The Technology . In order to identify a concept we can
prepare records which resemble dictionary entries but reverse their
structure. Instead of starting with a word to be defined, we must begin
with a concept to be identified by a text, a description, that specifies
its necessary characteristics. Such concepts may well be fuzzy in
the sense that one cannot easily determine whether a particular case meets
the criteria. If I want to talk about "independent states," you
might claim that, de facto if not de jure, Taiwan is an independent
state. To make a concept less fuzzy, one might introduce additional
criteria -- thus to qualify as an "independent state," one might stipulate
that it must have not only such domestic characteristics as a governmental
system and defense capabilities, but also external recognition -- it must
be both de jure and de facto. However, for some purposes you might
want to include all states that meet the domestic criteria, even if not
the international ones.
In many context such marginal distinctions are not important and need not be specified -- the
trade-off is that the more sharply a concept is defined, the more complex its definition may
become. Definitions that include "usually" actually identify more than one concept: for example,
to define a "bird" as a "feathered vertebrate that can usually fly" describes both the broad class of
all birds, and a sub-class of "flying birds" -- thus an ostrich is a bird but not a flying bird. Such
marginal distinctions make many concepts fuzzy but we work with them because, for practical
purposes, the distinction is not important -- most birds, after all, do fly, just as most states have de
The extension of Western concepts to the
Rest of the world often involves such questions. The term, "class"
might be used to refer to the "caste" system in India, but the
availability of a separate term enables us to avoid this error.
However, the extension of the term "political party" to include the
"political parties" found in both military and "single party"
dictatorships obscures important distinctions between different kinds of
political structure. Failure to observe such distinctions muddies analysis
in many fields of inquiry where the extension of Western-based concepts to
non-Western contexts is obfuscating. If "social science" is to expand as a globally relevant form of
inquiry, it needs to add many new terms to its vocabulary in order to make important distinctions
Important as such questions are, I shall not
elaborate on them here because my aim is to make the point that the basic
element of any onomantic record is not a word to be defined, but rather a
described concept, i.e. a text that mentions its essential
characteristics. Non-essential characteristics should not be
included in the definition of any concept -- rather, they provide the
basis for identifying a different (though often quite similar) concept.
The word "essential" is used here, not to suggest the prior existence of
an "essence" but, rather, to identify a characteristic that is required in
order for a concept to be operationalized. Such concepts are socially
created to meet practical needs -- they do not represent "essences" (as
imagined in Platonic "realism"). Rather, they are created whenever
someone finds them useful as tools to support some kind of analysis.
Of course, the phenomena may be quite
ancient: when certain bones were unearthed by paleontologists, they
invented a concept to explain what they found and decided to call it
"dinasaur". Further exploration led them to recognize additional
varieties of these monstrous lizards to which they assigned such terms as
"tyrannosaurus," "diplodocus," "coelophysis," etc. The referents for
these terms existed more than 200 million years ago, but the concepts used
to identify them are modern inventions. Similarly, many contemporary
phenomena and distinctions that we need to study and learn about the world
today remain invisible to us because we lack the necessary concepts to
Such concepts, when they are new, may not have any terms. I don't know how long it took after
the discovery of a genetic phenomenon to agree on "DNA" as a term for it. During the interval,
some purely arbitrary term, like "The X factor," could have been used. My point is that the utility
and validity of a concept depends on its usefulness and not on the connotations of any term that
may designate it -- indeed unnamed concepts may be quite useful. If so, they are usually assigned
terms. How this can be done more efficiently is the focus of onomantics. It contrasts with the
opposite lexicographic (semantic) option which starts with established words and investigates
Systematic Relationships. An important question for
onomantics that has only incidental
relevance in semantics involves systematic relationships between concepts. The most familiar
results of semantic analysis can be found in dictionaries whose entries are normally arranged
alphabetically by entry words. This procedure ignores relations between concepts -- the spelling
of words determines the placement of entries in an arbitrary but determinate and retrievable way.
However, a systematic arrangement of words is also useful, especially in the arrangement of
synonymies composed of word groups, as seen in Roget's Thesaurus. By contrast, the records in
an onomantic glossary cannot be arranged alphabetically because the first word of a concept
description offers no clues for retrieval purposes. A systematic ordering of concepts, as in the
thesaurus, is therefore necessary.
