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

Russ Bellon russbellon at gmail.com
Tue Oct 16 13:05:04 EDT 2007

I don't think the assumption of human physical evolution (either way) is
really necessary for a linguistic discussion as it's clear (to most) that
language itself does evolve and, however we got them, the mechanisms for its
use are there. I suspect that cultural forces (like an appreciation of
poetry or a religious literary tradition) are far more relevant.

To be honest, my knowledge of BH is pretty new and rudimentary, but common
words like *פנה *would seem to have more uses than borrowed words like *פרעה.

In his statistics, how does he account for the idea that the more uses a
word has the more common it will be?  For example, if "Pharaoh" can also be
used to refer to cakes and green-toed-lizards then it is automatically three
times as common as a word with only one use (and this is without regard for
how much more--or less--often "Pharaoh/cakes" are referred to than any other
particular word. Never mind I am a math dyslexic and the answer is probably
over my head.

On 16/10/2007, biblical hebrew <jcr.bhebrew at gmail.com> wrote:
> 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
> words?
> 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
> > _______________________________________________
> > b-hebrew mailing list
> > b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
> > http://lists.ibiblio.org/mailman/listinfo/b-hebrew
> >

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