| Home Page | Dissertation |

Nuopponen, Anita (1994). Begreppssystem för terminologisk analysis (Concept systems for terminological analysis). Acta Wasaensia No 38, 266 p.



The main purpose of this study is to devise a framework for the classification of concept systems and concept relations and in this way to develop the current basic conceptual apparatus for terminological analysis.

Concept systems constitute in many respects a particularly interesting object of research. They are of interest not only to terminology science but also to philosophy, the general theory of science, psychology, artificial intelligence, lexicology, semantics, pedagogy, information science, classification theory, database development, etc. All these disciplines represent different views of concept systems.

Concept systems are fundamental to human existence. They are part of man's mental activity, of his ability to structure experience and knowledge. The organization of concepts and the linguistic coding of experiences, observations, etc. are especially important to the specialist, since more exacting demands are made on concept formation and classification in special subject fields than in everyday life. The concepts required in everyday communication are vague and more or less unconscious in comparison with those in special fields. The specialist needs a sophisticated conceptual apparatus and a system of terms to cope with his professional duties. He is also frequently faced with the task of developing, revising, defining, standardizing, structuring, classifying and naming concepts.

Researchers in the field of terminology science are concerned with the conscious structuring of concept systems as carried out in different special fields, while, for instance, psychologists also investigate unconscious structures. The importance of concept systems to special languages was stressed by Eugen Wüster (1898­1977), who laid the foundations of the theory ­ the General Theory of Terminology ­ which serves as the theoretical basis for the present study. Wüster's successors have also stressed the importance of concept systems to terminological analysis and terminology work, but no comprehensive investigation has been produced in this domain. In many quarters, not least among those concerned with the development of term banks, further development of terminological theory in this respect has been wished for. Thanks to the computer, the graphical representation of concept systems is no longer equally circumscribed as earlier. It is now possible to illustrate quite complex systems comprising different types of concept relations and to retrieve these when needed. However, this makes certain demands on the accuracy of theory and methods, which means that a more sophisticated conceptual apparatus is required for the work. Besides, attention has been drawn to the need for a theoretical framework which could also be used in other special fields than those of science and technology. Thus both the inadequate current theory and practical demands have given an impetus to undertaking the present investigation.

About the investigation

Wüster provides the point of departure for the development of my theory, but I endeavour to present a synthesis of several different approaches, modifying them and supplementing them with concepts and divisions of my own. I rely for the most part on terminological literature, but also on linguistic, semantic, philosophical and other literature in which concept systems and concept relations or similar matters are dealt with. The terminological literature consists mainly of terminology standards, handbooks, textbooks, articles, conference papers, etc. Some unpublished material is also included, for instance notes from the Wüster Library at Infoterm in Vienna.

The study first deals with general aspects of concept systems qua systems and their properties. Next the theory of terminology is contrasted with different methods and theories and concept structures used in studying and structuring the data and concepts of several other disciplines. In the third and fourth chapters I consider the components connected with concept systems, i.e. concepts and concept relations, and work out a preliminary classification of concept relations. This classification serves as a point of departure for the classification and description of concept systems in the fifth chapter.

Concept systems

The concept of concept system, which is one of the most central theoretical notions in the theory of terminology, is usually defined in terminological literature as a system of related concepts which form a coherent whole. Starting from the idea of system, concept systems could be regarded as systems consisting of several components (concepts) and their relations (concept relations). They are mental, i.e. abstract, artificial, theoretical, man- made systems. They are static because they represent the conceptual apparatus reflecting the knowledge which exists at a particular time. New data result in new concepts, and the emergence of new concepts changes existing concept systems as has repeatedly happened for instance in the history of biology.

It is important for terminology research to distinguish between ontical systems, concept systems and term systems. These three levels have their analogues in the classical semantic triangle, which relates object, concept and designation to one another. The ontical level represents the world and material and immaterial things; at the conceptual level we find concepts and at the level of expression there are the linguistic and other symbols, which are used to refer to concepts. This study is mainly concerned with the first two levels.

I distinguish between macro and micro concept systems. The concept system at macro level encomprises all the concepts within a special subject field or a clearly-defined section regardless of the relations between them. A macro system consists of several micro concept systems in which the concept relations are more homogeneous. These micro systems are what terminology science has normally been concerned with, and they will not be unimportant in the future either. All the possibilities of organizing concepts at micro level have not yet been chartered, nor have all types of relations been defined. I focus for the most part on the micro level, but at the end of the fifth chapter I propose models for mixed concept systems which can cover several different types of micro concept systems.

Concept relations

Concept relations and concept systems are inseparable, since without relationships there would be no system, and since relationships depend on the systemic context. Concept relations may be strictly logical connections or freer associations between one concept and another. They are mental entities which link concepts to one another. Concept relations are thus one type of concept, concepts of relationship, and, like other concepts, they are the result of abstraction. Their referents are the relations between individual entities, whether it is a question of similarity or other relations.

