Re: CHAT: programming langs
|From:||Gerald Koenig <jlk@...>|
|Date:||Thursday, November 18, 1999, 3:05|
>> >Boudewijn Rempt wrote:
>> >But then what is the underlying, ultimate generic "language"?
>> I'm reading my new copy of Wierzbicka's semantics book and she supposes
>> a small closed set of less than 100 concepts that are universally found
>> in spoken language.xxx She is also working on a minimalist universal
>> grammar, all empirically based. xxx
>Is that _Semantics: Primes and Universals_?That's it, Oxford University Press 1996
>I couldn't finish that. Too frustrating. Which was a pity, because
>it was so fascinating.
>First, she seems to spend every other paragraph attacking George
>Lakoff for the views he held in the seventies, while ignoring the
>She has similar contempt for others who carefully study semantics
>with methods other than her own, such as Ronald Langacker.
>If she had only presented her theory, and not spent so much of her
>time pouring ill-deserved and ill-conceived abuse on other theories, I
>would have enjoyed her work immensely. I think it's brilliant.
Hang in, Ed. I hear you on her attitude, I noticed it too, but if I may
play her lawer for a moment, I just took it as the reaction of someone
who has been working alone in a male dominated zone fighting the odds
for acceptance of something she believes wholeheartedly in. Also, I
find that sometimes it is necessary to trash an existing belief system
a bit to free myself up for a fresh perspective. I notice she is pretty
hard on herself also and carefully documents every false step she has
taken in the past. /End lawer mode.
>I'm not convinced of the reality of the "Semantic Primitives," but I
>am convinced that they are an extremely powerful tool for translation,
>especially in the hand of someone with such powerful analytic
>abilities as she has.
>When I say I'm not convinced of the reality of the primitives, I mean
>I don't think that they are by any means the "lowest level" of
>interpretation one can reach. They may be the lowest level one can
>reach *linguistically*, and therefore be bare minima for *purposes of
>translation* (which is conducted purely in language), but language and
>meaning must relate to the rest of human life by some mechanism. That
>means that there must be some mechanism for "interpreting"
>Wierzbickian primitives in terms of body, memory, experience of time,
>space, and all the rest of human experience. These are the mechanisms
>that people like Langacker and Lakoff want to investigate.
This reminds me of something I read by Einstein on the creative
process; he spoke of prelinguistic fragments of sounds, images, sensory
memories, as playing a key part in his creative process, all prior to
verbalization. I have just begun reading Wierzbicka, but I haven't seen
any denial of prelinguistic thought process. I don't believe that when
we as a species took the step into a verbal world that we did or could
jettison all preverbal thought. Just taking deixis, it seems that words
that stand for pointing; and pointing, the action, usually coexist and
there are also states of consciousness where we may regress to pointing
abilities only. I assume that dexis, verbal or not, ultimately rests on
biological structures; that's why it's universal and every language has
those dexis words that point. What Wierzbicka says to me is that these
concepts are primitives in the sense that everyone knows them. I don't
_think she's denying the uniqueness of the substrate perceptions that
support the primitives. We all understand counting, but how we count and
perceive number is different for everyone on earth except possibly
>If Wierzbicka is right, there are 55 words which actually relate to
>the rest of human experience through some mechanism which she is not
>at all interested in (she says the words are "indefinable" for this
>reason). All the rest of the words in a language are interpretable in
>terms of those 55 words.
>I say, if those 55 words can have a link to human experience which is
>direct, why in the *world* shouldn't the rest of the words in a
Well some concepts are priviledged, if we are going to model the world
with symbols. Maybe some kind of occam's razor limits our directional
primitives to 6 Cartesians. Maybe evolution can't manage an n
dimensional manifold. We would have very complex ear canals indeed to
orient ourselves. It's hard to imagine a number system that is simpler
than binary, and that's what we are using here as basis. Some things are
just, well fundamental, like axioms or the "given". I don't know if
matter itself can be infinitly subdivided. It seems that infinity could
be one directional. Paradoxes are avoided in logic by limiting the size
of certain sets.
>But Wierzbicka thinks that the rest of the words in a
>language have no meaning other than configurations of the 55
>primitives in various combinations.
I will look for that in my reading. So far it seems to me that she
is just fighting for the priviledged status of the primitive set, now up
around 89. If she is claiming that all meaning is an exact combination
of primitives, it is tantamount to denying the reality of the real
>It's ridiculous as a theory of how semantics really *works*. But
>she's proved it to be an amazingly useful tool for analyzing words and
>writing definitions of them. It's a pity that her insistence that
>language consists of nothing but nails is so frustrating to read,
>because she really has invented a wonderful hammer.
She is working on a universal grammar, also presumably biologically and
hence physically based. She's a serious finder of fact, and will
probably destroy quite a few theories by that alone.
Ed, I respect your take on Wierzbicka, and will be looking for your
caveats while reading the book.
Jerry | Without careful communication
Gerald Lea Koenig | jlkatnetcomdotcom There is endless demonization.