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Excerpts from Uncleftish Beholding
Healthy Disrespect for Authority
> Hierarchical Language
The Basic Idea
As I re-read what I've written so far, I see that one aspect of the idea hasn't come through clearly. Individual people do sometimes use nonstandard meanings for words, and I do want to be able to capture such meanings, but that's not the point … the point is to organize all the standard meanings.
I'd start by separating out all the words that apply to special fields (or domains) like math and psychology. (I got the idea of special fields, if not the whole hierarchical scheme, from the language Speedtalk described by Heinlein.) I don't think I'd stop with fields, though … I think I'd divide the words by subfield as well. In mathematics, for example, I might distinguish between math.calculus.continuous and math.topology.continuous, since one makes me think of epsilons and deltas, the other of open sets. Even in cases where there's nothing to distinguish, I'd probably attach a subfield label just as information, e.g., math.topology.Hausdorff.
After that, I'd take the remaining non-special words and divide them up too, just as information, e.g., world.animal.coati. By the way, I'm using the prefix “world” to refer to things that exist in our particular world, as opposed to general concepts (like time and agency) that ought to apply to just about any world. (The latter remind me a lot of the upper Cyc ontology.)
I've been speaking as if this entire program were hypothetical, but in fact even my boring old dictionary implements some of it. The psychological definition of projection, for example, is marked Psychol.; the mathematical definition of continuous, Math. Unfortunately, not all domain-specific words are marked as such; in fact, words with only a single meaning are usually not marked at all, no matter how specialized they might be.
I wouldn't just mark the words, though; I'd actually split out the domain-specific words into separate dictionaries, like the dictionaries of mathematics one sometimes sees. Then it would be clear that language is modular—and as a side benefit, I wouldn't be bothered with useless words any more. On the other hand, selling small, independent dictionaries probably isn't commercially feasible.
(What about online dictionaries? The question of physically splitting out separate dictionaries is academic, but I'd still want to organize the words in a hierarchy, so as to to allow, for example, domain-specific searches.)
@ January (2001)