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Multilingual forest terminology


A long-felt want in international forestry has been for a definitive multilingual terminology which could provide a ready reference to those terms that commonly occur in literature with a wide international public or that are frequently used at international technical meetings and conferences. A number of attempts have been made to produce such a working tool but no multilingual terminology approved by an international agency has as yet appeared.

The Third World Forestry Congress held at Helsinki in 1949 charged FAO with undertaking the preparation of such a terminology for forestry. It was suggested that initially work should be restricted to seven principal languages, including the official working languages of FAO- English, French and Spanish.

It was early conceded that the carrying out of such a task by FAO would be a time-consuming and expensive undertaking, and that quick results could not be expected. It would also require much effort outside the Organization by the relatively few individuals in various countries who were competent and had the time and opportunity to commit themselves to this sort of work. Moreover, for a period the energies and financial resources of FAO's Forestry Division were fully engaged in projects of a more urgent character.

However, the idea of a multilingual terminology was referred for consideration to the Joint FAO/IUFRO Committee on Bibliography, a body that had been established in 1949 to serve as the instrument through which both FAO and the International Union of Forest Research Organizations would carry out their commitments in respect to all bibliographical matters. This Committee was at that time fully occupied with the preparation of an internationally acceptable system of classification for forestry literature, a project which came near to completion with the publication early in 1954 of an authorized English version of the Oxford Decimal Classification. The preparation of versions in the other official working languages of FAO and IUFRO, that is, in French, German and Spanish, could follow with relative ease after the establishment of the basic English text. This work is now in hand. The German version is the most advanced, and will probably be published in 1956.

At its seventh session at Nancy, France, in September 1954, the Joint Committee felt able to accept the responsibility of co-ordinating the arrangements for compiling a multilingual forest terminology, and advised FAO of the nature of the work that would be involved and of the approximate expenditure that appeared necessary. The Fourth World Forestry Congress, held at Dehra Dun, India, was also informed of, and endorsed, the proposed action of the Committee.

As a result of subsequent negotiations between the Chairman of the Committee and the Director of the Forestry Division of FAO, arrangements were made to put the necessary work in hand.

This broadly involved, in the first place, the wide selection of terms and definitions commonly used in forestry in many languages and the establishment of their exact equivalents in the English language. English was decided on as the basic language because the two most modern forest terminologies existing were in that language, namely the Forest Terminology of the Society of American Foresters and the Commonwealth Forest Terminology which covered the rest of the English-speaking world, the British Commonwealth of Nations and their associated territories.

By the middle of 1955 important initial steps had been taken towards preparing the basic English corpus of definitions and terms, as a result of meetings at Oxford between representatives of the Society of American Foresters and of the Commonwealth Forestry Bureau, which is the organizing center for this work. Besides general agreement on principles, some concordance between American and British usages was worked out, a difficult task in itself which will be continued by correspondence and, if necessary, by further meetings. It is hoped that this work can be completed by early in 1957.

In the meantime, the Joint FAO/IUFRO Committee, whose present membership is given below,1 met at Stockholm in September last and decided on the further procedure for establishing the multilingual terminology, based on the procedures already established by the International Standards Organization and by UNESCO, which has primary responsibility for international endeavors in this field of terminology and bibliography.2 Details of the procedure agreed on are given below. The successful application of this procedure can be fully assured only on the basis of co-operation between the Joint FAO/IUFRO Committee on Bibliography and language-group or national terminology committees. The early establishment of such committees has been urged by the FAO Conference, the IUFRO Congress and by the Fourth World Forestry Congress. According to the latest information available, sixteen countries have already established such committees and eleven countries are planning them. Language-group committees for French-speaking, German-speaking and Spanish-speaking countries are being arranged.

1Chairman: Eino Saari (University of Helsinki, Finland). Members: K. Abetz (Universität, Freiburg i. Br., Germany); T. François (FAO); A. Huber (FAO); F. C. Ford Robertson (Commonwealth Forestry Bureau, Oxford, England); R. Rol (Ecole rationale des eaux et forêts, Nancy, France).

2Reference is invited to the UNESCO paper 66V/4820 of 20 August 1954 entitled "UNESCO Participation in the Improvement of Scientific Terminology and Lexicography."

