the tidiness of the technical manner of using a language as opposed to the muddle in the ordinary manner and to the richness in the stylized manner.  That technical language is tidy is a bit of an exaggeration in the case of a developing science. What Freud has to say (1915-1925: 4.60-1. cited in Frenkel-Brunswick 1956: 98-9) is very revealing about technical terms in a science –concepts defined in science are:


determined by the important relations... to the empirical material ...we seem to divine before we can clearly recognize and demonstrate them... Progressively we must modify these concepts so that they become widely applicable and at the same time consistent logically,,  Then, indeed, it may be time to immure them in definitions ..) which in turn are) constantly being altered in their content.’


Technical terms in a theoretical discipline are enmeshed in a theory, Let us go back  to the term regular tetrahedron.  Now tetra –is the word element for ‘four’ and there is nothing in English morphology to prevent us from coining terms like trihedron, penta-hedron. and so forth,  But actually tetra can be replaced in the context regular-hedron by exactly four other numeral elements hexa-, octa,- duodeca-, and icosa (six eight, twelve, and twenty) besides of course poly- in the terminology of solid geometry.  The definitions of terms are not merely meshed with each other; they are meshed in with the terms and ultimately the postulates of theory. This is especially true of the more basic terms of a science.  They or rather the presentations associated with them are theory –laden.  To fully grasp the sense of any one of the terms ld. Ego Super go is not merely to grasp the sense of the other two but also to grasp the whole theory of Freud.  Freud is giving us a salutary reminder that in the formative period of the development of a theory, in the informal shoptalk phase so to say, the scientists may be hard put to it if called upon to spell out the presentation associated with the basic theory-laden terms in the shape of tidy definitions or even postulates.  It is entirely possible that in this period they may actually have a clearer notion of the range of application of these terms.  Never the-less they are terms and not names.  Eventually the theory-laden presentations will control the range.  Linguists have long used the terms marked and unmarked before any of them sought to clarify the presentations associated with them. In case of a conflict between these clarifications of intentional sense and the earlier range of use, the earlier use will stand corrected.


      Of course one must discriminate terms that are genuinely pregnant with a theory in the process of articulation from the mere weasel words (so-called in allusion to the habit of weasels of ruining an egg by sucking its contents out).  As the economist Machlup mockingly points out (1958-1963: 89-90), the word ‘structure’ works in some ‘educated’ circles just as the phrase’ you know what I mean’ works among less literate people.  To persuade you that a certain measure is needed you are told that’ structure’ makes it absolutely indispensable, and that the ΄structural imbalance΄ cannot be coped with in any other way;- surely, you understand, don’t you?  This is not the temporary untidiness of a building site, but the sloppiness of mind using language as a means of concealing the absence of thought.  This last description is also appositely applicable for a somewhat different reason to the ‘sociologese’ pilloried by Sir Ernest Gowers in his revision (1965) of H.W. Fowler’s A Dictionary of Modern English usage (1926).


      What about the extension-oriented technical names of science liked oxygen carbon, Felis, Acinonyx jubatus (the cheetah,) Thai (the Siamese language)?  They are also subject to change in the course of the development of the science concerned.  To begin with, the taxonomies are under continual revision.  The cheetah was once named Felis jubatus, now it is placed in a genus by itself.  Thus the range of Felis contracts and the range of jubatus now falls within anew genus for which a new name Acinonyx is coined. Thail is no longer considered to be a member of the Sino-Tibetan language family; now it is considered to be a member of the Thai-Kadai language family. What is more interesting is that the associated presentation of a technical name of science is also liable to change.  Oxygen was so named because it was acid-generating, now all that is merely irrelevant etymology, oxygen is now defined as the element with the atomic number 16.  The presentation has now a theoretical basis.  Biology has not reached the stage where Equus-caballus could be similarly defined in terms of some appropriate genetic formula.  But biology has certainly reached the stage when Aves (birds) is no longer a terms as bird is to the layman but merely a name for a branch of the taxonomic tree.  That some ‘birds’ don’t fly does not disturb the biologist they are Aves all right.  The term quadruped remains, but it has no longer the importance it once had in the classification of animals. All theory-laden. technical expressions are terms, but not all technical terms are theory-laden.  Names are of course innocent of theory; at best, as in the case of oxygen when equipped with the atomic number and pigeon-holed in the periodic table, the pigeon-hole or range of which they are arbitrary labels has acquired a theory-governed terms, in this case element with the atomic number sixteen.  So borrowing oxygen directly and borrowing molecule through translation makes good philosophical sense no less than good educational sense- in either case good semiotic sense.


