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Re: [ontolog-forum] Terminologies and Ontologies

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 27 Apr 2011 15:43:30 -0400
Message-id: <4DB871E2.90706@xxxxxxxxxxx>
On 4/27/2011 11:14 AM, Doug Skuce wrote:
> this use of "thing" would cover, say, the formal definition of a group
> in math. But I would not call a group an ontology.  But a group HAS
> an ontology.    (01)

I did not claim to be stating definitions.  I said I was making some
*observations* about terminologies and ontologies.  And I explicitly
said that my list of observations was no exhaustive.    (02)

If you want a definition, following is my recommended definition
of 'an ontology':  a theory about what exists in some domain.    (03)

According to this definition, a set of formal axioms and definitions
for group theory would indeed specify an ontology of groups.    (04)

> This suggestion also implies there is no such thing as an informal ontology.
> But most so-called ontologies to date have been precisely that.    (05)

One could have an inchoate theory that has not yet been fully
specified.  But until at least part of it has been stated in some
formalism (including a programming language), you can't implement it.    (06)

> If you use the term `formal ontology` and the term `ontology` then
> either these are synonyms or there exists 'informal ontology'...
> Which do you intend?    (07)

I would say that most so-called informal ontologies are actually
terminologies.  What I would call an informal ontology would be
an incompletely specified theory about some domain -- but such
a theory might not look like a typical terminology.    (08)

> So you try to use logic, but when you are stuck you use NL.    (09)

You can define the terms of a terminology using either NLs
or some version of logic.  But a terminology is not an ontology
unless it constitutes a theory about what exists in some domain.    (010)

> 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.    (011)

> Why does everyone call them an ontology?    (012)

Roget called his book a *thesaurus*, and George Miller called
his a "lexical database".  The WordNet web site does not use the
word 'ontology'.  See    (013)

    http://wordnet.princeton.edu/    (014)

Their definition:  "WordNet® is a large lexical database of English,
developed under the direction of George A. Miller (Emeritus). Nouns,
verbs, adjectives and adverbs are grouped into sets of cognitive
synonyms (synsets), each expressing a distinct concept. Synsets are
interlinked by means of conceptual-semantic and lexical relations."    (015)

Note that the synsets of WordNet express concepts.  There is no
claim that those concepts imply the existence of anything or that
the relations among concepts constitute a theory about anything.    (016)

> 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...    (017)

> Yes, but what is your point?  What is to be done with them?
> Cant just ignore a large chunk of language.    (018)

I didn't say we should ignore them.  Such terms can make up
a very useful terminology.  But they aren't part of an ontology
until you develop some theory about what they might denote.    (019)

> You are suggesting 'terminology' = 'informal ontology'.    (020)

No.  I am saying that a terminology is a list of terms, and
an ontology is a theory about what exists in some domain.    (021)

In fact, there are more useful terminologies in the world than
there are useful ontologies.  WordNet, for example, is far more
useful for NLP than any formal ontology every written.  But that
doesn't make it an ontology.    (022)

> We should get this clear, because this conflation of terms
> is at the root of the problem.    (023)

On that point, we are in total agreement.    (024)

> But a formal ontology HAS a vocabulary too.    (025)

The focus of a terminology is on the terms, and the focus
of an ontology is on whatever exists in the domain.  The same
ontology might be associated with different terminologies in
different languages, or even different terminologies in the
same language.  But it might use abstract symbols instead of
words for the categories of entities in the domain.    (026)

John    (027)

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