What is a *Language* Meta Model and How Would You Build One

From: Clayton Bartholomew (c.s.bartholomew@worldnet.att.net)
Date: Sun May 25 1997 - 15:45:53 EDT

Lee R. Martin asked me to expand on the language architecture theme so
here is a quick shot at it.

Clayton Bartholomew wrote:

For those who want to write grammar's I have an off the wall
suggestion. Try starting from the top down for a change. Try a meta
model approach, where you describe a language architecture first and
then fit the details into the meta model. Your meta model will always
fail at some point, but risk it anyway.

Lee R. Martin Wrote:
You make an interesting point (I think). I am not familiar with the
terms "language architecture" or "meta model." Could you describe
in more detail.

I happen to be writing a beginning grammar of Hebrew.

Lee R. Martin
Adjunct Faculty in Old Testament and Hebrew
Church of God School of Theology
Cleveland, TN 37311
Pastor, Prospect Church of God

What is a *Language* Meta Model and How Would You Build One

My notion of a meta model is borrowed from telecommunications systems engineering. (No, I am not an engineer).

A meta model is a high level *functional* description of a system. The model shows how the major functional domains of a system are related to one another. A meta model is highly abstract. The model is almost always represented graphically. I have never seen a system architecture document that was less than about 70 percent graphics.

The purpose of a high level architecture model (= meta model) is to provide a single coherent mental picture of how a complex system functions. The main goal of model building is to *maximize clarity.* Models are not exhaustive descriptions.

How to build a Language Architecture Model

I approach language modeling as an exercise in reverse engineering. You have the system before you (the language). You also have descriptions of morphology and syntax, in existing grammars. You need to abstract (a verb) from your observation of morphology and syntax a functional layer above syntax, i.e., more abstract than syntax. I call this the functional layer of the language. There are probably better terms. At this level of language description you need to define with precision and care each of the language functions you have isolated. When you have finished this, if you live that long, you build a graphical model showing the relationships between the language functions. This is your language architecture model.

One should not stop modeling with the language architecture (top) level. The next step is to build models for syntax and the morphology and show how the whole thing fits together.

Keep in mind: The main goal of model building is to *maximize clarity.*

This process is an exercise in applied linguistics. You don't have to be a linguist to do it. But it is not an easy task either.

Clay Bartholomew Three Tree Point

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