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Stretching Conceptual Structures in Classifications Across Languages and Cultures

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Stretching Conceptual Structures in Classifications Across Languages and Cultures
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  Stretching Conceptual Structuresin ClassificationsAcross Languages and Cultures Barbara H. Kwa  nik Victoria L. Rubin SUMMARY. Theauthorsdescribethedifficultiesoftranslatingclassifica-tionsfromasourcelanguageandculturetoanotherlanguageandculture.Todemonstratetheseproblems,kinshiptermsandconceptsfromnativespeak-ers of fourteen languages were collected and analyzed to find differencesbetweentheirtermsandstructuresandthoseusedinEnglish.Usingtherep-resentationsofkinshiptermsinthe  LibraryofCongressClassification (LCC)andthe  DeweyDecimalClassification (DDC) as examples, the authors iden-tifiedthesourceofpossiblelackofmappingbetweenthedomainofkinshipinthefourteenlanguagesstudiedandtheLCCandDDC.Finally,somepre-liminary suggestions for how to make translated classifications more lin-guistically and culturally hospitable are offered.  [Article copies available for a fee from The Haworth Document Delivery Service: 1-800-HAWORTH. E-mail ad-dress:<docdelivery@haworthpress.com>Website:<http://www.HaworthPress.com>©2003byTheHaworthPress,Inc.Allrightsreserved.] Barbara H. Kwa  nik, PhD, is Associate Professor, School of Information Studies,SyracuseUniversity,Syracuse,NY13244USA(E-mail:bkwasnik@syr.edu).VictoriaL. Rubin is a Doctoral Student in Information Transfer, School of Information Studies,Syracuse University, and Research Analyst, Center for Natural Language Processing,Syracuse University, 4-206 Center for Science and Technology, Syracuse, NY 13244USA (E-mail: vlrubin@mailbox.syr.edu). [Haworth co-indexing entry note]: “Stretching Conceptual Structures in Classifications Across Lan-guages and Cultures.” Kwa  nik, Barbara H., and Victoria L. Rubin. Co-published simultaneously in  Cata-loging & Classification Quarterly  (The Haworth Information Press, an imprint of The Haworth Press, Inc.)Vol.37,No.1/2,2003,pp.33-47;and: KnowledgeOrganizationandClassificationinInternationalInforma-tion Retrieval  (ed: Nancy J. Williamson, and Clare Beghtol) The Haworth Information Press, an imprint of The Haworth Press, Inc., 2003, pp. 33-47. Single or multiple copies of this article are available for a fee fromThe Haworth Document Delivery Service [1-800-HAWORTH, 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. (EST). E-mail address:docdelivery@haworthpress.com]. http://www.haworthpress.com/store/product.asp?sku=J104 © 2003 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.Digital Object Identifier: 10.1300/J104v37n01_04  33  KEYWORDS.  Classification, translation, cultural hospitality,  Dewey DecimalClassification (DDC),  LibraryofCongressClassification (LCC)  INTRODUCTION  Michèle Hudon points out that one of the problems traditionally associatedwith the construction of multilingual thesauri is that of stretching the languageof the component vocabularies to make them fit a foreign conceptual structureto the point where they become barely recognizable to their own speakers. 1 Inthis paper we extend this problem to classification schemes in general.Over the last few decades we have seen a move towards unification andstandardizationofbibliographicsystems,notjustintheUnitedStates,butalsoglobally. This means that traditional classifications, srcinally designed in aparticular country (such as the  Dewey Decimal Classification ), or even for aparticular collection (such as the  Library of Congress Classification ), are nowbeing stretched, in Hudon’s words, to cover cultural and linguistic artefactsand concepts quite different from those srcinally intended.As classification schemes are being expanded and translated to “go global,”wearefacedwithmanyofthesameproblemsencounteredintranslationingen-eral: issues of vocabulary, syntax, and semantics. In addition to these concerns,however, when dealing with classifications it is also necessary to consider thedifferences in knowledge structures–that is, the way in which the classificationscheme represents a set of terms and concepts, but also how it comprises a pat-tern of relationships among those concepts. These relationships reflect an over-all view of how the concepts are construed by a given discourse community in agiven context. Thus, in harmonizing classification schemes across languagesandcultures,wemustaddressnotonlytheissuesoftheterms,butalsothewayinwhich these terms are bound up in knowledge representations.Why is this important? First of all, we might consider the basic purpose of classification schemes, which is to provide pointers and access to a body of works, as well as to the ideas and knowledge recorded in those works. To dothis effectively, a classification must reflect concepts in such a way that asearcher can make use of several strategies:1. Thefirststrategyisthatoffindingwhatonealreadyknowsisthere.Thisis called a  known-item search . For example: “I’m looking for a recipefor flan.” I hope, therefore, that the classification incorporates a conceptfor flan, and by using the term  flan , I will find a recipe for it. 34 Knowledge Organization and Classification in International Information Retrieval  2. The second strategy is to be able to find what one hopes or suspects isthere,butwhichoneisperhapsunabletoarticulate.Forthis,aclassifica-tion is helpful by grouping similar things together so that a searcher canlocate a promising “neighborhood” and explore it. So, I might look un-der  desserts  and find a recipe for flan.Forbothofthesestrategiestoworkitisnecessarythatsearchersknowwhattheideas and concepts are to begin with, and then how they might be grouped.Beyondthesebasicfunctions,classificationshaveathirdveryusefulroleinknowledge organization and retrieval, and that is to represent a field of knowl-edge in such a way that a great deal of information becomes evident throughthe classification structure itself. 