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Re: [ontolog-forum] Well written blog post re Words and Dictionaries

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: John Bottoms <john@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 21 May 2014 14:14:43 -0400
Message-id: <537CED13.2000203@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
"Word Magic" in The New Yorker, by Adam Gopnik discusses the difficulties with differences with words.

The author ordered strawberries in a French restaurant using "fagiolini" instead of "fragoline" and got a plate of green beans for dessert. Clearly there is more to word distances than phonetics.
And, a liberal in France is on the right, while in the US they are on the left.

The discussion orbits around dictionaries; "The constant recourse to the metaphor of loss in translation is too easy. ...where the point of the work is to watch it self-destruct in the museum garden." (Jean Tinguely)

One of the works mentioned is "Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon", a 300 page volume published by Princeton Press that discusses these issues.

"In each entry of the Dictionary, the differences are tracked, explained, and made perfectly clear in English, which rather undermines the premise that these terms are untranslartable, except in the dim sense that it sometimes takes a few words in one language to indicate a concept that is more succinctly embodied in one word in another."

Another dictionary discussed is "The Language Hoax", by linguist John H. McWhorter, who argues that "It is no more surprising that a tribe whose language doesn't have numbers can't do math, ...than a 'tribe without cars doesn't drive'."

Further linguistic and ontological issues are argued. The article is at:

-John Bottoms
 FirstStar Systems
 Concord, MA USA

On 5/21/2014 12:59 PM, John F Sowa wrote:
Dear Matthew,

I certainly agree:

I don't think you should really talk about the history of English
dictionaries without mentioning Samuel Johnson. Although not the first,
his is the most famous or early English Dictionaries, published in 1755.
But the point of David's remark was the literary qualities of
dictionaries in the 20th c.  I quoted the blog that David cited
and commented on some of the points it mentioned.

He even used wit and humour, defining a lexicographer as "..a harmless
drudge, that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the
significations of words".
That's an example of literary qualities that would never be allowed
by today's publishers.  There are many other examples, such as his
definition of 'oats':  "A grain, which in England is generally given
to horses, but in Scotland supports the people."

I don't think the English have ever considered Webster's as anything
other than a dictionary of American English
That's true.  But by the late 19th c, Webster's had grown larger
than Johnson's, and it was being used in England.


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