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Vexillological Taxonomy

Last modified: 2005-05-28 by phil nelson
Keywords: vexillology | taxonomy |
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[Editor: This presentation began as a discussion on flag families. It does not necessarily reflect current vexillological thought on taxonomies]

As I see it we are looking at several different levels of classifications. My latest attempt at developing at taxonomy is as follows:

Metafamilies
Flag families
Subfamilies
Flag

The first level is a broad generic classification which may be considered a superset. Such supersets may consist of items such as:

  1. Euro-Heraldic Tradition
  2. Mid-Eastern
  3. African-Ethopic
  4. Asiatic
  5. Logotype (seals/logos/lettering on flags, etc.)
  6. Socialism
  7. Isolates

And possibly a few others as this project is in its infancy stages.

For each metafamily (except Isolates) there would be 1-n families - namely sets that have a common ancestral heritage. Such an example might be what Znamierowski classifies as "Cross Flags" which would encompass simple style such as the St. George Cross (England), Saltires (Scotland) and so forth.

The next level is the subfamily. These are particular and often influential groupings of flags under the family. Continuing the example from Znamierowski, the Scandinavian Cross would fall into this category. Subfamiilies themselves could be divided into subfamilies which could be dividied into subfamilies until you get to the lowest level.

The lowest level of the taxonomy would be the individual flag.

There are some basic concepts that would have to be defined beforehand, some of which I have described above, but three are important to what was mentioned earlier.

A Flag may belong to more than one family or subfamily. If we were to take the example above and use the Cross flags, the combination of the Saltire and St. George's families may result in the flag of the United Kingdom. Or you may have influences that have Euro-Heraldic traditions as well as Mid-Eastern traditions, or whatever metafamlies may be defined. Consider these influences as resulting in hybrids.

A subfamily that is influential historically can be considered a family. Again, I use UK as an example, for it's flag and the various ensigns became the archetype for the British colonial flags, Australia, NZ and other flags in use today.

A flag that does not fall within any metafamily is an Isolate. Sometimes we might consider these having a common image, such as a sun or full moon or some other image that may be local. These isolates would likely be items influenced by our psychological archetypes.

The first step in this system would be the development of an agreed group of metafamilies, then to place each flag into a metafamily, if possible, and then classify by family. And that requires considerable research.

One of the other things that must be considered is what I call dimenstionality. We can, for instance, see the influences in large part on the flags on an internatioal level but the influences on flags within a country (such as those modeled on the Canadian pale) or national flags that evolved from local tradition (such as the mon in Japan). And as noted earlier in this thread (which could be expanded upon) is the fact that the influence of one country's flag may be seen in the flag of a subnational entity in another country.
Phil Nelson, 3 March 2005