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Subject languages part 2:. Structure. Structure of subject languages. Alphabetical representation and classified representation. Synthetic structure and enumerative structure. Parallel hierarchies and facets. Examples of alphabetic representation. Architecture Art Biology Chemistry

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structure of subject languages
Structure of subject languages
  • Alphabetical representation and classified representation.
  • Synthetic structure and enumerative structure.
  • Parallel hierarchies and facets.
examples of alphabetic representation
Examples of alphabetic representation






Fine arts

Life sciences


BT Fine arts

NT Landscape architecture


BT Life sciences

NT Evolutionary biology, molecular biology

example of classified representation
Example of classified representation

Arts and sciences

Fine arts

Visual art


Landscape architecture



Life sciences


  • New York Times information architecture
examples of synthetic structure
Examples of synthetic structure

In Ranganathan’s Colon Classification, subjects are constructed by arranging concepts from the facets Personality, Matter, Energy, Space, and Time (PMEST).

In the Dewey Decimal Classification, geographic information is appended to a class name by means of standard tables. An example from the Dewey blog:

368.85400973 Bank deposit insurance—United States

The number is built with 368.854 plus 0 (extra 0 for standard subdivisions as instructed in the add table under 368.1–368.8 Specific kinds of insurance) plus T1—09 Geographic treatment plus T2—73 United States.

example of enumerative structure
Example of enumerative structure

Warburg Institute classification: Image hierarchy main classes

Primitive Art, Oriental Art, Classical Archaeology, Classical Topography, Classical Iconography, Numismatics, Greek Art, Roman Art, History of Art, Sources of the History of Art, Art Interpretation, Aesthetics, Topography, Iconography, Survival Of Ancient Art, Early Christian & Byzantine Art, Illuminated Manuscripts, Italian Art, Spanish Art, French Art, Flemish & Dutch Art, British Art, German Art, Scandinavian Art, Applied Arts, Art Collecting, 19th & 20th Century Art

examples of parallel hierarchies
Examples of parallel hierarchies

From the Eurovoc thesaurus, used to describe EU government documents:


0406 political framework

0411 political party

0416 electoral procedure and voting

0421 parliament

0426 parliamentary proceedings

0431 politics and public safety

0436 executive power and public service


0806 international affairs

0811 cooperation policy

0816 international balance

0821 defence


1006 Community institutions and European civil service

1011 European Union law

1016 European construction

1021 Community finance

examples of facets
Examples of facets

In the Bliss Bibliographic Classification (BBC v.2), the Human Biology and Medicine field is organized into the following facets:

  • Types of persons
  • Parts and systems of the person
  • Processes in the person
  • Actions on the person
  • Agents of actions

A document whose subject is nursing for children with cancer would be described as:

(Type of person) Paediatrics - (Processes) - Pathological - Cancer - (Actions on) Nursing

Example from Bliss Classification Association:

internal structure of subject languages
Internal structure of subject languages
  • Hierarchical relationships.
  • Equivalence relationships.
  • Associative relationships.
scope of hierarchical relationships
Scope of hierarchical relationships

Universal hierarchies (mammal -> dog). Always true!

Perspective hierarchies (pet -> dog, or work animal -> dog, or food -> dog). Only true under a certain point of view or certain conditions.

Can a subject language ever attain universality?

types of hierarchical relationships
Types of hierarchical relationships


Follow the all-some rule—X is a type of Y if all X’s are Y’s but only some Y’s are X’s: all dogs are mammals but not all mammals are dogs. All the sibling concepts should follow the same principle of division and be mutually exclusive, or multiple principles of division should be elucidated through the structure.


Often treated as associative relationships in subject languages. A few exceptions:

  • Systems and organs of the body
  • Geographical locations
  • Disciplines and subdisciplines
  • Hierarchical social structures


Not types but instances: they involve proper names (Seas: Baltic Sea, Mediterranean Sea). Not part of your subject language!

examples of genus species relationships
Examples of genus-species relationships

Single principle of division

Programming languages

Declarative languages

Functional languages

Imperative languages

Object-oriented languages

Procedural languages

  • Multiple principles of division
  • People
  • (by family role)
  • mothers
  • fathers
  • children
  • (by occupation)
  • opera singers
  • information professionals
  • mushroom hunters
a negative example
A negative example

Unclear principles of division



Renaissance paintings

Oil paintings

Cave paintings

Impressionist paintings



  • These concepts do indeed describe types of paintings, but they represent multiple perspectives on painting.
  • Mixing principles of division like this makes the structure difficult to understand and browse. (If we did need to place an item in one location, it would be impossible, as well.)
a better example
A better example


paintings by representational focus



paintings by style

Renaissance paintings

Impressionist paintings

paintings by materials used

Oil paintings

paintings by means of support

Cave paintings


These might be separate facets for a classification of paintings:

Representational focus



Means of support


According to Kwasnik, a tree is a looser form that shows a consistent principle of organization, but does not have the strict rules of inheritance and so forth that hierarchies have.





examples of subject languages
Examples of subject languages
  • Warburg Institute classification.
  • Alcohol and Other Drugs thesaurus.
assignment components
Assignment components


Classified representation.

Alphabetical representation.

Reflective essay.

example garden decor
Example: Garden decor

An excerpt of a classified structure for an “expressive gardening” classification that includes “garden decor” as a concept:

Principles of garden expression



Means of garden expression

plant selection

garden design

garden decor

example garden decor1
Example: Garden decor

An excerpt of an alphabetical structure for an “expressive gardening” classification that includes “garden decor” as a concept:

garden decor

broader term: means of garden expression

definition: non-plant materials that add visual interest and, potentially, functionality(such as a place to sit) to the garden space. Benches, garden sculpture, and windchimes are all elements of garden decor.

scope note:Documents that describe elements of garden decor, advise on their purchase, and explain their use should all be indexed with this term. Documents that describe the principles by which decor is selected and placed should be indexed under the principle. Non-plant materials that are used to facilitate plant growth or structure (such as arbors) are considered plant support, not decor.

your mission
Your mission
  • Decide on a subject.
  • Then begin doing research to define the subject.
  • When conducting research, begin compiling a list of potential concepts to include in your classification.