Does a hypernym for 'specialization' and 'generalization' exist? I.e. a term that describes the is-a relationship between one entity A and entity B, regardless of direction.

  • It would be helpful if you could add a sample sentence (perhaps a fill in the blank) to show how you are looking to use the final term. – PV22 Jun 27 '17 at 11:49
  • By specialization vs. generalization, do you mean a relationship like ecology to biology or bridge design to engineering? If this is the case, I wholeheartedly agree with @Gary 's answer. – AffableAmbler Jun 28 '17 at 15:17

Derivative is not a hypernym of specialization and generalization.

Hyponym (Wikipedia)

In linguistics, a hyponym (from Greek hupó, "under" and ónoma, "name") is a word or phrase whose semantic field is included within that of another word, its hyperonym or hypernym (from Greek hupér, "over" and ónoma, "name").

In simpler terms, a hyponym shares a type-of relationship with its hypernym. For example, pigeon, crow, eagle and seagull are all hyponyms of bird (their hyperonym); which, in turn, is a hyponym of animal.

Specialization and generalization do not share a semantic field with derivative.

Semantic field (Wikipedia)

In linguistics, a semantic field is a set of words grouped semantically (by meaning) that refers to a specific subject.

Another example would be colour. Colour is a hypernym of red and blue.

The meanings of the words you have enquired about:

Specialization (Cambridge)

A particular area of knowledge or the process of becoming an expert in a particular area.

Generalization (Cambridge),

Is altogether different semantically:

A written or spoken statement in which you say or write that something is true all of the time when it is only true some of the time.

Specialization is specifically to do with knowledge as a field of study, whereas generalization is to do with an extrapolation of truth from a narrow scope to a wider scope.

However, there are similar words... which do share a hypernym:

Specialist (Collins)

A specialist is a person who has a particular skill or knows a lot about a particular subject.

Generalist (Collins)

A person who is knowledgeable in many fields of study

A hypernym for specialist and generalist would be scope of knowledge.

  • Given that, as you say, "specialization" in that sense is not an antonym of "generalization". I do not believe that that is the meaning of "specialization" which user218063 has in mind. – Colin Fine Jun 25 '17 at 19:52
  • Specialization and generalization do not share a semantic field with derivative. - what about scope of focus? I see specialization and generalization at opposite ends of an admittedly nebulous spectrum. – Davo Jun 28 '17 at 15:51

Consider subsumption.

A subsumption relation in category theory, semantic networks and linguistics, also known as a "hyponym-hypernym relationship" (Is-a) - wikipedia disambiguation page for subsumption

A subsumptive containment hierarchy is a classification of object classes from the general to the specific. Other names for this type of hierarchy are "taxonomic hierarchy" and "IS-A hierarchy". - wikipedia

The natural sense of the term is derived from the word subsume. While the verb is biased towards generalisation, the noun subsumption can be used for relations in both directions. In particular, both generalisation and specialisation are subsumption relations.

subsume verb Include or absorb (something) in something else. ‘most of these phenomena can be subsumed under two broad categories’ - ODO

  • I'm not saying this might not be the closest genuine answer to the request, but it's still not an actual answer. "Subsumption" isn't "biased towards" generalizations; it's synonymous with them. It's used for hyponyms because any hyponym necessarily has some hypernym; but it's only that hypernymic relationship that's being described. – lly Jun 28 '17 at 9:50
  • 1
    Tuesday and calends are both subsumed under the category day, but day isn't subsumed under either one. A subsumption relationship exists, but it only describes one direction of what the OP was asking about. – lly Jun 28 '17 at 10:01
  • @lly Would you accept that although the adjective high relates to great vertical extent, the noun height is more neutral, and can be used naturally even with things of low vertical extent? – Lawrence Jun 28 '17 at 10:16
  • Sure. But not for depths, which is the actual parallel for what you're doing here. – lly Jun 28 '17 at 10:18
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    I share @lly 's concern, but also his perspective that this is the closest genuine answer. At the moment, this is the best contender for the bounty (which I have to award, one way or another). I wish there was a more general term that would fit better as a label on a Cartesian axis from "specialized" to "generalized", but there may not be one. – Dan Bron Jun 28 '17 at 17:23

Specialization [spesh-uh-luh-zey-shuh n] /noun

  1. the act of being restricted to some specific, or the act of becoming specialized.

Source: Dictionary.com

Generalization [jen-er-uh-luh-zey-shuh n] /noun

  1. the act or process of generalizing.

