John and Kingsley,
My comments are below,
Rich AT EnglishLogicKernel DOT com
9 4 9 \ 5 2 5 - 5 7 1 2
Kingsley and Rich,
The idea of using precise
symbols and terminology in science and
in programming languages
is useful -- but only for a very narrow
application. The reason
why natural languages are so flexible is
that a finite vocabulary
can be adapted to an infinite range of
implies that it's impossible (and undesirable)
to force words to be used
with fixed and frozen definitions.
> I don't think it will
be feasible in the next decade to find
> a universal
I would revise that point
in the following way:
It will *never* be
possible or desirable to have a fixed dictionary
of precisely defined
word senses for any natural language. The
l'Académie française to stop their language from
evolving. The net
result is that the French adopt their new words
from the most rapidly
evolving of all languages: English.
Some long time ago, the
German Kaiser of that age ordered that the spelling of written German words be
revised to make the language more like the phonics of spoken German. It was
very successfully done. When I took my two years of German in undergrad, and
did my German language testing in grad school, I found German extremely easy to
spell because of that regularity.
So it CAN be done, just
not by most countries with their own languages, because German provides one
such example. But the Kaiser didn’t try to prohibit new words, like the
French did, so German is still expanding. But all languages borrow words from
other languages, so far as I am aware.
Following is a copy of a
note I sent to Ontolog Forum in October.
I strongly recommend Adam
K's article. The title is taken from
a comment by Sue Atkins, a
professional lexicographer who devoted
her entire career to
defining words and collaborating with linguists,
and computer scientists.
My suggestion to Kingsley
was inspired by his web site, which recommends URIs for designating any word.
But I find that the median citizen only uses short words, averaging around five
letters per word, for the great majority of language use.
URIs are normally very
long, perhaps twenty to fifty letters, and that makes them different from said
median citizen’s words. By putting up a dictionary URI that contains
only the word senses that apply to the context of the URI’s subject
matter, and not to other contexts, that can be simplified, and the user can
spec the base URI once, at the beginning of his document, but thereafter use
the normal five letter word. To locate the word’s definition, the
document software would only have to concatenate the five letter words (etc) to
the base URI.
Many people wish that
precise URIs would solve the ambiguity problem. They could get much better
odds by wishing to win the Powerball lottery.
Agreed. The real
solution will be NOT to disambiguate, but to package all the alternative
interpretations in a succinct way. One reason language is so compact is
because we evolved by making words shorter and shorter, more and more capable
of conveying warnings and dangerous situations so we could intercommunicate.
Ambiguities, IMHO, are
personal, individualized interpretations which the speaker and the listener
compare to each other’s sensed interpretation of the other’s mental
constructs. It just MIGHT be better to NOT disambiguate so ruthlessly on
interpretations, and TO ONLY insist on disambiguation in those more limited
cases. For example, when the ambiguity is too confusing to complete a
conversation between them.
-------- Original Message
Subject: "I don't
believe in word senses." Sue Atkins
Date: Sat, 12 Oct 2013
From: John F Sowa
To: '[ontolog-forum] '
The subject line is a
quotation by the professional lexicographer
Sue Atkins. She certainly
knows what she's talking about, as her
Wikipedia entry indicates:
Adam Kilgarriff, a
computational linguist, used that quotation as
the title of a widely
From the abstract of that
> Word sense
disambiguation assumes word senses. Within the lexicography
> and linguistics
literature, they are known to be very slippery entities.
> The paper looks at
problems with existing accounts of `word sense' and
> describes the various
kinds of ways in which a word's meaning can deviate
> from its core
meaning. An analysis is presented in which word senses
> are abstractions from
clusters of corpus citations, in accordance with
> current lexicographic
practice. The corpus citations, not the word senses,
> are the basic objects
in the ontology. The corpus citations will be
> clustered into senses
according to the purposes of whoever or whatever
> does the clustering.
In the absence of such purposes, word senses do not exist.
I strongly agree with both
Sue A. and Adam K. on those issues. I won't
say that I completely
agree with either or both on everything, but the
points they make are
always well informed and well worth considering.
Following are Adam's
Annotations can be useful
for many applications. But in general, they
must always be considered
approximations for some specific purpose in
the context for which they
were developed. This fact has been very
well known to translators
PS: Beryl Atkins adopted
the name Sue because her husband couldn't
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