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Re: [ontac-forum] Semantics, Linguistics and Ontology

To: mitioke@xxxxxxxxxxxx
Cc: ONTAC-WG General Discussion <ontac-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: kevinsl@xxxxxxxx
Date: Wed, 24 May 2006 10:39:20 -0400
Message-id: <200605241438.k4OEcmaR010116@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>

Ken,    (01)

I guess I could be letting some of my own biases sneak into my 'reading' 
of your theoretical proposals.  Bringing my biases along with me is 
somehow part of the 'reading' process, I findů But I don't think I was 
unkindly attributing beliefs to you that had no warrant in the substance 
of your statements.  I'm trying to see how the following is somehow NOT 
a statement of belief about how the structure of written language 
conceals some necessary connections to its referents:  "[W]e believe 
that the morphology of a word, its structure, is also a sign that refers 
to an abstract object structure that is somehow related to the structure 
of the object to which the word refers." ??    (02)

To take one of your specific examples: "Terms of this type [and perhaps 
this is where I'm getting confused, because I don't know precisely what 
is meant by 'this type'] that are related to mental activity include 
"brain", "mind", "remind", "admonish", "meditate", "medulla", 
"dementia", "demented", and "cerebral"."
So, my 'interpretation' of the above is that the shape and structure of 
these words already reveals a shared, somewhat hidden, but necessary 
connection to the things -- the abstract object structures -- they 
signify.  And, presumably there is a neat theoretical explanation for 
how we've acquired other words in English related to mental activities, 
like "intellect," "cogitation," "wits," "senses," "rational," "noetic," 
"psyche," that don't fit the pattern?  In the spirit of examining a 
theoretical proposal, I'd like to know how we can be sure these patterns 
are observed meaningfully and consistently throughout the entire 
language, and that we are not just focusing on the most convenient 
examples?  Does this apply only to words with Arabic roots?   And how do 
we explain words like "cleave," that have two distinctly opposite 
meanings, but are not morphologically or etymologically distinguished in 
any way that would allow consistent inferences about the meaning of the 
word?    (03)

I still think there is something alien about this, which, I admit, is a 
comment somewhat irrelevant to its scientific & linguistic validity. 
Perhaps one should not be so hasty after all to dismiss ideas merely on 
the basis of epistemological foreignness?  But theories should be 
capable of advancing our knowledge by explaining both the convenient and 
inconvenient real-world examples, which, no doubt, proves to be a high 
threshold in the vast arena of human language.    (04)

KL    (05)

Ken Ewell wrote:
> I think I was demonstrating how things that are the case (things 
> considered relevant)  can be semantically mapped to and from an array of 
> linguistic expressions representing such states-of-affairs; without an 
> absolute definition in advance; how abstract categories can be used to 
> organize semantically related vocabulary. This has absolutely nothing to 
> do with the fact that language is judged to be arbitrary by modern 
> linguists.
> Unfortunately that post meant for Azmat went to the entire working group 
> and I would be the first to apologize if I said anything to "offend 
> modern sensibilities".  I do apologize to the group for such a long post 
> detailed with such lengthy examples.  I promise to be more careful with 
> my posting in the future.
> <snip>
>> KL>  You understand, here, that it is necessary for me to allow M. 
>> Foucault to go on at such length about this because the whole notion 
>> is so alien to our modern sensibilities.  This alien epistemology is 
>> what you seem to have resurrected in your taxonomy of 18 distinct 
>> semantic classifications. 
> Alien is a very strong characterization that does not square with the 
> facts.  John Lawler and Richard Rhodes, both respected linguists, found 
> that the phoneme br- represented discontinuity.
> <snip>
>> KL> Actually, I almost forgot, there are some contemporary folks who 
>> share your belief that the shape and structure of written language 
>> conceals some necessary and eternal truths:  <snip>
> I looked through every word and I did not find anywhere in the post 
> where I stated, insinuated or implied that I have a "belief that the 
> shape and structure of written language conceals some necessary and 
> eternal truths".  I would ask you to be so kind as to not attribute 
> beliefs to me that I do not hold.  If this was your belief, your 
> obvious  biases may be blinding you to what is actually the case.
> <snip>
> -Ken Ewell
>>    (06)

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