      3. Nomenclatures and terminologies are human artifacts and so liable to be humanly imperfect.  Especially so, since they appear as customary or minimally planned modifications of the vocabularies of the all too imperfect and messy natural languages.  Short of creating whole cloth a new vocabulary a la Panini with his lu and u (the term for the so called First Future and the market accompanying the lexical entry for the verb Kr ‘do’ conveying certain morphological ‘rule features’ or a new graphology a la Western musical notation or of adapting and extending non-linguistic symbolisms like mathematics and mathematical logic, we have to fallback upon natural language.  This is not an unmixed curse as we have just seen.  Immuring names and terms in tidy enumerations or definitions may be premature.  Sciences and even games like cricket are open to change. Finally, if the epistemology of the later Wittgenstein is valid, there may be no-escape-really from the anchoring of technical language in natural language in its ordinary use. So we have top out wit the nuisance.  The nuisance is twofold. First, there is interfering learning transfer from ordinary language to technical language. When a mathematician calls a straight line a rather uninteresting curve, the beginning student’s breath is taken away and when a beginning student mixes up force and power, his physics teacher’s patience wears a little thinner.  Secondly, the links in the semiotic chain are all made awry—that is to say, the links a –b, b-c, c-d, d-e, as you may recall.  What Gunter (1972:18) has to say about natural languages is very pertinent:


      If we take some synchronic state of the language-from any period of that history whatever-it gives the impression of both order and disorder at the same time.  Begin at some point in that state and there will be orderly extension of form and meaning out word from that point, but the order always ends in disorder.  There is order in parts   but not in the whole.  In this respect the system is like amass of the crystals of some mineral: each crystal seems to have grown in accord with some plan, but there is no overall plan that relates each crystal to the others. Or at least that overarching plan is not visible to us.  What we seem to see is a disorderly collection of orders.


Let us take a relatively simple example affecting the link between expression-form and sign-focus(the b-c link). Let us take a textual context of the following sort:


The energy is then available in the form of----- We can study it in the branch of physics called


If we start listing pairs of terms that can appear in the two slots, we end up like this:


light-                             optics

sound:                   acoustics

heat:                      *thermics ? no! heat

magnetism:           *magnetics? no! magnetism

electricity:             *electrics? no! electricity


        If we had started listing from the other en, it would have perhaps been   frustrating in a slightly different way:


electricity:                         electricity: 

magnestism:                     magnestism:

heat:                                  heat

sound:                               sound may be also acoustics

light:                                  light, may be also optics




The allosemy  (one sign –focus, two content-form or senses) heat-heat as plenty of precedent of in English (history: history; grammar; grammar) and is based on metonym my of some sort, but that does not make it any the less silly; the thermos and grammaticism would have been oh so comfortingly tidy and clear- headed.  Clear headed ness is even more important than tidiness –it is really frustrating to have to wonder we there the influence of English grammar on Marathi grammar’ has to do say, with Lindsay Murrary’s influence on Dodoba Panduranga or Alexander Bain’s on G.G. Agora or, say , with the modelling of ī Vikturiyā after Queen  Victoria rather than the more traditional Vickturiyā rāī  And of course there are people capable of making a thorough job of muddling between the two interpretations –there is no muddling through for them but just plain muddling. 


            Amore subtle example (affecting the c-d link) may be taken from traditional logic namely, the terms for the three laws of thought


The law of identity: identity

The law of contradicion: contradiction

The law of  excluded middle: exclusion of middle


Eventually logicians realized that this will not do that the second law does not demand contradiction but excluded it.  So the second law was redesign Ted as the law of non contradiction.  But such is the pull of tradition that a certain teacher of logic of kept calling it the law of contra dictation better called the law non contradiction! Incidentally the third law could rather be called the law of exclusion of middle.


            Baring these consideration in mind we shall do propose to ourselves certain canons of technical vocabulary, which is inclusive, both of technical names and of technical terms.  What I propose to do hear is to formulate without any discussion and with minimal illustration a set of 19 such cannons Let first merely list cannons and indicate their grouping ad grading.  The canons fall into two broad groups.  The fifteen canons are arranged in a sequence and designed two ensure smooth communicative flow in either direction along the semiotic chain.  The listener or reader proceeds from the terminal signal through the sign –focus to the terminal signage through the sign –focus to the terminal signant.  In the case of conflict between to cannons, the earlier takes residence while these 15 cannons with their internal sub-groups are concerned with smooth communication as it concerns a single specialty, the remaining 4 cannons set out the limits on ways of the facilitating communication between two specialties.  The cannons list out follows.    



  1. Canons for ensuring smooth communication within a specialty

A.                  Smooth linkage between terminal signates and content-forms

a.(1) code-worthiness of the subject matter

(2) Exhaustive reference to the subject matter

(1)             Relevant reference to the subject matter

b. Cod-ability of reference

(2)             (3)Amenability to testing referential fit

(4)Amenability to calibration


B.                   Smooth linkage between expression forms and content-forms mediated by the sign-focus


a.                   Efficacy of encoding and decoding

(5)               Avoidance of nonfunctional multivalence

(6)               Avoidance of nonfunctional equivalence

(7)               Easy recovery of content from expression

(8)               Easy recovery of expression from content


b.                  Learn ability of code

(9)               Transcendence of natural language       

(10)           Versatility

(11)           Amenability to the language concerned

(12)           Conformity to the language concerned

(13)           Familiarity

C.                   Smooth linkage between expression-form and terminal signants

(14)           Brevity

(15)           Simplicity

II Canons for ensuring smooth communication between two specialties

(16)                       Limits on borrowing between fields

(17)                       Strategies for borrowing across languages

(18)                       Limits set on vocabulary transfer by division into schools

