Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Adjectives and Verbs

In some recent posts I have argued that natural languages (NL) are programming languages in the sense that they execute inside of a cognitive computer (mind or software system) to achieve understanding.  Another way of expressing this is to think of a NL as a high-level simulation language and understanding as information derived through simulation.

In this model I proposed that verbs and adjectives act like functions. In English, we view verbs and adjectives as quite distinct grammatical categories. Therefore, for an English speaker, it may seem counterintuitive to suggest that underneath the covers verbs and adjectives are the same. However, I find it quite suggestive that there are languages that do not have adjectives and instead use verbs.

Not all languages have adjectives, but most, including English, do. (English adjectives include big, old, and tired, among many others.) Those that don't typically use words of another part of speech, often verbs, to serve the same semantic function; for example, such a language might have a verb that means "to be big", and would use a construction analogous to "big-being house" to express what English expresses as "big house". Even in languages that do have adjectives, one language's adjective might not be another's; for example, where English has "to be hungry" (hungry being an adjective), French has "avoir faim" (literally "to have hunger"), and where Hebrew has the adjective "צריך" (roughly "in need of"), English uses the verb "to need".


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