There is, however, another reason for stressing the classification of conceptual information.
Because words are usually polysemic (having more than one meaning) it is actually impossible to
arrange them systematically -- only concepts can be put in a systematic order. To verify this
point, have a look at the index to Roget's Thesaurus where one can see that many words are
placed in several entries -- that's because they represent different concepts. Moreover, and this is
substantively important, locating concepts as items in a system provides essential information
about each concept. When they can be classed hierarchically, we identify genus-species
relationships -- distinguishing broader from narrower concepts, "fruit" from "apples" and
"oranges", for example. Other kinds of relationships are also important: part/whole, cause/effect,
The important notion of related concepts is among the most problematic. Imagine two
overlapping circles, "A" and "B." We may use "AB" to represent notions that combine A and B.
By contrast, the circles illustrate that it is also possible to have A without B, and B without A.
Some related concepts are linked by a phrase: consider "kith and kin," which identifies the friends
and relatives of a gemeinschaft community (a peasant village, for example). From the point of
view of any member, other members may be friends or relatives but, in many cases, individuals are
both friends and relatives (i.e. "kith" and "kin"). The two concepts are so fuzzy and overlapping
that, in such contexts, there is no need to distinguish between them and modern people, whose
suburban neighbors are neither kith nor kin, do not know the difference -- they may even think
that "kith" is some kind of synonym for "kin."
A more contemporary example involves the fuzzy relation between "race" and "ethnicity," two
words that are often paired. As commonly understood, persons sharing racial features may be
ethnically different (speaking different languages, for example), and members of one ethnic
community may be racially different (as are the Jews in Israel), but often enough, racial and ethnic
distinctions coincide. The "race/ethnic" relationships has an important historical dynamics in the
United States, but in most countries it is not significant. This example also illustrates how a
parochial usage can travel, acquiring new meanings in countries where the terms do not reflect
reality -- instead, they are superimposed on the assumption that they must represent some kind of
reality that needs to be discovered. Another good example is "class" and "caste," both of which
are often used, out of context, to characterize relationships quite different from those that
originally led to the coining of these terms.
Onomantic systems of concepts can be built out of relationships such as those mentioned above.
As I have noted, identifying these relationship is useful to help us understand concepts -- it is also
useful for retrieval purpose. However, more than one system can be used to link overlapping sets
of concepts that have different uses. We need to know this in order to overcome a widespread
misconception that all concepts should be located (or locatable) in a single classification scheme.
This is a misleading error. No doubt the notion arose because, in its most familiar application,
library books are shelved conceptually according to one of several schemes (Dewey, Library of
Congress, Bliss, Ranganathan, etc.). That's because books cannot be shelved in two places at
once. The class numbers that determine their shelf location need, therefore, to belong to a single
Similarly, when concept records are reproduced on paper, it is convenient to assign a single class
number to each concept. However, when concept records are computerized, it is easy to assign
several numbers to a single record -- this enables one to relate concepts to each other in various
ways. Each of two related concepts, for example, may fall under two headings: a copper pipe can
be associated, by material, with other copper objects, and by function, with other kinds of pipes.
Items in a part/whole or cause-effect relationship may also be identified hierarchically. Users may
select any classification scheme they like and retrieve concepts arranged accordingly. The same
principle is familiar in a computerized address book that permits names to be retrieved
alphabetically, by place of residence, or field of interest, although only one record per person is
needed. This not only produces lists but it can be used to find individuals who have a particular
interest or live in a given place. The same database enables one to look up an individual to find
h/er address -- I shall use "/" to represent third person pronouns of either gender -- thus "h/er"
should be read as "he or her", "s/he" as "she or he," and "h/ers" as "his or hers."
