Linguistics and Language Synthesis
This page is concerned primarily with the synthesis of new languages, such as computer programming languages and the descriptor languages used in information retrieval, but the analysis of existing human languages is extremely important for the synthesis of new ones.
I’d like to begin by discussing several hypotheses, beginning with some very weak and non-controversial ones, then moving on to successively stronger hypotheses which are indeed more controversial.
The weakest hypothesis is simply that it is possible and useful to create descriptor languages for Information Retrieval (IR). Actually I am not just concerned with the retrieval of information, and would prefer the term Resource Retrieval (RR), where the resources could include human beings, mailing lists, usenet news discussion threads, and so on. By a descriptor language I mean some systematic way of describing resources with symbolic expressions. Examples include library classification scheme such as the Dewey Decimal system, and some of the much newer metacontent formats developed for indexing the World-Wide Web (WWW).
There are two different ways to strengthen the weakest hypothesis:
One is to add the assertion that descriptors can be created automatically by software which examines the resource to be described and is able to capture the essence of it in symbolic form.
Another way to strengthen the weakest hypothesis is to assert that a descriptor language can be “naturalistic”, resembling human languages closely enough to evoke and make use of our innate linguistic abilities.
These two assertions are entirely independent, so that either or both could be assumed. But as you may guess, I will argue for both of them. Even if we grant that a descriptor language could be naturalistic and could provide for automatic creation of descriptors, this is still far from the strongest hypothesis we can discuss.
A much stronger hypothesis concerns the relationship between a very naturalistic descriptor language and the natural languages spoken by people who might use the descriptors. One such hypothesis would be that a descriptor language could be consistent with the morphology of the natural human language, and could therefore be used as an extension of human language.
For example, much of the scientific nomenclature of chemistry and biology is entirely artificial, being the result of mutual agreements amongst scientists to use latin and greek morphemes in a more or less consistent fashion. But these coinages are often compatible with a human language such as english, and many of them eventually enter the language and are to some extent common usage.
But scientific nomenclature is far too crude to be a real descriptor language — it uses a collection of quite different morphemes to mean similar things, and combines these morphemes in a non-systematic way to produce words which are usually quite ambiguous. I only mention it as an example of the notion that a descriptor language could be compatible with human languages and could be used to extend them. I don’t think the weakness of scientific nomenclature has anything to do with its compatibility with natural languages, and so I am able to imagine a descriptor language which lack these weaknesses, but is still quite compatible with (some) human languages.
One particular area of weakness in scientific terminology is its lack of fundamental or backbone words — the extremely common words such as ‘is’, ‘has’, ‘will’, and the other words which form the grammatical backbone of the language — at least in languages which have such words. Some may doubt that this is a weakness, and I shall discuss this idea in a subsequent section, but for the moment please go along with my notion a descriptor language should be capable of unambiguous description, and so should have backbone terms which serve the same function of those in natural languages, but without their ambiguity.
Given this, it seems possible to frame a still stronger hypothesis to the effect that a descriptor language can include all of the components one would expect in a natural language, and therefore could serve as a replacement for natural languages. The next stronger hypothesis is quite a large jump, and represents a step I am not quite ready to take, but am very willing to think about. This one, the strongest hypothesis I can formulate as an extension of the ones discussed, is to say that a very naturalistic descriptor language could in some way be underneath or implicit in natural languages, like the deep structure discussed by transformational grammarians following Chomsky.
Chomsky is well known for the notion that language is an organ like the eye, which we grow rather than learn, and he is probably also the origin of the extremely worshipful view of language in which they are seen as almost perfect natural phenomena and the result of millions of years of evolution. As I work more and more on my strange lexicographic project for a new language that is supposed to be naturalistic but non-arbitrary, I seem to be moving further and further away from Chomsky’s view.
More and more I seem natural languages as local-minima in the great optimization problem that speech communication presents. (Pun intended, both interpretations are correct!)
I am, of course, actively engaged in the pursuit of this prey, trying my best to synthesize a new language with all the magic properties I’ve imagined over the years. See Acronymic Language for the early history of this idea. I will shortly be adding pages to this site to discuss my current work. I also plan to provide source code and data for download as soon as possible, but I cannot yet say when that will be.
Copyright © 1998 Douglas P. Wilson
Copyright © 2009 Douglas Pardoe Wilson
Other relevant content:
Please see these web pages:
The main Social Technology page.
Find Compatibles , the key page, with the real solution to all other problems explained
Technological Fantasies , a page about future technology
Social Tech a page about Social Technology, technology for social purposes. I think I was the first person to use this phrase on the Internet, quite a long time ago.
Roughly corresponding to these web pages are the following blogs :
Social Technology the main blog, hosted on this site, with posts imported from the following blogger.com blogs, which still exist and are useable.
Find Compatibles devoted to matching people with friends, lovers, jobs, places to live and so on, but doing so in ways that will actually work, using good math, good algorithms, good analysis.
Technological Fantasies devoted to future stuff, new ideas, things that might be invented or might happen, such as what is listed above and below.
Sex-Politics-Religion is a blog about these important topics, which I have been told should never be mentioned in polite conversation. Alright that advice does seem a bit dated, but many people are still told not to bring up these subjects around the dinner table.
I believe I was the first person on the Internet to use the phrase Social Technology — years before the Web existed.
Those were the good old days, when the number of people using the net exceeed the amount of content on it, so that it was easy to start a discussion about such an upopular topic. Now things are different. There are so many web pages that the chances of anyone finding this page are low, even with good search engines like Google. Oh, well.
By Social Technology I mean the technology for organizing and maintaining human society. The example I had most firmly in mind is the subject of Find Compatibles , what I consider to be the key page, the one with the real solution to all other problems explained.
As I explained on my early mailing lists and later webpages, I find that social technology has hardly improved at all over the years. We still use representative democracy, exactly the same as it was used in the 18th century. By contrast, horse and buggy transporation has been replaced by automobiles and airplanes, enormous changes.
In the picture below you will see some 18th century technology, such as the ox-plow in the middle of the picture. How things have changed since then in agricultural technology. But we still use chance encounters, engagements and marriages to organize our home life and the raising of children.
I claim that great advances in social technology are not only possible but inevitable. I have written three novels about this, one preposterously long, 5000 pages, another merely very very long, 1500 pages. The third is short enough at 340 pages to be published some day. Maybe. The topic is still not interesting to most people. I will excerpt small parts of these novels on the web sometime, maybe even post the raw text for the larger two.
This site includes many pages dating from 1997 to 2008 which are quite out of date. They are included here partly to show the development of these ideas and partly to cover things the newer pages do not. There will be broken links where these pages referenced external sites. I’ve tried to fix up or maiintain all internal links, but some will probably have been missed. One may wish to look at an earlier version of this page , rather longer, and at an overview of most parts of what can be called a bigger project.
Type in this address to e-mail me. The image is interesting. See Status of Social Technology
Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009, Douglas Pardoe Wilson
I have used a series of e-mail address over the years, each of which eventually became out of date because of a change of Internet services or became almost useless because of spam. Eventually I stuck with a Yahoo address, but my inbox still fills up with spam and their spam filter still removes messages I wanted to see. So I have switched to a new e-mail service. Web spiders should not be able to find it, since it is hidden in a jpeg picture. I have also made it difficult to reach me. The picture is not a clickable link. To send me e-mail you must want to do so badly enough to type this address in. That is a nuisance, for which I do apologize, but I just don’t want a lot of mail from people who do not care about what I have to say.
Copyright © 2009 Douglas Pardoe Wilson