In terminological literature concept relations are classified in many different ways, which at least partly seems to depend on the point of view adopted. Nor is there any agreement concerning the terms used for concept relations. In connection with concept relations it is also important to distinguish the ontical from the conceptual level because it is sometimes difficult to keep these two levels apart, especially as far as ontological concept relations are concerned. Ontological concept relations are namely based on ontical relations and they are simplifications of relationships which can be observed among individual real-world phenomena.

The difference between the various types of concept systems depends on what kinds of relationships exist between the concepts which they encomprise. I distinguish between three different points of view from which concept relations can be viewed and classified: a) concept relations which determine the type of concept system (qualitative relations), b) relationships concerned with the intension or extension of the concepts (quantitative relations: intensional and extensional) and c) formal relations which obtain between the concepts in a concept system (systemic relations) (see fig. 136). It is difficult to draw a line between these as all three groups of relations are intertwined in diverse ways. The purpose of this classification is on the one hand to bring together the different ways of viewing concept relations which are represented in terminological literature and on the other hand to create new concepts of relations and modify the old.

Figure 136. Concept relations.

The classification above is based on the hypothesis that a concept analysis is carried out in three stages: qualitative analysis, quantitative analysis and system-oriented analysis. The first stage establishes which one of the three basic types of relation is involved; in the second stage this relation is further scrutinized, and in the third the position of the concepts in the concept system is defined. This is, of course, only a model; in reality it is difficult to keep these three phases apart.

Qualitative aspects of concept relations and concept systems

The qualitative classification of concept relations is fundamental and forms the basis for the primary division of the concept system as presented here. The division is not based on a single criterion but is among other things determined by what type the concepts represent, e.g. whether they are object or process concepts. In accordance with Wüster I divide both concept relations and concept systems first into logical and ontological categories and then further into their subcategories. It is stated that the essential difference between logical (or generic) and ontological concept relations is that logical concept relations are immediate relations between concepts while ontological concept relations between concepts arise indirectly (see Wüster 1985: 9, 12).

Figure 137. Qualitative concept relations.

In agreement with Wüster I further divide the ontological concept relations into concept relations of contiguity and concept relations of influence. Among concept relations of contiguity I include partitive concept relations (house ­ roof, door); accessorial concept relations (camera ­ tripod, film); local concept relations (lake ­ fish, algae); material concept relations (beer ­ alcohol); attributive concept relations (wool ­ warmth); temporal concept relations (pre-wash ­ washing); and concept relations of rank (president ­ vice-president).

Concept relations of influence I divide into causal concept relations, developmental concept relations, functional concept relations and interactional concept relations. They relate to processes of influencing and causing and have a more or less marked causal component. In causal concept relations the causal component is the most prominent. They can all form concept systems.

Figure 138. Concept relations of influence.

Developmental concept relations comprise phylogenetic concept relations (the development of a species), genealogical concept relations (e.g. father ­ son), ontogenetic concept relations (chrysalis ­ butterfly), material developmental concept relations (e.g. crude oil ­ petrol), and concept relations of role change (e.g. accused ­ guilty). They can all form more or less comprehensive concept systems.

Functional concept relations I divide into concept relations of activity and concept relations of origin which, especially in terms of concept systems, resemble each other. The primary concept in a functional concept system constitutes the point from which the other concepts are viewed (Haarala 1981: 25).  Concept relations of activity obtain between a concept of activity and one or more concepts linked with it, e.g. concepts referring to object, instrument, material, etc. The element which  relations of origin have in common is the concept of a concrete or abstract entity while the other concepts refer to the origin of the object (e.g. original material, producer, instrument, manufacturing method, manufacturing process, place of origin, etc.). The term 'function' is here used in a very broad sense.

Interactional conceptual relations are based on an interplay of referent phenomena. I divide them into concept relations of transmission, dependency and representation. The first one is based on the relation between agents in a process of transmission in which A gives / sends / transmits something to B (e.g. transmitter ­ receiver, coder ­ decoder) while the other is based on various types of economic, legal and other similar relations which may obtain between different parties (e.g. employer ­ employee), and the third refers to the relation between an entity and its representative (e.g. concept ­ term, people ­ parliament).

Table 37. Concept systems based on the qualitative concept relation


Concept systems

Quantitative aspects of concept relations and concept systems

Formerly only the logical concept relations were described from a quantitative point of view, but I assume that this kind of approach could be extended and the same criteria applied when analysing other types of relations to the extent that this is feasible and expedient. I make use of quantitative classification in this context, however, mainly when dealing with logical and partitive concept relations. As regards logical concept systems, quantitative analysis is fruitful and, in conjunction with systemic analysis, leads to a classification of these types of system (see below).

With reference to the classification of logical concept relations it is expedient to regard the intension of a concept as comprising its characteristics and the extension of a concept as comprising a number of subordinate concepts or referents and to deal with them quantitatively. Therefore I divide quantitative relations into intensional and extensional and distinguish both intensional and extensional identity, inclusion, disjunction, intersection and conjunction.

