ISKO Italia

What thesaurus to define EU/ACP relations?

Analysis of the term development in the thesauri of the EU and other international organizations

by Francesca Severino

<frasdon @>

research presented at the ISKO Italy-UniMIB meeting : Milan : June 24, 2005;
adaptation of a master thesis in Cooperation and development at Pavia university;
awarded with the EADI prize 2006;
later version published in European journal of developmental research, 19: 2007, n 2, p 327-251

the author during the presentation / photo by Emanuele Quintarelli and Antonella Pastore


In the field of library science and documentation many knowledge organisation systems (KOS) have been designed. This article explores a particular form of KOS used in information retrieval: the thesaurus [
1] . This tool is generally used by archivists, librarians and other technicians to index [2] documents or resources and can also be employed to build sites for information research. For a non-technician, i.e. a generic "end user", the thesaurus can be used to recover all documents or resources contained in a library or a centre of documentation, which are linked to a particular term [3] of interest. The aim of this work is firstly to guide the inexperienced reader into the navigation of a thesaurus. Chapter I is the substantive introduction to our research. It clarifies, in general terms, the construction and use of this tool. A thesaurus is mainly a controlled vocabulary, a domain specific vocabulary, made up of terms not words that are linked to one another by cross-referencing. The structure of a thesaurus is generally defined a priori. A controlled set of words or expressions (terms) is organized in a known order and structure. The relationships between the terms (e.g. equivalence, homographic, hierarchical and associative) are displayed clearly and identified by standardized relationship indicators (e.g. BT "broader", NT "narrower" and RT "related" ), which are employed reciprocally. In a different approach, the keywords, which[4] constitute the thesaurus, are preferably created a posteriori, taking into account the documents or material already in existence in the library or archives. This modus operandi represents a further guarantee in ensuring the consistency between the thesaurus and the documents and is generally called the literary warrant.

The methodology applied during the design of a thesaurus can determine its variety in terms of structure. The differences are usually related to the formal part of the structure (external), or the intrinsic part (semantic, classificatory). Many other elements can play a key role in defining the variety of ways in which the thesauri can be presented: practical choices, material constraints, planning choices, variables peculiar to a specific culture.

In this work we intend to apply conceptual tools based on philosophical and anthropological knowledge in order to elucidate the peculiarity of thesauri in terms of culture. Our statement is that the thesaurus as a KOS is the outcome of a culture, specifically the western culture. For this reason it is critical, following Foucault's invitation, to examine the thesaurus as a precise modality of the arrangement of knowledge, based on regulating codes that are the results of a historical period and cultural pattern rather than a single definitive assertion. From this, the most important indication of this philosopher is to scrutinize the conditions of possibility of our "discourse"[5] . Which kind of epistemological rules are at the origin of a conscious classification claiming, for instance, that a cat and a dog are less similar when compared to two greyhounds? On the basis of what kind of table, what space of identity, similitude or analogy have we chosen this categorisation? Why have we fallen into this habit? It is not a matter of a-priori coherence, obtained by linking together simple consequences, but it is an operation connected with combination and isolation, analysis and adaptation of empirical contents. This way a culture selects and determines a "system of elements", a definition of segments in which the affinities and the differences can appear and change over time. This order represents the internal law of things and at the same time, the secret grid in which the empirical contents can look at each other in a coherent way. With our objectives in mind, it is important to underline that the fundamental codes of a culture are the basis on which language, perceptive schemes, techniques and values are constructed. And, more importantly, they define from the outset the empirical orders in which a human being will act and in which he will live. On the other hand, scientific theories or philosophical interpretations will explain the reason of the existing order, the underlying law that governs this order and the motivation of this type of choice.

Foucault states that a culture can observe itself by exploring the existing space between its code and the underlying scientific theories. Between these two areas of knowledge there exists, as Foucault supposes, a more confused intermediate space, difficult to analyse, and one in which a culture "straying from the empirical orders that its codes prescribes, creating a distance between them, ceases to be passively crossed […] in order to understand that these empirical orders aren't the only possibilities or that they are any better" [6]. Taking into account these suggestions we have tried to define a term, deep-rooted in the western epistemology, which represents an ambiguous concept in terms of cultural relativism. In consideration with our field of research [7] , we have chosen the term development. Following Gilbert Rist's analysis, our motivation was to "scrutinize the aura of self-evidence surrounding a concept which is supposed to command universal acceptance but which, as many have doubtless forgotten, was constructed within a particular history and culture" [8]. The investigation was directed towards some of the most important thesauri that are located on the border between different cultures. Chapter II of this article states the core part of our research and the results that we have obtained. It explores the use of the term development in five online thesauri of International Organisations: AGROVOC (Food and Agriculture Organisation), EUROVOC (European Union), OECD MACROTHESAURUS (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), UNBIS (United Nations), UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation). The first important result to underline is that by including or omitting a term, a thesaurus determines the trend of a piece of research. Often "development" is not used as a term (i.e. a preferred term) but as a non-preferred term (i.e. referable to another term more peculiar to the research). In order to understand which kind of implications this methodological choice has on our navigation we have constructed five "relations' tables" of the analysed thesauri.

Chapter III presents our final considerations. Hypothesizing the arrangement of the knowledge within a documentation centre concerning relationships between western countries and non-western, for instance Europe and ACP [9] countries, what kind of syndetic structure (i.e. cross-reference connection between terms) would be appropriate?

To understand this question we can attempt to view a thesaurus in anthropological terms. Admitting that a thesaurus is the result of a particular history and culture, what credence is accorded to others points of view? What kind of result can be useful to the non-western user (e.g. African or Caribbean) in order to meet with his semantic constellation of the term development, when taking into account the fact that another guarantee in ensuring the consistency between the thesaurus and the documents is the so called user warrant (users' most frequently asked questions to the knowledge system)? How we can define the most precise classification criteria? A thesaurus can be likened to a litmus paper of the western discourse on development. Due to the fact that this KOS represents the documentation in existence in archives, it is determinant, in our opinion, to display to a non-western user that the term development is a product of western culture.

This article does not try to solve the problem of translatability between different cultures but attempts to underline a simple supposition: the western concept of development (and its semantic constellation) has been used over time as a powerful tool to map the world in "developed" and "underdeveloped"(i.e. western/non-western) areas. When this division was established, the underdeveloped world missed out on the opportunity to express what development is in other epistemological terms. We believe that this division is obsolete. It is now possible to observe that the conditions of truth, which have constituted what was or was not acceptable for western culture, are changing. The process of thesaurus evaluation can enhance the value of the thesaurus in terms of usability, scope, precision and recall. Structural, formative, observational and trans-cultural comparative evaluation must be applied in the assessment of an existing thesaurus or the construction of a new one.

1. The thesaurus as a particular form of Knowledge Organisation System

1.1. Definition of thesaurus

In this work special attention is paid to the results obtained by a generic external user (or "end user") in browsing a thesaurus. End-users are not likely to be experienced in the jargon and complexities of online information retrieval, for this reason it is relevant to explain few points before approaching the online thesauri of the international organizations. This section provides firstly a definition of thesaurus. The following paragraphs, 1.2 and 1.3, are dedicated to the clarification of: the purposes and structure of a multilingual thesaurus and the practical operations that an end user will carry out in using this tool.

A thesaurus, in general terms, can be defined as a classification tool to assist libraries, archives or other centres of documentation to manage their records and other information. This tool is designed to facilitate users to identify preferred (or authorized) terms for classifying and titling records and to provide a range of paths to reach these terms. The thesaurus also facilitates strategies for retrieving documents and reduces the probability of an unsuccessful research, or one resulting in a confusing or irrelevant outcome. This functionality is achieved by establishing paths between terms. The following part of this chapter will be dedicated to this argument.

The establishment and development of a thesaurus is generally arranged in accordance with the standards of ISO (International Standards Organization), which are officially recognised at international level [10] . The guidelines for the construction and management of a multilingual thesaurus, ISO 5964:1985, refer to the following contents: definitions, abbreviations and symbols, vocabulary control, establishment of a multilingual thesaurus (general problems, management decisions, language problems), establishment of equivalent terms in different languages, other language problems, relationships between terms, display of terms and relationships, form and contents of a multilingual thesaurus, organization of work. The definition of thesaurus supplied by these guidelines is the following: a thesaurus is the vocabulary of a controlled indexing language, formally organized so that the a-priori relationships between concepts (for example as "broader" and "narrower") are made explicit. In addition to this explanation we find another definition, related to the multilingual thesaurus, which is: a thesaurus containing terms selected from more than one natural language. It displays not only the interrelationships between terms, but also equivalent terms in each of the languages covered.

Next to these international standards we find different types of national standards that offer other types of guidelines for the construction of a thesaurus [11]. The shades of meaning between these national standards are generally related to aspects peculiar to a language (e.g. the semantic structure), and, consequently, are reflecting different choices in displaying the thesaurus (e.g. using, for a term, the singular or plural). Each of these national standards provides a peculiar definition of thesaurus. For instance, the American National Standard Institute. ANSI Z.39.19 characterizes a thesaurus as a controlled vocabulary arranged in a known order in which equivalence, homographic, hierarchical, and associative relationships among terms are clearly displayed and identified by standardized relationship indicators, which must be employed reciprocally. The Australian Standard for Records Management defines a thesaurus as an alphabetical presentation of a controlled list of terms linked together by semantic, hierarchical, associative or equivalence relationships. Such tool acts as a guide to allocating classification terms to individual records. The Association Française de Normalisation labels the thesaurus as a vocabulaire contrôlé et dynamique de termes (descripteurs et non-descripteurs), obéissant à des règles terminologiques propres et reliés entre eux par des relations sémantiques. And so on.

