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Re: [ontolog-forum] notes and rumours

To: Pat Hayes <phayes@xxxxxxx>
Cc: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 03 Jul 2007 01:32:49 -0400
Message-id: <4689DF81.1050706@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Pat,    (01)

I agree that there are some fundamental constants:    (02)

  1. The most important distinction is between no light
     and some light.  Therefore, all cultures have the
     distinction between light and dark.  (Some languages
     have no other clearly distinguishable color terms.)    (03)

  2. Red is recognizable at lower light levels than any
     other color (except light and dark).  It is also the
     color of blood.  The latter gives red an association
     with danger, and the former makes it distinguishable
     at long distances.  Therefore, it is the best choice
     for signaling danger.    (04)

  3. Green is the color at the center of the spectrum with
     the most available light.  That makes it a very useful
     middle-of-the-road color for normalcy.    (05)

After that, there are few universal guidelines.  The Inuit
have many variations of white, desert people more varieties
of sand color, jungle dwellers more variations of greens
and browns, and for some reason, the Slavic languages make
a sharp distinction of siniy (dark blue) and goluboy (light
blue).    (06)

There are many studies that show how culturally dependent
the distinctions are:    (07)

  1. The two Japanese color systems based on vegetable dyes
     (traditional) and coal-tar dyes (western oriented).    (08)

  2. A study of bilingual Ibo-English speakers (mostly
     Harvard graduate students).  Ibo has only a two-way
     classification of light-warm vs. dark-cold colors,
     which does not correspond to the physical spectrum.
     When asked to classify patterns, the subjects responded
     in typical English-oriented ways.  But when they were
     told one phrase "Think Ibo", they immediately said
     "Oh, of course" and recognized the Ibo-based patterns.    (09)

The conclusion I draw from such studies is that the vocabulary
of NLs and the categories of a formal ontology are based on
exactly the same principles:  whatever conventions the social
group adopts.    (010)

The enormous ambiguity of NLs such as English is the result
of its use around the world over several centuries.  Therefore,
it has so much accumulated baggage that it is hard to tell
which subset the speaker has adopted in a particular sentence.    (011)

That makes it very similar to the accumulated baggage of the
Cyc microtheories -- only more so.  And if the SemWeb keeps
going along the path it's taken, it will do very much the same.    (012)

John    (013)

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