A few minor points: (02)
1. I still don't really understand how you are using the term 'vocabulary'.
An example like 'life insurance company employee' is a 'term' made from other
terms, in one of the usual ways for naming subtypes: prefixing the class term
with a term that narrows the scope. 'life insurance' is a subtype/category of
'insurance', 'life insurance company' is a category of 'company' (in the sense
of an 'organization' that is some kind of partnership), and life insurance
company employee is a category of 'employee' (which is itself a role and not a
class, but that is an unrelated concern). We manufacture elaborate noun
phrases (or Marathonwoerter, or tours de la phrase) as new terms all the time;
it is part of language evolution. And, as you observe, there are similarly
constructed verb phrases, adverbial and adjectival phrases. Each of these is a
'term', in that it has a specific meaning. So, if you use 'vocabulary' to mean
'terminology' (which many do), then I misunderstood what you intended by saying
that vocabularies are finite. I agree that the collection of terms available
to a given person is finite, but mathematically, the collection of possible
terms is only countable. And that intrinsic lack of an upper bound on language
constructs is very important to our ability to evolve language to meet the
needs of expanding knowledge (which was my point). (03)
2. English is not really unique in the linguistic impacts of Voelkerwanderung
(invasions, etc.). Modern French is primarily derived from Latin, yes, but
much less so than Spanish and Italian, precisely because France was Celtic
longer than the others, and suffered many more Germanic invasions and even one
somewhat successful Moorish invasion. So French also has multiple roots. What
France did not have is the separate organized societies during the critical
phases of modern language formation (England was two societies from 1066 to
1300 ). Even so, the eventual dominance of the Langue d'Oil (Paris) over the
Langue d'Oc (Provençal) was slow in coming and primarily a consequence of
centering the administration in Paris. (04)
3. Latin was the language of the Western literati everywhere from the 1st
century on. (Greek was the language of the literati of the Eastern Roman
empire from 150 BCE.) Latin remained the formal language of administration and
education into the 17th century, and Latin evolved over the 1600 years to
support those users. England was an actively managed part of the Roman empire
well into the 5th century, but the real success of Latin in Western Europe
(England included) came from the monks, who preserved and disseminated the
written knowledge for 500 years. The earliest universities (in the late 13th
century) simply extended that tradition. (And they also furthered the Roman
practice of using Greek words for new ideas.) It was Gutenberg's invention
that made the publication of other languages practical, and the Protestants who
made it common, by translating the Bible into the languages the common man
would understand on his own. Shakespeare had the advantage of timing; he
published during the reign of the very Protestant Queen Elizabeth, who actually
sponsored what became the King James Bible, and effectively standardized
Shakespeare's dialect of English. But Robert Hooke and Isaac Newton still
published in Latin in 1680, while Samuel Pepys and Ben Jonson were promoting
formal education in English. About the same time, Louis XIV formally adopted
French (over Latin) as the language for government records. (As usual, the
institutions took much longer to respond. And the ultimate demonstration: the
Roman Catholic Church finally dropped the requirement for Latin Mass in the
1960s.) Latin surely had influences on modern English, because it was in use
by the scientific community as late as 1700 and thus was the source for terms
denoting new knowledge in the late 17th century (e.g., medicine), but most of
our common words that are nominally of Latin origin (like 'common' and
'origin', but not 'nominally' -- a university word) came from Norman French. (05)
The evolution of all languages is very much tied up with the history of the
speakers and their institutions. We can argue about the special cases, but the
important thing is that we agree that the history of the speakers does not
stop, so the evolution does not stop, and for that reason, no dictionary will
be entirely stable for any length of time. (06)
> -----Original Message-----
> From: ontolog-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:ontolog-forum-
> bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of John F Sowa
> Sent: Thursday, December 12, 2013 9:38 AM
> To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
> Subject: Re: [ontolog-forum] LInked Data meme revisited
> 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,
> >> 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.
> > 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
> No. But I certainly agree that the definition of 'word' is a "problem".
> 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".
> For example, the German "word"
> would be about as memorable for a German speaker as the following English
> translation for an English speaker
> life insurance company employee
> In Chinese, each morpheme is one syllable that has an associated character,
> but words typically have 1 to 4 syllables (and characters).
> In addition to the things called words, languages have *collocations*, such as
> 'crystal clear', 'iron will', or 'out of scope', and frozen metaphors, such
> and large'.
> 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).
> 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.
> 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.
> > A purpose of the Academie was to CONTROL the evolution of the French
> > language, not to STOP it...
> 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.
> 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.
> 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.
> 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.
> 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.
> 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.
> 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.
> 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.
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