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Number 12 (3/2003)

Finnish Version of the Multilingual Thesaurus ELSST

Taina Jääskeläinen | Maria Forsman    

The multilingual ELSST (European Language Social Science Thesaurus) has been translated into Finnish. The thesaurus will be one of the key features of the future Madiera portal. Developing the thesaurus and translating it into different languages is one of the goals of the Madiera project. The multilingual thesaurus will enable researchers to circumvent language barriers in their search for data.

Translation project

FSD was the first Madiera partner to translate the English thesaurus into their own language. The work was done by information specialists Marja Oksa-Pallasvuo and Terttu Turunen. FSD's translator Taina Jääskeläinen acted as the project coordinator and participated in the concept analysis. Six social science researchers and several information specialists working in social science libraries commented on the preliminary translation, after which another version was produced. The Finnish version was completed in May 2003.

FSD aimed at a correlated thesaurus and not a translated one. In a correlated thesaurus the terms are not translated as such; the idea is to map concepts across languages. Another aim was that the term chosen to denote the Finnish equivalent concept would be in common use in social science research. Mapping concepts ensures that people making searches in the Madiera portal will be able to find data on the same phenomena in different countries.

For example, the Finnish equivalent of the term Reposession (houses) is Asunnon pakkomyynti, meaning 'forced sale of a house/flat'. As the way of financing home ownership differs from the British system we had to try to find an equivalent concept. The Finnish term refers to a situation where a house/flat is sold by the lender bank when the debtor defaults on the housing loan payment.

The Finnish ELSST used the terms of the General Finnish Thesaurus (YSA) whenever possible. YSA is widely used in Finland. This was possible for about 60% of the terms.

The biggest challenge turned out to be terms pertaining to systems and classifications which differ from country to country, like occupational classifications and education and pension systems. Concept analysis was also demanding: it is hard to tell the exact meaning of a term without any context. One of the most useful features of the ELSST is the use of scope notes, which clarify the meaning of a term. In case of doubt, enquiries were sent to UK Data Archive. Often the UKDA decided to add a scope note to the term in question.

Scope notes are language-specific and need not be equivalent across languages. An example of an English term and its scope note:
English term: Counter-urbanization
Scope note: Population migration from urban areas to rural areas
Finnish term: Maallemuutto
(no scope note is needed in Finnish as the literal translation of the term would be 'move to live in a rural area')

The ELSST thesaurus is based on the UK Data Archive's HASSET (Humanities and Social Science Electronic Thesaurus) and was translated into English, German, French and Spanish during the previous EU-project LIMBER. In addition to the Finnish version, the Madiera project will produce Greek, Norwegian and Danish versions of ELSST. The thesaurus will also be extended during the project. The extended version of the thesaurus will also be translated into Finnish, Greek, Norwegian and Danish within the project.

Maintaining the thesaurus

A thesaurus workshop was held in Colchester, Essex in June. One of the items on the agenda was to discuss the administrative framework required to update and maintain the multilingual ELSST. A management team will be set up, consisting of members from different archives. A working database will be added to the ELSST web site. All project partners will be able to see the new term suggestions and other term comments on the web and be able to add new comments/suggestions to the database from their own desktops. Final decisions about new terms, and term and hierarchy changes will be made by the management team.

The management team will also preview and make decisions about which terms and hierarchies to include into the extension of the thesaurus. The purpose of this is to make the actual translation/mapping work of the extended thesaurus quicker and easier by ensuring that the terms included are not too culture- or language-specific and by clarifying unclear concepts beforehand with scope notes. The technical maintenance of the ELSST will in the hands of the UKDA.

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