From meaning to term: semantic locality in the UMLS Metathesaurus. Academic Article uri icon


  • The Unified Medical Language System Metathesaurus represents the results of a synthesis of existing biomedical naming systems (thesauri). The naming and other information about the meanings in the Metathesaurus can be used to find the preferred naming of that meaning in the source chosen by the user, by exploiting the property of semantic locality. The aspects of semantic locality in the Metathesaurus which can be thus exploited are the terms, the semantic types, the use of that term in a source context, and the co-occurrence of terms in MEDLINE. To find how a meaning is named in the source of choice, a user must exploit one of these aspects of semantic locality, entering a term somehow related to the term being sought, and navigating to the preferred term. While the first three of these aspects of semantic locality are normative, the last is empirical. Testing of the utility of the aspects of semantic locality in information retrieval would require a uniform interface with 1, no Metathesaurus, 2, the Metathesaurus without the aspects in question, and 3, the Metathesaurus including all the aspects. Other potential uses of empirically derived semantic locality include defining or suggesting potentially relevant concepts in a given situation.

publication date

  • January 1, 1991