Re: live meaning and dead languages

--- On Fri, 2/6/09, Jeremy Carroll <> wrote:
From: Jeremy Carroll <>
Subject: live meaning and dead languages
Date: Friday, February 6, 2009, 6:34 AM

One of the occasional defects of people in SW is a tendency to arm chair

>I remember when we used to call this salon chair philosophizing, when multiple philosophers would sport robes, puff cigars and sip brandy or drink coffee, wear black and puff cigarettes. The internet has brought the digital soliloquy without the social charms of interaction, bouncing off ideas, passionate discord and harsh rebuttals.

I will indulge.

A book I've been reading this week, had the following, rather over-egged,

"By language, I mean the dance of signs, the continuous process of
symbolic exchange between people, the humming communication network of which the
human life world consists. I mean also to invoke the vast strange and
multi-dimensional world of linguistic mean-ing -- and I am hyphenating mean-ing,
like be-ing, because <em>mean-ing is a process too</em>. We need to
make this point because for so long European intellectuals studied only dead
languages -- Latin, Greek and Hebrew -- and failed to grasp the way the
transactions of life are carried out and the life world is produced and formed
by the <em>motion</em> of living language." [1]

In terms of meaning on the web, I see that the web as a place where the life
world is produced, by active extensions of our linguistic apparatus. I hence
have an aversion to techniques and technologies that somehow pretend that
meaning on the web, and in particular the semantic web, should or could be made
static and somehow lifeless. So, I have difficulty seeing the meaning of any URI
as univocal or fixed or even particularly well-defined. This leads to some
hesitation concerning systems of definitions and axioms built on top of such

I think this worry becomes more so as axioms and systems of axioms become more
complicated. (I just about see similarities between OWL2 and the Shorter Latin
Primer I had at high school).

A term which is too tightly nailed down in its relationship to other terms has
been dug into an early grave. Having fixed its meaning, as our world moves on,
the term will become useless.

The trick, in natural language, is that the meaning of terms is somewhat loose,
and moves with the times, while still having some limits.
This looseness of definition gives rise to some misunderstandings (aka
interoperability failures), but not too many, we hope.

So I wonder, as some people try to describe some part of their world with great
precision, using the latest and greatest formal techniques, just how long that
way of describing the world will last. Maybe there is a role in such precision
in allowing us to be clear about differences of opinion --- but it doesn't
seem to me to be a good foundation for building knowledge.

Perhaps fortunately, I am an engineer not a philosopher!

Dear Jeremy,

As a polyglot, amateur linguist in creole languages, mathematician, software engineer and philosopher, let me remind you that what we call language is a collection of concepts to describe the multiple forms in which we engage our inner and outer world, to communicate, think, review, play, convey meaning etc.

Written language can be modeled to an extent as to be formalized to use formal logic systems and grammars, which allow parsing,and natural language processing.

Semantic web technology builds on these aspects and principles of software engineering.

Semantic web technologies will for now NOT be able to deal e.g. with written texts containing jokes or the Buddhist koans to extract semantic information.

To some extent a generalization of Godel's famous theorem applies to the field of formalized linguistics.

Language is a whole in all its manifestations is TOO complex to be grasped by the semantic web, but then I do not think that Tim Berners-Lee et alii set out in the first place with this in mind when they came up with the grand scheme for the semantic web.

Personally, I think some domains of language, should remain just the way they are, complex, at times difficult to grasp, puzzling, inspiring and thought provoking.

We human are in no way perfect, and the languages we speak reflect and enrich our human condition.

Dead languages? Eh? Some of the best philosophical and timeless stuff was written in dead languages. The irony of becoming immortalized by your writings is that the language in which you have written your published work for which you will be remembered for all generations to come is always outdated, archaic and thus in some shape or form "dead".

So in fact "dead" languages are very much alive<!

Milton Ponson
GSM: +297 747 8280
Rainbow Warriors Core Foundation
PO Box 1154, Oranjestad
Aruba, Dutch Caribbean
Project Paradigm: A structured approach to bringing the tools for sustainable development to all stakeholders worldwide
NGO-Opensource: Creating ICT tools for NGOs worldwide for Project Paradigm
MetaPortal: providing online access to web sites and repositories of data and information for sustainable development
SemanticWebSoftware, part of NGO-Opensource to enable SW technologies in the Metaportal project


[1] Don Cupitt, 2001, Emptiness and Brightness,  p95


Received on Saturday, 7 February 2009 18:08:01 UTC