(19)                       Limits set on vocabulary transfer by division into language into language networks or historical periods


The canons will be presented serially now:


(1)               Exhaustive reference:  The technical vocabulary be such that any of the things in the specialty may be referred to intensionally and extensionally without residue.  In ordinary language, one could speak of rain, dew snow, hail but meteorology also calls for a more inclusive term precipitation.  We loosely talk of counting words in a telegram or in the baby’s word stock, but language statiscians need to discriminate between word-token in the first context and word-type in the second context.  The usual left and right contrast doesn’t suffice in cricket; we also need to speak of off and on (or leg) with reference to the batsman’s stance in front of the wicket.


(2)               Relevant reference:  The technical vocabulary be such that only the things relevant to the specialty may be referred to intension-ally and extensionally and no other.  Meteorology doesn’t deign to speak of pleasant or dull weather.  Once physics sorted out mass force, and acceleration due to gravity, the term weight left over from ordinary language was dispensed with; so was ether because it ceased to play any explanatory role.  The term rhythm was found useful and attractive, but if one begins to see rhythm in everything it will cease to say anything useful- the term will then die out as ether has died out;


(3)               Amenability to testing referential fit:  A technical expression be such that its in-tensional or extensional referential fit may be testable: (i) If it be a name, the range be identified, possibly by illustration; possibly inaccessible in-tensional features be stated also. (ii) If it be a term, the defining features in the presentation be stated; possibly, also accessible diagnostic features for testing the range.  Defining the rage of the name of a flowering plant calls for stating diagnostic features like the number of petals. Defining the range of the name of a colour is effected by naming neighboring colours or citing available coloured objects. Additionally, the parameters of hue, brightness (value), saturation (chroma) be stated in order to present the in-tensional sense.  Defining the term force as’ mass times acceleration’ makes force measurable.  The intension of the terms perfect gas and perfect market is important for its explanatory value; that we don’t come across any satisfying signates need not deter us.  (The terminal signate is missing in the semiotic chain.)


(4)               Amenability to calibration:  It is essential that any two users of the same technical expression achieve the same extensional referential fit for a name or the same in-tensional referential fir for a term. Especially so, if the users are interlocutors in communication,. To ensure such sameness of referential fit: (i) Any shift in the in-tensional  -form or the content-form be made knowingly and publicly. (ii) If the in-tensional sense associated with an expression i its ordinary use persistently interferes with its technical use, the expression be replaced even if well-known. (iii) A definition in ordinary language accessible to everybody be stated or a method of diagnosis by accessible features be stated or a method of newly generating a satisfying signate be stated.  Sometimes the turning up of additional information about a species leads to a reclassification calling for a change in the name.  Any such proposal has to be carefully scrutinized and accepted by an international body before it is implemented.  In Indian poetics, the term kāyavibhrama (graces of literature) has recently been proposed in place of kāvyākāra (ornaments of literature) for figures of speech, because the present-day ordinary language sense of alakāra (ornaments worn on the person) interferes and suggests a detachability and externality that is incompatible with accepted poetic theory.  As against the proposed ukarvāa adhikārī in Marathi for a ‘ pig-pen officer’ it was argued that the word ukarvāa in ordinary use has an impact analogous to English pigsty and thus militates against the dignity of the officer concerned.  The German mineralogist Mohs proposed the scratching test to establish a scale of hardness and thus hardness became a technical term shorn of its vaguesness.

(5)                Avoidance of nonfunctional multivalence:  Two technical expressions belonging to the same technical vocabulary and, especially, liable to appear in similar contexts and comparable in sense should not have identical or similar expression- forms that may lead to confusion.  The term graphology proposed for the study of writing system s is probably unsuitable, since it has been preempted for the study of handwriting as diagnostic of the writer’s personality.  The term organic corresponds both to organ (as in organic disorder) and to organism has been proposed for the latter sense.  The terms abhilekh should not be used for both document and inscription; the latter could be called utkῑrṇalkh. (abhilekh;’ writing towards; utkralkh.  ‘carved out writting’)


(6)               Avoidance of nonfunctional equivalence: The sense of two expressions in the same technical vocabulary should be sufficiently dissimilar: a plethora of synonyms same sense should especially be avoided in the same context.  This last injunction runs directly counter to the rhetorician’s canon of elegant variation in stylized language use.  The presence of fricative in British and spirant in American phonetician’s use is otiose. (Fricative satisfies Canon 7 better than spirant.)  Up to mid-nineteenth century, of course, everybody (the British, the Americans the Continentals) used spirant.  Now only Americans have stuck to this earlier term which is not felicitous, since most speech sounds involve breathing, but only spirants involve local friction of air flow.  So also in Sanskrit poetics that of kavikarma kaviyāpāra, kāvya kriyā kāvyanirmiti, and (in one of its senses) kāvyālakāra—all referring to the activity of poetic-making’ poetry-producing’, poetry-adequate–making’).


