Mind Your Language Too


The Story So Far

Written language is a system of symbols used for communication. However, the lack of headings in my previous article may
have made it difficult to read. In that article, I introduced the following “reality grid” to show that when we try to understand our business by representing its real world as a model, we must
separate what an organisation really wants to know and do from how any kind of record-keeping system may support those things. The business purpose and contents of records are defined not by their
record-keeping names but by the business concepts and terms that describe them.

Figure 1

From an enterprise or organisation-wide point of view, a fundamental kind of thing that the business needs to know about, and may want to keep records for, I have called a Business Concept. The
fundamental link between Business Concepts is one of dependency: the existence of one occurrence of a Business Concept relies upon on the existence of another. A dependent Business Concept is
founded on a verb but expressed as a noun because it too is a kind of thing the business is interested in. The link may be denoted by a preposition because this is the part of speech language
category applied to words that perform this connecting function in a sentence.

A Business Term is based on some subset of a Business Concept. It may embody some role – such as employee, supplier, or customer – that is simply an expression
of the business function (thematic role) played by the Business Concept with respect to the verb. Such a word is used as a shorthand way of denoting the subset of the Business Concept that is
involved. Distinct business meanings used in separate parts of an organisation may be denoted by the same word, and these should be catered for in any dictionary or repository of definitions.

Now read on …


Actual and Type Senses

We make sense of our business’s view of the world by abstracting or classifying the kinds of things it needs to manage as Business Concepts and giving them some formal name or
title.

Commonly, a word may be used to denote both an actual thing and its kind or type. The context in which the word is used (its semantics) helps distinguish its meaning.

Suppose you are in the shape business: ShapeCo – Your two-dimensional figures are our concern. As you want to manage actual figures, you may acknowledge “shape” as a Business
Concept. Shape is the term your organisation commonly agrees to call things of this sort. So, when you say about something, “This is a Shape†–
perhaps because you have delivered it, or are contracted to service it, or need to admit its existence for some other business purpose – you are simply stating that the thing
being referenced is one instance of those sorts of thing you call Shape.

[Note: My use of capitalisation for Business Concepts simply mimics its usage for proper nouns. It denotes the Business Concept when used in normal writing (such as in their descriptions) without
the SHOUTING that ALL CAPS tends to invoke. This convention also distinguishes the Business Concept as a term with a certain meaning within the context of the business.]

Your organisation also wants to know about the different kinds of figures that are illustrations of those actually managed (because it wants to manage those kinds too). So, you would acknowledge
Shape Type as a Business Concept. The names of some instances of this might be equilateral triangle, rectangle and pentagon. Here you have acknowledged two Business
Concepts that are separate from each another – a group or class of actual things (whose abstract type or class is called Shape), and a group of categories or types (that you have
called Shape Type) that may be used to further delineate that group of actual things.

So, when you say, “This is a square,†you are recognising the particular Shape you are referring to as being of a particular Shape Type. Your statement is about the
act or situation of recognising one particular thing as being of a certain type. The general form of this statement might be as shown in Figure 2.


Figure 2

In this case, the Recognising is dependent upon both a Shape and a Shape Type. A more formal expression or proposition for this statement might be:

There is an event that is a Recognising event. The subject for this event is of a Shape and the object for this event is as a Shape Type.

I chose Recognising as the name of the event, but your business may prefer some other word like categorising, classifying, or identifying. The chosen term and any alternatives the business uses
should be recorded in your dictionary.

Now, it is likely that amongst your Business Concepts there are other cases where actual kinds of thing are identified through their type as opposed to being described only by their Business
Concept. That is, there may be other Recognising events, such as the Recognising of an Organisation as being of an Organisation Type. So, you may need to identify this particular one uniquely as a
noun phrase such as “Recognising of Shape as Shape Type.†This would allow all the different sorts of Recognising to be listed alphabetically together, as if they
were under the same headword in a dictionary but separated by instances of their thematic roles.

However, you can perhaps make a more useful entry by dropping the prepositions and arranging the subject, object and verb as a noun phrase: perhaps calling it “Shape Shape Type
Recognising.†An alphabetical listing of your dictionary would then have this listed near “Shape.â€

It is worth reiterating that here Shape and Shape Type are independent Business Concepts. It is neither necessary for a Shape to be acknowledged with a Shape Type nor for a Shape Type to be
acknowledging any Shape. If such business rules exist, they form part of the business processes, each of whose primary focus is to manage a Shape or a Shape Type but whose scope extends beyond that
Business Concept.


Class and Sub-Class Senses

When you say, “A square is a quadrilateral” you are classifying a particular Shape Type as being of the kind denoted by another Shape Type. This is because it exhibits some or all of the kinds of
characteristics denoted by the referenced Shape Type. This sense relationship between instances of the same Business Concept is known as hyponymy. It involves the hyponym (the role played by the
instance of the Business Concept doing the referencing, or being classified) and the hypernym (the role played by the instance of the Business Concept being referenced). This is the classic sense
relationship used within definitions.

