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A General Theory of Subject Headings


  • Documentation Research and Training Centre, Indian Statistical Institute, Bangalore 560 003, India


The work of deriving subject headings and the work of classifying have their Common foundation in the classification of the universe of subjects. Classification is always purpose oriented. As a process, it essentially consists of recognising "Groups" to suit the purpose in hand. When the groups are made to relate hierarchically, it is a product of "Organising Classification". Organising claSSification establishes "Coordinate - Superordinate - Subordinate - Collateral Relationships" (COSSCO-relationships) among subjects. Non-hierarchical groups are the product of "Associative Classification". Organising classification is based on the recognition of structures of subjects, wherever warranted, in two dimensions - the dimension of denotation, and the dimension of elementary constituents. The former may be referred to as "SemantiC Structure", and the latter as "Elementary Structure". A co-extensive name-of-subject in a natural language is not readily suggestive of its COSSCO-relationships. According to a coherent set of postulates relating to the elementary structures of names-of-subject, it can be translated into an "Artificial Verbal language" to make it readily suggestive of its COSSCO-relationships. The recognition of the elementary structure of a name-of-subject consists of recogniSing the elementary constituents - the "Base" and the "Complements". A coextensive name-of-subject in an artificial verbal language augmented by introducing the superordinates of the base and of the complements is a "Modulated Name-of-Subject". It is the horizontal version of a "Chain" resulting out of organiZing classification. A modulated name-of-subject can be further translated into an artificial language of ordinal numbers called "Notational Language" to mechanise the determination of COSSCO-relationships. At each stage, it is a name-of-subject. When it is used or intended to be used as a search-name, it becomes a "Subject Heading". The form of a modulated name of subject is readily amenable to transformation for creating groups of associative classification. Thus, the results of organising classification can serve as the source of deriving mechanically the associative classification; while the opposite process can never be reduced into a mechanical job. results of In serving the whole purpose of subject headings, organising classification and associative classification are complementary to each other.

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