This paper forms part of the series “60 years of the best in information research”, marking the 60th anniversary of the Journal of Documentation. It aims to review the influence of Brian Vickery's 1971 paper, “Structure and function in retrieval languages”. The paper is not an update of Vickery's work, but a comment on a greatly changed environment, in which his analysis still has much validity.
A commentary on selected literature illustrates the continuing relevance of Vickery's ideas.
Generic survey and specific reference are still the main functions of retrieval languages, with minor functional additions such as relevance ranking. New structures are becoming increasingly significant, through developments such as XML. Future development in artificial intelligence hold out new prospects still.
The paper shows the continuing relevance of “traditional” ideas of information science from the 1960s and 1970s.
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