The following notes give the main outline of procedure for this co-operation and explain how the multilingual terminology will gradually be built up. Once the basic English terminology has been determined, probably in 1957, each definition will have its own universal reference number (URN). All the other language terminologies which will each appear in self-contained volumes, will carry the same universal reference numbers for the corresponding definitions. In this way an unlimited number of languages can eventually join the system and it will be possible by cross-reference to find the equivalent terms in other languages for any definition appearing in one of the language sections of the whole Multilingual Forest Terminology.

1. General scope

Each language section of the Multilingual Forest Terminology will comprise:

1.1 Terms (with definitions) UNIQUE to forestry e.g., in English the verbs "brash," "beet (up)" or else used there in some special sense(s) e.g., "blaze," "canopy," "(fire) hazard."

1.2 Terms used in forestry, but of widely accepted significance and currency in non-technical language e.g., in English, "branch," "knot," and also all generally accepted COMMON NAMES OF TREES.

1.3 A restricted selection of terms (with definitions) from allied sciences and technology, of frequent use in forestry e.g., in English "instar," "mycelium," "field moisture capacity" and "topocline."

NOTES: In Class 1.1 the unique terms are few, the others extremely numerous; some, like "stock" in English, have several quite distinct forestry meanings. None of Class 1.2 need be defined; trees have scientific names, and adequate definitions for the others should be available in any standard dictionary (e.g., for English, the Concise Oxford Dictionary). This class of terms would probably NOT be found in national terminologies but is useful in multilingual ones. NOTE that a term like "saw" or "knot", while not itself needing definition, may form part of many compounds that do: e.g., in English "bow saw," "pit saw," "loose knot," "tight knot."

For 1.3, definitions should ordinarily be taken from established terminologies in those fields and their source quoted in round brackets, thus (M.V.S.S.) = Multilingual Vocabulary of Soil Science. See also 4.6 (b) below.

2. Basis of procedure

The English language, which is represented by two modern terminologies (S.A.F.= Forest Terminology of the Society of American For esters, and B.C.F. = British Commonwealth Forest Terminology) is being taken as the basic language for the basic terminology.

3. Mechanics of preparation

3.1 A selection of terms and definitions made by mutual agreement between U.S.A. and British Commonwealth representatives will be put on 5 x 8 inch (circa 12.7 x 20.3 cm. or nearest standard size) cards.

3.2 In principle each card will carry only a SINGLE DEFINITION. Exceptionally a definition may be of the alternative/complementary type exemplified by Germinative capacity in the British Commonwealth Forest Terminology Part I; or, in cases where U.S.A. and British Commonwealth content - and therefore wording - cannot be wholly reconciled, alternative definitions, distinguished by [U.S.A.] and [Cw.], e.g., Forest cover or Fire line; or, sometimes, both general and specific definitions (see e.g. Fire control in B.C.F.). The corresponding English (U.S.A. and/or Cw.) terms, abbreviations and synonyms will also be given. See 7. below.

3.3 Each card will also carry a SERIAL ACCESSION NUMBER (AN) which is a purely provisional number to be used for international reference pending the allotment of a permanent number (see 3.9). It is to be carefully noted that while definitions are accorded serial numbers, terms are NOT; a single term, e.g. Tree, may have several definitions and serial numbers associated with it. Synonyms and abbreviations will have NO serial numbers at all.

3.4 Cards will be filled up in a standard form as exemplified below:


1En *Are, ground AN 819 No. 826

Any fire that not only consumes the organic materials of the *forest floor, but also burns into the underlying soil itself, as, for example, a peat fire. (Usually combined with but not to be confused with a surface *fire).

1En *fire, surface AN 826
= ground fire [India, New Zealand] ¹ No. 819

Any fire that runs over the *forest floor and burns only the surface *litter, the loose debris and the smaller vegetation.

Signs and abbreviations are given at 5 and the full sequence of entries at 7, below.

3.5 These cards will be distributed, probably in several installments, to all language-groups or national Terminology Committees that are ready to deal with them.

En is the UNESCO abbreviation for English.

