Background:

My interest in language goes back a few years. Before high school I used to invent word games (and change the rules of existing games). In high school I read everything I could by Mario Pei. I digested Frederick Bodmer's Loom of Language and adored Lincoln Barnett's Treasure of our Tongue. I studied French and Russian; I subscribed to Quinto Lingo and read the occasional sixth language they included (which might be Basque or something else almost exotic ) with enthusiasm. In college I minored in linguistics and studied French, Navajo, and Quechua*; observing uncanny similarities between languages in the semantic/inferential realm of their expressiveness, I also did quantitative research on the psychophysics of semantics (or was it the semantics of psychophysics?) and began my own system of semantic primitives. In grad school I worked under the psycholinguist Dr. Edward Crothers at Colorado who worked with the text as his unit of analysis, and took courses from Jan Mycielski, Stan Ulam and Andrzej Ehrenfeucht, each of whom imparted a certain view of the relationship between formal systems and systems of meaning and inference. I also managed to take a course in Mongolian which I later supplemented with a course in Inupiaq. The multitude of syntactic devices languages invent for the expression of meaning is delightful and surprising.

Since that time, my interest in matters linguistic has been put a bit on hold (changing jobs a zillion times, helping run computer centers, starting up a few academic programs, and achieving tenure and promotion in a fast changing field). I have kept up with my interest in wordplay, as can be seen below, and figure it is time to dust off my early work on semantics. The work was a passion of mine as a young man, but it did not fit easily into the research agenda of the Quantitative Psychology program at Colorado when I was there: how does one objectively study semantics within the methodologies of cognitive psychology? I did prove what may have been the first theorem of semantics: The Extraction of a Minimum Set of Semantic Primitives from a Monolingual Dictionary is NP-complete. Computational Linguistics Oct.-Dec., 1986, 12: 306-307 that is scheduled for inclusion in the forthcoming book: Readings in the Lexicon, edited by James Pustejovsky and Yorick Wilks. In Progress. A Bradford Book: MIT Press, Cambridge.


*Transferring from U of Colorado to U of New Mexico as an undergrad I found myself in a place where one could study both Navajo (a four semester sequence) and Quechua (a linguist named Garland Bills who taught a one semester course and was amenable to an independent study for another). Having reviewed the linguistic offerings of several universities, I realized that such an opportunity might not present itself again, so I made a life policy decision: whenever I would find myself somewhere where a language was offered that I might never again have the opportunity to find taught, I would enroll. That's how Mongolian and Inupiaq entered my list of languages studied.