It is now important to focalise on one definition of thesaurus, the one provided by the International Standards, and to deepen the analysis of the concepts it contains. A thesaurus firstly is "the vocabulary of a controlled indexing language". This statement implies the comprehension of: 1- what it means to index in the field of library science, and 2- what an indexing language is. The first point can be explained bearing in mind the material (documents or resources) contained in a library or an archive. The substantial amount of items that are composing, for instance, a library, needs to be organized. In this sense it is determinant to create indexes that follow precise criteria (e.g. author, subject, collocation) and that provide synthetic representations of the documents. Catalogues represent the indexing of really existing documents. The indexing of a library can be: descriptive (taking into account the form of the existing documents, i.e. author/title/pages) or semantic (taking into account the contents of documents). The semantic indexing, properly called subject indexing, can be made by terms (such as in the case of a thesaurus), by subjects, or by classes (by using the Dewey Decimal Classification, the Universal Decimal Classification, the Library of Congress Classification or the BC2 Bliss Classification). The process of indexing documents requires a previous definition of preferred terms, which constitute a controlled vocabulary. An indexing language is used for the representation of concepts dealt with in documents and for the retrieval of such documents from an information storage and retrieval system.

A thesaurus is "formally organized so that the a-priori relationships between concepts (for example as "broader" and "narrower") are made explicit". In the following section of this article we will explain in details the structure of a thesaurus. To introduce the argument we can say that the thesauri are lists of terms that define single concepts. The terms are connected by cross-references that define a syndetic structure internal to the thesaurus. Cross-references are of three types: (a) equivalence relationship, beginning with the word see or USE, which leads to one or more descriptors that are to be used instead of the term from which the cross-reference is made; (b) associative relationship, beginning with the word see also, or related term (RT), which leads from one descriptor to other descriptors that are related to or associated with it in the context of a thesaurus; (c) hierarchical, beginning with the words broader term (BT) or narrower term (NT) which represent generic and specific relationships, respectively. It is also possible to display hierarchical relationships without using the cross-references.

Concerning the definition of a multilingual thesaurus, a thesaurus containing terms selected from more than one natural language, we must underline a few points. The first is related to the meaning of "natural language". The expression "natural language" refers to a language used by human beings for verbal communication. The thesaurus is used world-wide, hence it is necessary to translate this tool into as many languages possible in order to make it easier for the users to search information sources in their own language. All the languages that compose a multilingual thesaurus have equal status: each descriptor in one language necessarily matches a descriptor in each other language. This way, the thesaurus displays not only the interrelationships between terms, but also equivalent terms in each of the languages covered. What it is now important to underline is that constructing a multilingual thesaurus always implies the choice of a starting language. This decision will have several implications on the "semantic field" covered by the thesaurus. In this article we can't deepen the problems related to the translatability between different languages, notwithstanding this we can stress a point. The indexing operations imply always a standardization of forms and contents of the existing documents. In this sense we can hypothesize that the definition of a starting language will have a fundamental importance in defining the choice of the preferred terms and, furthermore, will determine the semantic reference for all the languages that compose a thesaurus. In this sense, the need to establish similarities between different languages can determine an impoverishment of the semantic constellation peculiar to each language.

1.2. Purposes and structure of a multilingual thesaurus


We have already anticipated, in the introduction of this paper, the main purposes that are served by a thesaurus. To summarize our statements we can now affirm that the functions provided by the this tool are, at least, four:


A thesaurus displays through its structure, properly called syndetic structure, the cross-references among terms. The cross-references are of tree types: 1- equivalence (synonymous) relationship, 2- associative relationship, 3- hierarchical relationship.

It is also possible to consider the Microthesaurus relationship as another relationship among descriptors. This section provides a general explanation of these types of relations.

The equivalence relationship

The equivalence relationship[12](also called synonymous or preferential) concerns the relations among terms that are considered equivalent inside the thesaurus, i.e. they represent the same concept. When two or more terms express the same concept one of these is selected as the preferred term, i.e. the descriptor. The descriptor in effect substitutes for other terms expressing equivalent or nearly equivalent concepts. A cross-reference to the descriptor should be made from any synonymous or quasi-synonymous that may function as an entry term for the user.

The equivalence relationship between descriptors and non-descriptors is expressed by the following conventions:

U or USE which leads from a non-preferred (entry) term to the descriptor and UF or USED FOR the reciprocal, which records entry terms leading to the descriptor.

The equivalence relationship covers three basic types of terms:

a- synonyms, b- lexical variants, c- quasi-synonyms.

The hierarchical relationship

This basic relationship[13] is the primary feature that distinguishes a systematic thesaurus from an unstructured list of terms, such as a glossary. It is based on a ranking from a superior to a subordinate position. The terms that are superior in a category are at a superordinate level and terms that fall under or below a category are at a subordinate level. The broader term represents a class or a whole, while the narrower term refers to components or parts of the broader concept.

The following indicators show the hierarchical relationship between descriptors: BT (Broader Term), a label for the superordinate descriptor (i.e. between a specific descriptor and a more generic descriptor).

NT (Narrower term), a label for the subordinate descriptor (i.e. between a more generic descriptor and a more specific descriptor).

The associative relationship

An associative relationship[14] is established to indicate that a term has similarities with other concepts. A related term relationship alerts users to the fact that other information of interest may be classified under a different, but related, set of terms. Related terms relationships are only established between preferred terms.

The associative relationship is not hierarchical but symmetrical; it is a thesaurus convention that term with this kind of relationship at the same hierarchical level. This relationship is generally indicated by the abbreviation RT (related term).

The microthesaurus relationship[15]

A Microthesaurus is a subset of a thesaurus converting a limited range of topics within the domain of the thesaurus. A microthesaurus may contain highly specialized descriptors that are not of the broad thesaurus. The descriptors are accompanied by a reference to a microthesaurus, introduced by the abbreviation (MT) to show to which microthesaurus or microthesauri they belong. Such descriptors should map to the hierarchical structure of the broad thesaurus. A microthesaurus is internally consistent with respect to relationships among terms.

In the following tables, extracted from the Australian Standard for Records Management, AS ISO 15489 – 2002, we will resume and explain the tree most important relationships that are established between terms in a thesaurus.

Table 1- Relationships established in a thesaurus

Hierarchy Establishes a relationship between broader and narrower concepts
Association Establishes a relationship between related concepts at the same level
Equivalence Establishes a relationship between preferred terms-i.e., terms that are to be used (also called authorised terms)- and non-preferred terms, i.e., terms that are not to be used (unauthorised terms)

Each relationship between terms in a thesaurus is displayed through particular conventions, expressed by an abbreviation. These abbreviations and their definitions, include the following.

Table 2- Definitions of relationships established in a thesaurus

Type NameAbbreviationDefinition
Hierarchy Broader term BTIndicates a concept that has a wider meaning relative to another term. Terms that are superior in a category
Hierarchy Narrower termNT Indicates a term with more specific meaning relative to a broader category. Subordinate component of a wider category
Association Related termRT Indicates similarities with other concepts. Indicates a term is associated with another term but is not a synonym, nor is it in a hierarchical relationship
Equivalence Use forUse for or UF Indicates a term has a preferred status. Indicates a non-preferred terms associated with the preferred term-such as a synonyms, or abbreviations-which are not to be used
Equivalence UseUse for or UFIndicates a term has a non-preferred status. Indicates the preferred term to use when a non preferred term has been selected

This section has supplied some short indications to approach the complex world of the thesaurus. We hope that these explanations can act as a sufficient introduction to understand the practical operations in browsing a thesaurus.

1.3. Use of a thesaurus from an end user's point of view

External users or "end users" interact with the online thesaurus by entering an expression, a term or a part of a term, in the internal search engine. The thesaurus can be browsed in two ways:

  • Alphabetically or,
  • Hierarchically. The following examples, extracted from the UNESCO Thesaurus, will clarify the differences between these two navigation methods.

    In the first option, the user types the term of interest and chooses between two possibilities: "Search", for alphabetical display, or "Index" to display the permuted list of terms. Alphabetical display only lists the descriptors and non-descriptors that start with the entered expression. On the other hand, the permuted list includes all descriptors and non-descriptors containing the selected term.

    In either case, the complete record for each descriptor contains: microthesaurus (MT) to which it belongs: language translation (FR;SP); possible scope note (SN); interrelationships (USE:UF;BT:NT;RT). The record for a non-descriptor contains a non-descriptor, followed by USE and the corresponding descriptor.

    For instance, let us search for the term "Development":

    The Alphabetical search yields 21 records. Among these, we highlight the searched expression (non-descriptor) and another descriptor found, as example:

    Searched term Term: Development
    Preferred term

    (corresponding descriptor)

    USE Economic and social development

    to which it belongs

    MT 6.30 Economic and social development

    One descriptor, selected among the 21 records found with the alphabetical search:

    DescriptorTerm: Development Policy
    Equivalent term in FrenchTerme français: Politique de développement
    Equivalent term in SpanishTérmino español: Política de desarrollo
    Scope NoteSN A definite course or method of action selected from among development alternatives.

