Today’s blog—our 400th—is brought to you by the number 400. Oh, you ask, have they mistaken the Dewey blog for Sesame Street? But, indeed, this blog is brought to you by 400 Language, as have all the blogs that have preceded it and as, almost assuredly, will all the blogs that follow it.
Language, of course, is fundamental to human society, since it is the central technology we use for communicating with each other. Over the course of human history, it has been the primary medium for recording and disseminating knowledge. Imagine where we would be without language, that is, if we could communicate with each other only through visual images, sound, touch, pointing, etc. Even now, automatic image retrieval, for instance, is based largely on linguistic metadata attached to images. Not dissimilarly, the meaning of classes in the Dewey Decimal Classification is largely mediated through the use of language via captions, notes (e.g., scope, including, class-here), and Manual entries.
Given the centrality of language to our enterprise, it may seem ironic that the 400s—at 51 pages in DDC 22—constitute the shortest of the main classes. The substance of the 400s largely mirrors, on the one hand, Table 4. Subdivisions of Individual Languages and Language Families, and, on the other hand, Table 6. Languages; the former outlines the subject matter of linguistics, while the latter enumerates a significant proportion of the known individual languages and language families used by humankind. But language also plays a fundamental role elsewhere in the classification scheme: Table 5. Ethnic and National Groups is based largely on language; for instance, Indic peoples in T5—914 South Asians are defined as “people who speak, or whose ancestors spoke, Indic languages.” By extension, although Table 2. Areas, Periods, Persons was not explicitly developed along language lines, there is a correlation between geographic areas and languages, as we need to communicate with those others who live in the same area. Table 2 also contains an explicit provision to express geographic regions in terms of specific languages, T2—175 Regions where specific languages predominate, to which notation for specific languages from Table 6 may be added. Table 3. Subdivisions for the Arts, for Individual Literatures, for Specific Literary Forms pairs up with 800 Literature (Belles-lettres) and rhetoric to class language-based art forms. (And just so Table 1. Standard Subdivisions won’t feel left out, we should also point out T1—014 Language and communication.) Thus, rather than the brevity of the 400s denigrating the importance of language, it is instead the omnipresence of language throughout the tables that reflects its underlying importance to all knowledge organization.
Vive la langue! (Thanks, 400.)