Explaining Semantic Interoperability in the Far East

Well, not exactly in the ‘far east’ but I came up with an interesting way to explain Semantic Interoperability in a ‘Mandarin context’.

A slight nuance I faced when I tried explaining Semantic Interoperability to students (I’m an educator among other occupations) who speaks English as a second language.

My usual method is to illustrate  the myriad of medical terms to describe a single medical condition and then asked students if they know that those terms refer to the same generic layman term (I found it an effective way to illustrate my point).

But try explaining this to an non-medical professional who speaks predominately Mandarin or someone who speaks English as a third language but Mandarin as second language (this includes people from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and some parts of South East Asia and some regions in S.Korea and Japan etc).

It will be tough. So what I tried to do (recently) is explain the concept using the Chinese Surname.

For the unaware, the Chinese Surname can be spelled in many different variations, even though the character is the same. This is because the same character can be pronounced differently, depending on the geographic origins of their ancestors (whom we inherit our surnames from) and the ‘native dialect’ spoken.

To illustrate, my surname is ‘徐’ and the ‘translation’ is CHEE (hence my name, Adam CHEE), but a person with the same surname originating from Taiwan would bear “Hsu” and a person with the same surname native from Hong Kong would bear “Tsui”.

In case you wonder, the surname ‘徐’ has a common origin so there is no room for ‘mistakes’. (to find out more on the origins of my surname, click here).

Now the variations does not stop here, it also goes by Xu, Shaw, Seah, Shu, Ser, Shun, Hui (and I’m sure I’ve missed a few not so common variations) in addition, I’ve had Japanese , Korean and Vietnamese friends who told me how it is pronounced in their language and it definitely sound different.

While I’ve tested this method only recently (the inspiration came after I met a Taiwanese professor with the same surname recently, at a conference on EHR where I discussed semantic interoperability), it is extremely useful because almost everyone with a Chinese surname shares similar experience (its a common ‘problem’).

So there you have it, an interesting yet effective way to explain semantic interoperability.


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