An overview of concept relationships and why they are important in Terminology –PART 2

In my previous post, I talked about hierarchical relationships, generic and partitive, which are the most easily identifiable relationships when we are structuring units of knowledge in a specialized field. But there is a type of relationship that is a bit harder to pinpoint: Nonhierarchical (associative) relationships.

ISO 1087-1: 2000 classifies relationships into two groups: hierarchical and associative. The hierarchical, as I said, include generic and partitive; associative (or nonhierarchical) include sequential, causal, and temporal relationships. However, for the sake of brevity, I will not refer to each one of these, but rather to associative relationships in general (please refer to Sources 1 and 6 for more details).

From a psychological perspective, association takes place when a person mentally associates A with B. In terminology work and other controlled vocabularies they are usually registered under “related terms”, “see also”, “see related”, or “other”. In the paper “Semantic Relationships used in Controlled Vocabularies”, Marzia Zeng points out that associative relationships are difficult to define, indeed, I have found that some of the definitions on the Internet might be confusing and even subject to debate.

Even so, if the relationship is not equivalent nor hierarchical it is probably associative, as explained by Bean and Green in their book “Relationships in the Organization of Knowledge” (see Source 1 below). So let’s not get too technical with definitions and go on to these easy examples that the Pavel Tutorial provides which, as you can see, include examples of synonymy and antonymy, common in this type of relationship:

  • producer-product: bake – bread
  • action-result: presidential election – president elect
  • action-tool: hammering – hammer
  • container-contents: bottle – fruit juice
  • cause-effect: humidity – mould
  • opposites: winner – loser

Much better, right? For more examples, see the link below to Zeng’s publication. Associative relationships can be represented by double-headed arrows (arrow diagram), as illustrated by A. Großjean:


I have mentioned the most common relationships, but there is a third type called Equivalence Relationship (when synonymous or identical terms or names are used for the same concept). Equivalence relationships usually happen when we are dealing with multiple languages, multiple spellings, and modern and historical usage.

Take, for example, the following list of terms that refer to the same concept but have different forms: Harlem Renaissance, Negro Renaissance, New Negro Movement, Renaissance de Harlem, Renaissance-Harlem. All of these are synonyms or lexical variants. In a termbase, there is always a preferred term that is picked and the others are recorded as synonyms. Sometimes they are represented by synonym ring diagrams such as this:


Maybe a good way to wrap up this series of blog posts is by sharing the image designed by J. Paul Getty that illustrates all the relationships mentioned so far. (Note: Rhyta: a type of drinking vessel used in ancient Greece, typically having the form of an animal’s head or a horn, with the hole for drinking at the bottom.)


Tomorrow I will finish this series of posts talking about the importance of concept relationships in Terminology.

Sources and further reading:

  1. A. Bean and R. Green “Relationships in the Organization of Knowledge”.
  2. C. Bean, A Role for Controlled Vocabularies in Developing Structures for Sharing Medical Knowledge
  3. Getty, Paul “Relationships in Controlled Vocabularies
  4. GroBjean, Ariane. Corporate Terminology Management. An approach in theory and practice.
  5. Harpring, Patricia Developing authority files for art information: CCO, CDWA, and the CONA model
  6. Lei Zeng, Marcia. Semantic Relationships used in Controlled Vocabularies. Associative Relationships
  7. Nuopponen, Anita.Tangled Web of Concept Relations. Concept relations for ISO 1087-1 and ISO 704
  8. The Pavel Tutorial on concept relationships.

One Comment on “An overview of concept relationships and why they are important in Terminology –PART 2

  1. Maybe if people learnt Arabic or studied the concept picked up by ‘Haut français’ (High French) then they would understand about logical derivations based on the root.

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