[b-hebrew] Re. Zipf and B-Hebrew

biblical hebrew jcr.bhebrew at gmail.com
Tue Oct 16 05:50:19 EDT 2007

Hi Russ,

Yeah! I think I agree, in essence, with what you are saying. The problem
with Zipf's suggestion is that he, like most academics unfortunately do, is
working with the assumption that we evolved and is trying to explain the
'phenomena' (that more common words have most attested uses) in terms of
evolutionary mechanisms rather than in terms of linguistic forces.

I think Karl adequately sums it up when he says '

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".


However, what do you feel about the phenomena rather than the explanation?
Do you feel that Zipf is on to something and that the Hebrew canon supports
his observation that the most meanings are expressed by the most common

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

On 10/15/07, Russ Bellon <russbellon at gmail.com> wrote:
> James, you wrote:
> >"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."
> >
> My understanding of Zipf's position is limited to what you have posted,
> but
> it looks to me like he is positing some completely unnecessary forces to
> explain our natural facility with language. Humans have a tendancy to add
> connotative value to the most commonly used tools in out language simply
> because they are the most commonly used. We are clever with our language
> and
> are more clever with the parts with wich we are most familiar. i don't see
> the need for any mysterious forces here.
> Russ Bellon
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