(7)               Easy recovery of content from expression: So that the receiver may readily move from a technical expression to its sense, the following be resorted to by way of promoting transparency: (i) Complex expression–form and complex content–form be matched yielding a motivated and therefore transparent expression.  (ii) The different senses of an allosemous technical expression be plausibly and systematically related, which will make it a more transparent expression.  (iii) Iconicity renders an expression transparent by virtue of sound mimesis, shape mimesis, citation mimesis, or catenation mimesis.   The terms warm-blooded and cold-blooded are misleading and so opaque; homoeothermic and heterothermic better.  Inert is transparently allosemic in physics (body under inertia) and chemistry (inert gases) The term solution can transparently refer to the process, the resulting is a form of and the resulting state, and the resulting mixture.  A known device of motivating an expression is a form of metonymy called eponymy- - Lamarckism and Darwinism, Hertzian wave, and names of units like ohm for resistance units and its reciprocal mho for conductance units (with its graphic iconicity of a reversed spelling) are examples.  The transparency of eponymous expressions is rather limited—no wonder that Marx was driven to remind others that he was not a Marxist and that it has been said that the last Christian died on the cross.  Arabic numerals get their true name in Arabic –raqam-al-hindī (Indian numerals).  In the present study we have used three terms – technical terminology, technical vocabulary there are those who quite awkwardly use the term terminogy in all these three sense and render it opaque. Sometimes two similar forms have corresponding similar senses, but became of insufficient transparence it is difficult to remember which is which: Stalactite and stalagmite is a good example as is progressive and regressive assimilation in phonology. Progressive is not be cause the earlier sound assimilates to the latter but became the earlier assimilates the latter. Jespersen’s terms ‘ delayed and ‘ anticipatory are much more sensible.



The following are variously iconic and transparent technical terms –sonic boom, U-tube, cash-and- carry, bahuvrithī  (‘compound of the type bahuvrihi, that is, one with) plentiful rice’).


(8)               Easy recovery of expression from content:  So that the sender may readily move from a technical sense to its expression, the following be resorted to by way of promoting transparency: (i) Complex expression –form if any be a regularly formed one. (ii) Allonymic expressions and otherwise variable expressions if any be regularly formed.  It is awkward to use organic as an adjective for organism, and dental as an adjective of   tooth.  The use of indexes for indices should be encouraged.


(9)               Transcendence of natural language: A technical expression be such that it may be assimilated into normal syntax; but if this obstructs semiotic flow the limits of Marathi has to be assigned a grammatical gender even if the gender is irrelevant to the specialty.  Law freely uses and /or a conjunction that is not only new to English but also formed in a way unknown to any spoken language. Nobody is unduly worried about the inordinate length of or the use of brackets in the technical names of carbon chemistry.


(10)           Versatility: The needs of the specialty that have to be met are quite varied and variable. This may render a technical expression opaque in a new context.  So that variations in technical expressions be avoided or at least made smooth, the following be resorted to:  (i) The more versatile a technical expression is, the better.  Versatile in respect of subspecialties, neighboring specialties, schools within the specialty, neighboring languages in a language network, phases in a living tradition. I (ii) The expression-form be such that forming new expression is difficult when the statement of the intentional definition is too long, too complicated, too controversial and unstable or jus unavailable. In such cases the technical expression is difficult when the statement of the intentional definition is too long.  too complicated, too controversial and unstable, or just unavailable. In such cases the technical expression should not be complex or should be at least opaquely complex. (iv) Transparency is non-functional with technical names as opposed to technical terms.


Psychologists should borrow from anatomists the technical names and terms for the anatomy of the brain rather than go in for their own vocabulary.  When one disciplined borrows a technical expression from another, need less multivalence and equivalence should be easy to avoid.  It was a piece of carelessness on the part of some phoneticians to use dorsum in the sense of the back of the tongue, the upper surface facing the return palate or use palate in the sense of the whole of the roof of the mouth including the palate and the velum palate in contravention of standard anatomical usage in which dorsum stands for the whole upper surface o t the tongue and palate for the long portion of the roof.


Why talk about 24 carats for gold purity and 200 proof for alcoholic content of beverages rather than use the widely current device of percentage count? Rather than speak of English prepositions and Hindi postpositions, which are highly analogous, one may speak of English and Hindi adpositions.  The plea that Sanskrit-based technical expressions be preferred other things being equal, as likely to be found acceptable over most Indian languages is sound: uniformity is desirable if it does not conflict with more pressing criteria of soundness of technical expressions.  In English the stem dent-lends itself better to word derivation and even compounding (denti-) than the word  tooth.


