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Re: [ontolog-forum] Ontologies as social mediators

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Ed Barkmeyer <edbark@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Thu, 03 Dec 2009 13:40:29 -0500
Message-id: <4B18061D.1020407@xxxxxxxx>
This really addresses Bill Burkett's point    (01)

Christopher Menzel wrote:
> Burkett, William [USA] wrote:
>> Ferenc's statement that he's a linguist is important to understanding
>> his (and my) perspective.  I think linguistics has a LOT more to
>> contribute to the field of ontology development than logic does.
> Well, of course, that depends on what aspect of ontology development you
> are talking about but if you have in mind the creation of ontologies
> from documents and domain experts (as opposed to the development of
> reasoning and integration mechanisms) I'd probably agree.      (02)

I can agree that a knowledge of linguistics, as a discipline, is 
important to any effort to produce an ontology by the *automated* 
analysis of documents. 
But I don't think that a knowledge of lingustics as a discipline 
contributes much to construction of a domain ontology by knowledge 
engineers interacting with written expositions or domain experts.  That 
is, the practical ability to make correct interpretations of utterances 
doesn't depend on knowledge of linguistics.  As someone else on this 
exploder just said (and I can't find the email), the correct 
interpretation of utterances depends primarily on understanding the 
domain, which may reduce to understanding what the same speaker/author 
said two paragraphs back.  There is some practical knowledge of 
linguistics involved, along with practical knowledge of the psychology 
of communication.  That kind of knowledge involves familiarity with the 
ways in which people express themselves, the ability to recognize rants 
and preoccupation with irrelevant concerns, the ability to deal with an 
expert's inability to abstract, and the ability to find the right 
question to elicit the information that fills in the gaps in 
comprehension.  I still think of those skills as a black art; I don't 
know how to teach it; and whatever I have learned in that vein did not 
come from my education in languages and linguistics.    (03)

I have worked with data modelers, information modelers and ontology 
developers for 25 years.  All of those who actually do domain analysis 
are knowledge engineers.  Only a few had any formal background in 
linguistics, and their skills were statistically distributed in the same 
ways as those with no such formal background.  (My wife's standing 
observation is that all professionals are like auto mechanics:  20% 
understand their trade so well as to deal effectively with unusual 
situations; 60% understand it well enough to deal effectively with 
common situations; 20% cannot be trusted to change a tire.  ;-) My 
experience of modelers, however, tends more to 40-40-20.)    (04)

> But obviously
> both linguistics and logic are central to the overall vision of
> ontological engineering.
>       (05)

Make that "language and logic are central" and I agree completely.  
Linguistics as a field involves a great many subdisciplines that are 
nearly or totally irrelevant to knowledge engineering.  (I have always 
been interested in etymologies and grammatical variance, for example, 
but I don't see those as being relevant to knowledge engineering, except 
in some passing way to automated text analysis.)  OTOH, I agree with 
Bill and Ferenc and Rich Cooper that there are social, cultural and 
psychological concerns involved in knowledge engineering as well, as 
much as we mathematicians might want to believe that ontologies are 
somehow "pure".    (06)

The problem that Chris and I are having with some of what Ferenc writes 
is in how he writes it.  If we tried to engineer the knowledge contained 
in what he writes as we understand those writings, we would get 
inconsistencies and disconnections.  The details of his position, as of 
this writing, are incomprehensible.  I have a strong respect for the 
Nietzsche practice of making bold contradictory statements to get the 
audience out of its comfort zone, but then you have to be as good as 
Nietzsche in following that up with a consistent broader understanding 
of the terms and a compelling argument for the validity of that 
understanding.  A compelling argument is logical, even in the field of 
linguistics, and it must start from some accepted or acceptable postulates.    (07)

-Ed    (08)

Edward J. Barkmeyer                        Email: edbark@xxxxxxxx
National Institute of Standards & Technology
Manufacturing Systems Integration Division
100 Bureau Drive, Stop 8263                Tel: +1 301-975-3528
Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8263                FAX: +1 301-975-4694    (09)

"The opinions expressed above do not reflect consensus of NIST, 
 and have not been reviewed by any Government authority."    (010)

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