    Use more specific descriptors where appropriate


    to which it belongs

    MT 6.30 Economic and social development
    Broader TermBTEconomic and social development
    Narrower TermNT Development indicators

    NT Development programmes

    Second order Narrower Term.... NT2 Country Programming
    Third order Narrower Term......NT3 Feasibility studies
    Related TermRT Agricultural policy

    In order to browse the thesaurus hierarchically, the user has to select a field of interest, then a microthesaurus. The UNESCO thesaurus is divided into seven major subject fields, or domains, broken down into microthesauri, which allow the user to gain a quick overview of the subject matter. Each microthesaurus contains a variable number of top terms, i.e. descriptors without any BT (broader term).

    For instance, by selecting the field number 6: Politics, Law and Economics, the user can enter the microthesaurus in which he is interested. By selecting, for example, the microthesaurus 6.30, Economic and social development, he will obtain 3 records, corresponding to the three top terms. By selecting one of these records, for instance, development administration, we obtain the term's hierarchical relationships:

    TermDevelopment administration
    MT 6.30 Economic and social development
    NT Development banks
    NT Development personnel
    NT2 Consultants
    NT2 Experts
    UF Expert Missions

    Each top term is followed by UF (used for), if any, and by a descending hierarchy of descriptors, each preceded by NT (narrower term).

    In the following Chapter, I will state the core part of my research, exposing the results of browsing five thesauri of international organizations.

    2. The thesauri of international organizations

    2.1. Methodology applied

    At the beginning of the research our knowledge of the tool thesaurus was very limited. For this reason, besides finding some essential literature on this argument, we have tried to involve the International Organisations, in the persons of the archivists or technicians, by asking different types of questions. The information that we requested, for each Organisation, included: the definition of thesaurus used by the single Organisation, the historical period in which the first edition of its thesaurus appeared, what kind of meaning a thesaurus can have for a non-technician, the variables applied in the construction of the thesaurus, what was the starting language of each multilingual thesaurus. Not all the international organizations have answered to our questions, but thanks to the patient collaboration of some of the persons in charge of the thesauri we have gathered important results.

    Concerning the definition of thesaurus internal to each International Organization, there is a general trend to define the tool in accordance with the Standards of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO 5964: Guidelines for the establishment and development of multilingual thesauri. Geneve, ISO, 1985. See Chapter I, Definition and use of a thesaurus).

    The historical period in which the thesauri appeared was from the end of the 70s to the 80s. In this circumstance we cannot deepen the relation between this historical period and the birth of the thesauri, but we can highlight a point. Often terms in the thesauri contain a note, called history note, which provides the entry date of the descriptor as well as the history of modifications to its scope, relationships, etc. In navigating the online thesauri of International Organization, we couldn't find the history note concerning the term development, but hypothesising the date entry of this term in the 70s and 80s it is possible to establish an interesting parallelism with the most important paradigms of development that have appeared in that historical period. This way we can compare the different ways in which it was chosen to display the term development within each thesaurus. We will take up this argument in the ending part of the article.

    Concerning the possible use of the thesaurus by an "end user", we received different answers, but all centred on the main function it serves: information retrieval. UNESCO answered as follows: "the thesaurus can be useful in order to carry out an effective information retrieval. Indeed, it acts as a functional tool to formulate a request in a precise manner, guiding the researcher from his natural language towards the controlled vocabulary, which means towards the terms selected during the process of documentation analysis". The answer from EUROVOC was: "the thesaurus is used for the indexing and for the information retrieval. The descriptors represent, in a univocal way, the contents of the document. The non-descriptors (synonymous, quasi-synonymous) constitutes a point of access in the thesaurus but are not used for indexing". For AGROVOC, "the thesaurus can be used by technicians for indexing documents and resources, AGROVOC can be used to construct sites of information retrieval. In fact, being organized in hierarchies can facilitate an end user to navigate across terms, to arrive to a term that interests, to select it, and to recover all the resources that are associated to it. Therefore, it is a useful tool for the end user to research information. For other technicians (such as Information Systems developers), it can be used to construct more efficient searches, using the relations (synonymous and related terms) to help the end-user execute his research".

    Our aim, in investigating the variables applied in the construction of the thesaurus, was to discover how the network among terms was organised. From the responses we received to our questions, we can describe this process as follows. Thesauri usually follow a standard structure, defined by ISO norms, and which consists of a series of possible relations among terms (BT, NT, RT, UF, and so on). The construction of the specific relations grid, however, is determined a posteriori, once the descriptors have been defined. The choice of terms to be used as descriptors starts with an a priori defined list, which is a posteriori constantly updated, as the use of the thesaurus reveals necessary modifications.

    The starting language was English for all of the multilingual thesauri analysed, except for EUROVOC, which used French.

    The following pages are dedicated to the analysis of AGROVOC, EUROVOC, OEDC MACROTHESAURUS, UNBIS, UNESCO. The description of each thesaurus is composed by three sub-paragraphs containing: a general introduction quoted from the websites (except for OECD Macrothesaurus), a part related to the practical operations in browsing each thesaurus and the relations' table that we have reconstructed searching for the term development. The presentation of AGROVOC thesaurus contains also a reference to the extensive work, carried out by the AGROVOC Foundation, on converting this traditional KOS towards a full-fledged ontology[16].

    In general terms we can affirm that where the term development was not a preferred term, it was substituted by the descriptor that seemed the most appropriate to cover the meaning we were looking for. We investigated all the relations these terms had and, through the reconstructed tables, we represented their tree of hierarchical and associative relations. The limit to the expansion of the tables was set to the relations between related terms and terms already present elsewhere in the tree. Only in the case of UNBIS Thesaurus we chose to display the complete hierarchical tree, but not the links between the related terms; the elevated complexity of inter-RT relations would have made the table confused and unintelligible.

    2.2. AGROVOC

    AGROVOC is a multilingual structured and controlled vocabulary (containing approximately 36.000 unique terms) designed to cover all subject fields in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food and related domains (e.g. environment). It is a thesaurus, i.e. a controlled set of words or expressions (terms), in different languages and organized in relationships (e.g. "broader", "narrower" and "related"), used to identify or search resources. Its main role is to standardize the indexing process in order to make searching simpler and more efficient, and to provide the user with the most relevant resources. FAO and the Commission of European Communities developed the AGROVOC thesaurus in the early 1980s. Since then it has been continuously updated by FAO. This thesaurus is made up of terms, which consist of one or more words representing always one and the same concept. AGROVOC terms are divided into descriptors and non-descriptors (synonyms) in several languages[17] . Descriptors are indexing terms; non-descriptors are terms that help the user to find the appropriate descriptor(s). Non-descriptors are followed by a reference (USE operator) to the descriptor, which is the preferred term. For indexing purposes, it is important that only descriptor terms are used. For each term, a word block is displayed showing the hierarchical and non-hierarchical relation to other terms: BT (broader term), NT (narrower term), RT (related term), UF (non-descriptor). Scope notes are used in this thesaurus to clarify the meaning and the context of terms.

    AGROVOC serves as a case study for exploring the reengineering of a traditional thesaurus in a full-fledged ontology. To introduce this converting process it is important to underline similarities and differences between thesaurus and ontology[18] .

    The similarities: -Both provide a representation of a shared understanding of a domain in order to facilitate efficient communication.

    -Both are concept-based systems representing highly complex knowledge.

    -Both are concerned with the terminology used to represent the concepts in a particular domain.

    -Both utilize hierarchies to group terms into categories and subcategories.

    -Both can be applied to cataloguing and organizing information resources.

    The differences:


    - The thesauri are intended for human users.

    - Ontologies can be used: 1-by humans for knowledge sharing and, 2-by software agents for knowledge processing.


    -Thesauri may contain prose definitions to help the human user to understand the meaning of a term but they do not provide a formal specification of concepts.

    -Ontologies specify conceptual knowledge explicitly using a formal language with clear semantics, which allows an unambiguous interpretation of terms for use by machines.

    Computational support

    -Knowledge representation

    -Thesauri: limited or no means

    -Ontologies: explicit and formalised.

    In general terms we can affirm that thesauri are lacking in well-defined semantics and structural consistency. Empowering end users in searching collections of ever increasing magnitudes with performance far exceeding plain free-text searching (as used in many web search engines) and developing systems that not only find but also process information for action, requires far more powerful and complex knowledge organization systems (KOS). In this sense, the AGROVOC foundation underpins the development of the Agricultural ontology service (AOS - <>) project. Using the knowledge contained in vocabulary systems and thesauri such as AGROVOC, the AOS is able to develop specialized domain-specific terminology and concepts that will better support information management in the web environment. Key point would be to add more semantics to the thesaurus, for example, by expanding and better specifying the relationship between concepts.

