Terminological ambiguities

Other Names:
Lack of vocabulary
Terminological crisis in social studies
The available supply of words has proven inadequate to meet the growing demand for terms to handle the proliferating study of concepts. For example, attention given to functional analysis during the last 20 years has led to a growing repertoire of functional categories, concepts used in the analysis of relationships between components and systems. Concurrently, words with mixed structural and functional connotations, that were attached to some of the most important social and governmental institutions, need to be dropped from scientific usage because their inescapable connotations blur meaning, making it difficult to distinguish clearly between social structures and the functions which they may, but need not always, perform. This means, of course, that there is not only a need for terms for new functional concepts, concepts not previously well-articulated, but also a need for new, more sharply defined terms for social structures to replace old terms whose functional connotations severely limit their usefulness for contemporary social analysis.

The growing awareness of the importance of variables, especially limitless variables, creates the need to find new terms for many scales or indices that have not so far been recognized, although their polarities have frequently been treated as dichotomous entities. Often enough there is only one word for such variables, a word that designates one extreme on a scale. The opposite extreme tends to be identified by a negative prefix, and no terms are available for intermediate positions on the scale, or for the scale itself. The increasing sophistication in social measurement is continually hampered by inability to designate scales and to measure positions, more because of a lack of terminology than because of inability to define these concepts. The emergence of new concepts is an important reason for recognizing and dealing with terminological shortages. However, a systematic analysis of concepts shows that the folk vocabulary leaves many familiar concepts without terms. The point can be readily illustrated by comparing languages, since the way in which one language handles concepts often differs from another. Many words retained in contemporary usage were invented long ago for concepts that have long since lost their original meanings, so that in modern applications they carry irrelevant or misleading connotations.

The problem of diffusion or distribution of terms requires separate recognition. When someone proposes a concept and a corresponding term, it often takes a long time for the idea to win acceptance. Perhaps even more frustration arises from the fact that the same idea often arises simultaneously in several places and is therefore assigned terms independently. The likelihood that the same expression will be chosen is, of course, remote. In each language, community, country or disciplinary cell, when a concept and term is invented, those who adopt it become its advocates and tend to resist strenuously the substitution of alternative terms that have been invented elsewhere. The connotations of words vary among cultural groups and countries even more sharply than their denotations. Consider, in this context, the diverse meanings attributed to the word "development". In addition to the various concepts attached to the word, there are differing connotations. In much of the world, the term continues to have a positive value, to be regarded as a good thing, whatever it is. But in the USA it has recently begun to acquire negative overtones. Under the influence of current stress on the environment, ecology and pollution, many people have begun to identify development with its unfortunate side-effects, namely the negative effects of economic growth and urbanization.

Related Problems:
Terminological deception
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 13: Climate Action
Problem Type:
F: Fuzzy exceptional problems
Date of last update
01.01.2000 – 00:00 CET