Hypertext. The use of several classification schemes for a
given body of concept records leads
to a discussion of hypertext, a modern way of organizing information that has been popularized by
computers, and is now globally available on the World Wide Web. A link in a text permits one to
jump at will to related items of information, as illustrated by the address book example mentioned
above. The basic idea is well known in the form of reference numbers which enable readers of a
book to jump, by page numbers, to a note that elaborates on a notion by means of extra data. On
a computer, one can do the same thing much more easily by clicking a mouse when the cursor hits
a marked word on the screen. Since the creation of the WWW, this technique not only enables
one to jump to a note in the same text, but to jump to a related text that may be loaded on a host
computer anywhere in the world. Let us consider some of the implications of this radically new
Imagine, for example, that we have one and only one record for a concept, but it has been
classified in several ways to reflect a variety of points of view or purposes: metalurgists will want
to find "copper pipe" in the context of uses of a metal, whereas plumbers will look for the same
thing in relation to repairing a fixture. Economists may want to use a concept, "price," for
example, to see how it relates to supply/demand forces, but a political scientists may want to
understand how prices can be controlled by government -- each may, therefore, need the same
concept but in different contexts.
Links work in opposite directions: a concept record, for example, can display several class
numbers that permit readers to jump to various contexts in which they are relevant; and,
reciprocally, anyone reading a particular text can jump to the record that describes a a relevant
concept. All computer users employ this technique when they use the "help" menu on Windows
or WordPerfect. If they are baffled to understand a technical term, for example, they can click the
mouse to find the relevant definition. On paper, the explanation of "onomantics" offered above
must be remembered by anyone encountering it at a later point, but on my Web Page, I can
provide links to 'onomantic' at various points in the text, permitting readers to jump to the
explanation of this concept whenever they want to refresh their memory. The same technique can
be used for substantive terms, like "state nation," "ethnic nation," "national state," and
"independent state." Another techniques involves defining all the difficult terms used in a text in a
glossary attached to it. Users can jump to the glossary to find these concept descriptions -- in
hypertext they can do it more easily -- and, in principle, they can jump to concept descriptions that
may be available anywhere in the world.
When the explanation of a new concept can be found only in a reference note or glossary attached
to a paper, only persons holding the paper are actually able to use it. By contrast, if the note is
lodged in a Web page, the user may jump to its explanation (including concept records, as well as
data, references and comments) at any place in the world that hosts the linked item. By placing
this paper on my own Web Page (at http://www2.hawaii.edu/~fredr/) I will make the descriptions
of its key concepts globally available to anyone having access to the WWW. That does not
eliminate the need to put this text on paper -- but it greatly extends its availability.
To make this notion more concrete at a micro-level, let us imagine that two scholars (K and H)
are working separately in Korea and Hawaii on a closely related problem. They want to
coordinate their efforts, using their Web pages, to make sure that each understands and uses
correctly the new concepts that they need. Each may construct a nomenclator (the term I use for
a conceptual glossary, one that identifies new concepts and proposed terms for them) and post it
in h/is own Web page. K and H can, then, consult their colleague's nomenclator at any time and,
cumulatively, make use of each other's concepts and understand their terms. This is a "bottom-up
approach" (Malkia ??) that can be used by any scholar or group of scholars. It can also lay the
foundation for a macro-level global apparatus to introduce and designate new concepts. (More
details about how this can be done can be found on my Web Page --
My point is that, in an onomantic perspective, it is unnecessary to compile a master dictionary
(glossary) that comprehensively identifies and describes all the concepts used in a given field of
specialization -- instead, building cumulatively from small points of clarity, one can introduce new
concepts and make them available for use by a growing community of scholars, anywhere in the
world, who share an interest. This applies to the very specific concepts required in a highly
specialized field of study as well as the broadest concepts that inform our work as political
scientists -- or the proposed generic Social Science as a global, multi-disciplinary framework for
studying our world system in historic and futurist perspective.
Let me emphasize that the onomantic approach should not replace the semantic approach -- both
are needed and they supplement each other. Dictionaries (glossaries) based on terminographic
methods can and should be compiled for specialists in every discipline and field. They report on
the established usages of colleagues working this field -- it identifies the terms they use and the
technical meanings they have. Both an alphabetical and one or more classification scheme are
needed to make such works effective --that means they require two parts, a set of records and an
index. But let me not say more about the terminographic dimension of the conceptual scheme
required for any subject field to develop in a coherent way. Its theory and methods are well
established. By contrast, the onomantic approach is not understood but it has become necessary
for the growth of any new field of study or paradigm shift, such as the one needed to go from our
discipline-based set of social sciences to an integrated global social science.