    A thesaurus has equivalence (USE/UF), broader term (BT), narrower term (NT) and related term (RT) relationships. These relationships provide the scope and structure for the thesaurus. For instance, knowing that a broader term for "cereals" is "plant product" and the narrower terms are "barely" and "maize" defines the scope of information represented by these terms. It is possible to use an extended set of relationships (ontological relationships) to perform more granular and more consistent indexing, and to enable more effective searching and browsing for users. We need to formalize rules for their development and implement processes for using them in indexing and retrieval. For example, for the term "pollution" we can describe the associations the term has with other terms. For instance, "pollutants" is formally associated with the term "pollution" using the Related term (RT) relationship. In practice, when describing the type of association, we may be able to explicitly indicate that "pollutants" cause "pollution" thus making the relationship more meaningful than simply relating them as Related Terms (RT). A searcher requesting information about the term "pollution" could be presented with the option to limit his-her search to particular kind(s) of relationships, e.g. "Would you like to see all the causes of pollution?" The prospect for retrieval of more relevant resources is greatly increased. Ontological relationships also help to eliminate the need to do multiple searches. For example, a researcher may be interested in finding resources about the types of infestations of tomatoes. Instead of having to do multiple searches for each type of infestation he can request the use of formally defined ontological relationship "infecting agent" with the topic "tomatoes". Each tomato infestation resource in his system has been indexed using this relationship. By using it, he saves himself the work of having to do multiple searches, and instead retrieves just what he needs through a single request.

    2.2.1. Practical operations in browsing AGROVOC

    The AGROVOC homepage allows searching a term in two ways: 1- exact or, 2- logical. The first method correspond to the alphabetical browse in the UNESCO thesaurus (see par. 1.3.), hence permits to visualise the alphabetical list of descriptors (without non-descriptors) starting with the entered expression. The logical search corresponds to the permuted list, and gives the list of descriptors that contain the searched term.

    The outcome of the exact search for development consists in three sections: 1- a list of descriptors in the selected language that start with development (tot. 14 records). 2- the "word tree", which comprehends all the cross-references of the first descriptor in the list. 3- the equivalent terms (for the selected descriptor) in other languages.

    In our research we have chosen to browse the AGROVOC thesaurus using the logical option. The result is the same as the exact search, the only difference being that all the terms containing development are displayed (tot.46 records). Since development is not present as a descriptor within AGROVOC (and no record matches the term underdevelopment), we have chosen Socioeconomic development as basis for our comparative analysis. By clicking on this descriptor we have obtained a peculiar word tree that we have reconstructed in the following table. This table contains all the relations of this term (NT, RT), and of each term in its hierarchical tree. We chose to deepen the table up to the level of relations between RT and previously highlighted terms.

    2.3. EUROVOC

    Eurovoc is a multilingual thesaurus covering the fields in which the European Communities are active; it provides a means of indexing the documents in the documentation systems of the European institutions and of their users. This documentation product is currently used by the European Parliament, the Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, national and regional parliaments in Europe, national government departments and certain European organisations. Eurovoc exists in 15 official languages of the European Union (Spanish, Czech, Danish, German, Greek, English, French, Italian, Lithuanian, Dutch, Portuguese, Finnish, Swedish, Slovak and Slovene). In addition to these versions, it has been translated by the parliaments of a number of countries (Albania, Croatia, Latvia, Poland, Romania and Russia). On this site you will find version 4.1 of the Eurovoc Thesaurus. The European institutions, the national parliaments and the various users of Eurovoc have cooperated to produce this edition. A team of Commission translator-terminologists was entrusted with the preparation of each language version. The differences between the last two versions can be viewed by selecting the link "transition from version 4 to version 4.1". All new descriptors in version 4.1 are marked "V4.1". To obtain the list of new descriptors, choose the option "Look for a term in the thesaurus" and then enter the expression "V4.1".

    The Eurovoc thesaurus covers all fields which are of importance for the activities of the European institutions: politics, international relations, European Communities, law, economics, trade, finance, social questions, education and communications, science, business and competition, employment and working conditions, transport, environment, agriculture, forestry and fisheries, agri-foodstuffs, production, technology and research, energy, industry, geography, international organizations.

    Some fields are more highly developed than others because they are more closely involved with the Community's centres of interest. Thus, for example, the names of the regions of each Community Member State are in Eurovoc but not those of non-Community countries.

    It should also be stressed that one of the characteristics of thesauri in general and of Eurovoc in particular is that the grouping of descriptors into fields is to a certain extent arbitrary. It is in fact possible for certain descriptors to relate to two or more subject fields, but in order to make the thesaurus easier to manage and to limit its size it is generally accepted that limits have to be put on polyhierarchy, in other words the systematic inclusion of each descriptor in all the fields to which it could belong. Descriptors, which could fit into two or more subject fields, are generally assigned only to the field, which seems the most natural for users.


    Fields and microthesauri At generic level Eurovoc has a two-tier hierarchical classification; fields, identified by two-digit numbers and titles in words, e.g.: 10 EUROPEAN COMMUNITIES microthesauri, identified by four-digit numbers - the first two digits being those for the field containing the microthesaurus - and by titles in words, e.g.:1011 COMMUNITY LAW. The numbering of fields and microthesauri is identical in all language versions.

    Semantic relationships At the specific level of descriptors and non-descriptors, the structure of Eurovoc depends on semantic relationships: scope note, microthesaurus relationship, equivalence relationship, hierarchical relationship, associative relationship.

    The thesaurus in figures All language versions of the Eurovoc thesaurus comprise: 21 fields, 127 microthesauri, 6501 descriptors (of which 512 are top terms), 6510 reciprocal hierarchical relationships (6510 BT and 6510 NT), 3542 reciprocal associative relationships. The fields, microthesauri, descriptors, hierarchical relationships and associative relationships are strictly equivalent in all languages. The numbers of non-descriptors and scope notes, on the other hand, vary from language to language.

    2.3.1. Practical operations in browsing EUROVOC

    The EUROVOC homepage allows the end user to either download the thesaurus or to search the term of interest using the search engine provided on the site. The thesaurus can be downloaded in two versions: subject-oriented, or alphabetical, in each of the languages covered. The subject-oriented version allows viewing all the descriptors of a chosen field, displayed alphabetically and with the corresponding relations (NT and RT). Each descriptor is given a four-digit classification number, which locates it within a field (first two digits) and a microthesaurus (last two digits). The permuted alphabetical version lists all the descriptors and non-descriptors of EUROVOC, stating the Microthesaurus to which they belong and their relations (hierarchical, associative and of equivalence).

    We used the search engine to locate the term development within EUROVOC. The search yielded a permuted list of terms (both descriptors and non-descriptors) containing this expression. Since development did not appear as either a descriptor or a non-descriptor, we chose to use economic development, which seemed to cover the semantic constellation of the term studied. Socio-economic development didn't appear, as in AGROVOC, and Social Development alone was only related to other topics (social life and social affairs). Underdevelopment was found as a Narrower Term related to Economic Development. The relations' table for EUROVOC was constructed by expanding economic development and all the terms related hierarchically, and by adding the existing relations between Related Terms and other already mentioned terms.


    Unfortunately, the OECD Macrothesaurus is only available for purchase and the website does not provide a general presentation of this thesaurus.

    2.4.1. Practical operations in browsing OECD MACROTHESAURUS

    The OECD MACROTHESAURUS website presents the thesaurus' Chapter Headings, which correspond to the various fields covered, including subsections, and an alphabetical list. The user can therefore either browse the thesaurus by subject, or search for the term of interest in the alphabetical index. No search engine is provided.

    Selecting a subsection displays alphabetically all the keywords (descriptors) contained. The user can then choose one of these terms to view its relations (BT, NT and RT), its ID (a unique code for each descriptor) and its location within the Macrothesaurus, given by a six-digit number (chapter, subsection and position held in the subsection).

    The term development was not included in the list of descriptors of the Macrothesaurus. We therefore chose to use the descriptor economic and social development, which contained the term underdevelopment among its narrower terms.

    Our table of relations includes the complete tree of relations for economic and social development, up to the relations between the Related Terms and descriptors already defined.

    2.5. UNBIS

    The multilingual UNBIS Thesaurus[19] , created by the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, United Nations Department of Public Information, contains the terminology used in subject analysis of documents and other materials relevant to United Nations programmes and activities. It is used as the subject authority of the United Nations Bibliographic Information System (UNBIS) and has been incorporated as the subject lexicon of the United Nations Official Document System. It is multidisciplinary in scope, reflecting the Organization's wide-ranging concerns. The terms included are meant to reflect accurately, clearly, concisely and with a sufficient degree of specificity, matters of importance and interest to the United Nations. In addition, since the inception of the Thesaurus in 1981, two primary criteria in the selection of descriptors have been:

    a) consistency with the terminology used by the Organization itself as reflected in its documents; and

    b) compatibility with terms included in thesauri produced or utilized within the UN System, in order to facilitate exchange of information with other organizations. The organizations of the United Nations System, such as the World Bank, ILO, WHO, FAO, IAEA and Unesco, are lead agencies in their particular areas of activity and their choice of descriptors has been preferred.

    The UNBIS Thesaurus is continuously being expanded and updated. New terms are proposed, as needed, to reflect the concerns of the United Nations; they may be used provisionally until, after discussion and evaluation, they are officially adopted and rendered in the six official languages. Users, therefore, may encounter newer terms at different stages in the process. The third, 1995, edition of the Thesaurus was trilingual; it has been a major undertaking to have the nearly 7,000 terms translated into three additional languages (to say nothing of the technical challenges of mounting a multilingual, multi-script thesaurus). The first, preliminary, online version was launched in November 2001.