Alternative names for the roles might be sub-type or sub-class for hyponym and super-type or super-class for hypernym.

A formal statement for this may be:

There is an event that is a Classifying event. The subject for this event is of a Shape Type and the object for this event is as a Shape Type.

A picture of this statement’s structure might look like that in Figure 3.


Figure 3

Perhaps this may be recorded in your dictionary under the name “Shape Type Classifying.â€

This structure allows for a hierarchic or recursive use of the sense relationship between Shape Types; for example, a square is classified as a rectangle, and a rectangle
is classified as a quadrilateral. Or to look at it another way, a rectangle is a specialisation of a quadrilateral, and a square is a specialised form of a
rectangle. You can “roll up” the hierarchy to types that have more general senses, say to produce a sales summary report. For another business reason, say to assist with the selection of
a Shape Type for sales use, you can also “drill down†the hierarchy from a more general category.

Normally, you recognise a thing as being of the most specific type that you know: “This Shape is a square.†Then any acknowledgement that the thing is of any
more general types follows through the Classifying hierarchy that is established and known to you: “It is also a quadrilateral (because a square is a
rectangle and a rectangle is a quadrilateral).â€

The Classifying hierarchy can be altered without affecting the initial recognition you made. For example, ShapeCo may want to establish a new Shape Type (for example, rhombus) and add this
into the hierarchy.

They may also change their recognition of a Shape to a different type; perhaps they first acknowledge it as a more general kind and later establish it as a more specific kind. The fact that it is
also of the more general kind now follows through the known Classifying hierarchy.

It is also possible that there may be more than one hierarchy, with the hyponym inheriting the characteristics of more than one hypernym. For example, games and sports are both general activity
types, with sometimes the same and other times different characteristics. A more particular type of activity, say cricket, may be classified as both a game and a sport.


Part and Whole Senses

Meronymy is the semantic sense relationship where one thing is seen as contained within or forming part of another thing. In ShapeCo’s case, this might be where a quadrilateral
is seen to be formed from two triangles. As both triangle and quadrilateral are instances of Shape Type, it should be quite easy to see that a structure for this might be depicted
as in Figure 4(a).

This same kind of sense relationship may also apply to actual Shapes, as shown in Figure 4(b). Here we are dealing with actual components of a Shape; whereas with Shape Type, we are tracking how
kinds of things may be composed.

 


Figure 4

When instances of this kind of sense relationship are used, it may be difficult at first to see the Business Concepts that are at play. For example, frame, wheel, and saddle may appear to be actual
objects included in a bicycle. But frame, wheel and saddle should be seen as terms that define kinds of things that may be used to form bicycles; that is, the words denote (name) types. The actual
objects themselves are recognised by the kind of object type they are. But the actual object kind or class is a separate, independent Business Concept to the class of their types.

In turn, rim, spoke and hub may be some other types used to form wheels. The whole set then may constitute some bill of materials specification for bicycles. It is easy to sense that frame, wheel,
saddle, rim, spoke and hub are kinds of constituents or parts and hence might be instances of a Part Type concept. But where does this leave bicycle? Is it an instance of some other concept, say a
Whole Type? Or is it just another instance of the same concept as those instances included in it?

Words come with a baggage: semantic connotations we may already have. So, the term Part Type does not easily convey that bicycle might be an instance, although the description of Part Type may
include this as an example of its scope. Perhaps Product Type would be a suitable name for the concept, conveying as it does the sense of manufacture or fabrication of any physical kind of object.

Then Part Type is just the role assigned to a Product Type when it acts as an Including of Product Type. An entry for Part Type in your dictionary would explain this as a Business Term applying to
the subset of Product Types as identified by any Including of Product Types in this manner.


Time and Tide

We are all cognisant of time as an aspect of our lives. It is important to be able to understand situations where things may or may not be in existence relative to the
“now†of speaking or writing. Events are things the business needs to be able to understand. Thus Recognising, Classifying and Including are things you must be able
to track for your business. That is, they should be recognised as Business Concepts. They have temporal properties that enable their currency at any point in the time continuum to be understood.

They each have two dependencies because that is the nature of the verbs, or event words, on which they are founded. Prepositions denote the Business Concept Dependencies or relationships as is
their grammatical function.


Points of View

As you compile your business model, you have to accommodate different business points of view.

Let us start with a simple statement that expresses a certain view: the cat sat on the mat. In a business model of this, you may recognise that cat, mat and sitting are
things your organisation needs to know about. If we concentrate on Cat as a Business Concept, then the description of this, say as “a feline, domesticated animal,â€
should allow your organisation to acknowledge one of these as it goes about its business.

