The end of the "Cold War" marks an historic turning point
in the ideological struggle between "communism" and "capitalism."
It also heralds a new era with much deeper roots, going back to the foundation
of the post-Westphalian state system in the 17th century and the recently
developed new information technologies created by the industrial and technological
revolution. The collapse of the industrial empires and the birth
of a large number of successor states, many governed arbitrarily by unresponsive
and ineffectual elites, provokes growing unrest and violence among increasingly
mobilized and industrialized populations in a complex disorganized global
system. Inter-state wars will, I think, dwindle if not vanish. Instead,
the whole world, including all its socio-cultural-political-economic sub-systems,
from the global to local and individual levels, will face mounting tides
of localized wars oriented to ethnic nationalism, illegal syndicates, a
vast cartel of multi-national corporations, and growing floods of migrants,
many of them refugees from persecution, violence and impoverishment in
their home countries. We are witnessing processes of transition to
a new and fundamentally different condition from what prevailed in the
past, especially during the last couple of centuries when all the established
social sciences were born and became entrenched in the world's universities.
Radically new academic structures, strongly influenced by the astonishing
communications technologies created by the INTERNET and the WORLD WIDE
WEB, are being born and a large number of new concepts and terms will be
needed to analyze and handle the resultant problems. In place of
the now-antiquated social sciences, we will need a new "SOCIAL SCIENCE"
capable of viewing the world as a whole and analyzing all its parts and
their interelations in this context, including its natural as well as its
social and psychological aspects and dimensions. This paper, which
provides some examples of new concepts and terms, based on but different
from familiar ideas represented by such words as 'state,' 'nation,' 'modern,'
and 'western,' outlines a conceptual and terminological approach ("onomantics")
that can supplement the traditional semantic (lexicographic) procedures
which have enabled us, until recently, to handle information and offer
instruction using only well-established words and phrases. INTERNET users
know how many new concepts and terms are needed to handle this technological
break-through, but they have yet to attend seriously to the even greater
number of novel concepts and terms the massive and far-reaching transformations
in our world system will require us to learn.
The Gulbenkian Commission Report on the future of the social
sciences, under the leadership of Immanuel Wallerstein, has generated widespread
interest and serious criticism. It offers a splendid exposition concerning
the historical background of such disciplines as Political Science, Sociology,
Anthropology and Economics, showing the Eurocentric, state-oriented and
essentially parochial basis of their foundational assumptions and substantive
content. The Report calls for a fundamental reorientation of our
thinking that would enable us to think more realistically about today's
world, including all the newly independent states that have recently sprung
into existence as a result of the collapse of the industrial empires that
evolved as a fruit of the industrial revolution, democratization, and nationalism.
Although the report concludes with some forward looking concrete
suggestions that could help us make the transition to a completely new
basis for understanding the world in which we live, it fails to deal with
one of the important obstacles to the needed transformations in our
thinking -- i.e. the conceptual and terminological units we will need.
They are the building blocks of an edifice that is bound to crumble so
long as these component elements are fragile remnants of a past age that
differs in fundamental respects from the emerging world system. I
have given my opinions about some of these basic changes elsewhere and
shall not attempt to summarize them here -- see papers linked on Riggs home page. Instead, let me
plunge into the substance of our problems by offering some examples and
proposing some solutions based on the work of the Committee on Conceptual
and Terminological Analysis (COCTA), and of the INTERCOCTA project which
has been established under the auspices of the International Social
Science Council, with some support from UNESCO.
The Semantic Mirage. Initially, starting with the concerns
our founding members expressed at the IPSA Congress in Munich in 1970,
we conceived of our problem in lexicographic (semantic) terms. Because
the key words we use have acquired a variety of meanings that make them
ambiguous, we assumed that clarification of these meanings would enable
us to use them more precisely. A culmination of the work done in
this vein, including theoretical considerations and practical applications,
can be found in Sartori, Social Science Concepts (1984) We
did, indeed, prove that many authors using the same key words, mean different
things by them and, as a result, fail to communicate effectively or precisely.
Thus we demonstrated a fact we had long suspected but we failed to produce
a real solution to that problem.
