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     Valsts valoda > Terminoloģija > Raksti un grāmatas     
   Skujiņa V. Vitality of Latin and Greek Word-elements in the Modern Interlingual Term-building Processes     



  Valentīna Skujiņa

Latvian Language Institute of LU


Vitality of Latin and Greek Word-elements

in the Modern Interlingual Term-building Processes


Abstract. Since in different languages new terms are formed using Latin and/or Greek word-elements, and the necessity of such word-formations is in progress, it would be recommended to pay more attention to deeper investigation of international term models in comparative aspect of close contact languages. Coordinated term-models would be a good remedy in translating EU regulations and ISO standards. If possible, there could be established a special Board or a Committee whose task would be providing unambiguous international term-models with coordinated meaning for the same concepts. In cases of semantic discrepancy between the same roots and affixes in different languages it would be use-worthy to try making the semantics of such roots and affixes adequate to the main meaning of such elements in their original. Common international structural-semantic models could help us for unambiguous interlingual communication.

The beginning of the 21st century is the period of tendencies towards globalisation. A number of European states which are not yet the members of the EU manifest their wish to become members. This is aimed at closer contacts between different European countries and languages.

Languages of the European area have a rich stock of common word-building resources. These are the initial or final parts and roots of so-called international words which are widely used in different European languages. Mainly these words are used with similar spelling and pronunciation in different languages and consist of elements of Latin and/or Greek origin. Latin and Greek have been the main sources of word-elements for building new words and new terms in different European languages up till now. These elements have proved to be useful for expressing the concepts of the newest achievements of modern technologies. International terms being borrowed from the Latin or Greek language or being built in different modern languages now form an important part of LSP word-stock in many European languages, e.g. such terms as calculator, communication, comparator, descriptor in computer science, examination, habilitation, inspection, validation in pedagogics, contract, control, regulations in documentology, etc. (see AVOTS 2001; Pedagogics 2000; Granta, K & Pampe, E. 1990).

The investigation of the borrowing process shows that in case of numerous borrowings with the same prefixal or postfixal element with appropriate meaning accumulate in our language, that enables us to distinguish these elements as separate structural-semantic units, and we use them like affixes of our own language when creating new words.

Latin and Greek languages are the main contributors of international word-elements also in Latvian, and these elements have a stable place in the basic stock of Latvian scientific terminology. From our dictionaries of foreign words it is stated (Skujiņa 1993) that about 80% of loans are with Latin and Greek stems or affixes.

The terms being built on the basis of Latin and Greek elements quickly spread into other languages and become internationally intelligible. Many of such terms are formed in French, English, German, Spanish, etc. (see Baldunčiks 1999). In Latvian these terms enter as loan words. But since the 60ies - 70ies of the 20th century Latin and Greek elements, if necessary, have been used for creating new terms in Latvian as well. Namely, in Latvian in such a way are built the adjectives grupāls (group - in attributive function, verbatim “groupal”), reanimatīvs (referring to the reanimation, verbatim “reanimative”), gravitārs (referring to the gravitation); the substantives arhīvistika (archive science, verbatim “archivistics”), mononīmija (absence of synonyms, verbatim “mononymy”), programmatūra (software, verbatim “programmature”).

Of course, new words are built according to definite patterns which are obvious in other derivatives used in the corresponding language.

Taking into account the widespreadness of Latin and Greek elements in the structures of international terms borrowed in Latvian and the possibility to use them for creating new terms, gathering and deeper investigation of these elements become very urgent.

The first inventory of Latin and Greek word-elements has been prepared and published in Latvia in 1999 (Skujiņa 1999). This dictionary includes mainly word-elements of Latin and Greek origin and a limited number of other language origin. These elements are widespread not only in Latvian stock of borrowings but in the English, French, German, Russian and others as well.

The dictionary embraces mainly such international elements which are Latin and Greek word roots or stems and prefixal or postfiksal elements.Postfiksal elements sometimes are followed by Latvian flexions, e. g. -grāfija (-graphy), -loģija (-logy), -oīds (-oid), -tēka (-theque; in English ‘library’; in German -thek). Pure suffixes are less represented. Internationally spread suffixes followed by Latvian flexions are given if their meaning is more compact and it is possible to characterize this meaning, for instance -āde (-ade), -ants (-ant), -āts (-ate), -āža (-age).