Roentgen picked up the name x-ray for a phenomenon whose nature he did not know too well.  It is better to borrow the opaque term Romantic directly into Marathi: any translation equivalent falls short of its richly complex sense.  Chemists are more at ease with O or N than with oxygen or the French azote (lifeless).  Any transparent expression for the Weber-Fechner Law in neurophysiology is going to be too long.


If we consider the technical name accusative case, nobody is overly worried about its blatant opacity coming from its being a silly Latinization of the Greek-ptosis aitiatikos’ case for what is brought about’.  Those who needed a term, not a mere, Not a mere name resorted to the expression   objective case.  (Greek aitiatikos also happened to mean’ who has been accused’.)


(11)           Amenability to exoteric use:  Communicating the subject the subject-matter of a specialty to laymen (including members of other specialties) is not always easy but is often necessary or desirable.  To facilitate it the following be resorted to: (i) Avoid opaque expressions.  (iii) Prefer familiar or at least highly learnable expressions.


It is trying in any case for a cricket fan to explain to his wife what is going on  (or not going on) on a cricket field- he need not make it more difficult by using the more esoteric opacities like silly mid-on.  The needs of communicating with absolute laymen are more exacting than those of communicating with neighboring specialties.  A linguist will have to forget about the niceties of vocable. lexeme, term word, word-token, and word-type in then former situation, but perhaps not all of them in the latter.  A doctor will be well advised to use voice-box rather than larynx or hardening of arteries rather than arteriosclerosis in speaking to his patient –unless he is intent on mystifying him and so making him more amenable to exploitation.


(12)           Conformity to the language concerned:  As far as possible, a technical expression be such that i will conform at least to the basic norms of the natural language concerned in respect of pronunciation and expression of sense and so remain easily learnable and acceptable to the speakers of that language.   Pronounce-ability in Marathi is not merely a matter of avoiding lengthy words or heavy consonant sequences (less educated speakers render the borrowing screw from English as iskūr): thus sancālanālaya (‘ direction’-place) for directorate is more slippery to the tongue than sancālan-kāryālaya (‘direction–workplace’).  Marathi accepts tatpurusha compounds easily, but not bahuvrihi compounds.  Abbreviations like P E.E. or A.S.S. are not likely to be acceptable even if they happen to be convenient for brevity’s sake.


(13)           Familiarity: As far as possible, a technical expression be such as is already current in ordinary language use or some other familiar technical vocabulary and, even better, has a sense that does not depart too much from the familiar senses.  If it is complex and new, at least its constituents be familiar.  Naturally inherited words and word –elements are better than borrowed words and word-elements.


In Marathi atom and molecule were earlier rendered as paramāu and au Popular usage did need to talk about molecules and quickly identified aṇu with atom.  This is now accepted even for technical use and the less familiar reṇu has been proposed for the less familiar molecule.  Examples of happy coinages are the following from Hindi: kām-ddilāū daftar for employment exchange, mudrikā    for the Ring Road Circular Route bus of Delhi Transport; and the following from Marathi;  nkkašā for  bureaucracy (coined B.G. Tilak), saskrit  for  culture (coined by .K. Rajwade, the historian), lalit kalā for fine arts (adapted by S. K. Kolhatkar), tattavaj ñān for philosophy, rātrāṇi  for overnight bus, ār āmg āḍῑ for luxury bus, mālgāḍῑ for goods train.  The trouble with terms directly borrowed from English or high flow Sanskrit is that of they need to be used by persons unfamiliar with English they practically turn into wholly opaque names if not proper names– thus with sῑḍphārm or bῑguṇanketra for the Marathi-speaking peasant, who would be at home with biyāyāce šet (farm for seed grain).4


(14)      Brevity: As far as possible, the technical expression be brief and so easily learnable –especially if it needs to be more frequently used.  This may be achieved by selecting the shorter of the alternatives available or by resorting to contraction or abbreviation.  But then the expression should not be overly brief.  The term cycles per second was first shortened to c.p.c. and  then replaced by the name Hertz in honour of the German physicist, Heinrich R. Hertz. We all know of the L.C.M. and H.C.F. of school are often too short for common use—for example, l for the conjugational category of tense-mood.  (Usually the term is amplified to lakāra.)


(15)      Simplicity:  As far as possible, the technical expression be not too complex grammatically (that is, with fewer constituents and simpler construction) and so easily learnable—especially if it needs to be more frequently used.  Thus motorable road is better than road traversable by a motor vehicle though the latter may well continue to stand in a statute book.  Leave of absence gets simplified to leave.  Marathi gujarātῑbhāṣῑ

for Gujarati-speaking is better than Hindi gujaratibhāābhāṣῑ  (Gujarati speech-speaking).  The Marathi words for journalism are vrttapatrayaviasāya as well as the simpler and commoner patravyavasāya (news –sheetprofession and profession respectively).


