The terminological profile of the language of economics and business in English

In order to highlight the characteristic traits of the terminology of economics and business language, two types of comparison suggest themselves: with general language on the one hand, and with other languages for specific purposes on the other. The first perspective will give an idea of how the terminologies of economics and business deviate from general language, while a comparison with other languages for specific purposes will sharpen the profile, sorting out what pertains to languages for specific purposes in general from what is characteristic of only such particular language or of a small cluster of them. Both these comparisons are riddled with methodological problems that cannot be addressed in depth in the present context, but which ought to be discussed briefly all the same.

Methodological preliminaries

First of all, we are fully aware of the fact that neither the “general language” nor any language for specific purposes is a homogeneous entity in itself. It is true that standard descriptions of English word formation, such as Marchand (1969) or Bauer, Lieber, and Plag (2013), provide many observations about how the use of specific word-formation patterns varies according to geography, register, genre or speech situation. Yet we still lack large-scale descriptions of the relative frequency of patterns of word formation based on quantitative data, especially for compounding (on derivation, cf. Plag, Dalton-Puffer, and Baayen 1999). Moreover, it would have been beyond our means to compile and statistically analyse a corpus of complex words representative of general English that might have served as an explicit reference corpus. Our observations concerning deviations from general language must therefore remain preliminary.

The situation with regard to comparison of the terminologies of economics and business with those of other languages for specific purposes is a different one. In this case we can provide more explicit data, although even here we had to resort to a certain degree of idealization in order to keep the analysis manageable. As the basis of comparison we have chosen all discipline-specific terms (i.e., discarding general academic vocabulary) drawn from the natural sciences (physics and chemistry; Alonso & Finn 1992; Housecroft & Constable 2006), the life sciences (medicine; McPhee 2006) and the humanities (linguistics; Becker & Bieswanger 2006) extracted from 50 evenly distributed pages -12 only for medicine, due to the extraordinary amount of terminology - of introductory textbooks written in English. The reason for choosing introductory textbooks was that they contain the essential terminology of a discipline and cover a broad range of topics.

For each discipline this extraction process yielded lists of different length, ranging from 476 terms in linguistics to 1,084 in medicine. These lists form the basis of the tables presented in this chapter. Since we will base our comparisons on the relative weight of certain patterns of term formation within the six samples, the differing lengths of the lists should not in principle present a major problem. The relative weights will be indicated as a percentage of the total of terms in each sample. In the following subsections, the six lists will be compared along five dimensions which have been found to be the most pertinent for a characterization of the languages for specific purposes under scrutiny.

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