Source: Dictionary.com

I would say that these are both "graduations" in the sense of the definition given below, or "gradations".

Graduation [graj-oo-ey-shuh n] /noun

  1. arrangement in degrees, levels, or ranks.

Source: Dictionary.com


Gradation [grey-dey-shuh n] /noun

  1. any process or change taking place through a series of stages, by degrees, or in a gradual manner.

  2. a stage, degree, or grade in such a series.

  3. the act of a grading (degree or step in a scale, as of rank, advancement, quality, value, or intensity).

Source: Dictionary.com

  • I realize that the definitions of the first two terms are poor because they somewhat use the term in their own definitions. For the sake of keeping the answer brief and organized I did not drill down into the definitions further. – PV22 Jun 27 '17 at 15:48

You could call the field of determining such relationships and classifications ontology.

Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, becoming, existence or reality as well as the basic categories of being and their relations... ontology often deals with questions concerning what entities exist or may be said to exist and how such entities may be grouped, related within a hierarchy, and subdivided according to similarities and differences. Although ontology as a philosophical enterprise is highly hypothetical, it also has practical application in information science and technology, such as ontology engineering.

You could describe the relationship between entity A and entity B as ontological, regardless of direction.


showing the relations between the concepts and categories in a subject area or domain.


Specialization is a spectrum that ranges from unspecialized (generalist) to highly specialized (specialist), so (degree of) specialization is hierarchically superior to generalization, which is a special case of specialization.

For example, in a society without division of labor, every member is by default a generalist. As soon as members start taking advantage of their comparative advantage, specialties and sub-specialties emerge.

  • 1
    "Generalization" is not a word much used in the field you are talking about (people's professional competence or interest). I don't believe that that is the field that the OP has in mind. – Colin Fine Jun 25 '17 at 19:54

The ...is a... relationship only goes one way, so the question is a little off kilter. If you're only asking about how to talk about hypernymic relationships, you can just call them that. Or generalization, or supercategory, or @Lawrence's subsumption. To actually talk about going either way, you need something broader.

You're actually just talking about the concept 'relationship' itself:

The state or fact of being related; the way in which two things are connected; a connection, an association.

To make it any more specific, you'd use a qualifier. In the case of hypernym and hyponym, those are semantic relations or relationships. The place most civilians will see these terms is browsing Wiktionary and per their formating guidelines:

There are several different kinds of semantic relations and at least the following ones are relevant to Wiktionary. Terms that are semantically related to a given term can be included both at the term’s page and at a Wikisaurus page.

The relations mentioned include synonymy, antonymy, hypernymy, hyponymy, meronymy, holonymy, troponymy, and "coordinate term" and "otherwise related".

  • As your last sentence illustrates, "generalization" and "specialization" are both relationships, but not the only kinds. The word "relationship" is applicable, but too broad. – Dan Bron Jun 29 '17 at 14:38
  • @DanBron Hence everything else in the answer that follows "To make it any more specific, you'd use a qualifier." – lly Jun 30 '17 at 0:21
  • Agreed, but then that means "I don't have an answer to this question". It's not a criticism, your answer is valid, but it doesn't help pin down the word needed. – Dan Bron Jun 30 '17 at 0:23
  • @DanBron Well, you already made up your mind but, no, here's the correct term plus here's how to qualify it properly does not mean "there is no answer and I don't know it". – lly Jul 1 '17 at 14:09

My initial intuition was that the OP, in using the term "specialization", was considering the following definition:

Specialization [spesh-uh-luh-zey-shuh n] /noun

  1. the act of specializing, or pursuing a particular line of study or work

Source: Dictionary.com

And I assumed that the use of "generalization" was a misnomer for the opposite of specialization.

If this is accurate I would suggest the following term:

Skill set [skil-set] /noun

  1. a particular combination of skills that a person has developed, especially ones that can be used in a job.

Source: Dictionary.com

  • It is OK to write multiple answers, but preferable to write one. In the case of all of your answers, you should provide a simple description of why you feel the word or phrase fits, and particularly when you have more than one suggestion, how each fits the context differently than the others. – Kit Z. Fox Jun 27 '17 at 21:05
  • @KitZ.Fox - Thank you for your input. This is something I have received conflicting advice on (some ask for me to split answers, others ask me to combine them). I submitted a response on Meta to explain my rationale. – PV22 Jun 28 '17 at 14:50

protected by tchrist Jul 29 '17 at 22:52

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