From this dictionary we can see the location of every word-element inside word structure and the meaning of every word-element in original language - Latin and/or Greek - and in the international word used in Latvian. The semantics of every international element is being characterized in its present day use in Latvian and illustrated by exsamples.

When comparing the usage of these elements in different European languages we can see some common interlingual structural-semantic models of derivatives. Let us see Table 1 “Names of sciences, subject-field studies, etc.”

Names of sciences, subject-field studies, etc.

Table 1.


































(documentation study)

(religion study)

(science on science*)

(translation study)






Many fields of sciences are named with the final element -logy (< Greek logos with very capacious meaning ‘name; mind; concept; judgement; teaching; science’, etc.). The names of sciences can be formed on the base of the word science too: computer science, social sciences, natural sciences, translation science (or study). In Latvian we have analogous word combinations or compound words: datorzinātne, sabiedriskās zinātnes, dabaszinātnes, tulkojumzinātne. We obtain a short, easy usable term derivating the term with the element -logy: translatoloģija, in English (verbatim) translatology* (terms formed by the author of this article are indexed with the asterisk).


In Latvian there is the possibility to express three degrees in names of theoretical studies: mācība ([subject-field] ‘teaching’ [theory]) > zinība (verbatim ‘knowledgeness’* or ‘knowledge study’) > zinātne (‘science’). It means approximately this way: in school time - ‘teaching theory’; in high-school study - ‘knowledgeness’*; in post-graduate study - ‘science’.

If we understand study as ‘the method of acquiring knowledge’ and ‘the process of researching’ (Oxford 1995), then it is not recommended to use the term study for the meaning ‘science’.

If we use the term study with the meaning ‘science’ we begin to think that these words are synonyms. It is a wrong way of using words and terms without respect to their real meanings and we create a new unnecessary synonymy, and mix concepts in addition. As a result - we make our language for special purposes more ambiguous. In cases when we ascertain that different international terms are used as synonyms and we want to find out whether it is reasonable or not, we can find help in the Latin and Greek origin. As to the term study - from Latin studium - we can see from Latin-Latvian Dictionary (LLV 1955) that studium means ‘striving (for)’, ‘the process of researching’, ‘high-school study process’ and the same, not ‘the branch of systematized theoretical knowledge’.

If we speak about “translation study”, that means we are speaking about ‘the process of researching in the content of translation’. If in this researching process we obtain the systematized theoretical content of knowledge then we have got the foundation for naming this branch as “translation science”, or, shorter, “translatology”.

Let us see another example in the Table 2 “Names of storages”.


Names of storages.

Table 2.













(film library*)

(sound library*)
















(data library)

(game library*)





Latin and Greek word-elements’ resources offer us the element -theque (from Greek thēkē ‘storage’) for expressing the concept ‘storage’.

It turns out that English language managed without this Greek element with the exception of the term discotheque. Though, the term discotheque is ‘a club etc. for dansing to record popular music’, not ‘a storage for popular music records’. On the contrary, derivatives with the element -thek in German, Russian and Latvian are used like in Latin and Greek for naming storages. In English this meaning is included in the word library: data library, film library, etc. The etymology of the word library shows that it has originated from Latin liber, libri ‘book’. Consequently, the concept which must be comprised in the term data library or film library and the meaning of these word connections is not the same. Neither data library nor film library is applied to books.

In Latvian educational terminology (as we see from Pedagogics 2000) derivatives with the finale -ūra (from Latin -ūra with common meaning of ‘aggregate’, ‘togetherness’*) have acquired the systematic character for naming courses of academic and scientific studies (see Table 3).


Names of study courses.

Table 3.












([post-] graduate course)

(post- graduateship

for doctors)





докторанту- ра



New derivatives

bachelor’s course master course

Bakkalaureus- studiengang Magister- studiengang



магистрату- ра





As we see in the table, the finale -ure is not characteristic for English, it has some analogous derivatives in German, Russian, Latvian.

In the 80ies of 20th century, the term terminēma (with a postfixal element -ēma from Greek -ēma) was derivated in Latvian, and after that this term was translated into English as termeme (Skujiņa 1996). Let us look at the group of corresponding derivatives in the Table 4.


Names of linguistic units.