In 1974, UNESCO sponsored a conference on social science information
during which this question was considered. It led, after a pilot
study (see Riggs 1981), to the establishment, under ISSC sponsorship, of
the INTERCOCTA project. After a good deal of debate and experimentation,
including excellent papers and proposals offered at the Bielefeld Conference
on Conceptual and Terminological Analysisin the Social Sciences (See CONTA
Conference, 1982) we discovered that the lexicographical (words-to-meanings)
paradigm does not offer a satisfactory solution to the problems faced by
any emergent field of study in which new concepts arise, and clear terms
By reversing this paradigm, going from concepts (as described in a context
of use) to designators (words, phrases, symbols, that can aptly represent
them) is a much needed supplement to the traditional "terminological"
approach. In order to distinguish this new concept (for which no
existing term has been established) from the familiar older one with which
it is all too easily confused, we need to use two different terms.
The established lexicographic model is referred to by terminologists as
terminography. It is very useful in any well established field of
knowledge where the relevant concepts are familiar to specialists who have
evolved appropriate terms to designate them in an unambiguous way (Sager).
This methodology can begin with a list of terms found in the literature
of any field, followed by the creation of a database including these terms
and their definitions, with citations to illustrate their use. I respect
and admire the work of terminographers who have made use of this method
in the preparation of a large number of reference works and computerized
data bases (INFOTERM, in Austria, serves as an international clearing house
to keep track of these projects and provide links to permit easy access
to the Term Banks and publications they have produced).
The Onomantic Option. The opposite paradigm which INFOTERM
has developed, can be referred to as onomantics. The word itself
is derives from onomasiology, an established term for the analysis of meanings
and the origins of terms. As a broad field, it includes two sub-fields,
the analysis of "individual concepts" (i.e., the names of persons,
places, events, objects) and of "general concepts" -- those used
in theories and scientific analysis. The former is called onomastics,
but the latter has no established term. I proposed using onomantics
as an antonym for semantics and as the name for the second sub-field
of onomasiology. An elaborate discussion of the distinctive differences
between onomantics and terminography can be found in Riggs (1996/7).
Here I want to show how the onomantic approach can be used in the development
of new approaches for Social Science, understood as the comprehensive study
of the human condition on a global basis, making use of all the information
and methods evolved so far in the Social Sciences, but adding to them a
host of new concepts and terms needed to understand the evolving world
system in which we live, taking into account its many levels, from the
individual to the group to the country to the world. Because we are
meeting in Seoul, I propose to focus my thoughts on the Korean situation,
after some more general discussion of the terms of our discourse as we
know them today.
Consider such words as "individual," "group," "community,"
"association," "country," "region," and "world"
or "society," "polity," "state," "nation,"
"citizen," "bureaucrat," "legislature," "executive,"
"judge," etc. -- each of them can be used to represent a variety
of concepts. On the premise that, in context, one can understand
which of their possible meanings is intended, we are able to use them without
too much ambiguity to identify familiar Western modern state-based concepts.
Unfortunately for our discourse, the sudden expansion of our world to include
peoples, like the Koreans, who were never considered in the traditional
thinking of social scientists, requires us to expand our repertoire of
concepts to include many new ones. The easiest course is to propose
that a familiar word be assigned a new meaning.
For example, in nineteenth century Korea, a very important kind of role
was played by persons who were called yangban. Since the word is
unfamiliar and we want to develop comparisons with roles played by people
in other countries, we might decide to call a yangban an "official,"
a "mandarin," an "elite," a "scholar," or
some other recognized similar but different role. Although specialists
on Korea will understand what is meant by a yangban, the concept and role
will not be understand except in terms of a concept and term that has wider
relevance to comparable situations elsewhere. Although "mandarin"
is fairly widely understood as a term for a type of Chinese official, it
is now also used to refer to similar types of officials found in France,
India and the UK, but not in the U.S. Would it be accurate to identify
the Korean yangban as a type of "mandarin?" I shall not
try to answer this question, but it is typical of many problems that arise
when one wants to generalize about phenomena important in a new state but
not in the West.
Pleonasms and the INTERNET. Instead of stretching the meanings
of an established word by using it to designte a new concept, one may propose
a new word or phrase -- consider the term, onomantic, as explained above.
This expedient, if it is accepted, does provide a way of expanding our
vocabulary to take into account emerging phenomena that need to be studied.
However, since there is widespread resistance to neologisms, it is difficult
to gain acceptance for them, especially in the social sciences (by contrast,
natural science is much more willing to accept neologisms for newly discovered
phenomena or newly invented processes). The new technology of the
INTERNET and the hypertext capabilities built into the World Wide Web now
offer us a new technology and resources that can be used to make available
to a global community the new concepts required by a future Social Science,
and this, I believe, will accelerate their acceptance and use.