(16)           Limits on borrowing between fields:  Every field of human activity has some special needs and goals.  So when a technical expression is borrowed from one field of  human activity by another, the needs and goals associated with each field set limits  on its use, the context-enrichment suggestive of the involvement of human muscular movements needs to be set aside; when weight brought in the unwanted reference to terrestrial gravitation, a new term  mass excluding it had to be adopted; the respectively eulogic and dylsogic suggestions of light and heat ‘ more heat than light in the argument’)  need to be set aside.  When social scientists take over terms like power and opinion, they have guard against the animation or personification of societies.  The metaphor underlying language family, daughter, sister, mother must not lead one to look for a father language!  And   loanwords are of course never repaid. Similar considerations apply to the hydraulic metaphors underlying terms like light wave, electric current;  or  navigational metaphors underlying  airship, navigator, starboard.


(17)           Strategies for borrowing across languages:  When technical expressions need to be transferred from one language to another, either directs borrowing or translation borrowing is resorted to.  The following considerations be kept in view: (i) If what is fairly motivated and transparent in the loaning language translates into something opaque, direct borrowing or indirect translation borrowing is better.  (ii) Names lend themselves better to direct borrowing and terms to translation borrowing. (iii) If a motivated and transparent expression is badly needed, translation borrowing is better.  (iv) Resemblances from historical relationship or occasionally even those through accident be exploited.  (v) In translation borrowing, revival of older expressions may be sought before resorting to new coinages.  (vi) In borrowing the opportunity be utilized to reduce deviations from the canons and caution be exercised to reduce deviations from the canons and caution be exercised to bring in new deviations.


Heavy water can translate to Marathi jai but hard water cannot very well translate as ṭaṇak pānkthῑn pānmay pass: aak pāṇi (ṭaṇak is ‘ stiff, Unyielding to pressure’),  kthῑn pānῑ (kthῑn besides meaning ‘stiff, unyielding to pressure’ can also mean ‘difficult to process, not easy’)


The term Wh-question is an unsuitable model for other languages, So far Marathi kṣati-piašna (lacuna question’) will be better than Wh-prašna or even ka-pra šna


With names of chemical elements, sulphur, iron, mercury, etc., can be translated,

but oxygen, aluminium, nickel, antimony etc. be better borrowed directly.  Proposals like prāṇavāyu or jāraja for oxygen are misguided.  When a term like organic is translated,  the ambiguity be removed by having two different translations for the two sense.  When euphonic combination for Sanskrit sandhi did not quite work, the Sanskrit term was directly borrowed by English.  Voice, voiced, voiceless are translation borrowings and at the same time are tidier than Sanskrit nāda, ghoavat, and aghoa (replaced by ghoa saghoa aghoa in Marathi).5 Historical resemblances help in translating German Lehnwort by loanword in English and geometry by jyāmiti in Bangala..  Accidental resemblances have been exploited in Marathi sunῑt (‘well-carried out’) for sonnet And Hindi sarvekaa (‘ all-see-ing΄) for survey. But one may draw the line at smāntik(‘boundary-end-ic’) for semantics!


            For algebra and plane geometry, the use of bῑjagaṇit and rekhāganit are revivals from Sanskrit.  (The root of an equation was called bja’ seed’ in ancient India—so ‘seed reckoning’; the other one ins ΄line-reckoning΄.)  Algebra is of course borrowed from Arabic al-jabr (literally, bone- setting). Between vocal and vocal fold the latter is a better model for translation, so ghoaval is better than ghoarajju or ghoatantr Sanskrit has an awkward allosemy- -svara is ‘musical note, vowel pitch accent’; we need not cling to it.  Thus one could use vākya-sur for sentence tone (sura being a Praktritism).


(18)           Limits set by division schools on vocabulary transfer: When a specially splits into schools, several technical vocabularies may replace the originally single technical vocabulary.  When this happens, the need for translation or paraphrase across schools may arise.  But this reformulation is always with some loss of meaning.  The further the difference between two schools goes from matters of detail to basic assumptions, the greater such loss.  In the face of loss we have to be content with similarity of range or extensional sense rather than with similarity of intentional sense.


In cases as traditionally played on its home ground, India, there is no castling and so no term for it.  Sanskrit poetics, the semiotic process described as dhavivyāpāra by the Dhvani Schools is re-described as bhāvakatvavyāpāra by the Schools of Lollata.  The poetic activity described as mimesis by Aristotle is described by Bharata as anukīrtana; later Sanskrit writers retain the term but interpret it differently—as΄anukarana΄, as ΄anuvyavaāya΄, and as ΄abhivyakti΄ respectively depending on the school.  (Needless to say, the equivalence of the Sanskrit term with mimesis is just as approximate as the equivalence between the three interpretations of the term anukrtana.)5


