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RE: [ontac-forum] Follow up question on Ontology, knowledge, languagecon

To: "ONTAC-WG General Discussion" <ontac-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "Obrst, Leo J." <lobrst@xxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sat, 8 Oct 2005 15:08:04 -0400
Message-id: <9F771CF826DE9A42B548A08D90EDEA807E97CB@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
John,    (01)

Yes, I agree that not all of natural language semantics is captured by
model theory (formal pragmatics, discourse semantics, speech act theory
is still not fully married together). But a beginning part is.
Model-theoretic semantics does in general short-shrift lexical
semantics, but the latter is indeed expressible in model-theoretic
terms.  Eleven years ago, Jackendoff's Lexical-Conceptual Structure
framework (focused on lexical semantics) was shown to be expressible in
ordinary model-theoretic terms:     (02)

- Zwarts, J., and H. Verkuyl. 1994. An algebra of conceptual structure:
an investigation into jackendoff's conceptual semantics. Linguistics
and Philosophy 1-18.    (03)

Ad hominem bricks against Montague are not appreciated, even if by
Henry Kautz.      (04)

Montague's work largely opened the gate to formal logical,
truth-conditional semantics in natural language -- before which
semantics in NL was largely "semantic feature or marker" based, i.e.,
mentalistic and pretty ad hoc -- subsequently with folks such as Hans
Kamp, Irene Heim, Barwise & Perry, Barbara Partee, Emmon Bach, G. Link,
Manfred Krifka, etc., able to make large and extensible advances.     (05)

Not to mention the boon to computational linguistics, and the ability
to correlate NL syntax and semantics much more formally, building
largely on the categorial grammar thread (Lambek, Bar-Hillel, Moortgat,
etc.), i.e., unification grammars in the 80s/90s and linguistic
theories such as Lexical-Functional Grammar, Head-Drive Phrase
Structure Grammar, and the modern Lambek-style syntactic and semantic
calculi, lambda calculus/type theory, van Benthem's work at U.
Amsterdam, etc. The progress in NL semantics over the past 30 odd years
is largely attributable to the adoption of logical (and algebraic)
methods and model theory triggered by Montague's work.     (06)

I prefer the Barbara Partee in *The Handbook of Contemporary Semantic
Theory, Lappin, ed., Blackwell, 1996, Ch. 1, The Development of Formal
Semantics in Linguistic Theory, and her related paper (with Herman
Hendriks), Ch. 1, Montague Grammar, in The Handbook of Logic and
Language, van Benthem and ter Meulen, MIT Press, 1997. But even your
quotation displays Partee's obviously valued employment of model
theory: and it has nothing to do with her marriage to a lexical
semanticist, John, another ad hominem appeal I find offensive; she has
been a dispassionate scholar throughout her career and takes care to
avoid pontificating or faith-based pigeon-holing, especially where the
faith is model-theory. It's a good, strong, useful tool, and better
than we used to have.    (07)

Model-theory is not just about consistency. It's about entailment
relations, and a host of other notions: how to compare two structures,
what is the nature of the relationship between a set of symbols and the
interpretation of those symbols? To me, model theory is just logic
meets algebra. What structures are useful for expressing semantic
notions? From the perspective of NL semantics, see Landman, Fred.
1991.  Structures for Semantics.  Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic. This is
why personally, for example, I'm also interested in category theory:
structures and relationships to express meaning. The IFF (Information
Flow Framework) meta-ontology candidate of Bob Kent and Marco
Schorlemmer sof the IEEE SUO (Standard Upper Ontology:
http://suo.ieee.org/IFF/) is an attempt to use category theory for
inter-ontology mapping.    (08)

By the way, not all formal semanticists of NL are primarily
model-theoretic. The so called T-theory Davidsonians like **Larson &
Segal, 1995, Higgenbotham, 1990, etc. are not. Typically the latter are
associated with Chomsky-style linguistic theory, i.e., focusing on
syntax and strong psychological realism.    (09)

John, I'm afraid you sometimes tend to obliterate necessary and
under-appreciated distinctions in your rhetorical quest to make
particular points. I happen to mostly agree with many of your points
and appreciate the fine mind that drives them, but your statements can
be very misleading to those who don't necessarily have the formal
background to understand or evaluate either their truth or their
potential significance for the technologies, approaches, etc., that
they address or have impact on.    (010)