When comparing the concepts in a partitive concept system, it is not possible to use extension or intension as criteria in the same way as in connection with logical concept systems, but the comparison is made in terms of the sum of components. It would thus also be possible to analyse the partitive concept systems at least to some extent in terms of quantitative relations (identity, inclusion, overlapping, disjunction) and not only restrict these to logical concept systems. The study of further possibilities of applying quantitative criteria in other concept system is left for future research.

Systemic aspects of concept systems

The last category of concept relations is the system-oriented one, which at the same time is an alternative way of classifying all concept systems. The starting-point is the formal properties of concept systems, for instance the direction of the relation and the position of the concepts in relation to each other. On the basis of such criteria it is usual to distinguish between hierarchic and non-hierarchic concept relations.

The types of concept system that have been classified on the basis of qualitative criteria seem to fall into three different structural categories. Two of them are hierarchic and sequential concept systems. The characteristic property of hierarchic concept systems is that they have a superordinate concept to which the other concepts are subordinate.

The logical concept systems are hierarchic and they can be divided into different categories according to their structure: mono/polyhierarchic systems, mono/polydimensional systems and combinatory and non- combinatory systems (see table). The concept systems with contiguity relations belong more or less distinctly to hierarchic concept systems.

The sequential concept systems make reference to temporal connections between phenomena and consequently contain simultaneous and consecutive concept relations. They thus for instance contain concepts that refer to the beginning and the end (if applicable) and to intermediate stages. Sequential concept systems are usually presented as a type of non-hierarchic concept systems without distinguishing any other subcategories.

In addition, in my classification there are systems in which no particular hierarchy nor any definite temporal order between concepts can be perceived. To this group belong functional and interactional concept systems as described above. Causal concept systems constitute a borderline case as they contain sequential relations but other relations as well (e.g. relations based on co-ordination of cause). Some of the relations in functional concept systems could also be considered sequential. The individual functional concept systems at micro level often have an unambiguous primary concept, but if a greater number of concepts are included, a system with several potential primary concepts will easily develop. Which concept assumes the role of primary concept in a system depends on the angle of approach. In a scheme on a larger scale, for instance a computer-aided presentation, the question of primary concept may even be quite arbitrary. These concept systems are difficult to classify as either hierarchic or sequential. I suggest the term 'heterarchic concept system' for this type of concept system. The term 'heterarchy' is defined by Collins Dictionary (1989: 719) as "a formal organization of connected nodes, without any single permanent uppermost node". Heterarchic concept systems could thus be defined as concept systems whose structure instead of displaying hierarchy or sequence resembles a network with several possible points of departure or primary concepts.

Table 38. Concept systems according to the formal structure.

Concept systems

In addition to the concept systems mentioned above I also include mixed concept systems in my classification. They can be mixed hierarchic systems and mixed systems comprising relations from different systemic categories. Heterarchic concept systems are very often mixed by nature. Both types of functional concept systems can thus be divided into homogenous and heterogeneous systems; the former including only one type of functional concept relations while the latter include several types of relations. As a model for a macro concept system I introduce a concept system that I call 'satellite system' (see fig. 130­133). The idea of a satellite system is that the most important concept or a title is placed at a node and its different aspects or most closely related concepts are arranged around it. These "satellites" in their turn take their own satellites etc. until, finally, the whole subject field is covered. The satellite systems can be used in different phases of terminological analysis: first they serve as an ordering device when collecting concepts and terms, in the second phase they connect different micro concept systems to each other and finally they provide the macro concept system of the subject field under scrutiny.


There are many possibilities and approaches with regard to the structuring of concept systems. In the present study I have summed up several of them and endeavoured to devise a consistent conceptual apparatus and terminology. The classifications of concept relations and concept systems presented here are far from exhaustive and final, for the more closely concept systems and concept relations are examined, the more types of relations emerge and the more types of concept systems could be included in the classification. Similarly, with regard to the development of their designations more work is needed. At this stage I employ terms which are long but give some clue to the concept.

The classification can be developed and expanded through further research in the field. I have aimed at universal applicability but some of the concept relations and concept systems described above are of limited use. If the classification is pursued further, one will soon arrive at categories which are more or less dependent on the subject field concerned. These problems are for other research projects to deal with.

Further efforts are also needed to devise graphic methods of presentation and notations suited to each type of relation and each type of system. Wüster devoted a great deal of time to creating a notation system for concept relations, which, however, became so complicated that it has not been adopted. He used notations which are rather difficult to remember and to reproduce on a screen. In the present study I have instead laid emphasis on describing and exemplifying different types of systems without developing a consistent system for graphic representation or notation.

The aim of this study has been theoretical, and therefore I have not dealt with possible applications of concept systems in greater detail. The needs of terminological analysis have however, been, a guiding factor. It is my hope that part of what I have proposed here can be used for the development of tools for terminological work, especially in connection with computer applications, but also for the analysis of terms and concepts for various other purposes.


| Contents | Home Page | Dissertation |