Semantic tool

A semantic tool is a tool that provides semantic information, that is, information about the meaning of words and other symbols as well as relations between symbols and concepts (semantic relations).


Dictionaries, online thesauri, ontologies and classifications may be considered examples of semantic tools, i.e. tools that help searchers find synonyms, disambiguate word senses, find broader or narrower terms, or, generally, identify different semantic relations.


What all semantic tools have in common are 1) that they display in one way or another a set of symbols and concepts 2) that they provide information about semantic relations between the concepts displayed. Thesauri are typical semantic tools. In the first published thesaurus wrote Rodget (1852) in the introduction that the thesaurus was a classification of concepts: "the words and phrases of the language are here classed . . . strictly according to their signification". Concepts, then, are the units that are organized, and the way they are organized is according to their meanings, i.e., their semantic relations to other terms.


What distinguish semantic tools are 1) the kind of symbols and concepts selected 2) the information provided about each concept, in particular its semantic relations to other terms and concepts).


An unconventional kind of semantic tool is a bibliometric map (See, for example: Åström, 2002: MAP_LIS.PDF). (Whether or not the relations between terms on such a bibliometric map actually represents semantic relation may depend on how "semantics" is being defined. Hjørland, 2007, provides arguments for such a broad understanding of semantics. Words and meanings are both defined in relation to intellectual organization of knowledge and to social organization of knowledge.


According to Eco (1984) there is no well-defined border between dictionaries and encyclopedias. The meaning of words cannot be defined in isolation from knowledge about the status of the subject field, to which they belong. The implication may be that there is no clear border between semantic tools and other kinds of knowledge resources.


Kinds of semantic tools include:




Eco, U. (1984). Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.


Garshol, L M (2004) Metadata? Thesauri? Taxonomies? Topic maps! Making sense of it all. Journal of Information Science, 30 (4). 378-391. Available online at:


Rodget, P. M. (1852). A thesaurus of English Words and Phrases. London: Longman.


Åström, F (2002) Visualizing Library and Information Science concept spaces through keyword and citation based maps and clusters. In: Bruce, Fidel, Ingwersen & Vakkari (Eds). Emerging frameworks and methods: Proceedings of the fourth international conference on conceptions of Library and Information Science (CoLIS4), pp 185-197. Greenwood Village: Libraries unlimited. Two figures: Bibliometric_MAP_LIS.PDF; Bibliometric_LIS_2.PDF



See also: Begriffsgeschichte; Concept in Knowledge Organization; Knowledge organization systems; Semantic relations; Tool (Core Concepts in LIS).



Birger Hjørland

Last edited: 26-02-2007