3.6 Each such language-group or national Terminology Committee is expected to translate the English definitions literally and, ignoring the English term(s), to decide on the most appropriate terms to fit them in its own language. The following situations may then arise:

3.61 A term may not in fact exist, e.g., for Seedling year in B.C.F. The Terminology Committee should then supply a paraphrase or, if so desired, coin or adopt a new term for the concept embodied in the English definition, enclosing this term in quotation marks to show that it is -a neologism or a loan word (see 5. below).

3.62 A term exists, but only for a concept somewhat different from that given. The Terminology Committee should then qualify, as necessary, the definition supplied, and remit a copy of the modified definition in its own language to the Commonwealth Forestry Bureau as soon as possible. (See in this connexion the use of signs », < or > and ± under 5. below).

3.63 The equivalent term in the Terminology Committee's language has a further (forestry) meaning or meanings. The Committee should then draft in its own language any further definition(s) of such a term, which they should try to match with other English definitions sent to them. If unsuccessful in finding a match, they should remit a copy as soon as possible to the Commonwealth Forestry Bureau for appropriate action.

3.64 More generally, as an expansion of 3.63, where the Terminology Committee finds, after thorough examination, that a desirable definition (concept) has been omitted from the corpus of cards supplied, the Committee should define such desirable concepts in its own language and send them to the Commonwealth Forestry Bureau on standard cards (see 3.1 above), in the form and with the detail exemplified at 3.4 above. All such cards should reach the Commonwealth Forestry Bureau by a date to be later determined but probably 1.1.57.

3.65 True synonyms exist (see the sign = under 5. below) in the Terminology Committee's language. If so, a preferred synonym needs to be selected and given its accession number and the other(s) then cross-referenced to it, e.g. Trunk - ® AN. 3076 (this imaginary number being the accession number (AN) for the definition of Bole, the preferred term).

3.7 Each country or language region will thus build up its own terminology card-index for the multilingual terminology, arranging duplicate cards in two sets - one alphabetically by terms (including cards for synonyms and abbreviations), the other in serial order of the accession numbers (AN).

3.8 Languages written in scripts other than the Roman, should add a transliteration according to some widely accepted system and state which system this is.

NOTE: The alphabetical sequence followed should be clearly indicated for languages using modifications or combinations of Roman letters to which a special order is accorded, e.g. å, ø, ö, æ, ä in Scandinavian languages, (..), ch, (..) in Czech.

3.9 The final corpus of definitions will be decided by the Joint FAO/IUFRO Committee on Bibliography. Ultimately, before publication, the accession number (AN) will be replaced by a Universal Reference Number (URN) alloted in permanency to the DEFINITION concerned, so that it can be traced and identified in any language in which a terminology is compiled.

4. Points of detail

4.1 Where a single term covers more than one concept or definition, the respective topics should always be indicated in full in round brackets (see e.g. Drift in B.C.F.).

4.2 All genuine synonyms should be included. A preferred synonym will be underlined; a deprecated one "daggered," i.e., t. See also 4.6(a).

4.3 Countrywide variants, e.g. a synonym like Vine [N. Am.] for Climber, should be included, but where different regional definitions for a given term exist, include only those of really wide application, e.g. the definition (b) of Forest squatter in the British (commonwealth Forest Terminology Part I but NOT (b) of Forest village. In all such cases the area of currency is to be noted in full in square brackets, except for the following abbreviations:

N.Am. (= North America = Canada and U.S.A.)
L.Am. (= Latin America)
U.S.A. (= United States of America)
U.S.S.R. (= Union of Soviet Socialist Republics)
Cw. (= The British Commonwealth of Nations and associated territories)

No colloquial or slang terms are to be included.

4.4 Commonly used abbreviations of terms should be added, preceded by the sign ® ¬ , and should also be included in the alphabetical sequence, with a cross-reference to their accession number; e.g. d.b.h - ® AN 695.

4.5 In all languages having more than one gender, the gender must always be indicated; similarly the part of speech represented by a term should be indicated where helpful. See 5. below.

4.6 More generally, each terminology should involve a direct element of regulation and standardization:

(a) by inserting as necessary the signs (see 5.) meaning 'deprecated' or 'preferred,' for both synonyms and abbreviations. See, e.g., under Savanna woodland and Felling, selective in B.C.F. Part I.

