Switching language

A switching language is a set of intermediary terms that serve as a mechanism for moving between vocabularies. Synonyms and related concepts are:

Maniez (1997) sketches a critical view of the concept of switching language. He finds that compatibility is the paradise lost of information scientists, the dream of a universal communication between information languages. Paradoxically the information languages increase the difficulties of  cooperation between the different information databases. This noxious side-effect has become flagrant for the latest decade since the shared cataloguing and the telecharging facilities have increased the exchanges. After defining the notion of information compatibility, Maniez shows that it meets the same care of semantic coherence as the information languages themselves. Then, relying on the lessons of linguistics and automatic translating, he describes two types of solutions: the harmonization of several information languages (an uneasy and costly processing); and the automatic harmonization of the indexing formulas through prefabricated concordance tables, an easier solution which can however be hampered by structural discrepancies.  


Chamis (1988) considers the value of switching languages for identifying the appropriate search terms of various vocabularies and the use of this information to determine the appropriate on-line search terms for the data bases to be used. Describes the use of an experimental switching language, the Vocabulary Switching System (VSS), and a thesaural relationship model developed to measure the degree of compatibility and switching capability of thesauri and vocabularies. The Compatibility and Switching Values (CSV) were measured for 6 vocabularies and the results tabulated. The user question used for the tests was for information on windmills, windpower utilisation and windpowered generators.

Niehoff & Mack (1985) presents the Vocabulary Switching System (VSS) as an ex­perimental system designed to enhance search strategies and ultimately retrieval performance for those who use on-line bibliographic data bases. It contains 15 indexing and retrieval vocabularies from 12 different suppliers. It is a stand-alone, on-line, data base containing the subject descriptors and all the syndetic relationships found in the 15 vocabularies. Its major fields (modules) are: Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, Social Sciences and Business Module. The overview of VSS shows its structure and explains its types of files. The several types of evaluations conducted with VSS are as follows: Evaluation of switching strategies and modules; Formal evaluation involving end users, intermediaries, VSS and publicly available data bases; Informal evaluation involving information brokers, librarians, information science and library school graduate students, and data base vendor staff. The results of these evaluation are summarized

Niehoff (1980): The Vocabulary Switching System (VSS) described addresses the problem of heterogeneous data base vocabularies and indexes, and how these differences can be neutralized to facilitate multi-base switching. VSS is an experimental, on-line, automated subject switching system, producing semantic, syntactic, and generic relatives to search terms supplied by the user. The performan­ce of numerous experimental stacks was evaluated with the aid of coverage, precision, and speed. Several stacks showed promise for becoming an optimal switching strategy, that is, a strategy with the combined qualities of high precision and broad coverage. Results from term level analyses suggest that an optimal strategy could contain word and stem options, but the placement of these options within an overall strategy is critical. Initial attempts to evaluate VSS via an actual retrieval experiment were encouraging but inconclusive. Retrieval results indicate that no single data base is an authoritative source for information sought, and significantly higher recall is possible when multi-base searching is employed

Vilenskaya (1977): A literature survey based on papers presented at FID's 3rd Inter­national Study Conference on Classification Research, Bombay, Jan 75, plus related papers. The author concludes that: (1) the development of a unique common information language is not feasible because of the wide variety of uses to which it would be put; (2) translating from one indexing language into another (or first into an intermediate language) may result in the loss of too much information; (3) the only practical solution for today is a switching language operating at a 'crude' level. This is seen as an apparatus with whose help it would be simple to re-address an enquiry from one information center to another by converting the enquiry from natural language or from the terms of the enquirer's indexing language into the broad terms of the switching language.

Faucompre; Quoniam & Dou (1997) write about International Patent Classification catchwords as a switching language. A previous feasibility study had shown the possibilities of a full automatic correspondence and its inadequacies. The paper present the most important modifications, in particular the consideration of multilingual indexes which allow to link several indexation fields with one of the most complete representation of patent classification. The major evolution of the project affects the correspondence mechanism which now generates a global reindexation of bibliographic reference with classification codes. Also the concept of correspondence itself is discussed.




Beling, G. & Wersig, G. (1977). The new concept of an intermediary language system for information networks. Pp. 117-121 IN: Eurim II: a European conference on the application of research in information services and libraries; presented by Aslib... 23-25 March 1976, RAI International Congrescentrum, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Edited by W. E. Batten. London, Aslib.

