The European Language Social Science Thesaurus (ELSST)


The European Language Social Science Thesaurus (ELSST) is a comprehensive multilingual thesaurus designed for the social sciences. It is available in 15 languages: Dutch, Czech, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Icelandic, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Romanian, Slovenian, Spanish, and Swedish. ELSST facilitates data discovery across Europe, supporting access to social science data regardless of language or domain. It is owned and developed by the Consortium of European Social Science Data Archives (CESSDA).

Key features and applications:

  • Multilingual Support: ELSST is available in 15 languages, aiding in the cross-language retrieval of social science data.
  • Data Discovery: ELSST is used within CESSDA for data discovery, enabling researchers to find relevant data resources across Europe more effectively. It is also linked to the CESSDA Data Catalogue (CDC): the ELSST vocabulary can be used as a filter for CDC keyword search, and closer interoperability is planned.
  • Controlled Vocabulary: ELSST uses a structured vocabulary of concepts, including preferred terms and where appropriate, alternative labels (entry terms) for each concept, translated across multiple languages. ELSST concepts may also have associated note fields: Definition (the meaning of the concept within the thesaurus), Scope Note (provides advice on term usage to either indexers or searchers) and History Note (the date of introduction or the changes made to an existing concept over time).
  • Hierarchical and Associative Relationships: Concepts are semantically linked through broader, narrower, and related terms, providing a detailed conceptual structure.
  • Version Updates: The thesaurus undergoes regular updates to incorporate new terms and concepts. For example, the September 2023 release added new concepts like “HYBRID EDUCATION” and “DIGITAL NOMADS” while deprecating others that are no longer used. Recent updates have also focused on increasing diversity and inclusivity in the terms used, reflecting changes in social science research and societal trends. Notes for each release are available on the ELSST website.

Development and history:

Project duration

The current ELSST award runs from 1 January – 31 December 2024.

UK Data Service involvement

The UK Data Service is funded as Service Owner for ELSST by CESSDA. The Service Owner is responsible for hosting the thesaurus management system, where content is updated, and for managing and delivering the updated content to the CESSDA web platform, hosted by CESSDA. UK Data Service staff work collaboratively with translators from CESSDA Service Provider organisations, meeting regularly to discuss, agree and update ELSST content to ensure coverage reflects the changing nature of international social science research. Updates are made to the ELSST English source language version by the UK Data Service team and subsequently translated into ELSST target languages by the translators to maintain the multilingual currency of the thesaurus.

UK Data Service team: Sharon Bolton (PI), Lorna Balkan, Jeannine Beeken, Darren Bell.