Since it is possible to have several terms (synonyms) for the same concept,
there is no reason why we should not identify and use both familiar words
and neologisms to represent a single concept, what may be called the pleonastic
option. To illustrate, my research in Thailand led me to see that
the Chinese Chamber of Commerce is a kind of ascriptive association (limited
to Chinese members) that serves diffuse purposes (including economic goals,
but also political, religious, educational and other functons). I
decided to refer to that kind of organization as a clect (see Riggs 1962)
and soon found that it is a familiar feature of life in many countries,
including Western ones. The "religious" organization established
by "Father Divine" is a good example of an American clect.
Although the notion has analogies with a "clique" or a "sect,"
neither of these terms really conveys the relevant connotations.
If I were to write "association (clect)", readers who understand
the neologism could see precisely what I mean, but those who do not know
the word, could easily see that it is a special type of "association."
If, however, I were to re-define "association" to mean what I
call a "clect," the reader who does not remember that special
meaning of the word would misunderstand my intentions. The pleonastic solution,
then, involves linking familiar and unfamiliar words in order to permit
clear theorizing and thinking.
"State" and "Nation." Two familiar words
that can be applied to Korea today, as well as to many other countries,
are state and nation. If I were to say that "Korea is a single
nation divided into two states" the thought might be clear enough.
I might also say that West Germany used to think of itself as a "nation"
that includes all German-speaking peoples, while East Germany thought of
itself as a "state" whose members included only its citizens.
This explains why when the East German state collapsed, the West Germans
were obliged to accept their citizens as members of the expanded German
state. The unification of North and South Korea is a goal embraced
by Koreans in both states, but it seems unlikely that a German solution
will be found -- nor can we anticipate a similar result for China and Taiwan.
The recent integration of Hong Kong into the Chinese polity provides another
example of the situation where "one state but two systems" may
provide a relevant model -- though one that does not appeal to Tibetans.
My point is that a Western term, the nation state, which has become
a basic element in our theories of "international relations"
and "comparative politics" presuppose a kind of politically organized
cultural community that surely exists in some countries, but not in many
others, even though, formally speaking, they are states (nations) belonging
to the United Nations. It is now evident that this term masks two
overlapping concepts: that of an independent state, like the United States
or Bosnia/Herzegovina; and the concept of a national state, i.e. a state
that coincides with a nation. We cannot, in fact, find any good examples
-- Iceland may be the closest approximation. However, it is a widely
embraced goal and, when Korea is re-unified, it could well become
another good example. In the world today, there are about 200 independent
states and virtually no examples of a national state. When we use
nation state to represent both of these concepts, ambiguity necessarily
If we look more deeply into the problematic of contemporary politics,
we will see, I think, that there are other important concepts relating
to state and nation that lack any accepted terms. Consider the relation
of ethnicity to citizenship, for example. Historically, the model widely
accepted in the Western world, was that "states," as organized
after the Peace of Wesphalia in the mid- seventeenth century, could become
"nations." This was an important proposition because the
problem of legitimacy became acute after the Industrial Revolution.
Traditionally, states were ruled autocratically by monarchs who legitimized
their rule by supernatural sanctions -- a notion expressed in the phrase,
"Divine Right of Kings." When the rising capitalists of
Europe found that, with state support, they could develop mass-production
factories with supporting facilities and markets, they also learned, after
some bitter experiences, that autocracies could neither guarantee the security
of their investments over any length of time nor provide the wide range
of public services industrialization required. They began to press
for a political transformation that would substitute representative governments
The Problem of Legitimacy. The machinery of representative
governance presented major problems which have been a primary focus of
political science up to the present day. However, the legitimacy
of governing, especially as the costs and complexity of public administration
required to handle the infrastructures and regulatory functions of an industrializing
society, plus the need to motivate citizens to pay enough taxes to support
these functions, offered challenges we have yet to solve. Among
them, perhaps the most important involved the sense that only a nation
could both legitimize representative governance and finance its rising
administrative costs, not only by paying taxes but also by complying with
increasingly complex regulatory policies of the state.
With this in mind, the aggressively expanding states began to assimilate
their subjects by public education, military service, and propaganda campaigns
-- the United States, for example, pursued policies of "Americanization"
that led to the notion of a "melting pot" as large numbers of
immigrants became Americans. Comparable processes led to the emergence
of the French people as a nation, unifying many subject minorities who
became truly "French." The major states of the Western
World, starting with those in Europe, have gone through this process leading
to the emergence of states whose legitimacy and capacity to govern through
representative institutions had come to depend on the existence (at least
in principle, though rarely in fact) of a nation that would support and
accept the authority of its elected rulers. The notion of a nation
state evolved as a result.
