extension of "the"

Alexander Gross language at sprynet.com
Mon Aug 30 20:35:59 UTC 2004

Thanks, Wendy.  It will be two weeks before i am back in NYC & can look up
Peter Master's contributions on this subject.  But so far as i can see from
summaries on the web, i don't think he and i would have too many differences
here. That's because he is concerned with practical solutions for helping
ESL students to learn and not merely airy universalist linguistic
cause-mongering or promotions for MT, just as i am concerned with training
translators & breaking through to describing how language actually works.

So far as i can tell, he maintains that grammar can be usefully taught in
ESL courses and breaks down his method for treating articles into beginning,
intermediate, and advanced phases (none of which is going to help MT
programmers very much). OTOH i believe there is a dispute within the ESL
community between those who emphasize teaching grammar & those who just want
to start their students talking some form of English.

It's probable that most of us who learn foreign languages as adults will
never speak them perfectly, whichever course is chosen.  My Spanish was good
enough 50 years ago to get me a job as a bilingual radio announcer in Madrid
for Radio Nacional de Espan~a.  And I've boasted that I speak it fluently
ever since, which in some ways I do.  And I'm also fairly justified in my
claim that I can speak, read, translate from, interpret brief dialogs into,
and even write (with some help from a native editor) five or six languages
(six including both British and American English :-) ).  But I'm just now
going through the hard slogging of preparing for a conference in Xalapa,
Mex., and I'm becoming painfully aware of how "broken" my Spanish really is.

But at least I'm aware of it, which means that I can improve it a bit.
Contrary to Steve's fantasies that all language can be broken down to Roger
Schank-like scenarios involving dialogues with car valets, both grammar and
accent really do matter in most languages.

very best to all!


----- Original Message -----
To: Alexander Gross
Cc: clements ; funknet at mailman.rice.edu ; rronques at indiana.edu
Sent: Sunday, August 29, 2004 4:40 PM
Subject: Re: [FUNKNET] extension of "the"

See work by Peter Master. He did his dissertation (UCLA) on this topic.

