THE IMPORTANT ROLE OF THE FUNDAMENTAL SCIENCE

In the past few decades, many attempts to build language processing or language understanding systems have been undertaken by people without sufficient knowledge in theoretical linguistics. They hoped that they would succeed thanks to clever mathematical algorithms, fine programming in Assembler language, or just the speed of their computers. To our knowledge, all such attempts have failed. Even now it is still worthwhile to explain the necessity to have fundamental knowledge for those who would develop such systems, and thus to clarify why we decided to start a course in computational linguistics from notions of general linguistics.

General linguistics is a fundamental science belonging to the humanities. An analogy with another fundamental science—physics—is appropriate here.

A specialist with deep knowledge of physics would easily understand the structure of any new electrical device.

Moreover, since the fundamentals of physics are changing very slowly, such a specialist would be able to understand those new or revolutionary engineering principles that did not even exist at the time when he or she studied in a university. Indeed, the underlying fundamentals of physics have remained the same.

On the contrary, somebody with narrow specialization only in laser devices might be perplexed with any new principle that does not relate to his or her deep but narrow knowledge.

The same situation can be observed with linguistics. Even experienced programmers who have taken solid courses on software systems for natural language processing might become helpless in cases where a deeper penetration into linguistic notions and laws is needed.

What is more, they will hardly be able to compile a formal grammar, grammar tables, or a computer dictionary of a natural language, whereas the program heavily relies on such tables and dictionaries as on its integral parts.

They will not even be able to understand the suggestions of professional linguists (who regrettably in many cases prove to know little about programming) and will not be able to explain to them the meaning of the data structures the program needs to use.

On the contrary, a good background in linguistics will allow the new specialists in computational linguistics to work productively in an interdisciplinary team, or just to compile all the necessary tables and dictionaries on their own.

It might even guide them to some quite new ideas and approaches. These specialists will better understand the literature on the subject, which is very important in our rapidly developing world.






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