    2.5.1. Practical operations in browsing UNBIS

    The UNBIS thesaurus offers a search engine, which allows the external user to type a term of interest and to select the search method. We can choose whether to search terms and cross-reference fields only (Simple Search), or anywhere in the record, including related terms and notes (Full-Text Search). Furthermore, the engine can look for terms matching the whole phrase, any of the words, or all the words typed. Once the term of interest if found, its equivalent terms are displayed, in the other languages covered. The relations can then be viewed by selecting the language in which to expand the descriptor.

    This was the only thesaurus analysed that contained the term development as a descriptor. We therefore based our investigation on this term, and the table of relations for UNBIS represents all the relations (hierarchical and associative) of development and its narrower terms. We chose not to expand related terms, due to the high level of interrelations and complexity of this thesaurus.


    The UNESCO Thesaurus is a controlled vocabulary developed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation which includes subject terms for the following areas of knowledge: education, science, culture, social and human sciences, information and communication, and politics, law and economics. It also includes the names of countries and groupings of countries: political, economic, geographic, ethnic and religious, and linguistic groupings.

    The UNESCO Thesaurus allows subject terms to be expressed consistently, with increasing specificity, and in relation to other subjects. It can be used to facilitate subject indexing in libraries, archives and similar institutions.

    As in other subject thesauri, the terms in the UNESCO Thesaurus are linked together by three types of relationships: Hierarchical relationships, Associative relationships, Equivalence relationships. The UNESCO Thesaurus also includes scope notes (SN) which explain the meaning and application of terms, and French (FR) and Spanish (SP) equivalents of English preferred terms. This thesaurus was developed by UNESCO for use in the indexing and retrieval of information in the UNESCO Integrated Documentation Network. It was first published in 1977. A second edition was issued in 1995.

    The UNESCO Thesaurus database can be browsed via this website in two ways: alphabetically and hierarchically.

    The UNESCO Thesaurus includes French and Spanish equivalents of English preferred terms. Indexes of French terms (with Spanish and English equivalents) and Spanish terms (with French and English equivalents) have also been provided [20] .

    2.6.1. Practical operations in browsing UNESCO Thesaurus

    As already described in paragraph 1.3 (Use of a thesaurus from an end user's point of view), external users or interact with the UNESCO thesaurus by entering an expression, a term or a part of a term, in the internal search engine. The thesaurus can be browsed in two ways: alphabetically (alphabetical or permuted list) or hierarchically.

    We used the alphabetical search for the term development, but since this was a non-descriptor, we used economic and social development (the preferred term) in our reconstruction of the relations' table for this thesaurus. Underdevelopment appeared as a narrower term of economic and social development. We expanded our table to include the complete tree of relations for this descriptor, up to the relations between Related Terms and other already analysed terms.

    2.6.2. UNESCO THESAURUS relations' table

    2.7 Results

    The following table summarises some of the most important points on the results obtained with the browsing of the five thesauri described earlier.

    Term DEVELOPMENTNot presentNon- descriptorNon-descriptorDescriptorNot present
    Used termSocioeconomic DevelopmentEconomic DevelopmentEconomic and Social DevelopmentDevelopmentEconomic and Social Development
    Spanish termDesarrollo económico y socialDesarrollo económicoDesarrollo económico y socialDesarrolloDesarrollo económico y social
    FrenchDéveloppement socioéconomiqueDéveloppement économiqueDéveloppement économique et social DéveloppementDéveloppement économique et social
    Total NT2016202428
    DepthNT3NT 2NT4NT3NT4
    RT (to the Used term)-612/td>1312
    Total RT633160/td>13993
    Term UNDERDEVELOPMENTNot presentDescriptorDescriptorNot presentDe4scriptor
    Relation wuth term of reference-NT1NT1-NT1

    We can see from the table above that Development is only included as descriptor within UNBIS thesaurus. EUROVOC and the UNESCO thesaurus include it as a non-descriptor, with an indication to use another term instead (Economic development and Economic and social development respectively). Neither AGROVOC thesaurus nor the OECD Macrothesaurus treat this word as a term.

    As explained in the previous pages, the absence of the term development in some of the thesauri forced us to choose as reference terms ("Used term" in the table above) those that seemed to cover the semantic field of our interest. Therefore, development became socioeconomic development for AGROVOC, economic development for EUROVOC, economic and social development for OECD and UNESCO.

    Due to the diversity of starting terms, our comparison of the five thesauri can only be carried out at a general level. A deeper analysis would require the use of a common descriptor, covering the same semantic constellation.

    A first element of comparison is the accessibility, i.e. the number of connections (NT1 and RT) that each selected term has. EUROVOC is the one that possesses the most NT1 relations (15), UNBIS the one with the most RT (13). UNESCO is the thesaurus with the lowest number of NT1 relations (3), AGROVOC doesn't provide any RT to the term Socioeconomic development.

    >From this, we can see that different thesauri choose different levels of NT relationships. Both OECD and UNESCO deepen the relations for our terms of interest up to the level of NT4, describing all the possible narrower terms corresponding to each descriptor. EUROVOC, on the other hand, only reaches the NT2 level, despite 15 NT1. This means that in the case of EUROVOC we have a more horizontal tree, with no attempt to define the meaning of terms by deepening their cross-reference with other terms.

    Another point of comparison can be the number of hierarchical or associative relations present in the five thesauri. From our analysis, it appears that UNESCO is the thesaurus with the most hierarchical relations, whereas UNBIS is by far the one with the most associative relations.

    As we mentioned in the introduction, we were interested in understanding the space accorded to the term underdevelopment with respect to "development". The term "underdevelopment" is absent from two thesauri (AGROVOC and UNBIS), but is a descriptor in the other three (EUROVOC, OECD and UNESCO). This term is generally scarcely deepened; as we can see from our table, it possesses 1NT and 1RT in EUROVOC, 1RT in OECD and 3RT in UNESCO. In all three cases, it is present as NT1 to "development". It therefore serves the purpose of specifying one aspect of the used broader term.

    3. Final considerations

    One of the most important results of our work is having displayed and clarified the structure of the term development internal to each thesaurus analysed. As we have already underlined, the fact that the term is often used as a non-preferred term has several implication on the following trend of the research. Initially, in browsing the thesauri, we were surprised that the term was not considered important enough to be a descriptor. The explanation of this methodological choice provided by the international organizations generally referred to the existing high degree of pre-coordination among terms[21] . In order to reduce the probability of an unsuccessful research, or one resulting in a confusing or irrelevant outcome, the term development has been associated with other terms more pertinent to the research. Another answer was linked to the fact that the thesaurus is a tool that serves a precise goal, the indexing of existing documents, and for this reason have no pretension to cover all the domains of knowledge. From a "technical" point of view these types of explanations are undoubtedly satisfactory, but from an "end user" approach it is difficult to understand the reason of these choices. In my opinion two points emerged in navigating the thesauri: 1- by including or omitting a term, a thesaurus establishes (indirectly) a degree of importance with regard to the preferred word that can express a concept, 2- the syndetic structure of this tool determines the way in which an "end user" will approach the knowledge contained in the existing documents. For these two important reasons I think that the indexing process is neither neutral nor transparent, but reveals a specific intention to orient the knowledge's organization and, most importantly, the way in which we should look at the existing documents, at their epistemology.

    In the ending part of this document I would like to set some considerations, related to the future use of the term development. This intend is strictly linked to the hypothesis mentioned in the introduction to this work, the one concerned with the arrangement of documents regarding UE/ACP relationships. Before approaching this argument it is necessary to take a step back and take up some arguments outlined in the previous pages. In this sense we will redefine the concept of development retracing when and where this concept appeared and how its meanings evolved over time.

    3. 3.1. A redefinition of the concept of development

    The word development occupies, as we have already seen, the centre of an incredibly powerful semantic constellation. There is nothing in modern mentality comparable to it as a force guiding thought and behaviour. At the same time, very few words are as feeble, as fragile and as incapable of giving substance and meaning to thought and behaviour as this one.

    The Development Dictionary[22] outlines a brief overview of the use of development as a metaphor to indicate different kind of concepts and its contorted trend in history. "In common parlance, development describes a process through which the potentialities of an object or organism are released, until it reaches its natural, complete, full-fledged form. Hence the metaphoric use of the term to explain the natural growth of plants and animals. Through this metaphor, it became possible to show the goal of development and, much later, its programme [...]. The transfer of the biological metaphor to the social sphere occurred in the last quarter of the 18th century. Justus Moser, the conservative founder of social history, from 1768 used the word Entwicklung to allude to the gradual process of social change. When he talked about the transformation of some political situations, he described them almost as natural processes [...]. Towards 1800, Entwicklung began to appear as a reflexive verb. Self-development became fashionable. God, then, started to disappear in the popular conception of the universe. And a few decades later, all possibilities were opened to the human subject, author of his own development, emancipated from the divine design. Development became the central category of Marx's work: revealed as a historical process that unfolds with the same necessary character of natural laws [...]. When the metaphor returned to vernacular, it acquired a violent colonizing power, soon employed by the politicians. It converted history into a programme: a necessary and inevitable destiny. The industrial mode of production, which was no more than one among many forms of social life, became the definition of the terminal stage of a unilinear way of social evolution. This stage came to be seen as the natural culmination of the potentials already existing in the Neolithic man, as his logical evolution. Thus history was reformulated in Western terms. The metaphor of development gave global hegemony to a purely Western genealogy of history, robbing peoples of different cultures of the opportunity to define the forms of their social life [...]. The debris of metaphors used throughout the 18th century began to become part of ordinary language in the 19th century, with the word development accumulating in it a whole variety of connotations. This overload of meanings ended up in dissolving its precise significance [...]. Throughout the 20th century two uses of the term became widespread: the association of the term with "urban", and a new association with the term "colonialism". The meanings associated with urban development and colonial development concurred with many others to transform the word "development", step by step, into one with contours that are about as precise as those of an amoeba [...].