(19)      Limits set by language networks or historical periods on vocabulary transfer: When persons from one language network seek to comprehend and possibly reformulate material from another language network severe limits are set on total transfer of sense, especially intentional sense. Similarly when persons from one historical period seek to comprehend and possibly reformulate material from another historical period.  The further the difference between the periods goes from matters of details to basic assumptions, the greater such loss.  At the most one has to be satisfied with transfer of extensional sense.  The geographical gap between Aristotle and Bharata and the later Sanskrit writers has already been noted. Perhaps a Medieval European physician and an Ayurvedic physician could have understood each other with less difficulty than a physician trained in modern Western medicine and an Ayurvedic physician could understand each other.  For example, some correspondence could be established between the four Medieval European humours and the three Ayurvedic doas or dhatus (dhatu has also another sense in Ayurveda).  For example, both choler and pitta are associated with bile and with fire.  Equating either of these with the modern physician’s thermal homoeostasis or digestion or inflammation will be very tenuous and uncertain, if not almost meaningless.  The Western scholar’s decision to render Bharata’s rasa and rasa rather than as flavour or the like is cutting the Gordian knot rather than loose thing it. 5 In reverse, modern Marathi scholars have a similar problem in respect of Hegel’s or Marx’s dialectic – is it virodh-vikās (opposition –growth) or, as D. K. Bedekar would have it, dvandvātmaka svayagati (dyadic self-propulsion0?6



Here ends the brief expositions of each of the proposed canons of technical vocabulary and its use.  Some of them could be applied to technical symbol logy-for example, the canon against non-functional equivalence condemns the some dozen the half-dozen ways of saying the activity of poetic composition in Sanskrit.


Persons who propose a few simple slogans for technical vocabulary should realize that most of them beg the question – it is idle to say for example that the term should be simple without defining either term or simple.  Persons who lose heart too soon and lapse either into carelessness to into blind borrowing from another specialist or another language or another tradition should realize that we can ignore questions of terms and names only at our peril but that, at the same time, these questions are humanly resolvable most of the time.




1.                  We shall have occasion to speak of exegetic activity a little later.  Hermeneutic interpretation and exegetic interpretation, of course, need to be distinguished.  A rough and ready way to do so will be as follows. Hermeneusis tells you what a portion of a text ‘really’ means when that text already means something to you—but something that is obviously not the whole story. exegesis tells you what a portion of text means when that portion of text does not mean any thing to you or sets you right about what it means

2.                  Ammonium is the name of the base radical NH4 that does not exist independently and that is not to be confused with ammonia which is NH3.

3.                  For an earlier, determined attempt to get at the bottom of the distinction between technical nomenclature and technical terminology, see Akhmanova & Agapova, ed.  1974.

4.                  kam-dilau daftar (‘work–giving office’) mudrika (‘ring), nokaršāhī (‘(government) servant rule΄), saskti (‘modifying for the better’), lalit kalā (graceful skills’) tattvajñān (‘quidity–knowing’), rātrānī (‘night –queen’) ārāmgāi (‘comfort-wagon’) mālgāī (‘goods-wagon’) šīphārm (for seed farm), bījguankšetra (‘seed –multiplication-farm’, all constituents  being learned ), biyāyācešet (‘seed’s farm’).

5.                  prāṇavāyu (‘life-air’, with a technical meaning in Ancient Indian physiology), jāraja (homonymous with ‘born of a paramour’, intended to mean ‘productive of corrosive’) nāda (‘voice’, ghoavat (‘voice-possessing’), aghoa (‘without–voice), ghoa (‘voice’) saghoa (‘with-vioce), aghoa (‘without-voice’) dhvanivyāpāra (‘ resonance process’ for enrichment of meaning’), bhāvakatvayāpāra (‘ operative –ness –process’)  anukīrtana (‘narrating in conformity’) anukaraa (‘acting in conformity’),  Anuvyavasaya (‘effort in conformity’),  abhivyakti (‘expressing towards’) doa (‘(possible seat of) disorder’)  dhātu (‘formative element –one of the three humours’ also applied  to any of the seven types of  bodily tissues and fluids, to metals, to grammatical roots) rasa (‘constituent fluid, sap, taste and flavour’  -applied in poetics to the energy informing a poem and its experience in the direction o f various human sentiments).

6.                  Consider Grice’s discussion (1975) of the Co-operative Principle operative in conversational and any other cooperative activity of a purposive, indeed rational kind, together with its corollaries in respect (echoing Kant) of Quantity, Quality Relation, and Manner.  His four conversational maxims (with some sub-maxims) of the ordinary use of language are comparable in an interesting way to the present discussion of the canons of the technical use of language. (1) Be informative enough (Compare: Canon of Exhaustive reference.) (2) Be true and with adequate evidence. (Compare: Canon of Amenability to testing referential fit) (3) Be relevant. (Compare: Canon of Relevant reference (4) Be perspicuous- especially be clear, unambiguous, brief, and orderly (Compare: Canons of Easy recovery of content from expression, of Avoidance of nonfunctional multivalence, of Brevity, and of Easy recovery of expression from content.)




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Technical names and terms are an aspect of the technical use of language in contradistinction from the stylized use at the other extreme and the ordinary use in between.  Technical use concerns a specialty of some kind –be it a science or a technology or a game or an artistic tradition or whatever.  Comparing the three is essential for a proper understanding of how technical names and terms function.