An Example: Ethnicity. All of
this may sound utopian and beyond our capabilities. However, I think
we have reached the stage of development where it can be realized with
relatively little cost, though with a lot of attention. To be
effective, the onomantic approach should be anchored in the work of a
community of scholars interested in research on a theme that interests all
of them. Projects sponsored by the ISSC on "poverty," "global change,"
"cities," "multi-disciplinary problems," or the status of the "social
sciences," all identify appropriate themes, as would many others, such as
those studied by IPSA research committees -- including COCTA which has
focussed attention on the analysis of concepts and terms in social theory.
The central apparatus that we need is an information network that includes, among its
components, information about relevant publications (including books and journals), on-going
research in a wide range of universities and institutes, abstracting services designed to facilitate
the identification of relevant documents, and a variety of regional and international organizations
interested in the subject under study. An onomantic network nested in such an information
network will fill a niche that is now vacant. It will greatly enhance the capacity of scholars to
communicate clearly with each other whenever they need to use new concepts that cannot yet be
unambiguously represented by established terms. The discussion of "nations," "states,"
"modernity" and "Western" offered above provide some examples of what I have in mind.
Established projects and agencies already
provide elements of the information networks we need.
Unfortunately, they are usually organized by process rather than subject
-- in other words, we have a global bibliographic network for information
about books and journals. Although it may be organized by
disciplines, it is not organized by subject fields, the real-world foci of
interest of researchers. The same is true of abstracting services and
ongoing research information. Moreover, each of these services is
organized separately which means that it is scarcely "user-friendly," -- a
researcher needs to follow different chains to locate the information
relevant to h/is concerns. The hypertext technology, used via the
WWW, now enables us to integrate and focus these resources so that
researchers in any particular field of inquiry can readily discover
relevant information -- well, I mean, it enables us in principle, although
we have not yet implemented this idea.
Unfortunately, a crucial component of such a network does not yet exist although it is urgently
necessary. This involves our basic vocabulary, and especially the new concepts and terms that will
increase in number as the global extent and new problems faced by an increasingly interactive
world system explode around us. Fortunately, the technology and infrastructure needed to solve
these problems is now available.
A starting point to understand how the onomantic component of global integrated information
system can be found in my paper, "Turmoil among Nations," which can be seen by anyone with
access to my Web Page <http://www2.hawaii.edu/~fredr>. Linked to this paper is a set of "TAN"
concepts that were introduced in the paper -- they can be found by clicking the mouse at points in
the text where they are used. Moreover, they are interdependent concepts and links between
them as individual items, as well as through a general classification scheme that offers symoptic
view of their relationships, is available within the set of concept records. Readers can also find on
my Web Page a set of articles discussing the onomantic approach and methodology -- the
discussion here is just a summary of this material.
Networking. If no one ever
looks at these concept records, they will remain an isolated exercise,
irrelevant to the global problem. In order for the demonstration to have
any effects, it needs to be linked to a network of users. Such
networks can be established in any field of inquiry that a set of
interested scholars wants to develop. I have launched one for
experimental purposes that might be able to utilize the information
available in my TAN project, as described above. It constitutes the
embryo of an integrated information network, but only an embryo.
However, with careful nurturing, it has the potential for evolving into a
To be more concrete, I chose the field of ethnic studies (including nationalism,
migration/refugees, and race-relations) for demonstration purpose. My TAN paper clearly
illustrates some conceptual problems in this field, and they provide the materials used above in my
discussion of "state" and "nation." The starting point was a Listserv called ETHNIC-L.that I
established at the University of Hawaii. Its charter members were representatives of the IPSA
research committee on Politics and Ethnicity and comparable groups in several other member
associations of the ISSC: Sociology and International Studies. UNESCO'S MOST (Management
of Social Transformations) project has emphasized ethnicity as one of its priority problem areas,
and it is linked to this network, as are the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and a
considerable number of regional research centers, discussion lists, and journal editors. The basic
purpose of ETHNIC-L was not to promote substantive discourse but, rather, to provide
information about each group's activities and to facilitate liaison in ways that would help each
member become more effective and able to cooperate with others sharing its interests.
