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On spoken, written and standardized computer science terminology

Svatava Machová



O mluvené, psané a normalizované terminologii výpočetní techniky

In the recent decades, the computer science terminology has belonged to those terminologies that have been enriched by hundreds of terms every year, and a great number of other terms have ceased to be used.

Most new computer science concepts took their origin in the Anglo–Saxon world. In addition, most of the hardware and software used in the Czech Republic has been purchased in the USA and the manuals are written in English. These two facts result in the phenomenon that in the Czech language community, the computer science terminology is shaped under a strong influence of the English terminology and that the Czech concept structure of this subject area is always an accurate reflection of the English one.

The terminologists of the Anglo–Saxon world are mostly those who are the first to give names to new concepts in the field. They did not look for names referring to new concepts in other languages neither did they create any neologisms in most cases. Very frequently, for new terms they used words that are common in English and that acquire new meanings based on a metaphorical or metonymical transfer. If an English native speaker comes across words that are familiar to him, such as chip, log, hold, notebook, debug, he may think that the subject area, in which these terms are used, is one that is easy to master.

In the Czech context, the situation in computer science terminology appears to be different.


(i) The first persons to give new Czech names to new concepts in the spoken language are technicians and programmers when they start to operate with new hardware and software. They are specialists in computer science, they have got familiar with new concepts usually through English texts and have begun to talk about them in Czech when speaking to their Czech fellow–workers. They use a colloquial Czech or some other variety of Czech when communicating with each other and as Czech equivalents of English terms they use words composed of an English basis and supply it with Czech endings or affixes.

For verb terms they use prefixes to convert perfective verbs to imperfective ones (this is usually effected be means of Czech prefixes z–, za–) and they use the suffix –ovat to indicate that the word is a verb. To the noun terms the last sound of which is a consonant they usually assign masculine gender and decline them as hard masculines if the consonant is hard or ambiguous (lejbl,–u, slot,–u, leptop,–u) and they decline them as soft masculines if the last consonant is soft (displej,–e, bridž,–e). To noun terms having the function of attributes it is the adjectival suffix –ový, –ová, –ové that is usually added [postskriptova: lejzrova: tiska:rna; noutbukova: horečka].

The English part of the name is sometimes pronounced in keeping with the English pronunciation, sometimes with the Czech one. Until recently, Czech computer specialists were reluctant to use Czech equivalents having Czech roots. They considered it unnecessary to create terms composed of Czech morphemes only. It was because the terms formed in this way are not burdened with any other meanings in Czech, because this is the easiest way of finding Czech equivalents and also because they found it self–satisfying to belong to an exclusive group: specialists in a prestigious field showing off their command of a prestigious language. Some examples:


[195]English term

Czech computer slang

standard Czech term


[kli:rovat, vikli:rovat]

mazat, vymazat


[logovat, zalogovat]












[pi:si:čko, pi:si:čka]

osobní počítač


[noutbuk, noutbuku]

zapisníkový počítač


[leptop, leptopu]

kufříkový počítač

save it

[zasejvuj to]

ulož to


Interpreters educated in linguistics proceed in the same way if they come across a new term in simultaneous interpretation. The limited time available to them in simultaneous interpretation makes any other solution impossible.


(ii) At present, there exist Czech periodicals devoted to computer science, such as Softwarové noviny, Computer ECHO, CHIP. In these three periodicals, the names of new concepts may appear for the first time in the written form of Czech. The papers published there are mostly translations of English or German papers and the translators are computer science specialists.

A translator who is a specialist in the subject area has a different attitude towards the language form than a specialist who has never engaged in translating technical and scientific texts. In creating new names for new concepts, he opts for one of three methods each of which can be encountered in the above periodicals:

(a) A thoughtful translator with good feeling for language, a specialist in the given field, will try to offer the readers a Czech equivalent for the term that he deems to be fitting both in the Czech terminology of the field and in the wordforming frameworks of the Czech language. To make it clear for the readers what English term it is equivalent to, when using the new Czech term for the first time, the translator will put its original English form into brackets, e. g.: Spojová vrstva (data link layer) řídí datové spoje …; Řízení pohybu datagramu v jednotlivých uzlech se nazývá směrování (routing); Opakovač (repeater) pracuje na první vrstvě…; Relační vrstva se zabývá vytvořením a řízením relace (session).

(b) Less competent translators will proceed in a different way, in a similar way to that described in (i). They sometimes write the English part of the term phonetically corresponding to the English pronunciation, some other times they keep to the English spelling. E. g: na rychlém TFT displeji portablu; v oblasti přenosných počítačů, jimiž jsou notepady; zástupce vyřezávacích plotterů; organizuje kurzy word processingu; získá bezplatný technický support; úvod do práce se spreadsheety.

(c) The third method is not to translate the term at all and use the English term simply in quotation marks as an nondeclinable word. E. g: I jiní už „outsourcing” dlouho užívají (the meaning of the word ”outsourcing” is ”giving an order outside the company for handling the company information” – this explanation is, however, not given by the translator); Displej spolurozhoduje o tom, zda na něm práce s „windows” bude příjemným zážitkem (The reason why the translator used the English term ”window” in 1992 is unclear. Its Czech equivalent ”okénko” was standardized by the Czech standard CSN in 1988); Uživatel má k dispozici „coffee break” s přepínači (the ”coffee break” means a push button after the pressing of which the display is turned off and the keyboard is out of function until the password is typed – which is, however, not explained by the translator either).