Technical names constitute technical nomenclature and technical terms constitute technical terminology.  The distinction between names and terms (whether technical or not and whether proper names / singular terms or not) hinges on the favoured ways of ensuring harmony between presentation and range, between intentional sense and reference on the one hand, and extensional sense and reference on the other hand.  A word is a name if and only if a good presentation presupposes a good coverage.  (Examples: horse, neighs, Equus caballus, oxygen, Bucephalus).  But a word is a term if and only if a good coverage presupposes a good presentation.  (examples: bird, flew, reaction, acid, the centre of the earth).  The language of a developing science may not be wholly tidy though still retaining its technical character both in respect of terms and in respect of names. 


Nomenclatures and terminologies, being human artifacts, are liable to be imperfect, but they are also perfectible. A set of canons are proposed for technical vocabulary for ensuring smooth communication between two specialties (canons 16-19).  The following canons are presented serially: (1) Exhaustive reference to the subject matter; (2) Relevant o the subject matter; (3) Amenability to testing re referential fit; (4) Amenability to calibration; (5) Avoidance of nonfunctional multivalence; (6) Avoidance of non functional equivalence; (7 Easy recovery of content from expression;(8)Easy recovery of expression from content; (9) Transcendence of natural language; (10) Versatility; (11) Amenability to exoteric use; (12) Conformity to the language concerned; (13)Familiarity; (14) Brevity;  (15) Simplicity; (16) Limits of borrowing between fields; (17) Strategies for borrowing across languages; (18) Limits set on vocabulary transfer by division into schools; (19) Limits set on  vocabulary transfer by division into language networks or historical periods.  These cannons are also illustrated from various specialties with words in English, Sanskrit, and neo-Sanskrit.  Some of these canons could apply to technical symbolology.




Les noms et les terms techniques constituent un aspect d΄un language que l΄ on peut qualifier de ΄ technique΄ par opposition à l΄ uasage stylistique d΄ un  côté et à ĺ autre. Ĺ΄usage technique se rapporte à une spécialité  que ce une science, un jeu, une tradition  artistique ou tout autre activité nécessitant un vocabularire technique. II est important de comparer ces trois usages pour bien comprendre comment fonctionent dans le discpurs les noms et les terms techniques.


Les noms techniques forment des nomenclature techniques et les terms techniques des terminologies techniques. La distinction entre noms et termes (qu΄ils soient ou non techniques et qu΄ils soient ou non des noms propres et des termes singuliers) dépend de la maniére dont on rèalise l΄harmonie entre sens intensionnel et rèfèrenced΄une part, et sens externsionnel et rèfèrence  d΄autre part.  Un mot est un nom si et seulement si une bonne prèsentation (intension) prèsuppose une bonne application (extension). Mais un nmot est un terme si et seulement si une bonne application (extension) prèsuppose une bonne prèsentation (intension).


Les nomenclastures et les terminologies étant des artefacts sont susceptibles d΄è tre imparfaites,  mais aussi d΄être perfectibles.  L΄ article propose un ensuemble de règles destinèes á assurer lacrè-ation de vocabularies techniques satisfaisants, ćest-á-dire facilitant la communication á l΄ intèrierur d΄une spècialitè (règles 1 á 15) aussi bien qú entre speècialiteès (régles 16 à 19).  Ces règles sont les suivantes: (1) exhaustivitè de la rèfèrence á l΄object;(2) pertinence de la rèfèrence á l΄object; (3) testabilitè de la comp èence référentielle; (4) possibilitè de calibration; (5) èlimination des multivalences non-fonctionnelles; (6) èlemination des èquivalences non-fonctionneles; (7) facilitè á retrouver le contenu    apr ès l΄expression; (8) facilitè á retroouver l΄ expression d΄  apr ès le contenu; (9) transcendance du language naturel; (10) versatilitè; (11) capacitè á pr èter á un uasge exotèrique; (12) conformitè au language naturel; (13) familiarité; (14) bri èveté; (15) simplicitè (16) règlementation des emprunts entre domainess; (17) stratéfies d΄emprunt entre langues; (18) règlementation des transferts de vocabularies par la division en école; (19) règlementation des transferts de  vocabulaires par la division en r èseaux linguistiques ou en périodes historiques.  Ces règles sont ilustrèes par des exemples en anglai en anglais. sanskrit et néo–sanskrit  provenant de spécialitès techniques variées.  Certaines de ces règles pourraient aussi ś appliquer á la symbologie technique.


Ashok Ramchandra Kelkar (born 1929) is Professor of Applied Linguistics and Director of the Centre of Advances Study in Linguistics of the University of Poona located at Deccan College,Pune, India. He has published on semiotics, linguistics, literature and art, philosophy of language in English. Marathi, and Hindi His-book-length publications include Studies in Hindi–Urdu I (Pune 1968) and Prolegomena to an Understanding of Semiosis and Culture (mysore 1980)





            This article is based on a paper presented at a symposium entitled ‘In Search of Terminology’, Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore, India, January 19-23, 1982.  It was published in Recherche’ semiotiques / Semiotic inquiry 4:3-4: Sept-Dec. 1984 (published (1985).