When the empires that some of these states created in which most of
their new subjects could not be assimilated into the governing nation collapsed,
largely because of the inter-imperial wars that marked the 20th century
as major events, a host of new states emerged, carved out of the administrative
provinces created by the empires. Pre-existing nations in the sense
that they were peoples who shared a sense of identity based on language,
religion, cultural practices and territoriality, often found themselves
marginalized, perhaps as divided nations (the Korean case, for example)
or as minorities (e.g., the Chechens in the Russian Federation) -- many
other examples could be listed. As they became increasingly mobilized
and self-conscious as a result of the processes of industrialization, democratization,
and nationalism, they began to organize, using new technologies, information
and weapons, in order to demand recognitions of their own identity as nations
entitled to sovereignty and self-governance. Increasingly they view
themselves as nations who deserve to have their own states, whether by
secession from existing states or by reunification by changing or abolishing
To terms like "nation," "state," or "nation
state" to talk about these problems becomes increasingly difficult
as the global processes and problems they refer to acquire new forms and
patterns. I have proposed, therefore, that we make a clear distinction
between state nations, such as those of the Western world where states
created nations, and ethnic nations, such as the ethnic communities whose
marginalized members claim sovereignty and the right to establish their
own states. Both share the same goal, to maintain or establish a
national state, i.e., one that links the nation and state, as I have mentioned
above. Quite a few additional concepts linking notions of the state and
nation and needed to talk about contemporary global problems: they include
ideas related to such terms as citizen, subject, and national; peoples
living in a homeland and those in diaspora who share a common sense of
national identity; of states that can govern and those that cannot; of
states containing nations and nations divided between states, and many
more. I have identified and used some of these notions in an essay
called "Turmoil among Nations," to which I have attached a set
of concept records designed to describe and link them (Riggs TAN link)
Modern and Western. Contemporary writers often use "modern"
and "Western" as synonyms, or they may think of any contemporary
thing as "modern." The spread of modern practices throughout
the world has been described as "modernization" or "Westernization"
without much sense of difference between the meanings of these words.
To speak of a "modern state" may mean any contemporary state,
Bhutan, Nigeria, or the United States, or it could refer only to states
that are industrialized democracies, or to states located in the "West"
rather than in the "Rest" of the world. So long as social
science discourse was located in and referred only to problems of contemporary
Western (European) peoples, this befuddling mixture of ideas was
not remarkable and caused little concern. However, when applied in
countries like Korea which may be modern but not Western, or the Amish
people who are Western but not modern, this usage is unnecessary confusing.
When historical background is added to our analysis, we need to think about
peoples who are contemporary but not modern, or Western (e.g., before the
17th century) and hence neither contemporary nor modern. Clearly,
we cannot really sort out all the important concepts required for dealing
with contemporary world realities if we limit ourselves to these few overused
Clearly before modernity evolved in Western Europe, everyone in the
world, including Europeans, could be characterized as pre- modern. However,
in the contemporary world, peoples differ in the degree to which they have
accepted modern practices and ideas. Should we also refer to them as "pre-modern,"
a common practice? Alternatively, why not accept a term like non-modern
to refer to contemporary states or peoples who have rejected modernity.
They may exist in the West as well as in the Rest of the world -- consider,
for example, the Crown Fiefdom of Sark, an island linked to Guernsey, one
of the British Channel Islands. Automobiles are not allowed in Sark
where horses and carriages, or bicycles, must carry those not willing to
walk. Its ruler, the hereditary Seigneur of Sark, rejected the European
Union's Maastricht Treaty as irrelevant to the life of this "feudal
island." Since many multi- national corporations are registered
in Sark, where they pay no taxes, this island domain is contemporary and
non-modern, but not pre-modern. As power shifts, which it surely
will, to non-state organizations located anywhere in the world (including
its most non- modern states), we will need to recognize that wealth and
influence are not necessarily linked to power and status among the independent
The notion of westernization carries even more ambiguities. When, for
example, did the west become the West? Histories of the Western world
usually start with Egypt and Mesopotamia, running then through Greece and
Rome to medieval Europe and the "modern" West. Throughout that
lengthy period, major influences on the shaping of the West came from the
East, including the classical (Greek and Roman) learning acquired by Europeans
from Muslims in what we now call the "Middle East." Perhaps
even more importantly, important ideas and practices came to Europe from
much farther east, in India and China -- and, yes, Korea. It was
a Korean adaptation of a Chinese invention (the modification of block printing
by the use of moveable type) that inspired Guttenberg to "invent"
printing in the West (reference ).
