Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

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Words and Ethics

On the way to work today, while starting to reread "die Unendliche Geschichte" (the "Neverending Story" in the original German), and again impressed at exactly how simple the language in it is, I daydreamed about a "foreign language trainer/explainer/guide" software that would be usable to help people read works in languages that arn't their first (and at which they're not fluent). It would presumably have at least the following level of breakdown:

  • Word-piece - especially helpful in German, but still usable in English - would pull sufficies, word bases, and prefices all apart and optionally define each. This type of understanding (being more literal than idiomatic) would help people adopt deep understanding of nuances of the language. It might offer to derive/define latin roots of words that have them..
  • Word - A quick definition, followed by a nice paragraph or set thereof describing the nuances of the word and how they differ from the naïve translations to one's native tongue
  • Phrase-level - Partly to allow understanding of idiom, partly other information that's not immediately obvious from just the word
  • Entire sentence
We might imagine this being completely general, but it would possibly be better to have it be text-specific. If we had software that could guess the appropriate definition (among many) for a given word usage in a setence, then things would be basically usable, and if we then had some kind of highly interactive environment (like a wiki, but less free-form) that would let people correct these guesses, it might be appealing for a swarm of people to go over works preparing them for this kind of usage (and as an added but unrelated bonus, this may lead to really neat discussions on the actual book content - a reading club of wiki-type people) - especially when entire sentences are ready for interpretation.

Related to issues of language and meaning, Ramić's "Language and the Interpretation of Islamic Law" came in for me today - I anticipate understanding more about differences between the schools of Islamic Jurisprudence afterwards, and it's interesting so far...

In a meeting at work today, we were talking about someone's research on monkeys where in order to study the function of some areas of the brain, monkeys were trained on a number of tasks and then parts of their brains were intentionally lesioned. I .. got pretty upset after awhile, and walked out. I realise that this is an area where I differ significantly from this field as a whole -
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... It seems grossly immoral to be treating higher animals that way, especially primates - not terribly different from using severely Down's Syndrome'd people as guinea pigs. Even for people who don't have mores as strongly as I do on the matter, we have TMS and studies using it are more generalisable and easier to train for. Playing Doctor Frankenstein is something we shouldn't see people in the field still doing.


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