Semantics and Knowledge Organization (KO)

Given that knowledge organization systems (KOS) essentially are semantic tools should different approaches to KO reflect different approaches to semantics. A brief outline of this relationship from Hjørland (2007) is:


Traditional approaches to KO introduced the principle of literary warrant and thus based the semantic relations in the scientific and scholarly literature. This was (and is) often done on positivist premises: The scientific literature is seen as representing facts about knowledge and structures in knowledge and that subject specialists are able to make true and objective representations of in KO (thus tending to neglect conflicting evidence and theories). 


The facet-analytic approach tends to base KO more on a priory semantic relations. Its methodology is more based on the application of (logical) principles than on the study of evidence in literatures (although this is also to some degrees visible in the tradition).


The Information retrieval tradition sees the semantic relations as statistical relations between signs and documents. It is atomist in the sense that it does not consider how traditions, theories and discourse communities have formed the statistical patterns it observes.


User-oriented and cognitive views in KO tend to replace literary warrant with empirical user studies and thus to base semantic relations on users rather than on the scientific literature.


The bibliometric approach to KO considers documents to be semantically related if they cite each other, are being co-cited or bibliographic coupled. Again are the semantic relations based on some kind of literary warrant, but in a quite different way compared to the traditional approach.


The domain analytic approach is rather traditional in its identification of semantic relations based on literary warrant. It is not positivist, however. It regards semantic relations as determined by theories and epistemologies, which more or less influence all fields of knowledge. Many recent approaches to KO, including semiotic and hermeneutic approaches may be regarded as related to the domain-analytic approach.





Hjørland, B. (2007). Semantics and Knowledge Organization. Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, vol. 41, 367-405.








Birger Hjørland

Last edited: 06-11-2006