What is “standardisation”, and would you be able to explain it clearly off the cuff? Would you type it with an ‘s’ or a ‘z’ (standardisation vs standardization)? Do your colleagues agree, and does it even matter?
There was a lot of debate when UIC was considering whether to rename its IRSs “International Railway Solutions” rather than “International Railway Standards”. On the one hand, UIC contributes to harmonising railway practices to meet its members’ operating needs. On the other hand, however, UIC is a Standard Setting Organisation (SSO), and, unlike BSI, Afnor and DIN – to name just a few of the national standards bodies (NSB) – it does not have a government mandate.
The UIC paradox is that it sets standards for the most prominent railways in the world, and yet it refrains from describing its documents as “standards”, but why is this so?
“Standardisation” is quite a common term – you have probably used it countless times if you work for the rail sector in a technical capacity. There are quite similar words in French (standardisation) and in German (Standardisierung). Nevertheless, the correct equivalents are normalisation and Normung, respectively, in the context of ISO, CEN, BSI, Afnor, DIN and the like. In other words, while some languages leave no room for ambiguity as to whether a document has been produced by a publicly mandated organisation (norme; Norm) or by any other type of stakeholder (standard; Standard), English is less clear. It therefore seemed ill-advised for UIC to settle on the word “standard” when coining the IRS product name in English, although it would have been fine in French and German.
This rationale may seem excessively language-based, but further concerns and ideas were also raised in the debate. A “solution” offers a broader perspective and may tackle delicate issues in a wide variety of topics.
Safety may also be at stake when choosing the correct terminology in a technical document. The experts should therefore decide on the right terms and their exact meanings prior to any discussions. The diverse range of cultural backgrounds in standardisation committees naturally adds to the complexity of the task. More importantly, the correct use of language and terminology is crucial for end users. Another good practice would be for the experts to provide equivalent terms in their own languages to facilitate publication work later on, because even an experienced proofreader or translator may not know all the rail jargon. Let’s be honest: a good linguist will spot the inconsistencies in a text. But it isn’t up to them to make assumptions and rectify terminology after a text has been validated by the experts.
The UIC Terminology Unit offers support to the IRS working groups in managing terms and definitions efficiently from the beginning of the process. It recommends establishing a glossary first and employing the same terms throughout the document. This specialist unit has the tools and methods to assist you, so please don’t just rely on the proofreader to polish your words. Start off on the right foot by setting the standards on your own terms.
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