DCMI Grammatical Principles
Title: DCMI Grammatical Principles
Creator: DCMI Usage Board
Latest version: http://dublincore.org/usage/documents/principles/
Date modified: 2002-10-06
Description: As of October 2002, this statement of grammatical
principles was under revision. Users interested in
the latest draft should contact the Usage Board.
1. DCMI metadata grammar
Dublin Core may be seen as a small language for making a
particular class of statements about resources. Like natural
languages, it has a vocabulary of word-like terms, the two
classes of which -- elements and qualifiers -- function within
statements like nouns and adjectives; and it has a syntax for
arranging elements and qualifiers into statements according to a
simple pattern. Optional qualifiers may make the meaning of a
property more definite, as in "Resource has dc:date dcq:revised
Vocabulary terms in Dublin Core refer to elements, qualifiers,
or terms in controlled vocabularies maintained by DCMI.
Vocabulary terms are uniquely defined in namespaces .
Strictly speaking, a Dublin Core element or qualifier is a
unique identifier formed by a name (e.g., title) prefixed by the
URI of the namespace in which it is defined, as in
http://purl.org/dc/elements/1.1/title. In this context, a
namespace is a vocabulary that has been formally published,
usually on the Web; it describes elements and qualifiers with
natural-language labels, definitions, and other relevant
An element is a property of a resource.
Qualifiers modify the properties of Dublin Core statements by
specifying, in the manner of natural-language adjectives, "what
kind" of subject, date, or relation. Qualifiers currently fall
into two classes:
2.2.1. Element Refinements. An element refinement is a
qualifier that makes the meaning of an element narrower or more
specific. A refined element shares the meaning of the
unqualified element, but with a more restricted scope. A client
that does not understand a specific element refinement term
should be able to ignore the qualifier and treat the metadata
value as if it were an unqualified (broader) element. The
definitions of element refinement terms for qualifiers must be
2.2.2. Encoding Schemes. Encoding schemes are pointers to
contextual information or parsing rules that aid in the
interpretation of an element value. These schemes include
controlled vocabularies and formal notations or parsing rules.
A value expressed using an encoding scheme will thus be a token
selected from a controlled vocabulary (e.g., a term from a
classification system or set of subject headings) or a string
formatted in accordance with a formal notation (e.g.,
"2000-01-01" as the standard expression of a date). If an
encoding scheme is not understood by a client or agent, the
value may still be useful to a human reader. The definitive
description of an encoding scheme for qualifiers must be clearly
identified and available for public use.
2.3. Dumb-down Principle
The qualification of Dublin Core properties is guided by a rule
known colloquially as the Dumb-Down Principle. According to
this rule, a client should be able to ignore any qualifier and
use the value as if it were unqualified. While this may result
in some loss of specificity, the remaining element value (minus
the qualifier) must continue to be generally correct and useful
for discovery. Qualification is therefore supposed only to
refine, not extend the semantic scope of a property.
2.4. Appropriate values
Best practice for a particular element or qualifier may vary by
context. Definitions may provide some guidance; other
information may be found in the User's Guide .
2.5. Controlled-Vocabulary terms
The Usage Board maintains the DCMI Type Vocabulary -- a
general, cross-domain list of recommended terms that may
be used as values for the Resource Type element to identify
the genre of a resource. The member terms of the DCMI Type
Vocabulary are called Controlled-Vocabulary Terms.