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is a term which describes a general principle of thought and description of phenomena.

When scientifically describing a phenomenon with a given purpose one generally has to decide between
  • a ‘bottom-up’ atomistic description, which starts with atom-like elements: you view the phenomenon as a puzzle combined by rules (view of atomism) and

  • a ‘top down’ holistic description which starts with a ‘gestalt’, a whole that you have in mind. It has functional parts (called holemes), if you can view the phenomenon as a special case of a general whole (Holon, pattern, Gestalt, Type), i.e. the view of holism.

For an application to TRANSLATION see Gerzymisch/Mudersbach 1998, Sunwoo (2012)

The view of atomism

IDEA : For a given phenomenon, we can imagine it to be built up from smaller parts, which are suitable enough to form combinations and build up various phenomena. ‘Building up’ means to constructs a ‘building set’ which hopefully describes each phenomenon in the field by this building set.

PRINCIPLE : A phenomenon is described as a rule-based combination of a fixed set of smaller objects, e.g. a fixed set of atoms. To this set, a rule from a fixed set of rules is applied. This will result in a structure. This procedure is repeated as often as needed in order to obtain your purpose.

DESCRIPTION : If you choose the atomistic view, you have to define.
  • A set of atoms (eventually of different categories or types) and
  • A set of rules of how to combine the atoms viz categories.
With this you can build structures, which model the phenomenon under the given purpose.


E 1 Daily life:
Children use building blocks (atoms), put one on the other (rule) to construct an object (structure) they have in mind. There are different trade names with corresponding products for children.

E 2: Any game is build up in this way:
Atoms: playing cards or figures (chess)
Rules: rules of the play and dice
Structure: playing status.

E 3: Cooking recipe: the list of ingredients in the kitchen can be seen as atoms for various dishes.

E 4: fortune telling uses an atomistic device (playing cards or other combinable elements) or gestalt device (liquid lead figures or coffee grounds or the Roman auspices). The prediction is not inherent in the structures, but comes from interpreting the structures.


A 1 Mathematics : Set theory provides the basis for precise atomistic theories. In the Bourbaki program many theories of mathematics are already reformulated on the basis of set theory.

A 2 Physics and Chemistry:

A 2.1 Elementary particles (nuclides): Together with binding conditions build up physical atoms Atoms: elementary particles (nuclides, quarks etc.)
Rules: binding conditions
Structure: physical atoms.

A 2.2 Physicsal atoms under chemical binding conditions build up chemical substances i.e. Atoms: physical atoms
Rules: chemical binding conditions
Structure: chemical elements.

A 2.3 Chemical elementsunder chemical reaction conditions build up a chemical compound i.e.
Atoms: chemical elements
Rules: chemical reaction condtions.
Structure: chemical compound.
From this iterative composition process, you can see that "atom" and "structure" can be seen as hierarchies, in which a structure in one system plays the role of atom in the next higher level. The same is valid for linguistics.

A 3 In Linguistics:
A 3.1 Atoms: letters.
Rules: word forming rules.
Structure: a word.

A 3.2 Atoms of different categories: words classified as substance, verb, etc.
Rules system: grammar.
Structure: sentence.

A 3.3 Atoms: Sentences Rule.
System: "text grammar".
Structure: texts.

HINTS: this principle is relevant for the methods ASPECTEX and RELATEX.

LIT: Mudersbach 1983, 1991, 1997, 1999.

For an application to TRANSLATION see Gerzymisch/Mudersbach 1998, Sunwoo (2012)