[b-hebrew] Zipf and B-Hebrew

pporta at oham.net pporta at oham.net
Sun Oct 14 01:23:53 EDT 2007

> I was wondering what people's opinions about one of Zipf's  ideas  are.
> Zipf, best  known  for  Zipf's law, suggests  that  there is a playoff
> between ease of speaking and ease of understanding that forces the
> distribution of words which have single unambiguous meanings and words 
> that
> have multiple meanings discerned from context. That is to say that the
> optimal situation for the speaker would be that language consisted of one
> word which could express every possible meaning while the optimal 
> situation
> for the hearer would be that every word had a unique meaning so that no
> ambiguities need be resolved. He further suggests that these conflicting
> interests create linguistic forces which cause any given language to, in a
> manner of compromise between the needs of the speaker and of the hearer,
> have a mix of unambiguous words and words with multiple meanings with the
> rarest words typically having a very specific and unambiguous meaning and
> the most common words having the most possible semantic meanings
> disambiguated by context.
> I was wondering what the list members feelings about Zipf's proposal are
> with respect to b-hebrew. Are his ideas supported by the evidence in the
> b-hebrew corpus? Are there any examples which contradict his proposal?
> Thanks in advance for any help.

I'm afraid you should be more precise if you would like to get some answers 
to your question. Every human language has words with a single meaning and 
words with two, three... meanings. I think the true is that this fact is 
quite independent from speaker's and hearer's will: that is why the context 
is so necessary to make the meaning of a given word clear and unambiguous.

Let us consider
1. the noun )B:  it means "father" everywhere in the Bible.
2. the noun N"BEL: --it means "skin-bottle" in 1Sa 1:24 and --it means "a 
musical instrument" in 1Sa 10:5
3. the verb XFBAL: --it means "to bind" in Ez 18:16 and  --it means "to act 
corruptly" in Ne 1:7

And so on.

And this applies, I feel, to every human language: English, Russian, 
French... and Hebrew.

Perhaps you should make Zipf's law more understandable so that list members 
may show their thoughts.

Pere Porta
Barcelona (Spain)

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