To provide an accessible location for
information about each group, including links to its own Web Pages and
listservs, plus the ability to send mail directly from the Page to members
of the List, I created an ETHNIC page on my own home page -- see the page. It contains
an alphabetical list of the member groups, a list of individual members,
and an index by subject of specialization and action categories, such as
conferences, databases, on-going research, and "terminology."
Unfortunately, we still lack useful links for bibliographic
information. A number of papers, including this one, are posted on
this Site to provide background information for interested users, plus
links to the Web Pages mentioned above.
Meshing. In order to develop
the onomantic component of this information network we need to establish a
terminology page -- it should be called an onomantic page but I hesitate
to use this word because it still lacks face validity. Its goal,
however, will be to mesh concept records prepared by individuals anywhere
who share our interests in ethnicity. Eventually, I hope my TAN
concept records (mentioned above) will provide a starting point or
entering wedge for this new page. The next step will be to find
colleagues anywhere who are working on ethnic problems and want to
introduce new concepts, or find others who may have proposed them already.
When I find someone willing to become involved, by providing concept
records for the new concepts that s/he is proposing, I will link it to my
own TAN concepts, and provide a link on the Terminology Page. As the idea
gains acceptance among subscribers to ETHNIC-L, my hope is that others
will become interested and decide to participate in this project.
Let me mention a few "nuts and bolts" considerations that will need to be
First, to identify every concept proposed by anyone, a serial number should be attached to it for
quick identification and reference. Every book gets a serial number when it is accessioned by a
library, but it serves only record-keeping purposes. In a hypertext computer file, however, serial
numbers can be used to retrieve records in an efficient way. They should be attached to a text
that can be reached through a URL on a host computer. Serial numbers do not convey any
meaning but they can uniquely identify every concept and enable users to locate it. Every file on a
Web Page can be identified and retrieved by means of its URL. Each concept can be numbered as
an item in an onomantic file. My Terminology File would not support links to each concept,
however, Rather, its links would enable users to find various onomantic files that relate to their
subject of concern.
For example, my onomantic file for the TAN paper (which contains 20 or so concept records)
could be coded with several key words, such as "ethnic nationalism." Many onomantic files
relating to "ethnicity" could be listed, characterized, and linked on the ETHNIC-L terminology
page in my Home Site. However, I would not want to construct a comprehensive guide to
concepts with links to each individual record. Rather, individual scholars could create their own
guides to the concepts they want to use -- and they should include links enabling readers to find
the onomantic files from which borrowed concepts have been taken. This procedure will, I think,
increasingly permit scholars both to identify and collaborate with anyone in the world who shares
their research interests, and also to sharpen their conceptual tools so that they will be able to
understand each other better and, eventually, become more intelligible to larger communities or
readers interested in their work.
Classification. To support a terminology (onomantic) page as
suggested above, key words and class numbers will be needed. The serial
numbers discussed above are needed for retrieval purposes but they are
useless for indexing or indicating relationships between concepts.
To support coherent theory development in any field, we need sets of
linked concepts and, for this reason, we need classification schemes and
thesauri. They enable us to organize our knowledge and also support
the retrieval of information. It is important to distinguish between
these two functions which are easily confused with each other.
Part of our confusion arises from the semantic structure of ordinary dictionaries. Their entry-words enable readers to locate the precise spot where a particular entry can be found. That
means, they serve retrieval purposes whenever one knows how to spell a word. However, since
words have meanings (usually more than one) they also provide links to concepts and, as in a
"thesaurus" used for indexing purposes, relationships between terms are typically indicated -- by
implication these relations also express relations between concepts.
Insofar as the technical terms of a subject field are well known and precise, the use of
alphabetized entries is practical for retrieval purposes and, through hierarchic or classified
indexes, an indexing thesaurus may also reflect concept relationships. This means that such tools
are very helpful, perhaps indispensable, for organizing knowledge providing only familiar terms
New concepts, by contrast, lack recognized terms. When terms for any of these concepts gain
acceptance, they need no longer to be viewed as new concepts. Until the genetic concept now
known as "DNA" became widely known, it was certainly a new concept -- but after this term
gained acceptance, we may say the concept it designates is no longer "new". Since DNA was
discovered in the 1930s, it is perhaps a "recent," if not a new concept. The notion of a "new
concept" therefore, does not depend on the date of its origins but rather on whether or not a term
for it has become established. In this sense, it is itself a new concept that eludes attention because
it lacks a specific term -- if we would accept a neologism for it -- perhaps a mint concept could be
understood as, like a "mint word," an idea that has been coined but not yet widely known or used.