Luckily for him, there were no patent laws in the 15th century to protect
Korean inventions! We still say that Guttenberg "invented"
moveable type, a typically parochial understanding of invention.
In fact, in a long-term historical perspective, the Easternization of the
West is probably more significant than the contemporary Westernization
of the East. However, both are interactive and we need to see the
historical importance, not only of the artifacts and knowledge our Western
ancestors imported from the East, but also how industrialization provided
the low-cost goods that could pay for these imports after the European
stock of gold and silver had been depleted (even taking into account the
precious metals plundered by Europeans from Africa and the New World).
Both Westernization and Easternization refer to historical processes of
true significance, but in today's world, it has really become impossible
to sort out what is "Eastern" or "Western" and the
concepts represented by these words are virtually meaningless.
Modernity. By contrast, what is modern is a ubiquitous
and compelling reality throughout the world, and its implications may be
quite different in its Western homelands from what they have become in
the "Restern" (forgive this vulgarism but it represents an important
concept) countries. On the analogy of the "Industrial Revolution,"
we might think about the "Modern Revolution" which accompanied
it -- it refers to a broad context of fundamental changes that made industrialization
possible. These were political and social in character, including the replacement
of monarchic autocracy by systems of representation rooted in national
myths. No doubt the myth of a "nation" may have been as
unreal as the myth of a supernatural basis for monarchic sovereignty, but
in both cases the extent to which popular acceptance of the myth made governance
possible in an important historical reality. In this context, it
can be seen that both democracy and nationalism were essential parts of
the total package of modernity that centered on the economic processes
of industrialization (mass production and marketing, plus new technology
and energy sources).
During the 20th century, aspirations for modernity spread to the whole
world, both to the countries conquered by industrializing powers, and to
states like Japan and Thailand that were able to stave off imperial conquests
by modernizing under their own steam. This latter day extension of a pattern
of life invented in the West to the Rest of the world is much better thought
of as modernization than as Westernization, thought obviously part of the
process involved cultural traits (religious beliefs, for example) that
had come to be seen as "Western," even though they had non-Western
roots. Religious and philosophical notions have a life of their own,
as illustrated in Korea by the importation of Confucianism and Buddhism
long before modernity arose, and by Christianity in recent times -- Christian
missionaries brought with them not only pre- modern beliefs, but a heavy
injection of modernity in the form of industrial, agricultural, medical,
and other quite modern practices.
More importantly, for our purposes, the processes involved in developing
modernity differ significantly from those associated with modernization.
I have already mentioned one example: the state- generated sense of national
identity associated with modernity has been reversed in the contemporary
processes of ethnic nationalists seeking statehood, clearly a result of
The Industrial Revolution started with the invention and design of techniques
and contexts supportive of mass-production, but the contemporary process
of globalization covers both the rapid expansion of demand for manufactures,
even though poor countries lack the resources of products needed to pay
for them, and the recently growing expansion of industrial production into
poor and weakly governed states under the umbrella of industrial estates
able to create powerful enclaves in which the costs of production can be
lowered to meet international competition by means of lower wages and environmental
destruction -- more thoughts on this subject can be found in Riggs (1997,
No doubt both stages can be referred to as industrialization, but a
fundamental distinction is needed between the Industrial Revolution which
created the new economic system, and the globalization of industry which
is happening today throughout the world -- it is no longer a "revolution,"
but perhaps we could think of it as an Industrial Devolution. Another
term might be preferable and I will not defend this invention -- what is
important is to recognize the basic difference between two forms of industrialization
as it occurred during the development of modernity and as it is happening
now on the wave of modernization. Every new state confronts deep
problems involving how to utilize and control the processes of industrial
devolution -- the contrast between the experience of South and North Korea
provides a dramatic example of fundamental consequences due to radically
different ways of organizing to meet the challenges of industrialization.
The focus of this paper is not on the specific examples offered above, although they illustrate some of the fundamental problems confronting anyone who seeks to develop a Social Science relevant to the contemporary global situation. By contrast, most of the many discipline-bounded and ethnocentric bodies of learning that now masquerade as our Social Sciences rely on their established institutions guarding their prerogatives and domains with fierce intensity. Some of the tactics that might be used to cope with this status quo and to inaugurate a more relevant global social science are well explained in the Gulbenkian Commission's report. However, the conceptual apparatus needed to register important concepts such as those mentioned above remains to be developed. I shall use the rest of this paper to talk about them.
