The SVP Service: A brief history

Nicole Ouimet
(Language Update, Volume 7, Number 2, 2010, page 36)

In 1953, the Translation Bureau created the very first official terminology unit in Canada. The unit was given the responsibility of identifying new terms and finding their equivalents and helping translators with research. At that time, the unit consisted of a phone-in service, which had only a single terminologist on duty. Much has changed since then. This is the story of an absolutely indispensable unit.

What is the SVP Service?

The SVP Service is a term research service that provides rapid, quality solutions to terminology and language problems in Canada’s two official languages.


In 1964, the terminology unit changed its name to Terminology Centre. The phone-in service was made available to all federal employees, but there was still only a single terminologist on duty to respond to the increasing demand for information.

In 1973, a separate terminology unit was created for National Defence. Its four terminologists worked relentlessly, because the workload for Defence alone was as heavy as that for all other Centre clients combined. Fast-forward two years, and the SVP Service of the Government of Canada’s Translation Bureau was born.

Creation of the SVP Service

When it was created in 1975, the Bureau’s terminology service was dubbed SVP. The name came from the Université de Montréal’s terminology bank (BTUM), which had adopted the same name for its own phone-in service.

According to the Grand Robert, SVP (s’il vous plaît) is a phone-in service for inquiries and assistance. There are several SVP services in Paris, including SVP information, SVP Transport, Brigade de nuit SVP and société SVP. Based on this concept, various terminology services in Europe and North America have adopted the title SVP to designate the documentary, linguistic, terminological, paralinguistic and paraterminological consultation services they provide to their clients.

Around 1980, SVP was given the name Services de vérification ponctuelle (term verification services) to match the acronym, but the name SVP Service was soon readopted and is still in use today.

At first, three employees worked full-time at SVP, which was then exclusively a phone-in service. Until TERMIUM® came on the scene in 1976, the main tools used by the terminologists were two huge rotary files containing over 100,000 records. These records were essentially individual cards that had been produced by the Bureau’s translators. At that time, translators recorded their research findings on cards, which they kept tucked away in boxes.

In 1975, the Bureau acquired BTUM, a data bank containing 60,000 terms that would form part of the first TERMIUM®. Today, TERMIUM® contains nearly four million technical and specialized terms, acronyms, abbreviations, official titles and names of conventions, treaties and agreements.

In 1976-77, a team of 27 people worked tirelessly for six months to clean up the records and remove duplicates, thereby creating a very useful term bank.

Over the years

Armed with its new tool, the SVP Service continued its mission, and in 1981, a permanent team of seven employees was created; there were now seven telephone stationsRemark a in place to handle client requests. In 1986, a team of seven research officers was formed to answer questions pertaining to proper names. Thus was born the central SVP Service, which was divided into two groups: SVP Terminology and SVP Official Titles. However, around 1992-93, SVP Terminology had to close down two workstations and SVP Official Titles had to cut its hours of operation.

At that time, most requests came from the general public and were submitted by telephone or fax. Owing to its huge popularity (close to 130,000 requests were processed in 1993-94), the SVP Service had to categorize its telephone clients. Rules were established to give priority to certain clients such as Translation Bureau translators and freelances; federal, provincial and municipal employees; and employees of Crown corporations. The SVP Service nonetheless kept accepting requests from international organizations, private non-profit organizations, freelances without a contract with the Bureau and the general public.

In 1995, because of new limitations on service, SVP Terminology was left with only one telephone station to answer inquiries, and SVP Official Titles was shut down. A rotation system was implemented in which each terminologist would take a turn responding to requests from clients for one and a half hours per day. Then, in June 2002, the SVP phone-in service was eliminated, as most clients were submitting their requests by email by that time.


After some 35 years, the SVP Service of the Government of Canada’s Translation Bureau is still going strong. A team of about 60 terminologists and official title researchers continue to answer term requests from the Bureau’s translators and clients while devoting much of their time to improving TERMIUM®, standardizing terminology within the federal government, sitting on various terminology committees and publishing terminology bulletins and writing tools. Today, SVP is targeted to the Bureau’s translators, the public service, Crown corporations, international organizations and private non-profit organizations. Long live the SVP Service!


  • SVP Service archives
  • Delisle, Jean. La terminologie au Canada : Histoire d’une profession, 2008
  • Translation Bureau. TERMIUM® — 3 500 000 terms and counting…

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