Onomantics is concerned with mint concepts, but I shall avoid this term because "new concepts"
is probably easier to accept, even if fuzzy.
The point, of course, is that new (mint) concepts lack established terms and, consequently, cannot
be retrieved by means of a word. Users will not know where to look. Instead, they need
information about these concepts that is normally expressed both in explicit descriptions of their
essential characteristics, and in classifications that place them in a logical relationships with other
Since concept descriptions are useless for retrieval purposes, other techniques are necessary. The
most commonly used involves classification -- an example is offered in my TAN records. The
scheme used is idiosyncratic and merely places this small set of concepts into a scheme that
clarifies their mutual relationships from the author's point of view. Someone with a different goal
might want to use some of these concepts and think about them in another framework. Hypertext
technology makes it possible to use a variety of such schemes to help scholars use the same
notions in various contexts.
The classified set of concepts described in my TAN records are put into a systematic order in
what I call a cue card, just another record found in the TAN glossary. Every record contains a
link to this cue card. It enables users both to see how each concept is related to others found in
this file, and also to jump promptly to the text that describes it, plus texts that illustrate its use.
Several cue cards could be used for the same set of concepts, or for overlapping sets of concepts.
Each such card could reflect a classification scheme favored by some users, though not by many
I stress this point because it helps us deal with the problem of additional authors. It would be
unreasonable to expect them to accept my classification scheme because they may well have quite
different ways of linking the concepts they need. You may think of my records as describing a set
of concepts linked by a scheme called "FWR". Just as the authors of entries in an encyclopedia
may be uniquely identified by letters, a set of authors of concept records could also be coded by a
few letters or even a name. Each such author, "PQZ," for example, may assign a class number to
each of their new concepts so as to locate them in a system that meets their needs. If they don't
know how to construct such a classificaiton scheme, they might seek help from a classification
specialist. Eventually, members of a community of scholars working in any given field may find it
useful to create their shared (standardized) classification scheme -- I see that as a useful but not a
necessary element of onomantic records.
The Author-based Perspective.
The notion that every author could create an idiosyncratic scheme to
classify the concepts they need will strike many with horror because they
are thinking by analogy about how how librarians class books. In
order to arrange them on a shelf so that many users can find them, they
need to establish, from the top down, a single scheme according to which
the call numbers you see on book back can be used to locate books on
library shelves. Although private owners might use such a scheme to class
their own books and put them in systematic order, my guess is that most
book users arrange them idiosyncratically in accordance with their
My idea is that the classification of new (mint) concepts by any author can, at first, be quite
idiosyncratic as a reflection of that author's own interests. If we abandon the idea that all the new
concepts of a field need to be systematically coded, we may see that the analogy of a personal
book collection is more appropriate than that of a library. Since the units to be managed are short
concept records publicly available on the WWW, the costs and rewards of this activity are also
very different from those confronting a terminographer who seeks to assemble and define all the
terms used by specialists in an established field of study.
Let us assume, for illustrative purposes, that several scholars studying ethnic problems have
posted on their own Web Pages a set of concept records based on their own research interests,
and they have created idiosyncratic classification schemes to organize these concepts according to
their own interests and needs -- of course, they could borrow any existing scheme in case they
prefered not to design their own system. Each concept will be given a serial number so readers
can easily jump to its description. A cue card designed to index these records will contain a
logically ordered set of suggested terms, each linked by a serial number to a record in which the
new concept is described.
Since these will all be new (mint) concepts, no established terms will exist for any of them.
Consequently, the concept descriptions offered in their records cannot be viewed as definitions
that explain what a word means. When well established terms are available, they could be
plugged into a cue card just to show how a new concept relates to established ones -- and, to help
the user, a definition taken from a suitable dictionary or glossary might also be copied into a
record, with an appropriate citation -- e.g. to W3 if the source happens to be Webster's Third
International, or any specialized glossary for ethnic studies that happens to be available. The
difference between such term entries and concept records can easily be manifested by listing entry
words first on the former, and starting the latter with descriptive texts.