    This brief overview is important in order to understand that development cannot de-link itself from the words with which it was formed- growth, evolution and maturation. In general terms the word always implies a "favourable change, a step from the simple to the complex, from the inferior to the superior, from worse to better. The word indicates that one is doing well because one is advancing in the sense of a necessary, ineluctable, universal law and towards a desirable goal". The point is that the genealogy of this word is rooted in western history and epistemology, and, as Gustavo Esteva suggests[23] , for two-thirds of the people on earth, this positive meaning of the word "development" is a reminder of what they are not. It is a reminder of an undesirable, undignified condition. To escape from it, they need to be enslaved to others' experiences and dreams.

    This last assumption reconnects to a consideration we made in the Introduction of our work: at the basis of the political division of the world in "developed" and "underdeveloped" countries we find, once again, the western concept of development. It is possible, following Gilbert Rist's analysis to indicate a precise date of birth of this meaning of development: January 20, 1949. That very day, the day on which President Truman took office, a new era was opened for the world, the era of development. "We must embark [President Truman said] on a bold new program for making the benefits of our scientific advances and industrial progress available for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas. The old imperialism- exploitation for foreign profit- has no place in our plans. What we envisage is a program of development based on the concepts of democratic fair dealing". By using for the first time in such context the word "underdeveloped" President Truman changed the meaning of development. Since then, development has connoted at least one thing: to escape from the undignified condition called underdevelopment. On January 20, 1949, a new perception of one's owns self, and of the other, was suddenly created. "Two billion people became underdeveloped. In a real sense, from that time on, they ceased being what they were, in all their diversity, and were transmogrified into an inverted mirror of others' reality: a mirror that belittles them and sends them off to the end of the queue, a mirror that defines their identity, which is really that of heterogeneous and diversity majority, simply in the terms of a homogenizing and narrow minority"[24] . No longer African, Latin American or Asian (not to speak of Bambara, Shona, Berber, Quechua, Anymara, Balinese or Mongol), they were now simply "underdeveloped".

    It is this division, the one that maps the whole world in two big categories (We-developed western countries/Others-underdeveloped countries), which defines and empowers our epistemology of development. For this reason, it is fundamental to scrutinize and clarify this implied meaning of the concept before approaching other uses of the term. How can it be possible, for a non-western user, to grasp and accept the meaning of Economic development or Socio-economic development without (at least) representing in explicit form: 1-the western origin of the concept of development and, 2- when and how these terms appeared?

    The focus on the economic or social variables of the term development is strictly related to the importance granted to different paradigms of development that where born and accepted in particular periods of western history. The following table[25] defines the theoretical perspectives and the correspondent meanings of development that have succeeded over time:

    PeriodPerspectivesMeanings of development
    1850>LatecomersIndustrialization, catching-up
    1870>Colonial economicsResource Management, trusteeship
    1940>Development EconomicsEconomic (growth)-industrialization
    1950>Modernization theoryGrowth, political and social modernization
    1960>Dependency theoryAccumulation-national, autocentric
    1970>Alternative developmentHuman flourishing
    1980>Human developmentCapacitation, enlargement of people's choices
    1980>NeoliberalismEconomic growth-structural reform, deregulation, liberalization, privatization
    1990>Post-developmentAuthoritarian engineering, disaster

    At the beginning of Chapter II we have mentioned the possible parallelism among the date entry of the term development and the paradigms of development that were born and accepted during the 70s and the 80s. If our hypothesis on the date entry of the term was right, we can now understand the choice, internal to the analysed thesauri, in using economic development or socio-economic development to describe the content of the existing documents. This choice, which is supposed to command universal acceptance, find its limits within a particular history and culture: the western.

    3.2.Updating a thesaurus

    The arguments underlined in the previous paragraphs leave many open questions; the most relevant, in our opinion, is related to the arrangement of the existing documents concerning the EU/ACP relations. Considering the fact that this knowledge organization is still at a preparatory stage, which thesaurus will be employed in order to define the content of the documents that are part of a "shared archive"? Will the indexing process of document resources be carried out through the syndetic structure of the EU thesaurus, or will new strategies be implemented?

    The question is particularly relevant considering the fact that "developing countries" are, in this case, directly involved. It is fundamental to find an agreement around the semantic use of the term development that can be useful to both western and non-western users. The thesaurus should provide enough entry points to allow users to navigate from terms that are part of a shared preferred terminology adopted by the organisation. Following this assumption two points cannot be disregarded in updating the thesaurus: 1- the introduction of a scope note that reveals the western origin of the term development, and 2- the introduction of new keywords qualified to reveal the models of economic cooperation between EU and ACP that followed one another over time. Of course these modifications deserve both a deep analysis and a trans-cultural comparative evaluation. The possible results of this research are still unknown, but from a critical point of view we can use, as literary source to imagine a scope note, the definition of development provided by Gilbert Rist: " Development [as a western concept] consists of a set of practices, sometimes appearing to conflict with one another, which require -for the reproduction of society- the general transformation and destruction of the natural environment and of social relations. Its aim is to increase the production of commodities (goods and services) geared, by way of exchange, to effective demand"[26] .

    Concerning the possible keywords that could define the models of economic cooperation between EU and ACP we can refer to: "Partnership in development" (SN. Theoretical framework: exportations and commercial aid to improve development. Application of the theoretical neo-keynesian model to the paradigm of development), "Constrained development" (SN. Theoretical framework: commercial cooperation in order to solve external and internal constrains. Structuralism applied to developing countries), "Policy driven development" (SN. Theoretical framework: structural readjustments to improve development. Macroeconomics applied to the developing countries). These few examples can demonstrate that it is possible to clarify, from a western point of view, the meaning of the European international cooperation and the economic models adopted over time. The ACP countries should now play a key role in redefining the meaning of these forms of development cooperation (and whether they were successful or not). A thesaurus will require modifications and updates when terminology in the organisation changes. Updating the use of the term development could represent a unique opportunity to create "trans-cultural entry points" and, most importantly, to keep the thesaurus relevant in its practical use. Otherwise there is a danger: if the thesaurus is allowed to become monolithic and resistant to change, it can actually hinder both indexing and retrieval. From a "technical" point of view there are several reasons why the contents of, and relationships within a thesaurus might change. These may include: 1-shifts in organisational culture with new terms gaining prominence, 2- changes in the status of terms, 3- identification of additional non-preferred terms by users, 4- recognition, through usage of the thesaurus, that scope notes or history notes need clarification, 5-request for changes from users. We believe that the arrangement of the documents inherent to EU/ACP relationships embraces all of them.


    I would like to thank Prof. Marco Mozzati, Faculty of Political Science, University of Pavia, for the continuous support during the planning of this article. Giulio Fossi, former director of the OECD Development Centre. Claudio Gnoli, Department of Mathematics, University of Pavia, Library, and Emanuela Casson, University of Milano Bicocca, Library, for having introduced me to the world of the thesauri and for their technical support. Prof. Enzo Grilli, SAIS Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC. Also, Consuelo Hannibal and Alessandra Carta, Humanities and Law Library, and Anna Vantaggi, Department of Political Science, Library, University of Milano, for the valuable help in retrieving documents. This work would not have been possible without the active contribution of Meron Ekwetu, responsible for the UNESCO thesaurus, Margherita Sini, responsible for the AGROVOC thesaurus, and Christine Laaboudi for the EUROVOC thesaurus, who have patiently answered to my questions and clarified all my doubts.
    Finally, my thanks go to Giacomo, who has offered me his lovely patience and active support throughout this work.


    This glossary defines terms that are central to this article. Most definitions have been extracted from the ISO 2788, Guidelines for the establishment and development of monolingual thesauri, ISO 5964, Guidelines for the establishment and development of multilingual thesauri and from the American ANSI/NISO Z39.19-1993 Guidelines for the Construction, Format, and Management of Monolingual Thesauri.

    Associative relationship- Covers relationships between pairs of terms which are not members of an equivalence set, nor can they be organised as a hierarchy in which one term is subordinated to another, yet they are mentally associated to such an extent that the link between them should made explicit […] on the ground that it would reveal alternative terms which may be used for indexing or retrieval. Establishes non-hierarchical relationships between related terms.

    Authorised term- The terms in a thesaurus that can be applied to a record. Also called preferred terms.

    Broader term- A descriptor to which another descriptor or multiple descriptors are subordinate in hierarchy. The relationship indicator for this type of term is BT.

    Concept- A unit of thought, formed by mentally combining some or all the characteristics of a concrete or abstract, real or imaginary object. Concepts exist in the mind as abstract entities independent of terms used to express them.

