[b-hebrew] Hebrew and the Elements of Language

JAMES CHRISTIAN READ JCR128 at student.anglia.ac.uk
Thu Aug 23 15:44:17 EDT 2007


Hi Stephen, 

thanks for challenging my views on the elements of 
language. It made me realise where my arguments could 
come across as weak and where they need further 
explanations. I will try to deal with your objections as
concisely as I can in the order in which you raised them.

SS: This could equally be rewritten: "Languages are INTERACTION oriented in the
sense that they exist to communicate the interactions between objects".
Prototypical verbs are, essentially, (inter)actions.

JCR: This is a fair comment but your rephrasal, and, on 
thinking about it, my summarial statement, both fall 
short of describing language because they do not cover 
utterances such as:

i) The book is on the table.
ii) Isn't he a big boy?
iii) My! What a lovely building.

These sentences merely describe the state of the 
objects in question. Perhaps I should rephrase and say 
that languages exist to "Describe objects AND their 
interactions with each other". At this point your 
version of my summary could be something like 
"Languages are INTERACTION and STATE oriented". But 
such a summary begs the question "The interactions and 
states of what?"

Please allow me to rephrase the whole thing to put my 
claims in a clearer context. 

i) Language is an expression of cognition
ii) Understanding is based on cognition
iii) Cognition is object oriented

SS: And in the subsequent paragraph in your 1st email, I'm not that keen on your
use of the word "merely" - that adjectives are "merely" direct extensions of
the noun, etc. It seems to beg the question, in a subtle way. What if a
particular extension/attribute is precisely what matters, in a particular
communicative event? "No, I said get the BLUE book!" It may be a "mere"
extension of the book, but it's more than "merely" a secondary-importance
word. In this case it's the whole point.

JCR: Another fair point. I'm not suggesting for a 
minute that adjectives cannot be meaningful or that in 
contrived contexts they can take the focus of the 
sentence, as in your very excellent example. Perhaps 
'merely' was too strong a word to use. I didn't mean 
to relegate them into non existence. But please 
consider this. What is the adjective, blue's, 
significance in this example if we take away the 
contextual reference to an object? The noun 'book' can 
live without the adjective but the adjective cannot 
survive linguistically without its function of 
describing some kind of concrete noun. Also consider
this. The adjective 'blue' could annihilated completely  
out of linguistic existence by inventing versions of 
nouns which have words for 'bluebook', 'bluecoat' etc. 
But the linguistic need for the word 'book' could not 
be annihilated by the invention of any number of new 
colour terms.

SS: That brings me to my big question: What exactly do you mean by words like
"fundamental", "basic elements", "important", etc.? These words are very
slippery and ambiguous. You might mean (a) that "nouns" (a typological
generalisation for "object word") are necessary for the meaningfulness of
other types of words, or (b) that nouns carry the greater part of the sense
of language utterances, or (c) that nouns are most intimately connected to
our general cognitive natures and abilities, or (d) that nouns are the key
if you want to understand a given literary corpus or worldview - or maybe
something else, or a combination of these. (You implied several in different
parts of your emails.)

JCR: Thanks for asking this question. It brought the 
discussion to exactly where it needs to be in order for 
me to clarify my model. I guess the main point is as 
described earlier, that understanding is based on 
cognition which is in turn centred around objects and 
the linguistic consequence of which is that objects 
have such a heavy linguistic responsibility. 

Please don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that 
languages could be as rich without verbs. All I'm 
saying is that the function of verbs is to express 
interactions between objects. The reverse, however, 
"the function of nouns is to express the subject, 
objects and locations of interactions" while true does 
not capture their essence to the same degree. The true 
function of nouns is to "provide audible labels which 
we can associate with a cognitive database of 
experiences with objects".

We could quite easily invent a theoretical language 
where nouns have varying forms which express their 
actions:

i) 'theplaneislanding' 
ii) 'theplaneistakingoff'
iii) 'theplaneisparking'

And this is why, in my linguistic model, I am able to 
model just about everything as an extension of the 
noun. In the three examples above the noun is the 
centre of the action and all other words just modify 
its behaviour and give temporal markers. In fact, 
there is psychological research (Barrett, 1989) that 
shows that children's earliest words are very much 
context bound. One example is of the child only 
produced the word 'duck' when hitting the toy duck off 
the edge of the bath. The child was saying one word 
'duck' which we adults associate with objects of type 
'duck'. The child was associating that one word with 
not only the object but the event of the duck flying 
off the edge of the bath.

SS: And on your nouns vs. verbs example: It's fairly contrived, and equally easy
to contrive a counter-example like the following (with its context):

- "What kind of relationship did you have with your father?"
- "I _____ him intensely."

Vs.

- "What kind of relationship did you have with your father?"
- "I loved __ intensely."

JCR: It's a fair comment that my example was contrived 
and even as I was writing it I was aware of the kind 
of criticism my example could provoke. However, I 
would like you to notice a large difference between my 
contrived example and your contrived example. Your 
contrived example is asking for a specific question 
searching for specific answers. My contrived example 
asks no specific questions. It just considers how much 
general understanding can be drawn from the two 
incomplete fragments. 

Applying the same to your two contrived fragments I 
offer the following analysis.

- "I _____ him intensely."

i) an English speaker understands that there is an 
interaction between to objects
ii) he understands clearly who these two objects are
iii) he understands that the interaction is a natural 
collocate of 'intensely'
iv) he quickly concludes that the missing verb is either 'loves' or 'hates'

- "I loved __ intensely."

i) an English speaker understands that there may or may not be an interaction between objects
ii) he understands clearly the subject of the loving
iii) he understands that the object of love could 
either be a person, an object or doing something but no clues indicate which
iv) using statistical methods of reasoning he concludes 
that 'intensely' is more often a collocate of 'loves' 
in the context of loving a person than in the context 
of loving a thing or a dog or an activity
v) he concludes that this is therefore probably talking 
about a person rather than a thing or an activity but 
nonetheless remains unsure

My analysis is subjective but all in all I would say 
that the first fragment is more meaningful than the 
second.

In any case, I'm not saying that languages can do 
without verbs. I'm just saying that our fundamental 
understanding is built around cognition of objects. A
very significant part of that cognition is the 
observation of what objects do and so it is natural 
that languages words which express actions.

So perhaps I should reword my analysis and say that 
"languages are object oriented and interaction 
oriented". A refined look at the elements of language 
could therefore be that the two most fundamental 
elements are:

1) names of objects (aka nouns) - adjectives just make 
these nouns more specific
2) descriptions of interactions (aka verbs) - adverbs 
just make these verbs more specific

In any case, the more 'fundamental' of the two remains 
the noun because without the noun there would be 
nothing we could cognitively understand to be 
interacting. I hope this has better clarified my model 
and my reasons for holding it. I do of course welcome 
further queries criticisms of it.

James Christian Read - BSc Computer Science 
http://www.lamie.org/hebrew - thesis1: concept driven machine translation using the Aleppo codex 
http://www.lamie.org/lad-sim.doc - thesis2: language acquisition simulation
































































t make these verbs more specific

In any case, the more 'fundamental' of the two remains 
the noun because without the noun there would be 
nothing we could cognitively understand to be 
interacting. I hope this has better clarified my model 
and my reasons for holding it. I do of course welcome 
further queries criticisms of it.

James Christian Read - BSc Computer Science 
http://www.lamie.org/hebrew - thesis1: concept driven machine translation using the Aleppo codex 
http://www.lamie.org/lad-sim.doc - thesis2: language acquisition simulation

































































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