Let us now assume that a second author, S, is writing a paper on an ethnic problem and consults
the ETHNIC-L terminology (onomantic) page. It will be available globally to all scholars
associated with existing research committees and institutions. On that page S will discover that R
has established a site containing records for some new concepts related to "ethnic nationalism."
Imagining that S might find some of R's concepts relevant to h/er own work, s/he will take a
look. If one of these concepts is useful for S, s/he may use it in h/er paper and make the term
with a link to enable readers to jump to R's nomenclator to find the original concept description
and a context of use.
No doubt there could be a temptation for S simply to copy the concept description and pretend
that it is h/er original idea. I think we should resist such a temptation not just to preserve
academic integrity and resist plagiarism, but for more important reasons -- it will build interest and
confidence in the system while making its logic clear and enabling users to find other authors who
are using a new concept. Moreover, reciprocity can be expected --if S calls attention to new
concepts proposed by R, R is more likely to respond by inserting links to call the attention of h/er
readers to the related work done by S.
Moreover, the development of an onomantic system for a field of study will help innovative
scholars overcome a very troublesome problem. Because of the widespread resistance to
neologisms expressed by social scientists (natural scientists are far more willing to accept them)
virtually any suggested new term for a concept is viewed by our colleagues with great suspicion.
Consequently, there is a widespread tendency for innovative scholars to mask their innovations by
stipulating old words to represent new concepts. Although this disarms critics, it compounds
confusion because ambiguous words become even more ambiguous and communication in
specialized fields become even more muddy.
In order to avoid the legitimate criticisms that can be directed against writers who, pretentiously,
coin terms for concepts they think, incorrectly, that they have created, we need resources to help
us discover whether or not someone else has already invented a concept. Dictionaries and
glossaries typically offer no help because, although they can show what established words mean,
they cannot prove that no word exists for a concept they have described. To illustrate, when we
found in our INTERCOCTA project, that we need to help innovative scholars introduce new
concepts and terms, we could not be sure that it was really a new idea -- perhaps it had already
been proposed by someone else. If so, we should refer to their work and adopt whatever terms
for the concept they had suggested. Although we were unable to discover any such precedents,
we decided to coin a word, onomantics, and ask anyone who found this concept in earlier work to
let us know about it. Of course, we did find closely related terms, like "onomasiology" and
"onomastics," which provided the context in which to propose "onomantics." We also knew
"semantics" as a familiar antonym involving the investigation of the meanings of established
Most writers, I think, will gladly make use of a simple technique that can help them find the work
of others who have already written related studies and proposed new concepts. The cue cards
attached to each set of concept records should help them locate relevant concepts, something that
searching for the definitions of established words cannot do.
Of course, the procedure outlined above will not succeed for everyone -- many new concepts
have already been proposed and lost in a vast literature which no one person can expect to master.
However, colleagues working in the same field may well remember something that could be
helpful. This suggests a useful adjunct to the core project explained above. Suppose that S
cannot find any help in the concept records prepared by R (or anyone else) -- don't despair. The
existence of ETHNIC-L and several discussion lists linked by it will enable S to send an inquiry to
a host of persons sharing h/er interest in ethnic problems. S/he may ask for help from anyone who
has used a particular concept, offering a description of its essential characteristics. If a positive
response comes, this may lead to references that can document prior use of the same concept. If
no such response comes, it may be taken as evidence to support the novelty of a proposed new
Our ethnic lists may also be used in another way expand the resource base for our proposed
Terminology Page. Scholars on these lists can be invited to pay special attention to any claims or
offers involving new concepts that they encounter in their work. If they would report such claims
on a list, readers might respond by pointing to earlier uses of the same concept they can recall. If
the claim to novelty seems justified, the evidence could be entered into a claims page on the
WWW, or even attached to the onomantic page. Readers interested in any such claim could
contact the author and/or read the text, assimilating useful items to their own vocabulary and
provide some feed-back to strengthen the growing field. Anyone offering new concepts of their
own who see the utility of any claim could add it with a suitable reference to their own repertoire.
