New tools for scholarship, new modes of communication, new forms of organization, same old humanity.
Gleick on Words
September 12, 2017 at 4:42 pm #1059
Having read Chapter 3 of James Gleick’s The Information, “Two Wordbooks,” share the following:
- the fact in the chapter that surprised you most
- at least one connection that comes to mind between Gleick’s chapter and Metadata
- at least one question that the chapter makes you want to know the answer to
Before posting, be sure to read what others have written so that you don’t repeat what they’ve already said. Post before 2017-09-13_12-00 (noon tomorrow).
September 12, 2017 at 11:20 pm #1060
- This topic was modified 10 months ago by Paul Schacht.
September 13, 2017 at 1:05 am #1061
- The difficulty of defining an entirely new and unfamiliar concept with underdeveloped language was something I was surprised by as I read the essay – I guess that when new terms are developed now, it feels so intuitive. The only way I could wrap my head around this was to remember what it’s like to try to communicate with someone in a foreign language you are barely proficient in. If you’re lacking the words, communication can fail.
- Metadata discusses some of the challenges of defining and categorizing complex data with a controlled vocabulary (such as the Library of Congress uses in its metadata), and this was reflected in Cawdrey’s struggle to build a type of controlled vocabulary for the English language. For metadata, this can be tackled by not only using lists of usable terms to categorize data, but also by using thesauri to develop relationships and links. As the essay discusses, Cawdrey (unlike those working with online information, he was all alone, with few organizational standards) had a rough time developing a system as efficient with a language constantly in flux and plenty of circular, unclear, and underdeveloped definitions.
- The essay suggests that our increased interconnectedness is causing language to evolve constantly, making me wonder what it really takes for a new term or word to latch on and eventually become part of the lexicography. Chance, exposure, catchiness, necessity, etc.?
September 13, 2017 at 8:24 am #1062
- I find it fascinating that the genesis of the dictionary came about from one man’s selfless mission to help others “understand and use hard words,” and how far it has come since then. The fact that Cawdrey believed the time he lived in was an age of “information explosion,” and that his word dictionary was a milestone of the era, really brings into perspective just how far society has advanced with information in such a relatively short time.
- In Metadata, Pomerantz discusses the Dublin Core Metadata scheme, which sought to achieve a goal similar to Cawdrey’s in being the definitive resource to reference for those seeking more knowledge regarding vocabulary, and metadata categorization, respectively.
- I would love to know how Cawdrey would react to the information and resources that we have available today. To see that the dictionary has grown from 2,500 to over 170,000, and that the entire lexicon of the English language can be browsed with ease through the internet (which on its own would most likely be enough to put him into catatonic shock) would no doubt be overwhelming, to say the least.
September 13, 2017 at 9:59 am #1063
- The part that surprised me most in this chapter is that there wasn’t a dictionary until the 1600’s so there were so many different spellings to one word. This raised a problem I’m sure because if you spell something completely different then it may mean something else entirely. One example from the text was in a single pamphlet the word “cony” had eight different spellings. If that were in a book or short story today that would cause some sort of confusion.
- “The map is not the territory” is a good quote for both this essay and the book. In the essay Cawdrey talks about how English has developed over time by using all kinds of languages to form new words and what not. In Metadata that is happening as well. Not only is technology and use of metadata improving everyday, but we are getting outside knowledge to help us improve as well. So many words in English have been derived from the romantic languages like, Greek, French and Latin. In English the words have a background to it and a reason to why words have certain meanings.
- What would Cawdrey think of the dictionary today? It has obviously grown a lot. Would he think that it is to much and only the “hard usual” words should only be in there? I would enjoy hearing what he has to say about the dictionary and how it does grow almost every day.
September 13, 2017 at 10:38 am #1064
- Cawdrey’s book, and the long history leading up to the modern OED, really interested me. What I found most surprising was the egalitarian nature of Table Alpabeticall. In such a class orientated society as early-modern Britain, this book was written for women and unskilled workers just as much as aristocratic gentlemen. This sort of universal, cross-class publication seems revolutionary for the time.
- The connection I made to Metadata is the impulse of humans to categorize information. Both authors illustrated mankind making a single, cohesive repository of seemingly endless data. For Pomerantz this came as metadata on the internet, for Gleick it was English-language words in a proto-dictionary. Both “database” examples demonstrate the various ways that humans have cataloged information in a logical manner and allowed that information to be easily accessible for the user.
- Reading Gleick makes it obvious how language is simply a web, with each word building off the definitions of others in a traceable manner. This is how he frames the discussion of both the Table Alphabeticall and the OED. Another way of cataloging words in a book that was left out is the Thesaurus. It contains many of the same words, all listed alphabetically too, but provides different information for the specific word (synonyms rather than definitions). So I wonder, when was the first Thesaurus compiled? Was it a contemporary to Cawdrey’s book or is a modern invention, once the language became more structured?