    Controlled vocabulary- The use of specified terms and combinations of terms to describe a resource. A subset of the lexicon of natural language. A list of preferred and non-preferred terms produced by the process of vocabulary control. Types of controlled vocabulary include subject heading lists and thesauri. Antonym of free text.

    Cross-reference- A direction from one term to another. Cross-references are of three types: (a) equivalence relationship, beginning with the word see or USE, which leads to one or more descriptors that are to be used instead of the term from which the cross-reference is made; (b) associative relationship, beginning with the word see also, or related term (RT), which leads from one descriptor to other descriptors that are related to or associated with it in the context of a thesaurus; (c) hierarchical, beginning with the words broader term (BT) or narrower term (NT) which represent generic and specific relationships, respectively. (It is possible to display hierarchical relationships without using the cross-references).

    Descriptor- A type of heading that is a term chosen as the preferred expression of a concept in a thesaurus.

    Document- Any item, printed or otherwise, that is amenable to cataloguing and indexing.

    Entry term- The non-preferred term in a cross-reference that leads to a descriptor in a thesaurus. Also known as "lead-in term". The relationship indicator for this type of term is USE; its reciprocal is UF (used for).

    Entry vocabulary- The set of non-preferred terms (USE references) in a cross-reference that lead to descriptors in a thesaurus (This term is used by some thesaurus designers to represent the preferred as well as the non-preferred terms in a thesaurus).

    Equivalence- The relationship between preferred and non-preferred terms where two or more terms are regarded, for indexing purposes, as referring the same concept. Relationship linking non-preferred terms to preferred terms.

    Free text- Antonym of controlled vocabulary. Natural language terms appearing in documents, which may complement descriptors in an information storage and retrieval system. In free text searching, descriptors may also be retrieved. Cf. Keyword.

    Heading- A preferred name or term. Types of heading include proper name headings (which may be called identifiers), subject headings, and descriptors.

    Hierarchy- Relationship based on degrees or levels of superordination and subordination, where the superordinate term represents a class or whole, and subordinate terms refer to its members or parts. Generic (broader), specific (narrower) or whole-part relationships, which are generally indicated in a thesaurus through codes or indention. See also broader term; narrower term.

    History note- A note in a term record in a thesaurus that provides the date entry of the descriptor as well as the history of modifications to its scope, relationships, etc.

    Indexing- The act of describing or identifying a document in terms of its subject content.

    Indexing language- A controlled set of terms selected from natural language and used to represent, in summary form, the subjects of documents

    Indexing term- The representation of a concept, in an indexing language, preferably in the form of a noun or noun phrase.

    Information storage and retrieval system- A set of operations and the associate equipment, software and documentation by which documents are indexed and the records are stored, so that the selected records can be retrieved in response to requests employing commands that can be handled by the system.

    Keyword- A common data element name in a retrieval interface where the user enters text as a single word, multiple words or a phrase. A word occurring in the natural language of document that is considered significant in indexing or retrieval.

    Literary warrant- Justification for the representation of a concept in an indexing language or for the selection of a preferred term because of its frequent occurrence in the literature.

    Microthesaurus- A subset of a thesaurus, converting a limited range of topics within the domain of the thesaurus. A microthesaurus may contain highly specialized descriptors that are not of the broad thesaurus. Such descriptors should map to the hierarchical structure of the broad thesaurus. A microthesaurus is internally consistent with respect to relationships among terms.

    Multilingual thesaurus- A thesaurus containing terms selected from more than one natural language. It displays not only the interrelationships between terms, but also equivalent terms in other languages covered.

    Narrower term- A descriptor that is subordinate to another descriptor or to multiple descriptors in a hierarchy. The relationship indicator for this type of term in NT.

    Natural language- A language used by human beings for verbal communication. Words extracted from natural language texts for indexing purposes without vocabulary control are often called keywords.

    Non-preferred term- The terms in a thesaurus that cannot be applied to a record. Also called "unauthorised" terms.

    Orphan term- A descriptor that has no association or hierarchical relationship to any other descriptor in a thesaurus.

    Post-coordination- The combining of descriptors at the searching stage rather than at the subject heading list construction stage or indexing stage.

    Pre-coordination- The formulation of a multiword subject heading or the linking of a heading with a subheading at the subject heading list construction stage or at the indexing stage to express a compound concept, e.g., cataloguing of serials, cataloguing---serials, or serials cataloguing.

    Preferred term- The terms in a thesaurus that can be applied to a record. Also called "authorised" terms.

    Quasi-synonym- A term whose meaning is not exactly synonymous with that of another term, yet which may nevertheless be treated as its equivalent in a thesaurus.

    Related term- A descriptor that is associatively but not hierarchically linked to another descriptor in a thesaurus. The relationship indicator for this type of descriptor is RT.

    Relationship indicator- A word, phrase, abbreviation or symbol identifying a semantic relationship between terms. Examples of relationship indicators are: USE, UF (used for), and RT (related term).

    Scope note- Explanation added to a heading to clarify the range of the subject matter encompassed or the usage of the heading within the index. Description to define a term, providing guidance and clarification on the meaning of a term.

    Subject- Any concept or combination of concepts representing a theme in a document.

    Subject thesaurus- A vocabulary of controlled language for the purposes of describing the content of objects. Synonym- A word or a term having exactly or very nearly the same meaning as other word or term.

    Term- One or more words designating a concept.

    Term record- A set of fields of information about a descriptor in a thesaurus, including the history of the descriptor, its relationships to other terms, and optionally, authorities for the descriptor.

    Thesaurus- The vocabulary of a controlled indexing language, formally organised so that the a-priori relationships between concepts (for example as "broader" or "narrower") are made explicit. A controlled vocabulary arranged in a known order in which equivalence, homographic, hierarchical, and associative relationships among terms are clearly displayed and identified by standardized relationship indicators, which must be employed reciprocally. Its purposes are to promote consistency in the indexing of documents, predominantly for post-coordinated information storage and retrieval systems, and to facilitate the retrieval of documents in free text searching.

    Thesaurus application- A software package designed to present words, and their meanings, in a structure that enables the display of relationships according to pre-determined thesaurus structure conventions. The application stores terms and gives them tags and stores their relationships with other terms. It sets validation to prevent non-preferred terms being used for classification and titling. The software should also have a browse facility to enable users to enter terms. The software then displays relationships and links to search engines to retrieve the records.

    Tree structure- A thesaurus display format in which the complete hierarchy of descriptors is shown. Each descriptor is assigned a tree number or line number which leads from the alphabetical display to the hierarchical one.

    Top term- The broadest descriptor in a thesaurus hierarchy, sometimes indicated by the abbreviation TT.

    Unauthorised terms- The terms in a thesaurus that cannot be applied to a record. Also called "non-preferred" terms.

    User warrant- Justification for the representation of a concept in a indexing language or for the selection of a preferred term because of frequent request for information on the concept or free-text searches on the term by users of an information storage and retrieval system.


    J. Aitchison, UNESCO Thesaurus: A Structured List of Descriptors for Indexing and Retrieving Literature in the Fields of Education, Science, Social and Human Science, Culture, Communication and Information. Paris: UNESCO Publishing, 1995

    J. Aitchison, D. Bawden, A. Gilchrist, Thesaurus construction and use: a practical manual, 4th. ed., London : Aslib, 2000.

    D.Danesi, Le variabili del Thesaurus: gestione e struttura. Quaderni del laboratorio thesauri 1. IFNIA, Firenze, 1990.

    Dizionario della globalizzazione. Le idee e le parole dello sviluppo. Zelig, Milano, 2002.

    A.C. Foskett, The subject Approach to information, London: Library Association Publishing, 1996.

    M.Foucault, Les mots et les choses, Paris: Gallimard, 1966 (The Order of Things, New York: Vintage, 1973).

    M.Foucault, L'archéologie du savoir, Paris: Gallimard, 1969 (The Archaeology of Knowledge, translated by A. Sheridan Smith, New York: Harper and Row, 1972).

    E.Grilli, La cooperazione tra UE e Paesi ACP, in Politica Internazionale, Rivista Bimestrale dell'IPALMO n.3, Maggio-Giugno 2000.

    S.Latouche, L'occidentalisation du monde. Essai sur la signification, la portee et les limites de l'uniformisation planetaire, Paris: Edition La Decouverte, 1989.

    F. W. Lancaster, Thesaurus construction and use, Paris, UNESCO, 1985 (PGI-85/WS/11) .

    F. W. Lancaster, Vocabulary control for information retrieval, Arlington, Virginia, IRP, 1986.

    J.Nederveen Pieterse, Development theory. Deconstructions/Reconstructions, London: SAGE Publications, 2001.

    G. Rist, The history of development, from Western Origins to Global Faith, London: Zed Books, 2002

    W.Sachs, The development dictionary. A guide to knowledge as Power. London: Zed Books, 1992

    M. Trigari, Come costruire un Thesaurus, Modena, Panini, 1992.

    G. Van Slype, Les langages d'indexation : Conception, construction et utilisation dans les systémes documentaires, Paris, Les Editions d'Organisation, 1987.

    International Standards

    International Organization for Standardization. ISO 2788: Guidelines for the establishment and development of monolingual thesauri. Geneve, ISO, 1986. 1st ed.1974

    International Organization for Standardization. ISO 5964: Guidelines for the establishment and development of multilingual thesauri. Geneve, ISO, 1985. Guidelines for the establishment and development of monolingual thesauri. General Information Programme and UNISIST; prepared by Derek Austin and Peter Dale. 2nd revised ed. Paris, Unesco, 1981.

