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Re: [ontolog-forum] notes and rumours

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 03 Jul 2007 12:52:36 -0400
Message-id: <468A7ED4.4060709@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Wacek and Pat,    (01)

All widely used natural languages have a large accumulation of
words that are near synonyms or minor modifications of others:    (02)

vQ> In Polish, 'siny' is typically defined as blue-violet, not just dark
> blue;  it is the color of desaturated blood (visible, e.g., on the lips 
> of someone who freezes).  Blue (simply blue) is 'niebieski' ('niebo' 
> means sky), and there is also 'blekitny' (light blue, more or less), 
> etc. -- surely you have a few such words in English as well?    (03)

PH> For an artist, there are many color names, often very precise,
 > some of them named after particular pigments...    (04)

Words that have high salience in one language (i.e., learned early
in childhood and used with high frequency by all speakers) do not
necessarily correspond to words that have a high salience in other
languages.  I learned the words 'siny' and 'niebieski' from my
grandmother when I was a child, but 'cerulean' in English came
much, much later.    (05)

PH> Everyone on the planet will choose fire-engine red, alarm
 > yellow and policeman-blue as the most typical or characteristic
 > colors.    (06)

vQ> Much as this may seem likely, claims such as 'a Pole will'
 > and 'everyone will' beg for more reference than mere intuition.    (07)

PH> It seems clear that some kind of built-in neural(?) mechanism
 > is at work. Still, there are also of course many cultural
 > determinants of color vocabularies and usages. I just saw this
 > collection, for example, which looks fascinating:
 > http://www.benjamins.com/cgi-bin/t_bookview.cgi?bookid=Z%20137    (08)

There are also the physical issues, such as the light spectrum,
our sun's particular spectrum, and our planet's range of
vegetation, geology, geography, meteorology, etc.  Many of
those features have undoubtedly influenced the mammalian,
primate, hominid, and human perceptual and neural mechanisms.
And those mechanisms have imposed constraints on cultural
and linguistic diversity.    (09)

But color is relatively simple compared to many of the other
aspects of the environment that various cultures encounter
and identify by linguistic labels.    (010)

PH> I wonder, is all this English?  Or is it Artist English,
 > a special dialect?    (011)

Linguists have never been able to give a precise definition of the
difference between a language and a dialect.  The three Scandinavian
languages -- Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian -- are mutually more
intelligible than the major Chinese dialects.  The best definition
I've heard is "A language is a dialect with an army."    (012)

Anna Wierzbicka has been doing extensive cross-linguistic comparisons
in search of "semantic primes", as she calls them.  Since she has been
living in Australia for many years, she included the native Australian
languages as well as the more widely spoken European and Asian languages
in her source data.  Following is a recent article, in which she uses
her semantic primes to compare the definitions of some words in English
and Polish:    (013)

    The theory of the mental lexicon    (014)

There is a lot of other work on cognitive linguistics, which covers
related issues from somewhat different perspectives.  It's definitely
not clear where to draw the lines.    (015)

But one thing is certain:  for any lines we draw today, someone will
find very good reasons to redraw them tomorrow.    (016)

John    (017)

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