Research Articles

Ontologies in language documentation

  • Steve Pepper


What is the role of ontologies in language documentation theory and practice? This paper clarifies the meaning of the term ‘ontology’ in the context of information management and the Web, and emphasizes the importance of distinguishing between knowledge representation and knowledge organization. It then examines how the term ‘ontology’ has been applied in the field of linguistics, focusing on a particular kind of ontology that is regarded as especially relevant in the context of language documentation. The General Ontology for Linguistic Description (GOLD) is presented in some detail, along with criticisms that have been raised against it. Finally it is suggested that the discipline of language documentation has more need for a knowledge organization system, and a shared thesaurus, than for an ontology-based knowledge representation system.

Keywords: language documentation, ontology, information management, General Ontology for Linguistic Description, GOLD, knowledge organization, knowledge representation

How to Cite:

Pepper, S., (2014) “Ontologies in language documentation”, Language Documentation and Description 9, 199-218. doi:

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Published on
31 Jul 2014
Peer Reviewed