Terms and specialized vocabulary

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In the traditional understanding of terminology, a terminological definition gives necessary and sufficient conditions for a concept. However, natural concepts are based on prototypes. Prototypes are marked by typicality effects with fuzzy boundaries determined by approximate, scalar conditions and preference rules.For a significant part of specialized vocabulary, imposing a terminological definition is problematic, because it is a fairly arbitrary decision to fix precise boundaries in a continuum. The relevant concepts are based on prototypes, in the same way as natural concepts. We only find strict terminological definitions when it is necessary to determine exact boundaries. Such a need arises in legal and scientific contexts. The enforcement of laws and the evaluation of scientific claims depends on precise definitions of the underlying concepts.Imposing a terminological definition can be problematic for various reasons. One is that the concept may already exist in people’s competence and thus have a prototype structure. Another reason may be that different theories use different concepts with the same name. It should also be taken into account that new insights may require adaptation of the definition. Linguistically, a terminological definition creates a new, abstract object that exists independently of speakers’ linguistic competence.


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