First, however, let me again distinguish between terminography and onomantics.
I shall not discuss termiography which is surely important but it already
has institutions and models that are capable of facilitating the identification
of technical terms used in any field of knowledge, followed by the preparation
and dissemination of glossaries or dictionaries in which their definitions
and uses are set forth. Instead, let me speak only about the onomantic
problem, how to identify and disseminate new concepts and terms that cry
out for recognition and use by anyone seriously studying the problems of
the modern world. After some comments on the intellectual activities volved
in onomantics, I shall turn to the methodology and apparatus required to
distribute the results and make them readily available to anyone wishing
to use them.
On the substantive side, the onomantic process is essentially simple
and easily understood. It simply reverses the semantic (lexicographic)
process: instead of finding words and defining them, it identifies concepts
and designates them. Of course, words are used in both processes,
and it is easy to raise objections -- the process may be viewed as "essentialist,"
as though it presupposed some kind of Platonic essence whose existence
precedes the naming process. I reject this objection -- concepts
are simply ideas formulated by anyone who want to establish a category
that will be useful for some kind of analysis. This typically involves
identifying a set of objects, processes or properties that share one or
more attributes about which we want to make generalizations. Many concepts
could be imagined but unrecognized because no one has any use for them.
Doctors might count the density of hairs on the skin of their patients,
but they don't do so because this concept appears to be useless.
However, the concept known as "DNA" seems highly abstract and
improbable yet it has attracted a lot of attention because of its great
utility. Geneticists never thought that there was any "essence"
of DNA to be captured, but they did see evidence of objects and their properties
which could best be explained by a concept they decided to designate as
Concepts and Terms. Another objection involves the properties
of "words." If a concept is described in words, then what
is the difference between a "concept" and a "term,"
both of which involve the use of words? To me the important distinction
is between a text that identifies the properties combined to constitute
a concept, and the short form (word, phrase, abbreviation, or symbol) that
can be used to represent any such concept. When we want to use a concept
frequently, as we do those of a "state" or "nation,"
we need a term, but to identify the concept we have in mind, such terms
are inadquate -- they have clear meanings only when these meanings are
set forth in a text (a "definition" or a "description")
or they may be clarified by context if surrounding words in a text enable
one to determine which of several possible meanings one has in mind: thus
the "state" in "state of mind," or "state of affairs,"
clearly identifies a different concept from an "independent state."
Thus the intended meaning of a word is rarely clear when that word is used
in isolation -- it needs to be linked to a text that establishes its intended
In the examples given above, I wrote paragraphs that described concept
which I then referred to as "national states," "state nations,"
"independent states," "ethnic nations," etc.
Each of these phrases is a neologism, i.e. a new term for a new concept
--or at least for a described concept. Such neologisms may consist
of phrases using only familiar words, or of newly coined words, like "onomantics."
The form is not important, however. What is important is that we should
have an expression that can clearly designate any concept we need to use.
Such concepts may be quite new, as was the concept represented by "DNA"
when it was recently discovered.
Others may actually be old concepts but our vocabulary lacks terms the
identify them without ambiguity. For example, the concept of an independent
state is surely old, and we may well refer to it by the single word, state.
However, since "state" also has other meanings, it is important
to disambiguate the intended meaning by having a synonym that is not ambiguous.
I can identify all members of the UN as "states," but if someone
suggests that there are places like Hawaii, or Taiwan that might also be
called "states," one might easily substitute "independent
state" or even "independent recognized state" to characterize
the objects of study.
The practical problem faced by onomantics involves all situations in which new concepts are needed, and also those in which old concepts cannot be readily referenced because the terms used to designate them have other relevant meanings. I say "relevant" here because when words have irrelevant meanings, no problems arise. For example, when I speak of a "mouse" to computer addicts, they all understand I am referring to a useful gadget, not to a rodent or a feeble person. The onomantic problem, therefore, arises when the only available designator for a familiar concept has other relevant meanings. There is no need to abandon the use of such terms when their context of use shows precisely what one has in mind, but offering an unambiguous synonym becomes a useful way of disambiguating one's text in order to make one's intentions clear.
*Synopsis of paper prepared for a COCTA panel at the
IPSA Congress in Seoul, Korea, August 1979
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