[Home]TheOgdenExperiment

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This page may become relevant to WhatIsKnowledge. It describes a language experiment that I did in the second half of 2002 to get at the semantic core of our natural language. The intention was to get a better basis for controlled vocabularies for programming and perhaps some hold in the field of machine translations. -- HelmutLeitner

The experiment was based on the work of the linguist C. K. Ogden, who is well-known for his books about meaning (e. g. "The Meaning of Meaning") and for his work on "Basic English", which proposed as a simplified English for global use. A core vocabulary of about 700 words (mostly nouns) can be used to express the meaning of about 10000 words, enough for everyday use. All irreguarities and special forms are dropped (no third person "s", no irregular verbs, instead of "orchard" you would say "garden of fruit trees"). This dates back to about 1930-1940.

The experiment started with Odgen's [850 words], but into a wiki, each on its own wiki page. The goal was to further reduce the vocabulary to a (1) functional core and (2) to develop a syntax for the defining the words. It was clear that there were many words like "goat" or "mouse" that could be defined as "kind of animal" and some descriptions and that such trivial words would not add to this core. On the other hand, it showed that definitions require some extensions, so about 100 new words were added.

In the end, syntacical consistency was not reached, the system currently contains a mixture of ways to express definitions. A single pass was done, probably another 2 passes would be needed to reach consistency.

One interesting result for me was a folder of [32 fundamental ideas], that I wasn't able to further reduce, although one is - of course - able to define them recursively:

The most interesting result was, how one experiences language in such an experiment. Words change their size, become sometimes larger or more fuzzy, or more pronounced. In fighting with the words, one can arrive at new insights: It was necessary to introduce the word "advantage". At some point it became clear to me that the word "good" was only definable as "advantage for community", community as "system of persons, having common process, symbols, rules, knowledge".

Anyway, however doubtful this experiment may seem, if it would be repeated and elaborated seriously one could arrive at a fundamental ontology with certainty. One could assign fundamental words and build all definitions and knowledge on them. This way knowledge could get a mathematical quality and maybe become quantifiable.

CategoryLanguage? CategorySemantics? CategoryOntology?


I find this very interesting. The ontology is not the traditional classifying UpperOntology?, but rather a bottom-up, constructive ontology. ConstructiveOntology? is precisely what the NameAsLocation characteristic of wikis is all about. -- SunirShah

Exactly, that's why I felt immediately at home with wiki, still to be seen on my first paragraph of Wiki:HelmutLeitner homepage.

Constructivism is great when there is (1) a clear notion about the nature of the construction (2) a good feeling about the experienced and modelled reality (3) a willingness to provide freedom by actually doing alternate constructions (4) strong resistance against any kind of absolutism, dogmatism or propaganda which sells a construction as the reality. -- HelmutLeitner


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