----- Original Message -----
From: Alexander Gross <language at sprynet.com>
Date: Sunday, August 29, 2004 1:24 pm
Subject: Re: [FUNKNET] extension of "the"
> > Does anyone know of any studies on the extension of the use of
> "the".> In her home town (Stafford VA), a student of mine noted
> that "the"
> > can be used:
> I find it fascinating that anyone would assume that "the" might
> have a
> "normal" use which could then be subject to extension. And that
> there would
> be any studies which could conceivably place its usage within any
> sort of
> normative range at all or explore the possible range of extensions.
> I wonder if this may be just one further offshoot from the
> illusion shared
> by many linguists that the guiding principles of language have been
> discovered, described, and even codified. Or in Steven Pinker's words,
> linguists have found "the single mental design underlying" all
> languages and
> "we all have the same minds."
> Four years ago I issued a challenge not only to all those on the
> sci.langUSENET newsgroup concerning this matter, it was in fact a
> repeat of
> the very challenge I had also issued a few years earlier to one of the
> foremost founders of AI, a master mathematician and a name so
> eminent as to
> require no further airing here (though the curious may discover it by
> running a Deja search on the sci.lang archives).
> Neither this expert nor the linguists on sci.lang were able to
> come up with
> a response to this challenge. I am now readdressing it to my
> colleagues on
> FUNKNET to discover if they will fare any better with it.
> The challenge went as follows:
> ---------------------------------------------
> Since you (singular and plural) imagine that it will one day be
> possible to construct an "adequate" machine translation system,
> here is *your* little assignment. It's easy, it's all in English.
> I
> want you to come up with the precise, practical rules by which
> we decide to put "the" in front of a noun as opposed to when
> we decide to put "a" or "an" in front of a noun as opposed to
> when we decide to put absolutely nothing ("zero-grade article")
> in front of a noun. Also: precisely when do we have a choice
> between two possible methods?
> Further requirement: the rule or rules you come up with have to work
> for ALL instances of putting articles in front of nouns. The rules
> should be so fool-proof and logically transparent that we can even
> make an expert system paradigm out of them, so that anyone who
> needed to know which rule to apply could simply consult the expert
> system and find the right answer. You'll need something like this
> for that "adequate" MT system--it will be crucial to spell out these
> rules for English, especially since some fairly different ones apply
> to almost any foreign language you can name. And even languages
> without articles as such, like Russian and Chinese, have a few
> quirks in this regard, to say nothing of the problems of translating
> all these languages into and out of English. Today's most advanced
> MT systems get all this wrong as often as right.
> But there's another and even better reason for coming up with a
> solution. I've tried this task more than once, so it's more than
> an idle
> riddle. I was first asked to come up with a solution by a
> Chinese senior revisor & computer linguist friend at the UN
> translationdepartment who himself had trouble deciding which
> article to use.
> I was eager to solve it for him, and I was almost certain I could come
> up with the solution quite easily. I was also interested because some
> of my students in a translator-training course I was then teaching
> alsoasked me for the same solution.
> They really needed the answer, because they continually made
> mistakes with articles both in their writing and speech, which
> made it sound as though all they could manage was "broken English."
> And this is what many people think when foreigners get their articles
> wrong, either in speech or in translations. But these were perfectly
> literate & intelligent people--they just couldn't figure out the rules
> for English articles.
> The point here is not merely to come up with the usual explanation
> for this problem (which amounts to little more than saying "when
> something is definite, it takes the definite article, when something
> is indefinite, it...). The point IS to come up with a clear set of
> rules that can help foreigners to learn English. And beyond that
> can incidentally also serve as the basis for an "adequate" MT program.
> Perhaps you also will make the mistake of supposing--as I did--that
> this is a trivial problem. Believe me--it isn't. I had no trouble
> coming up with the first two or three rules, but there were still
> many inexplicable instances, where I had to say lamely to my
> students "Learn the Language." I ended up weaseling out by telling
> both my students and my friend at the UN to read the NY Times &
> other sources & try to figure out for themselves why "a" or "the"
> or neither one is used. As Martin Kay has pointed out, you can
> throw all the computing power in the world at MT and still come
> up empty. At what point does a trivial problem become an
> intractable one?
> --------------------------------
> Let me reiterate that while this may look like a simple problem,
> it isn't.
> Using an If, Then, Else logical framework, I tried to build
> something like
> an expert system that could represent its terms but couldn't truly get
> beyond the first few rules. The permissible range for using our
> articlesvaries not merely between British and American English but
> within our own US
> variety according to differences of region, class, education, national
> origin, and age. It may even vary between members of the same
> family and
> over time within the usage of a single individual.
> And we're talking just about English here--imagine the
> complexities that
> arise when other languages are brought in. And since this is true
> for such
> an extremely small subset of structural linguistic problems in a
> singlelanguage, how much more true must it be for the august, all-
> embracing,universalist theory advanced by MIT linguists? To say
> nothing of all its
> cognitive this and that spinoffs? A French friend tells me the
> manual for
> French-English conversion of articles looks like a small law book,
> whicheven then is sure to have exceptions and omissions. If after
> decades of
> detailed rule-seeking and measurements and busy work on the "syntactic
> structures" of minute language byways our current school of
> linguists can't
> solve this problem, then what can they solve?
> very best to all!
> alex
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "clements" <clements at indiana.edu>
> To: <funknet at mailman.rice.edu>
> Cc: <rronques at indiana.edu>
> Sent: Friday, August 27, 2004 11:47 AM
> Subject: [FUNKNET] extension of "the"
> > Dear Funknetters,
> > Does anyone know of any studies on the extension of the use of
> "the". In
> > her home town (Stafford VA), a student of mine noted that "the"
> can be
> > used:
> >
> > --With most acronyms
> > I have the AOL.
> > She has the SARS.
> >
> > --With generics
> > I like the coffee/the candy. (to refer to all coffee or candy)
> >
> > --With many proper place names. These tend to be specific
> references,> especially the store names. If my friend told me she
> was going to "the
> > Pier 1," I would understand that she meant the Pier 1 in Central
> Park.> We are going to the Nashville.
> > I'm in the Target.
> > He bought it at the Pier 1.
> >
> > I have heard it reported with abstract nouns, as in
> >
> > I have the diabetes
> >
> > and a colleague of mine in Fort Wayne IN reported hearing it
> from his
> > students.
> >
> > Any leads would be most welcome. If there's interest, I'll
> write up a
> > summary.
> >
> > Clancy Clements
> >
> >
> >
> >

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