The Chinese Diplomat's "the" (2)

Salinas17 at Salinas17 at
Mon Aug 30 16:01:59 UTC 2004

In a message dated 8/30/04 11:22:51 AM, rmalouf at writes:
<< So, yeah, if he'd ever wanted to tell a valet to "please get a car", the
system would have inserted an unwanted "the".  Fortunately, hardly anyone ever
does that,
so the problem doesn't come up very often. >>

"...get a car."  It is what I say all the time in reference to rental cars at
the airport.  And guys like Tony Soprano might say it with regard to the cars
they want gotten.  You're working with a limited context.  In any case, the
actual odds are extra-linguistic.  Otherwise they are 50-50 to a machine that
knows nothing about the issues of car ownership or how many cars are in the
family garage and what options are being offered by saying "get a car" versus
"get the car."

<<It's hard for me to imagine anything less "structuralist" than an
instance-based model like this one. The system produces an article for a sequence like
"please get ___ car"  by searching a reference corpus for similar patterns.>>

It is completely structural in how it gets to output.  That's not to say you
are not doing a good thing in practical terms.  But the fact that you've found
predictability in the patterns of speech doesn't necessarily provide an
explanation of those patterns -- other than perhaps we are in the habit of talking
about the same things for the same reasons in the same ways from day to day.
If your "speaker" was misunderstood despite the machine being accurate, that
would be a "functional" matter.

If function of speech is communication, we can presume that a variety of
structures might acheive the same understanding -- e.g., "get the car [I want to
go for a ride]"  or "get a car [I want to go for a ride]" or "I want to go for
a ride".


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