Svenonius – Chapter 8: Subject Languages

I am writing a brief entry on this chapter.  I have no doubt that Elaine Svenonius is a brilliant professor of Library Information Science.  I am also certain that for many, her book, The Intellectual Foundation of Information Organization, is must reading.  Thus, it saddens me that I found the language, the writing, the style, to be filled with so many layers of opacity that the book screams, “Go away – unless you are already an experienced librarian.”

Here is an example of one sentence from our reading under the heading of Library Warrant – Page 135:

“Library warrant, a concept introduced by Wyndham Hulme in 1911, has the status of a  principle.  A subprinciple of the principle of representation, it enjoins that the vocabulary of a subject language be empirically derived from the literature it is intended to describe.”

Sure it does.  If that sentence had been written in Swahili I would have had an easier time getting to its intended meaning.  After making my way through the 7,000 words in this chapter, I hopped over to Google Scholar, found a summary, and called it a day.

Here’s part of the summary that describes what is going on in this chapter:

“The primary organizing device is description using bibliographic languages which can be analyzed in terms of vocabulary, semantics, syntax and pragmatics (terms, meanings,  combination of terms, and language application rules).”

Twenty-eight words and I came away with greater clarity than from the 7,000.  (Thankfully, there is one perfectly clear statement at the beginning of the chapter:  “A subject language is used to depict what a document is about.”)



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