    Other national standards

    Australian Standard for Records Management, AS ISO 15489 – 2002 (monolingual)

    British Standard Institution. BS 5723. 1987 (monolingual)

    British Standard Institution. BS 6723. 1985 (multilingual)

    Association Francaise de Normalisation. NFZ 47-100. 1981 (monolingual)

    American National Standard Institute. ANSI Z.39.19 1980 (monolingual)

    Deutsches Institut fur Normung. DIN 1463. 1976 (monolingual)

    Thesauri of international organizations - URL

    FAO AGROVOC/ Food and Agriculture Organisation <> [2005-02-15]

    EUROVOC/ European Communities <!SERVEUR/menu!prod!MENU?langue=EN> [2005-01-15]

    OECD MACROTHESAURUS/Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development < > [2005-02-01]

    UNBIS/United Nations Bibliographic Information System Thesaurus Dag Hammarskjold library <>[2005-03-01]

    UNESCO/United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation/ <>[2005-01-05]


    [1] The term "thesaurus" is the Latin form of the Greek word thesauros, originally meaning "treasure store". In the 16th century, it began to be used as a synonym for "dictionary" (a treasure store of words), but later it fell into disuse. Peter Mark Roget resurrected the term in 1852 for the title of his dictionary of synonyms. The purpose of that work was to give the user a choice among similar terms when the one first thought of does not quite seem to fit. In the early 1950s, the word "thesaurus" began to be employed again as the name for a word list, but one with the exactly opposite aim: to prescribe the use of only one term (a "descriptor") for a concept that may have synonyms. A similarity between Roget's thesaurus and thesauri for indexing and information retrieval is that both list terms that are related hierarchically or associatively to descriptors, in addition to synonyms. Jean Aitchison claims that after a period of experiment and evolution in the 1950s and the 1960s, a fairly standard format for thesauri was established with the influential Thesaurus of Engineering and Scientific Terms (TEST) in 1967. This and other early thesauri relied primarily on the presentation of terms in alphabetical order. The value of a classified presentation was subsequently realised, and in particular, the technique of facet analysis has profoundly influenced thesaurus evolution. Thesaurofacet and the Art & Architecture Thesaurus have acted as models for two distinct breeds of thesaurus using faceted display of terms. As of the 1990s, the expansion of end-user access to vast networked resources is imposing further requirements on the style and structure of controlled vocabularies. See, Jean Aitchison, Stella Dextre Clarke, The Thesaurus A Historical Viewpoint, with a Look to the Future, in Cataloging & Classification Quartely, Volume: 37 Issue: 3/4, 2004, pp.5-21

    [2] To index means, in library science's field, an operation intended to represent the results of the content analysis of a document by means of a controlled indexing language or by natural language. An indexing language is a controlled vocabulary or classification system and the rules for its application. This indexing language is generally used for the representation of concepts dealt with in documents and for the retrieval of such documents from an information storage and retrieval system.

    [3] In this article term is used in library science's meaning as an indexing element, as a parameter of research.

    [4] These relationship indicators can be expressed in different ways, depending on the starting language of the thesaurus. For instance, in French: EM for USE, EP for UF, TG for BT, TS for NT, TA for RT, NE for SN. In German: BS for USE, BF for UF, OB for BT, UB for NT, VB for RT, D for SN

    [5] By using the word discourse we mean, as Foucault explains (1969), a significant area that is represented in explicit form by using enunciations that are excluding others and that act as if they are coherent

    [6] "C'est là qu'une culture, se décalant insensiblement des ordres empiriques qui lui sont prescrits par ses codes primaires, instaurant une première distance par rapport agrave; eux, leur fait perdre leur transparence initiale, cesse de se laisser passivement traverser par eux, se dé prend de leur pouvoirs immédiats et invisibles, se libère assez pour constater que ces ordres ne sont peut-être pas les seuls possibles ni les meilleurs […] ». M.Foucault, Les mots et les choses, Paris: Gallimard, 1966, p.12.

    [7] This research represents my final work for the International University Master in Cooperation and Development of Pavia (Italy).

    [8] Gilbert Rist, The history of development, from Western Origins to Global Faith, London: Zed Books, 2002, p.2.

    [9] "The cooperation between the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (the ACP states) and the European Community (EC) dates back to the creation of EC and is a particularly important aspect of the European Union's development policy on external relations in general. The 1957 Treaty of Rome establishing the European Economic Community (EEC) initially formed the legal basis for cooperation with this group of countries which at the time were, for the most part, colonies of certain Member States. The Yaounde' I and II Conventions between the AAMS (Association of African and Malagasy States) and the EEC, signed in 1963 and 1969 respectively, constituted the first step of the creation of the partnership. Since 1975 the relations between the ACP states and the EC have been governed by the Lome' Conventions, which have established a close, far-reaching and complex partnership. Cooperation focuses on two key elements: economic and commercial cooperation, and development cooperation […]. The arrival of the new millennium witnessed a significant change in the ACP-EC relations. The Lome' IV Convention expired on 29 February 2000 and a new partnership agreement was signed in Cotonou, Benin, on 23 June 2000. It entered into force on 1 April 2003. This agreement establishes a new approach and represents a new stage in the partnership. It aims to strengthen the political dimension of the partnership, to provide new flexibility and to entrust the ACP states with additional responsibilities". See Activities of the European Union. Summaries of legislation, available at <>(November 11th 2004).

    [10] The International Standards are: ISO 2788-1986 - Guidelines for the establishment and development of monolingual thesauri; and ISO 5964-1985 - Guidelines for the establishment and development of multilingual thesauri.

    [11] For example, Australian Standard for Records Management, AS ISO 15489 – 2002, British Standard Institution. BS 5723 and BS 6723. 1985, Association Francaise de Normalisation. NFZ 47-100, American National Standard Institute. ANSI Z.39.19, Deutsches Institut fur Normung. DIN 1463

    [12] The equivalence relationship covers relationships of several types: 1-genuine synonymity, or identical meanings, 2- near-synonymity, or similar meanings, 3- antonymy, or opposite meanings, 4-inclusion, when a descriptor embraces one or more specific concepts which are given the status of non-descriptors, because they are not often used, 5- acronyms, 6-abbreviations, 7-current terms and 8- translations

    [13]The existing types of hierarchical relationship are: 1- generic relationship, 2- part-whole relationship, 3- exemplifying relationship

    [14] The associative relationship can be of various kinds: 1- cause and effect, 2- agency or tool, 3- hierarchy, 4- concomitance, 5- sequence in time or space, 6- constituent elements, 7- characteristic feature, 8-similarity, 9-antonymy, etc.

    [15] The Microthesaurus relationship, unlike the other three, is not considered in the ISO 5964.

    [16] The term "ontology" has been used for a number of years by the artificial intelligence and knowledge representation community but is now becoming a part of the standard terminology of a much wider community including information systems modelling. It describes domain knowledge in a generic way and provides an agreed-upon understanding of a domain. A more concise definition might be: ontology is a system that contains terms, the definition of those terms, and the specification of relationships among those terms.

    [17] AGROVOC is available in the five FAO official languages which are English, French, Spanish, Chinese and Arabic. It is also available in Czech and Portuguese, and Thai. Other languages [18] See "Reengineering AGROVOC to Ontologies. Step towards better semantic structure". NKOS Workshop, 31 May 2003. Rice University, Houston, Texas, USA. [Accessed on 12-03-2005; available at <>]. [19] This online database represents the fourth edition of the UNBIS Thesaurus and the first in all the official languages of the United Nations: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.

    [20] The UNESCO Thesaurus is available in the following formats. Paper: UNESCO Thesaurus: A Structured List of Descriptors for Indexing and Retrieving Literature in the Fields of Education, Science, Social and Human Science, Culture, Communication and Information. Paris: UNESCO Publishing, 1995. ISBN 92-3-003100-3. Digital: as part of UNESCO Databases (Paris: UNESCO, 2002), ISBN 92-3-003868-7. The CD-ROM includes other UNESCO databases in addition to the UNESCO Thesaurus.

    [21] In a thesaurus the high (or low) degree of pre-coordination depends on the high (or low) number of descriptors composed by several words (for example socio-economic development instead of development). A high degree of pre-coordination determines a burdening of the thesaurus but also a decrease of the risk of "noise" in the information retrieval operations.

    [22] W.Sachs, The development dictionary. A guide to knowledge as Power. London: Zed Books, 1992, pp.8-10.

    [23] See "Development" Gustavo Esteva, in W.Sachs, The development dictionary. A guide to knowledge as Power. London: Zed Books, 1992, p.10.

    [24] Ibid., p.7

    [25] See Jan Nederveen Pieterse, Development Theory. Deconstructions/Reconstructions, London: SAGE Publications, 2001, p.7 [26] Gilbert Rist, The history of development, from Western Origins to Global Faith, London: Zed Books, 2002, p.13

    What thesaurus to define EU/ACP relations? : analysis of the term development in the thesauri of the EU and other international organizations / by Francesca Severino ; edited by Emanuela Casson = (ISKO Italia. Documenti) -- <> : 2006.11.02 - 2007.07.30 -