SV: On logic and fuzziness

H.M.Hubey hubeyh at MONTCLAIR.EDU
Mon Nov 9 01:20:14 UTC 1998

Lars Martin Fosse wrote:

> Having written a thesis with a solid dose of statistics, I would like to second what Artur Karp is >saying here. I often find that scientists/engineers have the attitude that what we do is >"unscientific" because we don't use mathematics. This criticism is sometime relevant in cases where >linguists / philologists actually give arguments made on the basis of numerical calculations. In my >thesis, I have given an account of such attempts in Indology. However, today there is a special >branch of linguistics/philology where advanced statistical methods are applied to numerical problems, >so that the criticism is much less relevant than it would have been 30-40 years ago.

It may be true that (some) scientists/engineers do whatever it is you
claim they do.

However, my recommendations are a lot simpler (at least for a start). I
am simply
asking for a standardization of semantic distance. And that necessitates
the use of
the concept of distance. Nobody can go far without it. Once the concept
of distance
becomes embedded in linguistics many problems will solve themselves.

> I would like to remind the engineers/scientists  among us that linguists and philologists do not >operate in a field where they have the good fortune of dealing with natural laws.

The more difficult a problem is the more powerful the tools must be.

>Apart from sound laws, which are fairly consistent, everything we deal with is fundamentally chaotic. >When we interpret the past, we are really into a kind of pattern recognition process where we often >have to make interpretations on the basis of incomplete data sets. Historical processes may work >according to statistical principles, but not in the way that dice throwing does. Historical trends >can only be established on the basis of a large number of observed cases, which leaves us with a >classificatory problem: how do we classify an historical event of some kind in such a manner that we >can make a consistent and realistic statistical analysis of it? Here, philology and linguistics come >back to bite the statistician in the tail. Countables have to be defined, and such definitions have >to be made on  philological and linguistic criteria.

The more complex the problem is, the more powerful the tools must be.

Linguistics has been blessed with lots of measurable things so it is in
much better
shape than say, psychology or even parts of sociology. If math is good
enough for them,
for physicists, engineers and everyone else, it is good enough for

It's irrational to deny it or claim the opposite.

The worst that can happen is that at least some of the more farfetched
claims and
ridiculous and fuzzy methodologies will be clearly seen for what they
are. Understanding
is the key to a solution.

First analysis, then synthesis.

> My assumption is that what goes for linguistics and philology also goes for archaeology (as >testified by Karp) and other disciplines that have a certain "fuzziness". Consequently, all theories >and explanations have to be based on available data sets, which have to be documented. To produce >correct interpretations, you need complete data sets, but since data sets are rarely complete, you >end up with situations where you get several competing interpretations, because incomplete data sets >allow this, just like equations with more than one unknown factor allow for two or more solutions.

One does not need complete sets. Economists are faced with this problem
and have devised
ways to get around it.

> Best regards,
> Lars Martin Fosse
> Dr. art. Lars Martin Fosse
> Haugerudvn. 76, Leil. 114,
> 0674 Oslo
> Phone:  22 32 12 19
> Fax:       22 32 12 19
> Email: lmfosse at
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Best Regards,
hubeyh at =-=-=-=
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