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Top Level Domains + Domain Name Meanings

2015-03-02 in Uncategorized

Recently, a colleague of mine wanted to look up the meaning of a neologism, and decided to check urbandictionary.com. You could wonder why he didn’t choose to check oed.com — after all, the OED is internationally recognized as the standard English dictionary print publication. However, you may also know that there are indeed very many dictionaries available (especially online)… and any online dictionary is more or less just as easy to reach as any other online dictionary (the main difference being how easy it is to remember the domain name, how many letters are in the name, how easy or difficult it is to type, etc. — but nothing like that anyone would have to get up, walk over to a bookshelf, select the correct volume, pull it down, open it up, page through it or anything that people who still remember doing so time and time again back in the era of paper might still be able to recall from memory). Personally, I usually use dictionary.com — but more on that in a moment.

The short and simple answer is that different dictionaries document different vocabularies, different jargons, different linguistic communities, different languages. Although most people would not see a significant difference between oed.com and dictionary.com, only a very few people would miss the difference between either of these and urbandictionary.com… and in particular: each of these three websites have different procedures put in place for how the different user communities who use each website can interact with the site. The different methods applied lead to different lexicons, different descriptions, different designs, different functions and in general different user experiences. For example: it is not at all uncommon for an urbandictionary.com user to contribute a description (rather than merely “consuming” a description provided by the professional editors of the site).

Now I wish to make a huge quantum leap… — switching from English to German, and also switching from a standard language lexicon to a general, more encyclopedic format.

Kleines Hand-Lexikon: Wissenswertes von A - Z

Kleines Hand-Lexikon: Wissenswertes von A – Z

The image above is the cover of a paperback book — a pocket lexicon — that purports to contain information about anything worthy of note from A to Z. I have a copy of this quirky book on one of many shelves of paper books (I actually collect such crap 😉 ). The reason why I include it here is to point out that this is yet another “information resource” that is also quite similar (in certain ways) to the dictionaries described above.

ergo: There is no such thing as the English language. There is perhaps one English language described by oed.com, another English language described by urbandictionary.com, yet another English language described by dictionary.com, there are probably hundreds if not even thousands or millions of English languages. Let me take a step back and select one particular instance: commercial English.

The global language of commerce is, indeed, commercial English. The lexicon of commercial English is documented in the commercial top level domain (TLD): COM (also known as “dot com”). One might even go so far as to say that COM is its own language — one which transcends English — and one that also includes elements from other “natural” languages (e.g. Spanish, French, German, etc.). The string “dictionary” is registered under COM as an “English” element — this site describes the English vocabulary (that is the meaning of the word “dictionary”). For more about the “COM language” and other generic top level domain languages, see Generic Community Languages.

From the above discussion, you might glean that top level domains designate languages. Moving forward, we can also distinguish two different types of languages: Languages that are closely held (proprietary top level domains) vs. languages that are widely held (generic top level domains). One must not think that proprietary top level domains are inherently worse than generic top level domains (nor are they inherently better) — they are simply inherently different. While a quirky encyclopedia (such as the example above) may be rather idiosyncratic in nature, there are many examples of closely held languages that are very useful — think of (e.g.): The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association; The Medical Subject Headings (MESH — the National Library of Medicine’s controlled vocabulary used for indexing articles); Stock ticker symbols at various stock exchanges worldwide; industrial codes and classification systems; public / government data and statistics, etc. In each case, there is some “closely held” organization that provides what is referred to in the jargon of information science as “authority control”.

Ever since the Enlightenment, the Reformation and the rise of the so-called “Scientific Method” in early modern times, more and more authorities have been established. Whereas in the Middle Ages, the Pope of the Catholic Church was the sole ultimate authority regarding each and every issue, today — especially in matters of science, industry, commerce and many other spheres — a wide variety of institutions have developed to establish the meaning and significance of concepts that have become regular “tools of the trade” in each of these numerous segments of social interaction. We are now so far removed from a “one-size fits-all” world, that the notion that anyone could find one answer to each and every question at one information resource seems absurdly naive.

One example of a proprietary top level domain is “NYC”. Just today, I have included an update about considerations regarding authority control in that controlled language: http://nooblogs.com/activity/p/5175

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