Extending Vocabularies: The Rack and the Weeds
Social Context and Technical Consequence
In its simplest form a vocabulary is simply a set of words and phrases with predefined meanings. In this paper the term is used to mean a controlled vocabulary and, in particular, a controlled vocabulary in the context of computer markup languages such as XML or JSON or SGML.
Vocabularies are created in specific contexts and for specific purposes. Like all human constructs they are flawed and need to be repaired and changed over time; as people use vocabularies they also gain understanding of the limitations in them and often want to extend them. Understanding these processes involves an understanding of the human needs involved: the social contexts in which people interact with and around the vocabularies. This paper characterizes some of these contexts and their properties, and in the light of this characterization describes changes to vocabularies, both successful and unsuccessful.