Tuesday, December 13, 2011

An Outline of ISO 704:2009 - Terminology Work - Principles and Methods

ISO 704 is a standard that has a good deal of relevance for anyone interested in definitions.  I am providing an outline of it here, so its scope can be appreciated.  Substantive discussion of the content of the standard will be provided in future posts.  

The standard has been produced by ISO Technical Committee (TC) 37, which is called "Terminology and other language and content resources".  Actually the standard has been produced by Subcommittee SC1 of TC 37, which is known as "Principles and Methods".  ISO 704 existed in a previous version, that was published in 2000. 

The present version of the standard is 74 pages long and can be obtained from http://www.iso.org.

The abstract of the standard states:

ISO 704:2009 establishes the basic principles and methods for preparing and compiling terminologies both inside and outside the framework of standardization, and describes the links between objects, concepts, and their terminological representations. It also establishes general principles governing the formation of designations and the formulation of definitions. Full and complete understanding of these principles requires some background knowledge of terminology work. The principles are general in nature and this document is applicable to terminology work in scientific, technological, industrial, administrative and other fields of knowledge.

ISO 704:2009 does not stipulate procedures for the layout of international terminology standards, which are treated in ISO 10241. 

The standard begins with an overview.  This goes straight into the subject matter, and does not provide any philosophical or logical background.  Notation used in the standard is introduced.

The next major section is "Terms and Definitions". It is rather brief, but has several points of interest.  It is followed by a section on Concepts.  What concepts are is discussed, along with "general concepts" and "individual concepts".  Characteristics of concepts are then reviewed, and their importance highlighted - especially for terminological work.  An example of terminological analysis is presented, where a computer mouse is discussed.  Different classes of characteristics are outlined.  The next subsection within "Concepts" is about "Concept Relations".  This subsection is particularly important as it describes different types of concept systems.  It is quite a long subsection, and will be of interest to both data modelers and ontologists.

The next section is on definitions.  After a discussion of intensional definitions, a treatment of definitional writing is provided.  There is a good deal of detail in this long subsection.  It is followed by a subsection on "Supplementary information to the definition", essentially metadata for the definition.  Deficient definitions are discussed next.

The next section is on "designations".  These appear to be identical to logical signs - the things that signify concepts.  A number of very interesting points are discussed.  Obviously, this area is very close to terminology, but still has a lot of relevance to definitions.  Towards the end of the section, the "formation of terms and appellations" is discussed.  This might be of interest to data modelers, who often engage in debates about "naming conventions".

An annex is next, dealing with "Other types of definitions" - that is, other than the intensional type of definition, which was dealt with in the main body.  Here we get some of the usual suspects in the ontology of definitions.

A second annex deals with "Examples of term-formation methods".  As might be expected this is concerned with creating terms. 

The final annex is "Categories of appellations".  Although not claiming to be a classification, a list of major types of appellation is provided, and each is discussed in detail.  Again, this is closer to pure terminology than definitions, but is of considerable interest.

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