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Re: [ontolog-forum] LInked Data meme revisited

To: "[ontolog-forum] " <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "Barkmeyer, Edward J" <edward.barkmeyer@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 11 Dec 2013 18:01:56 +0000
Message-id: <a16bec4a838648ceb1e97472a6071990@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
John Sowa wrote:    (01)

> 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 applications.  That implies that it's
> impossible (and undesirable) to force words to be used with fixed and frozen
> definitions.    (02)

Note please that John uses the term 'vocabulary' here in the narrow sense of 'a 
stock of words', rather than in the sense that ISO 1087-1 calls a 
'terminology'.  A 'terminology' is a set of 'designations', or 'terms', each of 
which associates a series of words with a 'meaning' or 'interpretation'.  But 
the underlying problem is:  what is a 'word'?    Is it just a sequence of 
sounds or characters?  Depending on your formal background -- linguistics, 
semantics, semiotics, formal languages -- you probably have different 
definitions for the terms/words we are using to discuss this issue.  Are 'term' 
and 'terms' different "words", or different "forms" of the same "word"?  (The 
sequences of sounds/characters are different, but related by syntactic language 
rules, and they have somewhat different interpretation.  On the other hand, 
there is no difference in interpretation between 'run' and 'runs'; there is 
just a now pointless language rule that I write "I run" and "she runs".)  All 
of these issues are the kinds of things for which lexicographers have long 
since (150 years) agreed on conventions, standards of practice  that influence 
the further development of the (written) language.    (03)

Ultimately, as knowledge evolves, the set of designations must evolve to keep 
up with the knowledge evolution, in order to enable the new knowledge to be 
passed on.  Designations arise and evolve in order to make the expression of 
thought economical enough to be useful.  If you had to produce an elaborate 
circumlocution in terms of basic concepts every time you wanted to express a 
thought, it would be very difficult for the listener to follow the intent.  
Whether the expanding set of designations also involves the construction of new 
'words' is another matter; sometimes we extend or just reuse existing words.    (04)

So any so-called 'universal dictionary' would require continuous maintenance, 
and continuous dissemination of changes.  Further, the intent expressed by a 
given term can be narrowed over time, as we acquire the knowledge to make 
distinctions that are important to someone (is a 'rifle' a 'gun'?  do you care 
about the internal structure of the barrel?), or broadened over time, as we 
discover new things that are very similar to the things we formerly understood 
the term to refer to.  And that means that any utterance based on the 
'universal dictionary' would have to be time-stamped.    (05)

You can produce reference dictionaries for professional usage (including 
software) that remain valid and unchanged for some useful period of time.  That 
permits effective communication among practitioners of a discipline.  But over 
time, the reference has to be formally revised, to meet the needs of new 
knowledge and practices within the discipline.    The function of an RDF URI is 
to be a 'term'  in a reference dictionary; and it will perforce have a limited 
lifetime of usage.  That lifetime may be very long or very short, depending on 
the rate of evolution of knowledge in the discipline that uses the URI.      (06)

John wrote:    (07)

>     It will *never* be possible or desirable to have a fixed dictionary
>     of precisely defined word senses for any natural language.      (08)

I fully agree.    (09)

>     The French organized 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.    (010)

This is unfair in two ways.  A purpose of the Academie was to CONTROL the 
evolution of the French language, not to STOP it.  And, over the last two 
centuries, the Academie has accepted, or been forced to accept, additions to 
the French language from German, Spanish, Arabic and Russian, as well as 
English.  (The word for necktie comes from the dress of Louis XIV Croatian 
Guard -- les Chravattes.) The dominance of English as a contributor in the last 
50 years or so is a consequence of the international adoption of English as the 
language of commerce and technology, and that in turn can be attributed 
primarily to the survival of the British and American empires in the 20th 
century, opposite the decline of the previously dominant Continental and Asian 
ones.  And the rate of growth in KNOWLEDGE in those years has produced required 
evolution in all "1st world" languages.  It is just the dominance of English in 
commerce and technology that causes the wide adoption of a new term to occur 
earlier In English.  (In a similar way, part of the reason you can't read the 
Domesday Book is that modern English was enormously influenced by Norman 
French, about 200 years after the Book was written.  We use Arabic numerals, 
because the center of mathematics that formalized zero and produced algebra in 
the 9th century was in the Islamic empire; and the dominant terminology of 
diplomacy has been derived from French for 400 years.  It is all about the 
language used to express the new discipline, the new knowledge, the new 
fashion.)    (011)

-Ed    (012)

Edward J. Barkmeyer                     Email: edbark@xxxxxxxx
National Institute of Standards & Technology
Systems Integration Division
100 Bureau Drive, Stop 8263             Work:   +1 301-975-3528
Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8263             Mobile: +1 240-672-5800    (013)

"The opinions expressed above do not reflect consensus of NIST, 
 and have not been reviewed by any Government authority."    (014)

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