With the aim to meet the immediate terminological needs of Médecins sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in their international missions, a project consisting in building a linguistic database was undertaken by the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament, the Paris-Diderot University, the University of Granada, and others.
A big challenge that doctors face in their daily practice is dealing with terminological variation, i.e. different denominations for the same specialized concepts depending on the characteristics of the concept that the user, either consciously or unconsciously, focuses on. In order to meet this challenge, we started building a next generation structured database. The organization of this new database is based on and integrates the latest advances in Cognitive Terminology and Psychoterminology (Koreneva Antonova 2017). This project is based on the innovative cognitive structure of the Frame-Based Terminology (Faber 2014) applied to medical events. A previous approach on the matter was materialized in the terminological database VariMed, which compiles terminological variations in the medical field along with pragmatic information, and which is intended to facilitate communication between healthcare professionals and patients.
The current project languages are Arabic, English, French, German, Greek, Russian, and Spanish. Other languages may be integrated in the future, such as Portuguese. The languages were selected in an attempt to match the international missions carried out by MSF and the languages spoken in the main countries in which MSF operates. Nowadays this is particularly important due to the wave of refugees coming to Europe, since this phenomenon is causing the type of emergency situation that MSF would attend. Under these circumstances, it is crucial for doctors to have linguistic resources at their disposal so that they can take care of their patients in an effective manner. This is the motivation behind the creation of an innovative multilingual database enabling doctors to consult it when operating on site.
The advantages of this new database are the structure and the way it matches knowledge organization in the human brain. For this, the database was based upon the Medical Event ‘Disease’. An event in Cognitive Terminology is the frame in which elements pertaining to a certain conceptual structure are stored in and retrieved from our memory. The event structure was based on a previous Corpus Linguistics analysis of medical texts and on previous psycholinguistic experiments with specialized concepts. According to the findings, the mental lexicon of healthcare professionals is organised in form of ‘Medical Events’, which are prototypical and universal (i.e., not linked to a specific language or culture) representations of how information about diseases is stored, as observed in the following screenshot:

Graphical depiction of a medical event

According to this structure, a disease is a process located in a body part or a physiological system, which is manifested by a set of signs and symptoms, and that can be cured or alleviated by means of treatment. The database contains columns corresponding to Disease, Symptoms, Affected Body Part and Treatment, structured in such a way that equivalents for different languages are easily retrieved.

The new database so far contains 50 terms which were selected according to the priority working areas of MSF. In the framework of the ongoing project YourTerm Medical, more terms will be added to the database in the future.


– Faber, Pamela (2014). ‘Frames as a framework for terminology’. In H. Kockaert & F. Steurs (eds.) Handbook of Terminology. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

– Koreneva Antonova, Olga (2017). La conceptualización en la terminología medioambiental ruso-española: estudio psicolingüístico experimental. Universidad de Granada: Departamento de Traducción e Interpretación. Retrieved from: http://digibug.ugr.es/bitstream/handle/10481/48407/27084206.pdf [Last consulted: 2018-08-30]


Written by Dr Olga Koreneva and Julia Pagès

Olga holds a Bachelor’s Degree and a Master’s Degree in Translation and Interpreting from the University of Granada and is member of the LexiCon research group of this university. She has been working as a professional linguist and a terminologist for many years and completed a traineeship at TermCoord in 2018. Olga finished her PhD in 2017 with a thesis in Cognitive Terminology and Psychoterminology. Her working languages are Russian, German, Spanish, English, Italian and Portuguese. Currently, she is working as an associate professor at the Pablo de Olavide University in Seville, Spain.

Julia holds a Master’s Degree in Translation (EN/ES/FR>ES/FR) from the Paris Diderot University. Her Master’s thesis was a translation and terminology project on Deep Neural Networks in the field of cosmography. She has previously worked as a translator and project manager in the medical imaging field and as a freelance translator. She is now taking a Master’s degree in Corpus Linguistics and is working on a medical terminology thesis that addresses the phenomenon of diastratic variation in diabetes terminology.

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