Ontology folks who may only have peripheral notions about natural
language semantics may tend to latch onto your slogans and rhetorical
points and be led astray. That is my fear, as it is my fear that my own
pronouncements may lead them astray. It is a technically complicated
method and agenda we pursue, and one that we are passionate about, but
we owe to all clarity, precision, honesty, and our best counsel.    (011)

Leo    (012)

* Obrst, L. 1997. Review of Handbook of Contemporary Semantic Theory,
Shalom Lappin, ed., Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers,
1995. Language, Linguistics Society of America, 1997.
** Obrst, L. 1996. Draft review of Knowledge of Meaning by Richard
Larson & Gabriel Segal, MIT Press, 1995. Natural Language Engineering,
1996.    (013)

-----Original Message-----
From: ontac-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
[mailto:ontac-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of John F. Sowa
Sent: Friday, October 07, 2005 7:18 PM
To: ONTAC-WG General Discussion
Subject: Re: [ontac-forum] Follow up question on Ontology, knowledge,
languageconfusion [LONG]    (014)

Leo,    (015)

I mostly agree with most of your points, but I'd like
to add a few qualifications:    (016)

  1. The first is a follow-up to my comment at the meeting
     on October 5 about the problems with Cyc (and all other
     formal ontologies developed or proposed so far).  The
     points I raised are discussed in the following paper:    (017)

     The Challenge of Knowledge Soup    (018)

  2. I agree that in principle ontology is more fundamental
     than epistemology, but I also believe that the
     compartmentalization of ontology, epistemology, and
     philosophy of science into distinct subfields has had
     a detrimental effect on current work in cognitive science.
     Three logicians who cut through those fields -- Peirce,
     Whitehead, and the later Wittgenstein -- have contributed
     some seminal ideas for a more fundamental and fruitful
     reintegration of those subfields.   I wrote another paper
     on that topic, which I am now in the process of revising
     and extending:    (019)

     Signs, Processes, and Language Games    (020)

  3. The following point should be extensively qualified:
     "Most semanticists in natural language use what's called
     'model-theoretic semantics'...  The correction I would
     make is "All formal semanticists use model-theoretic
     semantics, but the formal semanticists are a tiny fraction
     of all NL semanticists."  See the quotation below by
     Barbara Partee, who is one of the pioneers in promoting
     Montague's approach.  She married a lexical semanticist
     a few years ago, and she recognizes the limitations of
     model theory -- which by itself does *nothing* but prove
     that a set of axioms is consistent.  That is certainly
     important, but there's much more to meaning than just
     consistency.    (021)

Following the quotation by Barbara P., I added the poem
by Henry Kautz, who has been working on formalisms, but
recognizes their limitations.  Those limitations are the
issues, I address in my papers on knowledge soup and
on signs, processes, and language games.    (022)

________________________________________________________________    (023)

Source: http://people.umass.edu/partee/RGGU_2005/RGGU054.pdf    (024)

In Montague's formal semantics the simple predicates of the
language of intensional logic (IL), like love, like, kiss,
see, etc., are regarded as symbols (similar to the "labels"
of [predicate calculus]) which could have many possible
interpretations in many different models, their "real meanings"
being regarded as their interpretations in the "intended model".
Formal semantics does not pretend to give a complete characterization
of this "intended model", neither in terms of the model structure
representing the "worlds" nor in terms of the assignments of
interpretations to the lexical constants. The present formalizations
of model-theoretic semantics are undoubtedly still rather primitive
compared to what is needed to capture many important semantic
properties of natural languages, including for example spatial
and other perceptual representations which play an important role
in many aspects of linguistic structure. The logical structure
of language is a real and important part of natural language
and we have fairly well-developed tools for describing it. There
are other approaches to semantics that are concerned with other
aspects of natural language, perhaps even cognitively "deeper"
in some sense, but which we presently lack the tools to adequately
formalize. It is to be hoped that these different approaches can
be seen as complementary and not necessarily antagonistic.
____________________________________________________________    (025)

    If your thesis is utterly vacuous,
    Use first-order predicate calculus.
       With sufficient formality,
       The sheerest banality
    Will be hailed by all as miraculous.    (026)

    If your thesis is quite indefensible,
    Reach for semantics intensional.
       Over Montague grammar,
       Your committee will stammer,
    Not admitting it's incomprehensible!    (027)

by Henry Kautz    (028)

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