2 For instance, if we learn from a classifica-tionofdessertsthata  flan isatypeof  custard  ,thenwehavegainedaquickandefficient way of knowing quite a bit about flans (providing, of course, that weknow what a custard is). In this way classifications are tools for learning anddiscovery, and not just for storage and retrieval of documents. For a classifica-tiontofulfillthisparticularroleadequately,itmustbeareflectionofsomesortof consensual meaning. That is, it must be reasonable and “true” for a user thata  flan  is a kind of   custard  . The problem arises, however, when we realize thatwe cannot take for granted that such a relationship of   flan  to  custard   is univer-sallyheld,orthatthiswillbethefirstorpreferredwayofconstruingthenotionof   flan. Clare Beghtol 3 argues that making classifications culturally hospitable byincluding provisions for specific aspects of different cultures will enhancetheir appropriateness and utility for the purposes of worldwide informationflow. For a classification designed from one perspective and for one culture tobe hospitable to a different culture and language, it must take into accountotherpossiblerelationshipsandotherpossiblewaysofidentifyingandlabeling.Inthispaperweprovideoneexampleofthedifferencesinknowledgestruc-tures from language to language, culture to culture, and then suggest ways inwhich these differences can be accommodated in culturally hospitable transla-tions.Forourexamplewehavechosentheculturallybounddomainofkinshipterms because notions of kinship are basic and universal (in that we all haverelatives), but also unique to specific cultures (in that each culture integratesthe concept of family differently). We explore the differences in kinship termsand relationships in fourteen languages and compare this to the representationof kinship terms and relationships in the  Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) 4 and the  Library of Congress Classification  (LCC). 5 The purpose of this inquiry is to demonstrate and describe the various kinds of problems thatarise if one tries to extend, or stretch, the DDC and LCC for use in these lan-guages, and the cultures in which they are embedded. General Bibliographic Systems 35  STUDY DESIGN Our Informants We interviewed fourteen informants (eight women and six men) of diverselanguageand cultural backgrounds.All but onearegraduatestudentsstudyingin the United States. We included four major Asian languages, two Slavic lan-guages, and a single representative each from the following language groups:Indian, Dravidian, Negro-African, Oceanic Indonesian, Semitic, TurkicAltaic,Germanic,andRomance.SeeTable1forasummaryoftheinformants’languages, language families, and countries of srcin.  Data Collection Challenges Our greatest challenge in designing the data-collection procedures was tobe able to discover what terms and relationships are used in our informants’own languages. Since all of them are fairly proficient English speakers and fa-miliar with U.S. culture, we did not want them to respond by anticipating ourown understanding of kinship. We needed a technique that would elicit re-sponseswithoutoverlyinfluencingtheseresponsestosuitus,theinterviewers.This was not to be an exercise in one-to-one translation. For example, we didwanttostartwiththeEnglishterm uncle ,andaskwhattheequivalentisintheir 36 Knowledge Organization and Classification in International Information Retrieval TABLE 1. Our Informants Informant’sCountry of OriginLanguage FamilyLanguage China Asian MandarinJapan Asian JapaneseKorea Asian KoreanThailand Asian ThaiPoland Slavic PolishUkraine Slavic RussianThe Netherlands Germanic DutchMalaysia Oceanic / Indonesian MalaySri Lanka Indian SinhaleseZimbabwe Negro-African ShonaIndia Dravidian MalayalamTurkey Turkic / Altaic TurkishJordan Semitic ArabicFrance Romance French  language. Doing so would assume that there is in fact a term for  uncle  in theirlanguage, that the notion of   uncle  is more or less the same as ours, and that theterm  uncle  extends to the same sorts of people as it does in our culture.Thus, we adapted a form of ethnographic interview suggested by Spradley, 6 in which the interviewer and informant are co-researchers–that is, they explorethe question together, but as much as possible from the informant’s point of view. The researcher tries not to impose his or her own conceptual structures,but instead seeks to elicit terms and the meaning of the terms from the infor-mants’ narratives. It is an iterative process in which the researcher attempts touse and reuse the informant’s terminology in consequent questions and clarifiesthe meaning of relevant terms, again using the informant’s own vocabulary. Putanother way, the challenge was to avoid “putting words into our informants’mouths.”Wealsowantedtocollectinformationaboutthecontextualnuancesof the various terms and relationships. The Interviews The interviews were conducted as informal conversations, and did not fol-low a set format. We followed these general steps, with some minor differ-ences from respondent to respondent:1. To get things started and to provide a conceptual anchor, we asked theinformantstoimagineanimportantfamilygathering,e.g.,aholidaydin-ner or a wedding, and to tell us who would typically be there.2. As the informant described the family gathering, he (or she) identifiedtermsusedforvariouskin,boththeirpersonalnameandthenthegenericname for that relative. For instance, he or she might mention that AuntTheresa would be there, and then tell us the term for  aunt  . Each generictermwaswrittenintheinformant’slanguageonastickynoteandplacedon a large sheet of newsprint. (Languages using other alphabets weretransliterated.) In the center of the page the informant placed himself orherself. The various relatives were arranged around the “self” in what-ever way the informant found useful. The purpose of physically layingthings out was to provide the informant with a visual display, thus trig-gering other terms that should be included for completeness.3. The terms generated by the initial question eventually suggested otherones, and gradually the informant filled in gaps in the structure. Asprompts,weaskedforothersimilarrelationshipsandterms,andalsofordifferences and distinctions.4. As we went along, the informant sometimes drew lines between theterms to show special connections, or modified the structures as newterms came to mind. General Bibliographic Systems 37 
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