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[ontolog-forum] Terminologies and Ontologies

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 27 Apr 2011 08:47:32 -0400
Message-id: <4DB81064.5040704@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Folks,    (01)

I'm starting a new thread because this subject cuts across numerous
threads, debates, disagreements, and confusions on this list.    (02)

We have all agreed that the words and phrases of natural languages
are related to the formal definitions of an ontology.  But many of
the disagreements arise from confusing one with the other.  I'll
start with some observations (not exhaustive, but enough to start):    (03)

  1. Whenever anybody talks about a formal definition in some version
     of logic, the thing we're discussing is a formal ontology.    (04)

  2. But whenever anyone says that a formal definition in logic is
     not required, we're talking about a terminology.    (05)

  3. But sometimes, there are confusions about what kind of definition
     is appropriate.  Many things that look formal should actually be
     called terminologies, and some terminologies can become formal
     ontologies with minor additions -- for example, the terminology
     for chemical compounds.    (06)

  4. Things like WordNet and Roget's Thesaurus group words together
     in "synsets" or clusters of closely related terms.  But the
     only definitions occur in the "glosses" or comments, which are
     stated only in natural language.  They are terminologies, not
     ontologies.    (07)

  5. Many terminologies about natural phenomena depend on cutting up
     a continuous range of variation into a discrete set of categories.
     Examples:  river, stream, creek, brook, rivulet; tree, bush,
     sapling; puddle, pond, lake, sea; ...  Such terms cannot have
     precise boundaries.    (08)

  6. Other terms depend on culture and technology, which are always
     developing, mixing, and merging.  Not so long ago, there was a
     sharp distinction between a computer, a telephone, a television,
     a typewriter, and a book.  Today, the categories are blurred
     and likely to swallow up other formerly disjoint categories.    (09)

  7. Finally, even when we have a formal ontology with detailed
     axioms and definitions, the formal definitions will have
     associated terms in natural languages -- examples include
     the formal definitions in mathematics, science, and
     engineering -- even some businesses, such as banking.    (010)

Much of the talk about interoperability can be confused by any
or all of the above issues.  Some of the issues, such as the
APIs or the shape of a plug, require precise definitions.
But many of them depend on terminologies for which very loose
definitions are sufficient.    (011)

It's also important to note that some differences, such as APIs
and plugs, can become interoperable by inserting an adapter, but
others can't.    (012)

Suggestion:  Whenever disagreements arise, ask whether the cause
of the disagreement is a confusion between a terminology or a
formal ontology.    (013)

John Sowa    (014)

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