Table 4.












grapheme lexeme morpheme sememe

Graphem Lexem Morphem Semem

графема лексема морфема семема

grafēma leksēma morfēma semēma

New derivatives

termeme* toneme

терминема* тонема

terminēma tonēma

The table shows that a number of linguistic terms are being formed with the finale -eme in different languages. According to an analogy with other linguistic terms on -eme, in other words, using the same structural-semantic model of one group of the linguistic terms (grapheme, lexeme, morpheme, sememe), the term termeme was formed for naming a generalized unit on the terminological level. Termeme is a generalized unit of terminological units with the term (usually as a noun) as the basic component and with words of other parts of speech (verbs, adjectives, adverbs) related to the same concept as secondary components.

The term                       Secondary components

(of the same termeme)

translation                                      to translate



integrity                     integer

The investigation of international terminology in contrastive aspect of different languages shows that Latin and Greek word-elements are still vital for international application in new international structural-semantic term-models. These models may induce a positive influence on unambiguous communication process if these models are interlingually coordinated. Saying “internationally applicable term-models”, we mean that semantically concordant new terms may appear simultaneously in different languages. It happened, for instance, in the 70ies of the 20th century when accordingly to the model which is represented by the group of derivatives synonym, synonymy, synonymity, synonymous another group of words – mononym mononymy, mononymous, mononymity – appear practically at the same time in Latvian and Russian terminology to express the notion ‘one term for one concept’, i.e. mononym – ‘a word that has no synonyms’; mononymy – ‘the phenomenon (or state) of this’; mononymous – ’not having synonyms’; mononymity – ‘the feature expressed in a lack of synonyms’.

This time, at the beginning of the 21st century, is a time of close collaboration between many countries. Words with similar writing and pronounciation in different languages usually are that part of vocabulary which translators do not use to translate. These words are transferred without translation from one language into another considering them to be with the same meaning. It creates problems if these meanings differ. Then such internationalisms become “false friends” and cause misunderstandings between readers or listeners of such texts.

The semantic difference of the so called internationalisms has some objective reasons:

1)     the polysemy of a word or word-element in the source language;

2)     the specifity of the historical development of each national language.

In the course of translation, serious dificulties for languages of small countries appear when the closest contact language is changed. This is now taking place in Latvia. The close contact language switching from Russian to English testifies that a number of internationalisms being built on the base of Latin or Greek origin has different meanings in Russian and English. A result of previous close contacts between Latvian and Russian languages are the discrepancies between the meaning of the same formally international word in Latvian and in English.

To overcome such situation, two main methods are used:

1)     trying to draw nearer the meaning of an international term in Latvian (as it is with identifikācija ‘identification’; autorizācija ‘authorization’);

2)     to maintain the difference in formally adequate internationalisms (translācija ‘broadcast’, but English translation in Latvian means ‘tulkošana’; oficieris ‘the degree of a military person’ in colloquial speech, but English officer in Latvian is ‘ierēdnis’).

The second method is used when meaning changes are really impossible without great misunderstandings in Latvian language practice.


1.       In order to avoid terminological contradictions in connection with international borrowings:

a)     before borrowing a term including international words built from Latin and Greek word-elements it is suitable to acquaint oneself with other meanings of the word in the source language and to consider the inconveniences which may appear next if the borrowing appears to be polysemantic;

b)    in the case of semantic discrepancies in the national stock of borrowed terms built on the base of Latin and Greek word-elements it is suitable to consider the possibility to change the semantics of these terms getting them nearer to their semantics in the source (not intermediary) language.

2.       Since new terms are formed in different languages using Latin and/or Greek word-elements, and the necessity of such word-formations is in progress, it would be recommended to pay more attention to deeper investigation of international term models in comparative aspect of close contact languages. Unambiguous international term-models would be a good pattern for creating terms with the same meaning in different languages. Coordinated term-models would be a good remedy in translating EU regulations and ISO standards. If possible, there could be established a special Board or a Committee whose task would be providing unambiguous international term-models with coordinated meaning for the same concepts.

3.       Considerations expounded in this paper do not mean that all borrowed units of national vocabularies must be revised and unified. The main idea is that common international structural-semantic models, mainly on the base of still vital Latin and Greek word-elements could help us in unambiguous communication. Therefore it would be recommended to fix the main structural-semantic models for new international derivatives on the base of Latin and Greek elements, and in cases of semantic discrepancy bring them nearer to the semantics of such roots and affixes in their original.


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Skujiņa, V. (1999). Latīņu un grieķu cilmes vārddaļu vārdnīca (Dictionary of the Latin and Greek Elements). Rīga: Kamene.


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