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Re: [ontolog-forum] LInked Data meme revisited

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: John F Sowa <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Thu, 12 Dec 2013 09:37:39 -0500
Message-id: <52A9CA33.7040000@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Ed,    (01)

I agree with most of the points in your note.  But I want to clarify two
issues:  "vocabulary" and the role of l'Académie française,    (02)

>> 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.    (03)

> Note please that John uses the term 'vocabulary' here in the narrow sense of
> 'a stock of words'...  But the underlying problem is:  what is a 'word'?    (04)

No.  But I certainly agree that the definition of 'word' is a "problem".    (05)

A more detailed answer, which I was hoping to avoid discussing, is
"a vocabulary of memorable combinations constructed from a finite
set of morphemes."  One condition for being memorable is that the
length is less than some reasonable upper bound.  Another condition
is that the combination conforms to the syntax of the language.  But
a full discussion of all the psycholinguistic issues is "out of scope".    (06)

For example, the German "word"    (07)

    Lebensversicherungsgesellschaftsangestellter    (08)

would be about as memorable for a German speaker as the following
English translation for an English speaker    (09)

    life insurance company employee    (010)

In Chinese, each morpheme is one syllable that has an associated
character, but words typically have 1 to 4 syllables (and characters).    (011)

In addition to the things called words, languages have *collocations*,
such as 'crystal clear', 'iron will',  or 'out of scope', and frozen 
metaphors, such as 'by and large'.    (012)

For any language at any point in its development, all such combinations
belong to what I would call the  vocabulary of a language (or dialect).    (013)

The syntax of any language allows an infinite set of sentences, and
an immense number of short phrases (less than a half dozen words).
But the number of words + collocations + frozen metaphors that any
person would use has a finite upper bound.    (014)

That ability to use and reuse that finite number of terms for a
continuous infinity of phenomena (real and imaginary) is essential
for the flexibility of NLs -- but it also causes vagueness.  In any
case, I strongly recommend the article about word senses by Adam K.
He and Sue A. would certainly agree that their comments about
word senses apply equally well to this extended vocabulary.    (015)

> A purpose of the Academie was to CONTROL the evolution of the French
> language, not to STOP it...    (016)

I agree.  The word 'stop' was too strong.  But their control had the
effect of making it far more difficult for the French to coin new terms.
By comparison, the chaotic history of English made it far more flexible.    (017)

  1. The invasions of England in the 9th century introduced a version
     of Old Danish that was sufficiently similar to Anglo-Saxon that
     speakers of either could make themselves understood to the others.    (018)

  2. That invasion resulted in a large number of borrowings.  But the
     differences in grammar caused speakers of both languages to ignore
     and eliminate the complex details.    (019)

  3. The conquest in 1066 made Norman French the language of the ruling
     classes and the language most imitated by the "wannabees".  As a
     result, the scribes used French or Latin for official documents.    (020)

  4. Meanwhile, the universities all over Europe (including Oxford
     and Cambridge) were founded in the 11th to the 13th c, and their
     language of instruction was Latin.    (021)

  5. As a result, nobody bothered to "correct" anything that the common
     people said in their bastardized mixture of Anglo-Saxon, Danish,
     French, and Latin.  People were left to say anything they pleased
     in any form they found useful for communication.    (022)

  6. In the 17th c, the dialect of Shakespeare and the King James Bible
     became the most widely imitated version of English.  But the global
     colonization by the British, the mixtures with languages around
     the world, and immigration into the colonies from everywhere made
     borrowing and uncontrolled coinage the norm.    (023)

By the way, I googled (another weird coinage) "l'Académie française"
and came across http://french.about.com/cs/francophonie/a/academie.htm .
It's ironic that author is named Laura Lawless.    (024)

John    (025)

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