Taxonomy (general)

For biological taxonomy, see Taxonomy (biology). For other uses, see Taxonomy (disambiguation).
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Taxonomy is the practice and science of classification. The word is also used as a count noun: a taxonomy, or taxonomic scheme, is a particular classification. The word finds its roots in the Greek language τάξις, taxis (meaning 'order', 'arrangement') and νόμος, nomos ('law' or 'science'). Originally taxonomy referred only to the classifying of organisms or a particular classification of organisms. In a wider, more general sense, it may refer to a classification of things or concepts, as well as to the principles underlying such a classification. Taxonomy is different from meronomy which is dealing with the classification of parts of a whole.

Many taxonomies have a hierarchical structure, but this is not a requirement. Taxonomy uses taxonomic units, known as taxa (singular taxon).


Wikipedia categories illustrate a taxonomy[1] and a full taxonomy of Wikipedia categories can be extracted by automatic means.[2] Recently, it has been shown that a manually-constructed taxonomy, such as that of computational lexicons like WordNet, can be used to improve and restructure the Wikipedia category taxonomy.[3]

In a broader sense, taxonomy also applies to relationship schemes other than parent-child hierarchies, such as network structures. Taxonomies may then include single children with multi-parents, for example, "Car" might appear with both parents "Vehicle" and "Steel Mechanisms"; to some however, this merely means that 'car' is a part of several different taxonomies.[4] A taxonomy might also simply be organization of kinds of things into groups, or an alphabetical list; here, however, the term vocabulary is more appropriate. In current usage within Knowledge Management, taxonomies are considered narrower than ontologies since ontologies apply a larger variety of relation types.[5]

Mathematically, a hierarchical taxonomy is a tree structure of classifications for a given set of objects. It is also named Containment hierarchy. At the top of this structure is a single classification, the root node, that applies to all objects. Nodes below this root are more specific classifications that apply to subsets of the total set of classified objects. The progress of reasoning proceeds from the general to the more specific.

By contrast, in the context of legal terminology, an open-ended contextual taxonomy is employed—a taxonomy holding only with respect to a specific context. In scenarios taken from the legal domain, a formal account of the open-texture of legal terms is modeled, which suggests varying notions of the "core" and "penumbra" of the meanings of a concept. The progress of reasoning proceeds from the specific to the more general.[6]


Anthropologists have observed that taxonomies are generally embedded in local cultural and social systems, and serve various social functions. Perhaps the most well-known and influential study of folk taxonomies is Émile Durkheim's The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. A more recent treatment of folk taxonomies (including the results of several decades of empirical research) and the discussion of their relation to the scientific taxonomy can be found in Scott Atran's Cognitive Foundations of Natural History. Folk taxonomies of organisms have been found in large part to agree with scientific classification, at least for the larger and more obvious species, which means that it is not the case that folk taxonomies are based purely on utilitarian characteristics.[7]

In the seventeenth century the German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, following the work of the thirteenth-century Majorcan philosopher Ramon Llull on his Ars generalis ultima, a system for procedurally generating concepts by combining a fixed set of ideas, sought to develop an alphabet of human thought. Leibniz intended his characteristica universalis to be an "algebra" capable of expressing all conceptual thought. The concept of creating such a "universal language" was frequently examined in the 17th century, also notably by the English philosopher John Wilkins in his work An Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language (1668), from which the classification scheme in Roget's Thesaurus ultimately derives.

Use of taxonomies in various disciplines

Taxonomies in Software Engineering

Vegas et al. [8] make a compelling case to advance the knowledge in the field of software engineering through the use of taxonomies. Similarly, Ore et al. [9] provide a systematic methodology to approach taxonomy building in software engineering related topics.

Software testing taxonomies

Several taxonomies have been proposed in software testing research to classify techniques, tools, concepts and artifacts. The following are some example taxonomies:

  1. A taxonomy of model-based testing techniques [10]
  2. A taxonomy of static-code analysis tools [11]

Interestingly, Engström et al. [12] suggest and evaluate the use of a taxonomy to bridge the communication between researchers and practitioners engaged in the area of software testing. They have also developed a web-based tool[13] to facilitate and encourage the use the taxonomy. The tool (SERP-connect) and its source code (front-end[14] and backend[15]) are available for public use.

Is-a and has-a relationships

Two of the predominant types of relationships in knowledge-representation systems are predication and the universally quantified conditional. Predication relationships express the notion that an individual entity is an example of a certain type (for example, John is a bachelor), while universally quantified conditionals express the notion that a type is a subtype of another type (for example, A dog is a mammal, which means the same as All dogs are mammals).[16]

See also


  1. Zirn, Cäcilia, Vivi Nastase and Michael Strube. 2008. "Distinguishing Between Instances and Classes in the Wikipedia Taxonomy" (video lecture). 5th Annual European Semantic Web Conference (ESWC 2008).
  2. S. Ponzetto and M. Strube. 2007. "Deriving a large scale taxonomy from Wikipedia". Proc. of the 22nd Conference on the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, Vancouver, B.C., Canada, pp. 1440-1445.
  3. S. Ponzetto, R. Navigli. 2009. "Large-Scale Taxonomy Mapping for Restructuring and Integrating Wikipedia". Proc. of the 21st International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI 2009), Pasadena, California, pp. 2083-2088.
  4. Jackson, Joab. "Taxonomy's not just design, it's an art," Government Computer News (Washington, D.C.). September 2, 2004.
  5. Suryanto, Hendra and Paul Compton. "Learning classification taxonomies from a classification knowledge based system." University of Karlsruhe; "Defining 'Taxonomy'," Straights Knowledge website.
  6. Grossi, Davide, Frank Dignum and John-Jules Charles Meyer. (2005). "Contextual Taxonomies" in Computational Logic in Multi-Agent Systems, pp. 33-51.
  7. Kenneth Boulding; Elias Khalil (2002). Evolution, Order and Complexity. Routledge. ISBN 9780203013151. p. 9
  8. Vegas, S. (2009). "Maturing software engineering knowledge through classifications: A case study on unit testing techniques.". IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering. 35 (4): 551–565. doi:10.1109/TSE.2009.13.
  9. Ore, S. (2014). "Critical success factors taxonomy for software process deployment". Software quality journal. 22 (1): 21–48. doi:10.1007/s11219-012-9190-y.
  10. Utting, Mark (2012). [ "A taxonomy of model-based testing approaches"] Check |url= value (help). Software Testing, Verification & Reliability. 22 (5): 297–312. doi:10.1002/stvr.456.
  11. Novak, Jernej. [ "Taxonomy of static code analysis tools"] Check |url= value (help) (PDF). Proceedings of the 33rd international convention MIPRO: 418–422.
  12. Engström, Emelie (2016). "SERP-test: a taxonomy for supporting industry–academia communication". Software Quality Journal: 1–37. doi:10.1007/s11219-016-9322-x.
  13. SERP-connect Missing or empty |title= (help)
  14. "SERP-Connect Backend".
  15. Engstrom, Emelie. SERP-connect backend Missing or empty |title= (help)
  16. Ronald J. Brachman; What IS-A is and isn't. An Analysis of Taxonomic Links in Semantic Networks. IEEE Computer, 16 (10); October 1983.


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