Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Semantics Mystery!

Some readers of this blog probably know who Bill Inmon is (see here, if you don't). This piece by him showed up in the google Linguistics news feed that you see on the right column of this page.

Man, I just plain don't quite know where to start on this ... except to say that the image (from here) is pretty cool.


Jangari said...

Well, that's quite horrible. It seems to be a ubiquitous point of view that something is only valuable if it is commercially valuable. Such narrow-minded philosophy, unfortunately, drives research funding in most Australian universities these days, I'm sure it's not much different over there.

Increasingly we are seeing the privatisation of the tertiary education sector, with universities investing heavily in schools of business, designed to attract full-fee-paying international students to increase funding, to the relative detriment of humanities and social/human science subject areas.

Quotes like this sum up the mentality:
And where is the business problem that is being addressed by linguistics? Certainly it is nowhere on a large scale.
If you look at the world purely through the lens of business, then certainly, you'll find no such value in most areas, including literature, history, philosophy and arguably, education.

I'm just thankful that plenty of people are a bit wiser than this guy.

Mr. Verb said...

Yup, that pretty well sums it up. We're very far down this road here. The sense of 'basic research' into fundamental questions is virtually gone at many or most American universities, I think: The question isn't whether you're advancing human knowledge, but whether what you're doing has immediate commercial value.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Goodness. If it doesn't make you a buck the day after you learn it, it's useless?

How sad it must be to be him.

Mr. Verb said...

Yeah, he's got the hard-bitten business guy thing going full tilt.

Anonymous said...

What I find interesting is that he didn't even stop at the ubiquitously very low hanging fruit that other nonsemanticists trip over: lexical semantics. He failed to mention the impact on business of branding, the recent controversies of 'mcjob' and 'ho', e.g. It would have been nice for a business theory guru to take on the issue of 'mcjob' informed by principles of language variation and change. The practicality of linguistic advice on this topic would appear to be politically and financially real.

Erin said...

I don't want to give any support to his assertion that the purpose of studying linguistics should be to bring in the d0llar$, but there's a lot of linguistics, semantics even, going into search engine technology these days. F'rinstance, entity resolution, or how you differentiate THIS Michael Jackson (the pop star) from THAT Michael Jackson (the beer expert). There's even a $50K contest going on for that problem now.

Has he been hanging out too much on slashdot? Is he expecting the old
1. Study Linguistics; 2. ???; 3. Profit!?

Mr. Verb said...

I'm not sure simply turning a buck is enough for him. Let's remember him and chuckle ever so slightly over his tunnel vision when we take over the world.

jangari said...

1. Study Linguistics; 2. ???; 3. Profit!?

I think most linguists would agree that we never entered the field with big ideas of making megabucks (that would require making the Chomskian transition from linguistics to social commentary). We do it because languages intrigue and interest us, no?

Take solace in the fact that in twenty years, business gurus will have luxury pads, awesome cars, an en suite for every bedroom, but nothing interesting to show for it. Also, what does the businessman say at dinner parties and the like? "I'm a businessman", versus our very cool "I'm a linguist, working on highly endangered aboriginal languages" for instance. This never fails to pique someone's interest.

What we lack in economic capital we more than make up for in cultural and social capital.