One of the properties of a Cat may be its Name (so that you can refer or call to one by using its title). Your business may have a rule that it does not acknowledge the existence of a Cat without a
Name even though this is not a necessary fact for its real-life existence. A Name is just a simple language element used for a designation. It has no meaning in itself. So the statement
“Schrödinger is a cat†simply enables the business to acknowledge that there is a Cat whose Name is Schrödinger.

At this stage, your business might consider that it needs to know what breed or kind a Cat may be. If they think of this as a single fact or property of a Cat, then this would be just a piece of
text with no structure or meaning. However, it is likely that the business needs to be able to manage and track breeds (or Cat Types), which go by Names such as Siamese and Manx, to know how many
of each type it is aware of at any one time. We have seen that the link between an actual Cat and its kind or sort (a Cat Type) may be acknowledged by the business as a Recognising of a Cat as a
Cat Type. Thus, the business can state “Schrödinger is an Austrian Blue.â€

There may be two views of this situation:

  • An operational view, such as may be needed to conduct day-to-day business, is that there is simply a direct link between a Cat and its Cat Type. This allows that at any one point in time, only
    the current situation exists: Schrödinger is a certain kind of cat (an Austrian Blue – one from the set of Cat Types the business currently acknowledges).

  • An informational view, such as may be needed to understand the situation that exists at any point in time, is there could be more than one Recognising over time. This allows us to (a) not know
    what breed Schrödinger is or (b) replace one Recognising with another.

Assuming that we always know what breed a Cat is, then the operational view may be expressed as shown in Figure 5:


Figure 5

Here, the box marked Cat contains all those things the business knows as feline domesticated animals. If we look in this box, we may find Schrödinger. If we follow the link to the box
marked Cat Type, we find it connected to its breed (Austrian Blue) amongst those present there.

Perhaps as a consequence of this view, those Cat Types the business currently acknowledges may be seen as alternative sub-types of Cat. Thus, a Cat is an Austrian Blue or a Cat is a Manx.
Conversely, an Austrian Blue is a Cat or a Manx is a Cat. This view may be expressed as shown in Figure 6:


Figure 6

Now, if we look in the box marked Cat, we may find Schrödinger (because it is a Cat). But strangely, if we look in the box marked Austrian Blue, we may also find
Schrödinger (because it is an Austrian Blue). This view is not in accordance with the principle that a Business Concept represents a kind of thing, as it appears the same thing may be
represented under two Business Concepts.


Paradigms Lost

A change in the business, perhaps as it expands into other areas, may mean that it needs to consider all domesticated animals, not just Cats. So then it may define Animal and Animal Type as
Business Concepts and describe them as “a living organism characterised by voluntary movement†and “a category or kind of living
organism,†respectively.

With this business model, Cat no longer exists as a Business Concept. It is now simply the Name of an instance of an Animal Type. It is a more generalised instance of an Animal Type Classifying
more specific instances, like Austrian Blue and Manx, as being a cat. This possibility may have been considered if this area had previously been modelled and the potential need for the business to
cater for kinds of animals other than cats explored.

But in our case, what it may mean for the business’s record-keeping systems (new and existing) is to have to translate between the two views. Cat is now a Business Term defined
by reference to the Business Concepts (as an instance of an Animal Type that denotes a subset of Animals). You keep this as an entry in your dictionary for as long as necessary to support the
mutual need for translation.


Summary

We have briefly seen that making common sense of the real world first involves abstracting or grouping actual things into kinds under a concept that defines them. The word or term for the concept
may generally be used in the senses of either an actual thing or its conceptual kind. There may be a need for recognising or acknowledging an actual thing by a form or category that we know about.
Different forms or categories that may be applied to actual things are abstracted as another concept.

The sense relationship of hyponymy reflects our need for classifying or arranging categories into taxonomic hierarchies of increasing or decreasing generalisation or specialisation. The sense
relationship of meronymy reflects our knowledge of both the composition of actual things and of their categories.

As the business changes or encounters different views over time, some concepts may be replaced by more generalised ones. The old terms cannot simply be discarded.

It is necessary to be able to recognise concepts as being valid at a certain point in time or over a time period to understand changing business situations. This also supports an operational need
for a current (as of now) view. The extension of this to reflect specific categories of things as being sub-concepts of the concept of those things can have a strange result.

As far as I am aware “Austrian Blue†is not and never has been a breed of cat. Erwin Schrödinger, the physicist, was born in Austria.

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About Mike Vaughan

After leaving school to work in the money mines of retail banking, Mike Vaughan soon gave it up for the lure of labour in information technology (or data processing as it was then known). He couldn't find anything better and has now been there for years. Handsome, charming, witty and talented are none of the adjectives that can be applied to him. He lives in Hampshire, England. He may be contacted by email addressed to datahead@ymail.com.

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