[Corpora-List] Stubbs' analogy?

John Goldsmith jagoldsm at uchicago.edu
Wed Dec 14 18:29:00 CET 2005

Forgive me if someone mentioned this earlier, but Kenneth Pike is well-known
for his take on language as particle, wave, and field, an idea originally
laid out in:

Pike, Kenneth. 1959. "Language as Particle, Wave, and Field." In The Texas
Quarterly 2:2.

And subsequently in more detail in other words.


John Goldsmith

-----Original Message-----
From: owner-corpora at lists.uib.no [mailto:owner-corpora at lists.uib.no] On
Behalf Of Dominic Widdows
Sent: Wednesday, December 14, 2005 10:32 AM
To: Ramesh Krishnamurthy
Cc: joerg.schuster at gmail.com; CORPORA at hd.uib.no
Subject: Re: [Corpora-List] Stubbs' analogy?

Dear Ramesh,

I would be wary of an analogy that tried to view lexical information as
discrete and particle-like, and grammatical information as continuous and
wave-like. I think your instinct for "token" rather than "type" is more
appropriate, and of course the type / token distinction happens in both
lexicon and grammar.

There are definitely models of the lexicon in which word senses have
distributions over regions of "semantic space", which is rather like the
idea of the position of a particle being represented as a wave-function. A
rough analogy then arises between observing a word in context and inferring
its appropriate sense, and observing a particle in an experiment and
inferring its actual position.

Colin Cherry's 1956 book, "On Human Communication", contains a lot of
insight on the logical necessity of "quantization" in human language.
Obvious examples include concepts such as "size" which may be a continuous
variable, but we have a discrete number of words ("small", "large", etc.) to
describe sizes. Arguably, we can generate phrases to describe any sizes we
want to ("not too small", "quite large but not very large", etc.), but we
can't get very fine-grained without resorting to number words. The process
of transcribing sounds into symbolic representations (e.g. strings of
alphabetic characters) in the first place is a form of quantization.

More recent implementations of these ideas include Schutze's Word Sense
Discrimination (http://citeseer.ist.psu.edu/schutze98automatic.html), which
clusters word senses and "quantizes" new context-vectors my mapping them to
their nearest cluster. The close similarity between the vector model used in
this work and the vector model used in quantum mechanics is investigated in
my own book, "Geometry and Meaning" (see

This work relates mainly to the lexicon, and does not compare lexicon with
grammar at all. My only suggestion here is that there are enough quantum
analogies in studying just the lexicon, and I therefore doubt whether it is
possible to consign the lexicon to playing just one of the many confusing
roles that abound in quantum theory.

Best wishes,

Hi Jörg,

Not a lot, unfortunately, although your question has prompted me to find out

(I think it was) John Sinclair (who) once described lexis and grammar as
looking at
language through opposite ends of the same telescope...

Somewhere or other, I picked up the idea that if lexis and grammar were
looking at the same
phenomenon (language) from different points of view, the dichotomy might be
similar to one that
has confronted physicists: looking at light as particle and wave at the same

I'm sure this is an ultra-naive understanding on my part, but if you can
help, I'd be grateful.

*e.g. Queen Mary College London ( http://www.qmw.ac.uk/~zgap118/1/ etc)
has some information that might help:

Energy and matter we have learnt from Einstein's theories are analagous,
matter can be simply described in terms of energy. So far we have only
discovered two ways in which energy can be transfered. These are particles
and waves....
Particles are discrete, their energy is concentrated into what appears to be
a finite space, which has definite boundaries and its contents we consider
to be homogenous (the same at any point within the particle)... [lexical
item?] Particles exist at a specific location. If they are shown on 3D
graph, they have x, y, and z coordinates. They can never exist in more than
one place at once... [so "token" rather than "type"?]
Waves unlike particles cannot be considered a finite entity. Their energy
cannot be considered to exist in a single place since a wave by definition
varies in both displacement and in time.... In an area of space, unlike a
particle, a wave can propagate until it exists in all locations and at all
times... [grammar?]


At 11:00 14/12/2005, you wrote:

I also use the 'particle/wave' analogy for the 'lexico-grammar'

Could you tell us more about this? I have never heard of it.


Ramesh Krishnamurthy
Lecturer in English Studies
School of Languages and Social Sciences
Aston University, Birmingham B4 7ET, UK
Tel: +44 (0)121-204-3812
Fax: +44 (0)121-204-3766

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