Re: Programmers, please read!

From: Kenneth Litwak (
Date: Tue Feb 06 1996 - 21:16:23 EST

   Well Shaughn, I won't speak to the programming issue, even though I
am a programmer, as such, though I would note that being able to recognzie
a Greek word and being able to equate it to a "definition" is not something
a computer can easily do. How is it to know when "anti" means for as opposed
to instead of or on behalf of? When does PARA mean from as opposed to by?
Or EK? When does BLEPW mean see and when does it mean beware? I don't know
of any software capable of making that decision. On the other hand, I don't
think this is necessary. What I think is necessary is for a human to sample
enough texts from a given period to be able to set a basic semantic domain,
as Louw & Nida have. Now, if you say, show me all the texts which use
words for walking, running, crawling, sitting, and so forth, I can do that,
but you have to tell me what Greek words to look for, and once my program
has found them, you still have to analyze the contexts to determine how
TREXW differs from PERIPATEW. A computer can't tell. Look at all the
glosses in BAGD and LSJ, where they got to a passage where none of the
standard definitions quite fit, so they, in my opinion, punt, and come up with
what seems like a sensible meaning. We'll never be able to know if a Greek
writer would have ever had that meaning in mind. A computer is not a practical
tool for determining odd meanings, because this requires a lot of reasoning,
and computers reason poorly. If you tried this same approach with English
a computer would run into serious trouble with the flip-flop in meaning
of the words "nice" and "bad". The former has totally changed its meaning,
and the latter is used colloquially, particularly by one sub-group of the
population, in a way opposite its normal meaning. I think writing software to
try to figure that out is basically hopeless. Sorry to sound so negative,
but I see no alternative, once a computer has done the grunt work of
finding specific items you have asked for, determining the meaning yourself.

Ken Litwak
Bezerkley, CA
Sybase, Inc., The Client Server company

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:37:37 EDT