Jargon: Demarcating Disciplinary Territory

As suggested in earlier posts, the term jargon often indicates the terminology that individuals and institutions within a given area of research use to communicate.  Mastery of a field’s jargon is critical for achieving (and maintaining) standing within a discipline, effectively creating a barrier between disciplines, scholars and the general public.  For example, working within the field of Library and Information Science (LIS), my success in the field depends upon my assimilation and mastery of a whole range of terms and their particular technical specifications.

A few common terms that have special meaning within the LIS field include: Document, documentation, record, bibliography, information, information seeking, information behavior, information need, information retrieval, authority control, thesaurus, ontology, taxonomy, relevance, precision, recall, etc.

In scientific pursuits, terminology could be seen as constituting the linguistic tissue that links observational percepts (measurements) to theoretical concepts (relationships between measurements and phenomena, and higher level understandings of systems of phenomena).  In LIS, a wide variety of phenomena are studied, many variables are operationalized, many methods are employed, and many theories have been developed.  To further complicate matters, LIS has historically maintained an important professional component, which operates under a variety of lexicons of specialized terminology.  For instance, library catalogers utilize a plethora of terms that are not always clear to researchers in other LIS areas.

The boundaries of a discipline, which delimit the region of disciplinary jurisdiction/control (imagine the areas controlled by pieces on a Go board), seem to rely, to some extent, on a specialized language to differentiate between insiders and outsiders.  Which begs the question:  Is jargon truly an instrument for effectively communicating ideas within a discipline, or is its primary purpose that of “bouncer” or “gatekeeper,” preserving the security of the academy from invasion from outsiders and staving off internal assaults from other disciplines?  Like language, more generally speaking, it seems as though jargon functions both as an intellectual instrument and as a mechanism of social cohesion/control.

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