(b) by indicating when a given definition of a term is taken from some authority, e.g., a National Standard definition. The appropriate initials should be used in round brackets, e. g., (B.S.I.) = British Standards Institution, (D.I.N.) = Deutsche Industrie Norm.

4.7 illustrations (line drawings) should be included wherever these materially assist the text, e.g. for the parts of a saw blade, resin tapping (Recommendation of the International Conference of Science Abstracting, 1949). Proposals for illustrations additional to those supplied with the English cards should be sent early to the Commonwealth Forestry Bureau.

NOTE: It should be possible for each language section of the terminology to adopt the same set of illustrations.

4.8 Idiomatic phrases illustrating usage should be considered for inclusion wherever these will materially assist a foreign reader.

4.9 A separate list of the abbreviations accepted by each language-group or national Terminology Committee should be appended to each language section of the terminology.

5. Common signs and symbols to be used with terms

Provisionally, at least the following should be used by all Terminology Committees:




accession number

† (dagger)

deprec(ated), e.g. an obsolete or semi-colloquial term

underlining (of a term)



see (the cross reference sign)




approximately the same as (near-synonym)


used in both broader and narrower senses than is NOT equivalent to


is NOT equivalent to


is narrower in sense than


is broader in sense than

" "

neologism or loan word

[ ]

regional usage of a term (very local usages are to be omitted)


An asterisk is used throughout
1. to indicate that the term concerned is itself defined elsewhere and that it will be helpful to consult this definition;
2. to indicate in a term of more than one word the actual keyword under which it may be found.






substantive common

In languages without genders (s.c.) need be put only where helpful to distinguish from, e.g., a verb.


substantive feminine

In languages without genders (s.c.) need be put only where helpful to distinguish from, e.g., a verb.


substantive masculine

In languages without genders (s.c.) need be put only where helpful to distinguish from, e.g., a verb.


substantive neuter

In languages without genders (s.c.) need be put only where helpful to distinguish from, e.g., a verb.

(vb.) verb

® ¬ abbr(eviation)

and in due course:


Universal Reference Number

Each Terminology Committee must settle the proper set of initials, etc., to represent the sources used under 1.3 and 4.6 (b) above, and intimate these as soon as possible to the Commonwealth Forestry Bureau.

6. Sample of an English alphabetical index being built up

Accession number

AN 607 Catchment (area) [Cw.] = Drainage area = Watershed [U.S.A.] ¹ AN 4076. The total area draining into a given waterway, lake or reservoir.

608 Catena. A group of soils that...

609 Cedar-apple. A globular or kidney-shaped gall produced on...

- d.b.h.® AN 695 (® ¬ for diameter breast height)

681 Deflocculation = Dispersion (definition follows here)

704 Dispersion (Statistics). The range of variations of the values in a set of...

- Dispersion (Pedology) ® AN 681

- † Divide (s.c.) ® AN 4076

- Drainage area ® AN 607

- † Water parting ® AN 4076

4076 Watershed [Cw.] = † Water parting [Cw.], Divide [U.S.A.] ¹ Watershed [U.S.A.] in AN 607.

7. Skeleton of a completely annotated term and definition, showing the sequence which signs and symbols should follow:

AN 1739 Freshen (vb.) (Resin tapping) [Cw.] = ...= † ...; » AN 46 [U.S.A.] ¹ AN 428 ¹ AN 571;® ¬ .....[United Kingdom]†.... ....The definition is .... (B.S.I.) cf. AN 636 ® AN 280.

Explanation: The term Freshen has the accession number 1739, is a verb, and is used in resin tapping contexts in the British Commonwealth. A preferred synonym is..., a deprecated one is...; the term is approximately the same as the U.S.A. term AN 46, is more restricted in meaning than the term AN 428 and is NOT the same as the term AN 571. The preferred abbreviation is...; a United Kingdom abbreviation is..., and a deprecated one is...

The definition follows. It is a British Standards Institute's definition and it should be compared with that of AN 636. Sea also the definition of AN 280.

In actual fact no one term and definition is likely to require all or even most of these annotations.

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