I'm confident additional techniques will emerge -- once a basic structure for designing and linking
onomantic glossaries attached to frontier research in a field that is growing. In the context of an
information network anchored in the World Wide Web and making use of a terminology page, we
should be able to expedite the growth of useful concepts and terms that will help us overcome the
essential parochialism of the existing social sciences and develop a global Social Science relevant
to the rapidly changing world in which we live.
A Launching Pad. As a starter,
I am prepared to establish a terminology file for ETHNICITY on my own Home
Page. Virtually all the social sciences have some scholars working on
problems related to ethnicity. If those who prepare any records for
new concepts needed in their work will establish their own home pages, the
addresses for these pages can be entered as links in my Terminology
(Onomantic) Page. As students of ethnicity use the Ethnic-L network,
they will find others who share their interests and have also proposed new
concepts. By comparing the records of these concepts, they will be
able to work toward consensus. Communication will be greatly improved
without, I think, any need for "standardization" or pressures toward
The same principles can, of course, be applied to any fields of specialization. Just as new research
committees of IPSA are created when enough members decide that a proposed theme is worth
cooperative scholarship, so networks for the development of new concepts and terms can also
evolve spontaneously by means of personal choices and research decisions of concerned
individuals and research centers. Moreover, the WWW provides means for persons working in
different disciplines to share concepts and enrich each other's work.
Just as ETHNIC-L can reach many groups sponsoring research in any social science discipline, so
other foci of multi-disciplinary research can use the same technique to contact each other,
exchange information and borrow concepts that can be helpful to them. This is especially
important because, unfortunately, although members of a single discipline, like political science,
often get to know each other and share information through journals and meetings, like the IPSA
Congress in Seoul, it is far more difficult to do this across disciplinary boundaries, even though a
single problem area attracts the interest of scholars working in different disciplines.
Suggestions, not a Blueprint.
This is not really a "blueprint" for developing onomantic networks as
components of the information systems that developing research fields
require. However, it offers some realistic suggestions about how we
may start. Practically speaking, virtually no funding is available
for work on onomantic problems, and I cannot visualize a product, like a
printed dictionary, that could be sold to produce whatever income might be
needed. Eventually, after the utility of onomantic work has been
demonstrated, we may be able to discover foundations willing to subsidize
this work, to employ scholars willing to become experts in it, and to help
promote education and training projects designed to extend its
utilization. Meanwhile, however, given the availability of the
INTERNET as a funded resource available to all computer-users, the kind of
project I have discussed above can be launched virtually without any
special financing. It simply requires an understanding by scholars
of the benefits they could win for themselves if they were willing to take
advantage of the Web and Listservs to launch linked onomantic networks
within their own fields of specialization.
Moreover, global associations like IPSA, could also help by naming liaison officers interested in
semantic and conceptual problems to join counterparts in other disciplines in studying and
promoting the onomantic approach. However, their efforts no longer need to be concentrated on
methodological problems -- we already know how to do onomantic work. We need to apply this
knowledge in various fields of specialization. The focus, therefore, should shift from
methodology to its applications. We might start with some of the interdisciplinary fields identified
by the ISSC and UNESCO, such as "poverty," "global change," and "urbanism" as well as the
overall study of the transformation and future of the social sciences. Actually, any field that has
attracted the interest of creative scholars could benefit from the creation of an onomantic resource
linked to its own global information network.
The knowledge required to launch such a project is also available through COCTA (the
Committee for Conceptual and Terminological Analysis) that was created at the Munich IPSA
Congress in 1970. The onomantic approach was developed under COCTA'S INTERCOCTA
project, under the aegis of the International Social Science Council, with UNESCO support.
Information about this approach can be found in several papers available though my own Home
Page, and from Matti Malkia at <home page>. I will also prepare concept records for the new
concepts introduced in this paper and make them available, for illustrative purpose, as an annex
that viewers of my Home Page can consult.
Because the ISSC is linked with all of the world's major disciplinary associations in the social
sciences, it provides the most appropriate umbrella for promoting and developing the kind of
onomantic information system and supporting activities I have recommended above. Under the
leadership of Matti Malkia, with the help of an international board appointed by the ISSC, I am
confident the time has come for us to join in a concerted effort to make the dream sketched out
above come true.
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