TOTh workshop 2013 – University of Copenhagen

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TOTh workshop 2013

The Danish National Research Foundation’s Centre for Textile Research, University of Copenhagen

Verbal and non-verbal representation in terminology

The TOTh workshop, 8thNovember 2013, to be held at the Danish National Research Foundation’s Centre for Textile Research located in the Saxo Institute of the University of Copenhagen, will focus on verbal and non-verbal representation in terminology, with particular focus on the specialist fields of textiles and design across time periods, cultures and disciplines.

The Centre for Textile Research in Copenhagen employs terminology work in epigraphy, texts and iconography as sources for the delimiting and designation of concepts.

International standards, such as ISO 704: Terminology work – Principles and methods, indicate that definitions can be replaced by diagrams, and terms by codes. Another useful perspective in this regard is ISO 24156: Graphic notations for concept modeling in terminology work

Global consensus is not new in the field of textiles – non-verbal representation has been integrated and used in various script systems for the past four thousand years to convey the qualities of cloth. Representing a concept by using an illustration is universal, but the effectiveness of these signs is dependent on a shared understanding. What is the situation in other disciplines?

The specialist domain of textiles has been present in all cultures and historical periods, as clothing relates to the body as a second skin. The Nordic perspective will be a starting point for the discussions of the workshop. The fields of design and textiles are two different domains in terms of scope, scholarly traditions and terminology. Much more was written about textiles than about design during the last millennia. However, in the second half of the 20th century, we no longer spoke only of textiles and instead, gradually, this long established terminology became redirected towards, and dominated by, design.

Thus, we have textile terminology with thousands of years of semantic depth which today is  unfamiliar and unknown to a modern audience. In its stead, in recent years, we find a modern design terminology, promoted in various media and which constitutes part of the commercial world, has rapidly developed within a brief space of time.

The focus on textiles and tools of the past five millennia is currently being researched and published, for instance in Textile Terminologies in the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean from the Third to the First Millennia BC, CTR/Oxbow 2010 with representations from very different linguistic areas, such as the various early Indo-European languages, Mycenaean Greek, Hittite, and in Semitic languages such as Assyrian and Egyptian. Another endeavor is the 2014 collective exploration, ‘Textile terminologies 1000 BC to AD 1000, including European, Middle Eastern and Asian languages’. However, these projects focus, on rather ancient languages with long-attested histories, etymologies and some documented semantic shift.

In this TOTh 2013 workshop in Copenhagen, the traditional terminology exposed by this research will encounter the modern field of technical terminology, including design terminology.

Design and textiles are closely related since design may be seen as a framework for the specialized field of textiles. However, there are apparently significant differences in the verbal representation within these two specialist fields. In a diachronic view, the meaning(s) of the designation of design has changed rapidly over a few generations, whereas the representation of textile concepts is characterized by continuity and stability.

Today, the borrowed term ‘design’ is in common usage in everyday language and ever-present in popular media in Denmark and has thereby taken on both very broad and diverse meanings. This usage of the term in the greater part of the 20th century in Danish will be explored and discussed. After its introduction as a loanword from English in the immediate postwar years, it was almost exclusively utilized within the confines of the design professions - graphic designers, product designers, textile designers, and architects - as part of their terminology. 

Contemporary use of the term and the expansion of its meanings pose challenges to the clarity of the concepts/term. The blurring of meaning seems unproblematic in everyday language but within two other areas, professional terminology and academic research, it presents difficulties. In the first instance, it leads to misunderstandings and, in the second, the subject matter is unclear.

This situation has prompted us to question the concept of design through time, space and across cultures, and wonder how to delineate it in its multiplicity over time and in different specialist contexts.