The subject of this Handbook is special languages. It deals with the following topics from various perspectives: their systematic constitution, their uses in oral and written (specialized) texts within the pragmatic framework of specialized (and non-specialized) communication, their lexicological arrangement in dictionaries and data banks and, finally, their investigation in the past and present.
The reason for the emergence of special languages is generally sought in the specialization of human activities brought about by the division of labour, and by linguistic communication about these activities. Initially, special languages developed in connection with the acquisition of food and the satisfying of other basic needs, the manufacture and naming or description of tools and implements. In this early phase, special language is to an extent identical to specialized vocabulary and phraseology. It is possible to speak of crafts and their special languages as soon as people no longer satisfy only their own needs, but when whole social (professional) groups make their living primarily through specialized activities and through barter and trade. The need for specialized communication leads to the creation of special text types. With the rise of technology, the special languages of crafts are integrated into the modern special languages of technology. The decicive phase in this development was the Industrial Revolution (18th/19th centuries). Since then, a tremendous expansion of terminology has occurred in the special languages of technology, and the range of specialized text types has also considerably increased.
The special languages of the natural sciences emerged after the abandonment of learned Latin (16th/17th centuries). In these sciences the great discoveries of the 19th century brought about an expansion of special language use. The same is true of the humanities and the social sciences from the end of the 19th century in the wake of the Enlightenment. In the case of the special languages of industry and commerce, the beginnings date back to the founding of the first branches of trading organizations (15th/16th centuries) and their usage expanded with the founding of classical national economics (18/19th centuries). Here there is a peculiar association with linguistics in Wirtschaftslinguistik (beginning of the 20the century). The beginnings of special-language research are to be found where experts and linguists examine the use of language as determined by subject matter. Important forerunners of special-language research, up to the middle of the 20th century, were functional stylistics with its investigations into scientific style, and terminology work with its attention to the standardization of specialized vocabularies. From the middle of the 20th century, profound changes took place in people's lives, especially in their working world, contributing to the expansion of special languages. This results from the enormous progress in technology, the globalization of trade and politica, the growth of science, culture, education and sport and the gigantic expansion of the mass media. It is therefore not surprising that special-language research since the mid 1960s has undergone remarkable development as evidenced by numerous scientific conferences and publications.
If we consider the results of these effords, we gain the following impressions regarding the state of special-language research at the beginning of the 1990s, from which this Handbook proceeds:
Many specialized vocabularies and terminologies have been well investigated regarding their origin and word formation. How do special languages satisfy the permanently increasing need of science and technology, of trade and politics, of production and consumption of names? Research in to the syntax of special languages has also come a relatively long way. That syntactic (and morphological) means further the compression of information? The description of specialized texts and the correlation of text-external and text-internal features brought about a new classification of specialized text types. What influence does the function of specialized text types have on the selection of linguistic means?
The strenghts of special language research to date lay in the careful quantitative and qualitative analysis of extensive text corpora and in the numerous attempts to apply new linguistic theories and methods to its specific subject of research. Criticism has been raised, pointing out that this research has not developed its own theory and is lacking in autonomous methods. Theses objections were considered in the Handbook, as well as other areas which it has still to investigate more closely.
All this led to the formulation of the following main tasks:
The creation of a clear awareness of which past and present research activities, despite differing points of departure and aims and despite their superficial membership in other disciplines, can be conceived of as contributions to special-language research. The imparting of insight into the need to achieve a high degree of agreement on a theory of special languages, from which methods and research programmes can be derived. A description of the state of research which is as representative as possible without laying claim to exhaustiveness, but which has the goal of selecting problem areas and empirical findings in such as way that careful deductions can be made from the part described to the whole. The linking of special-language linguistics and terminology, with a consideration of (inter-)cultural specifics. An attempt to go beyond the boundaries of individual philologies. A critical evaluation of hypotheses, methods and their application, as well as findings to date. A conceptual and descriptive connection between diachronic and synchronic aspects of specialized language. The furthering of future research. The presentation of proposals for conversion into practice, e.g. suggestions for the optimization of specialized communication, for the standardization of terminologies and specialized text types and recommendations on the aims, contents and methods of training in special languages. The consideration of interdisciplinary aspects. Making available the literature which is important for a knowledge of special-language research and the ability to act linguistically in the subject. The documentation of those national and international organizations which are important for special-language research and terminology.
The two volumes of the Handbook are the work of 222 authors - linguists, terminologists and experts - from 21 countries who submitted 276 articles in 29 chapters (cf. Contents). The readership of the Handbook is extensive, owing to its pronounced interdisciplinary nature. Whereas linguists and communication scientists may feel themselves to be directely addressed by the series title, the editors and authors have kept in mind the needs of experts in various areas of knowledge and activity, from whom a high degree of competence or at least an awareness of language is expected. The special languages of crafts, technology and science are explicitly thematized - those of crafts more strongly from a historical point of view and in dialectal context, those of technology and science because of the enormous significance of metallurgy, automotive engineering, electrical engineering and electronics, computer science, process engineering, mechanical engineering, plant engineering and telecommunication, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, jurisprudence, economics, ecology and other disciplines, in addition to specialized communication in firms, local authorities, government departments and other areas of contact between various grades of specialists and non-specialists.
These readers can rely on the Handbook in research, teaching and practice; non-specialists will find the information they seek when they are confronted with various specialized subjects and their linguistic usage. Terminologists, translators and interpreters, (foreign) language teachers, documentarists and librarians have also voiced an urgent need for such a manual. The editors and authors have also written the Handbook for their colleagues, assistants, and students in special-language research and training as a sub-area of Applied linguistics.