Chamis, A. Y. (1988). Selection of online databases using switching vocabularies. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 39(3), 217-218.

Chamis, A. Y. (1985). The usefulness of switching vocabularies for online databases. IN: ASIS '85. Proceedings of the 48th ASIS Annual Meeting 1985. Volume 22. Las Vegas, Nevada, 20-24 October 1985, 311-314. Edited by Carol A. Parkhurst, White Plains, New York, Knowledge Industry Publications Inc. for the American Society for Information Science.

Chaplan, M. A. (1995). Mapping Laborline-thesaurus terms to Library of Congress Subject Headings: Implications for vocabulary switching. Library Quarterly, 65(1), 39-61. 

Coates, E. J. (1970). Switching languages for indexing. Journal of Documentation, 26(2), 102-110.


DeHart, F. E. (1982). Topic relevance and BSO switching effectiveness. International Classification, 9(2), 71-76.


Faucompre, P.; Quoniam, L. & Dou, H. (1997). An effective link between science and technology. Scientometrics, 40(3), 465-480.

Foskett, A. C. (1972). Conclusions [Standard Reference Code]. Aslib Proceedings, 24(10), 592-594.

Gilchrist, A. (1972).  Intermediate languages for switching and control. Aslib Proceedings, 24(7), 387-399.

Hisatsune, K. (1983). Authority control-beyond global switching of headings. Technical Services Quarterly, 1(1/2), 121-127.

Horsnell, V. (1977). Evaluation and implementation of an intermediate lexicon. IN: Eurim II: a European conference on the application of research in information services and libraries; presented by Aslib... 23-25 March 1976, RAI International Congrescentrum, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 110-112.  Edited by W. E. Batten. London, Aslib.

Horsnell, V. (1975). The Intermediate Lexicon: an aid to international cooperation. Aslib Proceedings, 27(2), 57-66.

Horsnell, V. (1974). Intermediate Lexicon for information science; a feasibility study: final report. London: Polytechnic of North London, School of Librarianship.

Informationsordbogen. Ordbog for informationshåndtering, bog og bibliotek. 2. udg. Udarbejdet af J. B. Friis-Hansen, Torben Høst, Poul Steen Larsen & Henning Spang-Hanssen. [Hellerup]: Dansk Stardiseringsråd, 1991. (DS/INF 27).

Iyer, H., Giguere, M. (1995), "Towards designing an expert system to map mathematics classificatory structures", Knowledge Organization, Vol. 22 pp.141-147.


Kochen, M. (1971). Switching centres for inquiry referral. Proceedings of the conference on inter­library communications and information networks, edited by Joseph Becker. Chicago, American Library Association, 132-139.

Lloyd, G. A. (1972). Introduction to the FID's SRC [Standard Reference Code] project. FID News Bulletin, 22(9), 104-105.

Lloyd, G. A. (1972). FID's Standard Reference Code project and UDC improvement programme. Aslib Proceedings, 24(10), 580-587.

Lloyd, G. A. (1972). The Universal Decimal Classification as an international switching language. IN: Subject retrieval in the seventies: proceedings of an international symposium, University of Maryland, May 14-15 , 1971, edited by H. Wellisch and T. D. Wilson. Westport (Conn.): Green­wood Publishing Co. and University of Maryland School of Library and Information Services, 116-123.


Maniez, J. (1997). Database merging and the compatibility of indexing languages. Knowledge Organization, 24(4), 213-224.

Newcombe, D. (1972). SRC [Standard Reference Code]: unverified assumptions. Aslib Proceedings, 24(10), 587-590.

Niehoff, R. & Mack, G. (1985). The Vocabulary Switching System. Description of evaluation studies. International Classification, 12(1), 2-6, 16.

Niehoff, R. (1980). The optimization and use of automated subject switching for better retrieval. IN: Communicating information: proceedings of the 43rd ASIS Annual Meeting, 1980, volume 17, Anaheim, California, October 5-10, 1980, 397-400. Edited by A. R. Benenfeld and E. J. Kazlauskas, New York, Knowledge Industry Publications, Inc.