September 13, 2017 at 11:07 am #1065
- The fact in the chapter that surprised me most was the lack of alphabetization of words and texts up to a certain point in history. In modern times, it only seems logical that groups of information should be placed in alphabetical or numerical order by default. Organization of metadata has come a long way over the centuries and I can’t imagine browsing a library of the past with shelves strewn with unorganized texts.
- A connection that I noticed between chapter 3 of The Information and Metadata is the drive to deepen human understanding of information shared by Cawdrey as well as Tim Berners-Lee. Both men continually sought to develop resources which simplified life and studies for countless individuals throughout time.
- After reading “Two Wordbooks,” I find myself wondering about the future of the English language and the way humans communicate with each-other. Complex as it is in the current state, will our language one day devolve into the essentials needed to communicate in a shorthand-esque form? Will our language infinitely expand and eventually be replaced?
September 13, 2017 at 1:03 pm #1066
- Fact in the chapter that most surprised me was that the OED, proposed to be a perfect record of the English language, contained so many variations of different words’ spellings. The OED lists “every form in which a word has occurred throughout its history,” which makes sense from a preservationist’s perspective, and yet still feels strangely counter-intuitive for a dictionary. Emphasizing the “most common current spelling” works to keep the dictionary historically accurate while still making the OED useful for finding the current ‘correct’ spelling of the word.
- One connection I found was The Erya from China being like a directory where everything organized by category. The lists of words were not arranged not by the word and an attempt to pin its definition, but by the thing as it existed in the world (the things for which they stood), and this is similar to how a computer’s directory is ordered.
- By the end of the chapter I was wondering what a modern day attempt at The Erya would look like for the English language. Defining every word does seem like an impossible task with the ever expanding definitions of ‘current’ words, but organizing the words/concepts into relevant groups should be possible.
The fact that most surprised me was when Gleick said that the word lyrics did not exist until the nineteenth century. I can understand if that specific word did not exist, but it seems to me that there must have been a word which came before it that had at least a similar meaning. As Gleick discussed, songs are as old as civilization so it seems that there must have been some word which meant “the words used in songs” before the appearance of lyrics in the 1800’s.
One of the most fundamental connections that this chapter can make to Metadata surrounds the discussion about the map not being the territory. Gleick discusses this concept in the section where he quotes Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Gleick also uses a quote from John Locke—“Definition being nothing but making another understand by Words, what Idea the Term defin’d stands for”—which basically rewords the concept.
The question I am interested in learning the answer to popped up was Gleick was discussing how a new word becomes part of the OED. I find the self-imposed regulations fascinating because they are so arbitrary. One page 68, for example, Gleick says “As a rule a neologism needs five years of solid evidence for admission to the canon.” Why five years? What about that length of time means that a word is part of a universal language?September 13, 2017 at 2:26 pm #1067
September 13, 2017 at 2:48 pm #1068
- The fact that most surprised me was that there only remains one worn copy of Robert Cawdrey’s Tale Alphabeticall from 1604. It only makes sense that such a book wouldn’t have many original copies remaining in existence, however, seeing as it is one of the first dictionaries ever produced, it’s puzzling that the book didn’t increase in popularity at the time. It laid the framework as one of the earliest pieces of information, so it would only seem logical for the book to be produced in large quantities.
- One connection I made between Gleick’s chapter and Metadata was the idea of relevance that Pomerantz talks about in the first chapter of his book. He goes on to say, basically, that “what’s relevant to you might not be relevant to me” and I find that ties into what Gleick writes when he’s talking about the Tale Alphabeticall. Gleick writes that nobody had the concept of spelling before, which means there was no need to continue with reading a dictionary to most commoners, therefore nobody saw a dictionary as relevant.
- One question from the chapter that makes me want to know the answer to is why did Robert Cawdrey not push his book further? In hindsight, his book was one of the first tools that people could use that would have made communication and data recording standardized. Although there were 3 more versions of the book produced, if Cawdrey would have pushed his book, he could have set the standard for the way things are spelled, communicated, and
- Like Jack, I also didn’t realize the OED listed every possible acceptable spelling of a word (I’ve been looking into a lot of discipilnary differences between higher ed in England vs the US lately, so automatically this makes me think about the Americanization of spelling words (e.g., “colour” to “color”).
2.By reading Metadata before the Gleick chapter, I was able to understand examples Gleick provided (like organization methods for listing words on papyrus in Alexandria) as an example of metadata
3. I want to think more about the way larger systems of information I interpret every day (both digitally and irl) fall into categories of metadata.
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