The solution of this type may be appropriate if the translator judging from his knowledge of the field, thinks that the term will be used only for a short time or in case he translates a paper from which the meaning of the new term cannot be derived. Never[196]theless, it is also possible that many translators resort to this solution out of negligence. They are reluctant to lose their time for terminological considerations.

The editors of these three periodicals are not careful enough; in the same number of a periodical, different terms are used for the same concept. If that is the case, it causes difficulties for the readers. They cannot know if these different terms are synonyms or not. Sometimes a strange paradoxical situation may occur. For instance, the Czech term čip has been an established term in the Czech terminology for some years. In bilingual dictionaries it constitutes the only equivalent to the English term chip. A Czech periodical called CHIP may be misleading for some of the readers in their judgement about the spelling of the Czech term. The Czech periodical is a sister periodical of a German one and keeps its original name. Another example: In spoken Czech the term software is used and declined in accordance with the Czech noun pattern. Apart from this, its purely Czech equivalent programové vybavení introduced by a Czech Standard in 1987 is also used in both spoken and written texts. However, the careless editorial office allows using the term software as an indeclinable word even in 1992 (e.g. žebříček prodeje software v Československu).

Naturally, I consider the solution (a) adopted by competent translators to be the most suitable one hoping that this solution will be used increasingly in written texts. This view can be justified by the fact that the number of computer users is constantly growing. Most of these users are now specialists in noncomputer areas who are not interested in becoming computer experts. All they wish is to use computers as their working tool. Hardware and software companies are concerned in penetrating into the market of these specialists. They are aware of the fact that they will succeed only if their products are user-friendly. One of the features of a user-friendly software is that the text about the software is written in the user’s native language and that the way the text is written is user-friendly, that means the introduction of new terms is made in the first way quoted here, in the way (a), a way that only competent translators use.

It is natural that the existence of several periodicals devoted to one subject area and having a great number of readers has a beneficial effect on stabilizing terminology. This would also be considerably promoted if the Czech terminological data bank (TDB) which has existed for this subject area since 1989 were operating well. I consider a TDB to be operational only if it is accessible within the national computer network to all editorial institutions, if translators of computer science texts constantly contribute to update it, if the updating is sensibly controlled and if the TDB generates updated terminological dictionaries and glossaries in regular intervals both in book and CD forms. So far, only two bilingual explanatory terminological dictionaries have been generated and published on the basis of this TDB, viz English–Czech and Czech–English Computer Vocabularies (Minihofer, 1990, 1991) and they include standardized terms only.


(iii) The terminologies of natural science and technology is usually standardized to a certain degree. It is generally thought that it is resonable to standardize about 30 % current basic terms (Felber, 1985). It is clear that terms can be standardized only after several years of usage. Terminology and its standardization is predominantly a matter for specialists of the field and not for linguists. So it happens that the standardizers who are not competent in language laws, when selecting the terms for standards, do not take any account of the usage and push through their own views for giving standard names to a concept. This sometimes results in the fact that a term which is included in the Czech terminological standard is one that nobody uses. Some examples:


English term

CSN Standard

Common usage















načítat, nahrávat



(iv) With a little exaggeration it can be concluded that there are three kinds of terms in the Czech computer–science terminology: spoken terms, written terms and standardized terms.




Felber, H.: Standardization of Terminology. Infoterm, Wien 1985.

Felber, H.: Terminology and neology. TermNet News, 1987, p. 1–3.

Minihofer, O.: English–Czech Computer Vocabulary. SPN, Praha 1990.

Minihofer, O.: Czech–English Computer Vocabulary. SPN, Praha 1992.

Poštolková, B.: Odborná a běžná slovní zásoba současné češtiny. Academia, Praha 1984.



O mluvené, psané a normalizované terminologii výpočetní techniky

V posledních desetiletích patří terminologie výpočetní techniky (VT) k těm terminologiím, které se každoročně obohacují o stovky termínů a v nichž současně řada jiných termínů přestává být užívána.

Většina nových pojmů z VT vzniká v anglosaském světě. Tato skutečnost spolu s faktem, že je do Čech nakupován převážně americký hardware a software, způsobují, že v českém jazykovém společenství se terminologie VT utváří pod silným vlivem terminologie anglické a že česká pojmová strukturace této tematické oblasti téměř vždy věrně obráží pojmovou strukturaci anglosaskou.

S jistou nadsázkou lze říci, že v češtině nyní existují tři druhy termínů výpočetní techniky: (i) termíny užívané v primárně mluveném projevu; (ii) termíny užívané v psaném projevu či v sekundárně mluveném projevu; (iii) normalizované termíny. V článku je tato skutečnost doložena a jsou uvedeny možné příčiny jejího vzniku.

Pedagogická fakulta Univerzity Karlovy

Slovo a slovesnost, volume 54 (1993), number 3, pp. 194-197

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