In proceedings | Dans actes

The Functions of Definitions in Ontologies

Selja Seppälä, Alan Ruttenberg, and Barry Smith. “The Functions of Definitions in Ontologies”. In R. Ferrario and W. Kuhn, editors, Formal Ontology in Information Systems: Proceedings of the 9th International Conference (FOIS 2016), volume 283 of Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence and Applications, pages 37–50. IOS Press, Annecy, France, July 6-9 2016.

[ PDF | slides ]


To understand what ontologies do through their definitions, we propose a theoretical explanation of the functions of definitions in ontologies backed by empirical neuropsychological studies. Our goal is to show how these functions should motivate (i) the systematic inclusion of definitions in ontologies and (ii) the adaptation of definition content and form to the specific context of use of ontologies.

Journals | Journaux

An ontological framework for modeling the contents of definitions

Selja Seppälä. “An ontological framework for modeling the contents of definitions”. Terminology, 21(1):23–50, 2015.

[ pre-print ]

This paper addresses the troublesome question of feature selection and content prediction in definition writing. I present the basis of definition-authoring tools that can be used across a range of contexts, independently of the domain and language of the definitions. In addition to being domain- and language-independent, these tools should be easily tailorable to specific domains. Thus, my work seeks to contribute to developing generic definition-writing aids that can be tailored to a range of different contexts and domains. The objectives of this article are: (1) to show that it is possible to create implementable generic definition models; (2) to show how to constrain these models to produce definitions relevant to particular contexts; and (3) to propose an ontological analysis frameworkwith a fixed and well-motivated descriptive vocabulary that can be used in further content analysis studies in terminology and to enhance integration of textual definitions in ontologies.


Survey on defining practices in ontologies

In view of the upcoming Definitions in Ontologies (DO 2013) workshop that will be held on July 7, in Montreal, in conjunction with ICBO 2013, we are sending out a survey on definitions.
The objective is to gather information on the practices and needs of the ontology community with respect to definitions in order to guide the discussion session aimed at creating a prioritized list of best practices in definitions.
We invite you to give us feedback on your experience and to attend the workshop (early registration for workshops are still open until June 23).
The questionnaire will be accessible until June 23.
We thank you for your time and hope to see you at the workshop.

International Workshop on Definitions in Ontologies (DO 2013) – EXTENDED DEADLINE

I am organizing with my colleague Alan Ruttenberg a workshop on definitions in ontologies:

