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Re: [ontolog-forum] tasteful tags...

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 09 Mar 2007 23:37:48 -0500
Message-id: <45F2361C.4050309@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Evan and Paola,    (01)

I won't get into a discussion about whether etymologies
are sacred, but I definitely believe that they constitute
an important part of the meaning.    (02)

EKW> Understanding that "original meaning" may be personally
 > enriching, but it also can be misleading when applied
 > to domain-specific vocabularies.    (03)

PDM> When people use words and they have no idea of their
 > true values that are expressing with them, they make
 > terrible mistakes, and their communication lacks meaning    (04)

I strongly agree that a knowledge of the etymology is an
important guide to the meaning.    (05)

I'll avoid using the term "true value" because I realize
that it is difficult to make a convincing case for it.
But I agree with Paola that people who are unaware of the
etymology have a greater tendency to use words inaccurately.    (06)

Language books often use the terms "false friends" or "faux amis"
for cognate terms that have acquired different meanings in
different languages.  But even in those cases, a knowledge of
the etymology is helpful.    (07)

As just one example, I like to compare the words "investment"
in English and "investimento" in Italian, which are obvious
cognates derived from the Latin "investire" meaning "to clothe".    (08)

If you check "investment" in an English dictionary, you'll
find several meanings, which are grouped in several ways:    (09)

  1. Meanings derived directly from the idea of putting
     on clothing:  an outer layer; investiture; surrounding
     or blockading a fortress in a siege.    (010)

  2. Meanings derived by metonymy:  a banker is "invested"
     in office, marked by putting on the clothing that indicates
     a banker; by metonymy, the banker has been invested with
     the power to receive money to be saved and returned with
     interest; those actions are called investments.    (011)

Then when you go to an Italian to English dictionary, you
find two sets of meanings:    (012)

  1. The sense of a blockade or siege has become
     collision, crash, traffic accident.    (013)

  2. The financial meaning is also present in
     the same sense as English.    (014)

Knowing the etymology clearly helps in language learning,
and it explains how a single word can acquire two such
widely divergent meanings as financial investment or
traffic accident.  I certainly would *not* use the phrase
"false friends" for such pairs of meanings.    (015)

Since computers are very good at rote memory, they don't
require such little stories as memory aids.  But that is
only true of our current computers, which are rather poor
at language understanding.  If and when we develop systems
that are can handle analogies and associations, they should
also be better able to appreciate the subtleties of such
etymologies.    (016)

John    (017)

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