[b-hebrew] Zipf and B-Hebrew

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Mon Oct 15 15:55:20 EDT 2007


This analysis is weakened by not specifying how we understand words.
Do we recognize them from their form, or their function? By the
contexts they are found in, or the actions that they symbolize?

If you recognize words by their form, the contexts that they are found
in, then yes, the most common words are found in the widest range of
contexts, therefore the widest range of "meanings". But if you
recognize words by the actions that they specify, then I don't see
other than a minor correlation between frequency and multiple

We also need to specify that we are not dealing with translation, as a
word may have one meaning in the originating language, but a meaning
that falls between two or three words in the translated to language,
hence best translated by more than one word.

I have never heard of Mr. Zipf before, so I hope I have correctly
understood your description of his theory.

Karl W. Randolph.

On 10/14/07, biblical hebrew <jcr.bhebrew at gmail.com> wrote:
> Hi Pere,
> I think you have misunderstood my summary of Zipf's suggestion. He is not
> merely suggesting that all languages have unambiguous words and ambiguous
> words. He is stating that the combination of forces produced by the needs of
> the hearer and the speaker produce the tendency for common words to have
> multiple senses/meanings and for rare words to have specific unambiguous
> meanings.
> He further suggests that there is a curve exhibited with common words were
> common words have multiple meanings and more common words have more meanings
> and even more common words have even more possible meanings. If you still
> don't understand his suggestion please be more specific about which part/s
> you didn't understand so that I can attempt to explain his suggestion
> better.
> To illustrate the point let's take an example you suggested. You suggest
> that hebrew )B has only one sense 'father'. Now while it is true to say that
> )B in all of its instances can be translated with the single word 'father'
> that does not prove that it has only one sense as the English word 'father'
> can have many senses and the Hebrew word )B can have senses that are not
> characteristic of English usage. e.g:
> 1) We can say that Abraham was Isaac's 'father'  or  Isaac's  )B
> 2) We can say that Abraham was Jacob's )B but not that he was his 'father'
> 3) We can say that Yhwh is our 'father' or )B - note that this is a
> different sense to those above.
> 4) In a spiritual sense we can say that Abraham is the 'father' or )B of non
> Isrealites who have entered into a friendly covenant relationship with Yhwh
> These observations seem to be in harmony with Zipf's suggestion as )B in
> Hebrew and 'father' in English are common words.
> Contrast this with Hebrew 'tsohar' which is only attested once in the Hebrew
> canon. Even though we are not entirely sure what a 'tsohar' is, we are
> fairly sure that the word described a specific and unambiguous concept.
> My gut feeling up to now is that Zipf may be right and what I have seen up
> to now reinforces his ideas. What I was wondering was what the list members
> opinions of his suggestions may be with respect to the Hebrew canon in light
> of the wealth of experience with B Hebrew that the list members have. Do
> people agree that the data uphold his suggestions? Can anyone think of any
> concrete examples of low frequency words with multiple senses that would
> contradict his suggestion? Conversely, can anyone think of any high
> frequency words with only one specific sense that would contradict his
> suggestion?
> Thanks
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> James Christian Read - BSc Computer Science
> http://www.lamie.org/hebrew       Thesis 1 - Aleppo codex machine translation
> http://www.lamie.org/lad-sim.doc  Thesis 2 - language acquisition simulation

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