Niehoff, R. T. & Kwasny, S. (1979). The role of automated subject switching in a distributed information network. On-Line Review, 3(2), 1979, 181-194.

Niehoff, R.; Kwasny, S. & Wessells, M.  (1979). Overcoming the database vocabulary barrier - a solution. Online, 3(4), pp. 43, 45-47, 49-54.

Niehoff, R. T. (1976). Development of an integrated energy vocabulary and the possibilities for on-line subject switching. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 27(1), 3-17.

Niehoff, R. T. & Kwasny, S. (1978). The role of automated subject switching in a distributed information network. IN: 2nd International Online Information Meeting London 5-7 December 1978, 257-269. (Paper K29). Oxford and New York, Learned Information.

Rybatchenkov, V. (1974). Development of a Broad System of Ordering for UNISIST purposes. International Classification, 1(1), 20-21.

Samuelson, K. (1971). Coordination of diversified data-bases and information networks through multi­classificatory concept notation in relay-switches and referral-directories. IN:
Proceedings of Second Seminar on UDC and Mechanized Information Systems, Frankfurt, 1st-5th June 1970, conducted by Robert R. Freeman; edited by R. Mogaard-Hansen and Margit Westring-Nielsen, Copenhagen, Danish Centre for Documentation, 213-223.

Silvester, J. P. & Klingbiel, P. H. (1993). An Operational System for Subject Switching Between Controlled Vocabularies. Information Processing & Management, 29(1), 47-59.

Silvester, J. P.; Newton, R. & Klingbiel, P. H. (1984). An Operational System for Subject Switching Between Controlled Vocabularies: A Computational Linguistics Approach. Washington, DC: National Aeronautics and Space Administration [NASA]. (NTIS No. N85-11903).

Husain, S. S.  (1981). An indexing system: switching language for integrating automated information networks. Ann Arbor, Michigan, University Microfilms International. Dissertation Abstracts International Part A: Humanities and Social Sciences, vol. 41, no. 11, 228 pp, 1981

van der Laan, A.& de Wijn, J. H. (1974). UDC revision and SRC project: relations and feedback. Unesco Bulletin for Libraries, 28(1), 2-9.

Vickery, B. & McIlwaine, I. C. (1979). Structuring and switching: a discussion of the Broad System of Ordering. International Forum for Information and Documentation, 4(3), 13-15.

Vilenskaya, S. K. (1980). On the compatibility of different information retrieval languages within the integrated information system. IN: New trends in documentation and information: proceedings of the 39th FID Congress, University of Edinburgh, 25-28 September 1978, 315-325. Edited by Peter J. Taylor. London: Aslib.



See also: Compatibility; Interoperability among knowledge organization systems; Univocity






Birger Hjørland

Last edited: 27-04-2009




to be edited:


Dublin core as a switching language

Et "switching languages" er et klassifikationssystem (eller deskriptor­system), der skal muliggøre sammenkobling eller kommunikation imellem forskellige informations­systemer.

Begrebet har i en periode været ret benyttet i den informationsfaglige litteratur, jfr. nedenfor. Det er også omtalt i Informationsordbogen 2. udg, 1991, side 85 med figur side 86. Herudfra kan man let bibringes den forestilling, at "switching languages" såvel i teori som i praksis muliggør en sammenkobling mellem forskellige systemer, således at disse kan søges under eet.

En teoretisk forudsætning herfor må imidlertid være, at de klasser eller begreber, der skal kobles sammen enten er identiske eller ægte delmængder (således at een klasse er en del af en anden klasse). Når klasser - som det oftest er tilfældet i det virkelige liv - overlapper delvist med andre klasser (og begreber med andre begreber) så kan man ikke "switche" uden tab af information: klasserne bliver mere upræcist definerede. Dette gælder også grove klasser på højt niveau. En gentagen "switchning" vil til slut gøre klasserne så upræcise, at man er lige så godt stillet uden klassi­fikation. Teorien om "switching language" bygger således på en positivistisk/­rationalistisk tro på klassers objektivitet og uafhængighed af de forskellige systemers kon­tekster. Der er da heller ikke nogen, der for alvor f.eks. har forestillet sig en sammenkobling mellem forskellige danske bibliotekers klassifikationer, databaserne i Dialog eller lignende.