EXTENDED DEADLINE: Friday, April 26, 2013

International Workshop on “Definitions in Ontologies” at ICBO 2013 (International Conference on Biomedical Ontologies)
July 7, 2013
Montreal, Canada
Ontologies built using OBO Foundry principles are advised to include both formal (logical) definitions, as well as natural language definitions. Depending on the effort, one or the other can be underrepresented. Possible explanations to this bottleneck are the high cost of producing well-written definitions; an insufficient understanding of the nature of natural language definitions or of logic; the lack of an operational theory of definitions; the lack of studies that evaluate usability and effectiveness of definitions in ontologies; a paucity of tools to help with definition authoring and checking. Producing natural language definitions is time-consuming, costly and prone to all kinds of inconsistencies. Producing logical definitions that are effective, correct, and communicative is also difficult. It is therefore worth exploring different ways of assisting, with automation, creation and quality control of definitions.
This workshop gathers interested researchers and developers to reflect upon general themes as the selection and modeling of defining information; the relation between definitions in specific domains as opposed to domain-independent definitions; the theoretical underpinnings of definitions; tools that can facilitate relating logical and natural language definitions. In addition, we would want to encourage participation by different communities using definitions so that their needs can be exposed.
The workshop will consist of two parts. First, selected presentations of short papers from attendees. Second, a guided discussion based on the participants’ suggestions. This discussion is aimed at synthetizing and prioritizing defining practices. All papers should end with a suggestion on the defining practices or users’ needs regarding definitions.  We will, based on the presentations and discussion, collect a list of recommendations relating to definitions in ontologies to be posted on the workshop’s website.
We solicit participation from developers and users from all around the world and different linguistic communities in the areas of ontology, natural language processing, information retrieval, logics, philosophy, terminology and lexicology. We want to encourage participation of ontologists and tool developers building ontology authoring tools; philosophers and logicians who can shed light on the issues in creating definitions; biomedical researchers interested in the role of definitions in nomenclatures such as SNOMED; computer scientists interested in the treatment of definitions in the framework of languages like OWL; terminologists and lexicologists working on definitions and their modeling; NLP researchers working on definition extraction techniques or on information retrieval methods for definition production; and NLP/IR researchers reusing definitions produced for ontologies.
Topics of interest are split between foundational aspects, pragmatic issues and user perspectives. Below we list some possible topics.
===== Foundational aspects =======================
   * Theories of definition and their implications for the defining practice
   * Realist versus conceptualist approaches in definition writing
   * Definition modeling: what kinds of information are defining
   * Domain-independent versus domain-specific definition models
   * Formal versus natural language definitions
===== Pragmatic issues ===========================
   * Quality control in definitions
   * Ways of evaluating definitions
   * Comparison and evaluation of different definition production techniques:
handwritten, automatically generated from formal definitions, extracted from
corpora or constructed from information retrieved from corpora
   * Methods and tools to automate definition production and checking
   * (Multilingual) definition generation
   * Information retrieval for definition production
   * Use of definition models to facilitate information retrieval
   * Definition extraction from corpora
   * Interactions between ontologies and lexical resources (WordNet, FrameNet)
   * Consequences/Strategies of giving necessary versus necessary and sufficient
definitions, or simply sufficient definitions
   * Coordination of logical and textual definitions
   * Alternatives to and variants of definitions: elucidations, explanations, glosses,
===== User perspectives ==========================
   * Assessment of definitions used in current practice
   * Balancing needs of within discipline use and wider use of definitions
   * Use of specialized terminology versus general vocabulary
   * Presentation of definitions to different user audiences
   * Alternatives/Augmentations of textual definitions, such as figures and images
for anatomy, where textual definitions may be harder to formulate
Deadline for submission: April 15, 2013  April 26, 2013 (EXTENDED)
Notification of acceptance: May 15, 2013
Camera-ready copies for the proceedings: June 15, 2013
Workshop: July 7, 2013
We welcome short papers, up to 6 pages, excluding references.

All papers should end with a suggestion on the defining practices or users’ needs regarding definitions.
Papers are to be prepared using the ICBO templates and submitted via EasyChair.
All papers must be original. By submitting a paper, the authors agree to publication of their paper in the proceedings under the CC-BY 3.0 license (open access). The proceedings of the workshop will be published on CEUR Workshop Proceedings (
To register, see the main conference’s registration page.
Selja Seppälä (University at Buffalo, USA),
Alan Ruttenberg (University at Buffalo, USA),
César Aguilar (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile)
Nathalie Aussenac-Gilles (National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), France)
Caroline Barrière (CRIM, Canada)
Thomas Bittner (University at Buffalo, USA)
Mélanie Courtot (British Columbia Cancer Research Centre, Canada)
Christiane Fellbaum (Princeton University, USA)
Natalia Grabar (Université de Lille 3, France)
Janna Hastings (European Bioinformatics Institute, Cambridge, UK)
Marie-Claude L’Homme (Université de Montréal, Canada)
James Malone (European Bioinformatics Institute, Cambridge, UK)
Alexis Nasr (Aix Marseille Université, France)
Fabian Neuhaus (National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), USA)
James Overton (Knocean, Toronto, Canada)
Richard Power (The Open University, UK)
Patrice Seyed (Tetherless World Constellation, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, USA)
Robert Stevens (The University of Manchester, UK)
Allan Third (The Open University, UK)
Sandra Williams (The Open University, UK)