Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Phoneme meanings

I just read the following text from an article about the Cyc knowledge base:

"The Cyc predicates relating a category to its immediate supersets and subsets, are, respectively, genls and specs." (Guha & Lenat, 1990)

I read the last three words, however, as "genus and species." Doesn't it look a little like that? At first I thought it was a neat coincidence, but actually, it's probably not, because words are not the most basic unit of meaning-- phonemes are as well.

Studies show that certain phonemes in a language tend to have specific meanings. For example, the phoneme "gl" at the beginning of an English word tends to mean reflected or indirect light, as in the words glimmer, glare, glow, glance, glaze, and glass. It's because of phoneme meanings the "Jabberwocky" poem works at all.

So it's likely that "gen" and "spec" sounds have something to do with generality and specificity, both in those words as well as genus and species.

The following word origins are from
http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=general&searchmode=none
general (adj.)
c.1300 (implied in generally), from L. generalis "relating to all, of a whole class" (contrasted with specialis), from genus (gen. generis) "stock, kind" (see genus). Noun sense of "commander of an army" is 1576 shortening of captain general, from M.Fr. capitaine général. The title generalissimo (1621) is from It., superlative of generale, from a sense development similar to the Fr.

genus
(pl. genera), 1551 as a term of logic (biological sense dates from 1608), from L. genus (gen. generis) "race, stock, kind," cognate with Gk. genos "race, kind," and gonos "birth, offspring, stock," from PIE base *gen-/*gon-/*gn- "produce, beget, be born" (cf. Skt. janati "begets, bears," janah "race," jatah "born;" Avestan zizanenti "they bear;" Gk. gignesthai "to become, happen;" L. gignere "to beget," gnasci "to be born," genius "procreative divinity, inborn tutelary spirit, innate quality," ingenium "inborn character," germen "shoot, bud, embryo, germ;" Lith. gentis "kinsmen;" Goth. kuni "race;" O.E. cennan "beget, create;" O.H.G. kind "child;" O.Ir. ro-genar "I was born;" Welsh geni "to be born").




Guha, R. V., and Lenat, D. (1990). Cyc: A Midterm Report. AI Magazine, Fall 1990, pp32--59

No comments: