On medieval linguistics and medieval buildings

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(A street in Siena, Italy)

A good thing about working in Italy is that you can just take a train and see some of the most extraordinary places on Earth. These pictures, taken with my phone, are from Siena and Firenze. They have a distinct  “medieval” feel in them, and in this connection the term has positive meaning. It was a rich experience. But sometimes the implication of “medieval” is negative.

Last year, I submitted for publication two works that were concerned with my hopeless battle against what I perceive as harmful medieval tendencies in human thinking, one article (in Finnish) and one book (in English). As you know, the whole field of Finnish linguistics still lives in the medieval world.



When a scientific work is submitted for publication, it is first evaluated anonymously by the peers, meaning researchers who are experts on the topic the article addresses. The existence of this procedure made it possible for me to see what linguists working within the medieval context would really say when confronted with my argument. This is because I submitted the article for the leading linguistics journal in Finnish. Here is what they said.


(Duomo, in Siena, at the top of the hill)

The first and foremost principle of medieval thinking, as I have documented here numerous times, is that substance (truth or falsity) has no relevance. What matters is who the writer is and which school of thought s/he champions, Protestant or Catholic, Freudian or Chomskian.

Thus, after the reviewer of my article complained that s/he was not “motivated” to engage with me on any of my arguments (truth or falsity of my claims), s/he proceeds to analyze me as a person. The reviewer speculates, for example, that I am “not a linguist” and not familiar “at all with the literature”. To remedy this, the reviewer suggests that I should read. That pretty much summarizes the whole evaluation. It reads like a personal insult.



But it is not an insult; it is the norm. As I have explained, in the medieval system the value of any scientific contribution depends solely on the amount of “illumination” radiating form the author; thus, evaluation of scientific work can be based solely on the personal qualifications of its author, not truth or falsity. Complete “lack of motivation” on the subject matter is thus not a problem for evaluating a scientific argument. It suffices to gossip about the author’s identity.

But you can see that this just proves my point, doesn’t it? My argument in the paper was precisely that (a) this is how medieval science works and (b) this is how linguists in Finnish conduct their research. And voila!

The second reviewer proposes that I should review my own manuscript. That is so far out there that I cannot and will not say anything.


(Duomo in Firenze, this is a gigantic structure that no picture can depict. You have to stand there yourself.)

If you are interested in reading about their comments in more detail, you can find the manuscript here. My discussion of the reviews is in the last chapter. Unfortunately, the text is in Finnish. The journal proposed that I make changes to the paper and then resubmit it, but I have no time to do it now — and there were no subject matter points in the reviews to begin with — so I will post it here instead. It will be published later in some way.

But, as I did not find any subject matter arguments against the points I presented, only personal insults, all this only reinforces my point. The emperor has no clothes.

cameringo_20190113_125658.jpg(Bridge in Firenze. I spend hours here.)

A side matter: I haven’t updated this blog for a while. This is because I am engaged with matters that are technical and complicated, to me at least. I will write updates if and when something gets published. I am working with a hypothesis that language comprehension uses the same Merge (recursive computation) as production. I believe that this is true. The complication comes from the fact that, to prove that this idea has any wings, I have to show that it actually works, by writing a computer program that instantiates the model. And it’s not very easy thing to do. But in the 17th century science, contrary to the medieval science based on personal insults, I have to have a rigorous empirical proof.


My long visit to Pavia

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I am working in a research project here at IUSS, Pavia, Italy. Here are some pics from this place. Nice, isn’t it? This is certainly something else than Denmark or Finland. If you happen to visit (this is close to Milano), come to say hello and discuss Finnish with me.


The project I am working on has to do with parsing. I’m using Python (which is a programming language) to see if certain cognitive science/linguistic ideas work or doesn’t work. What I think I am doing is imitating certain aspects of what the brain does when we read/listen to language.

Testing a hypothesis empirically is one thing, but implementing it in a Python code is something different. If you know what programming is like, you already know what I mean. The problem is that the computer understands nothing, so everything has to be formalized to the smallest detail. Every logical step has to be there. On the positive side, programming is very relaxing, because you can always see, with complete rigor, if your ideas work. Here’s an example. Few days ago, I asked the parser to parse the following sentence:

“The claim that the elections were rigged was rejected.”

Simple? You already know what this sentence means? There was a claim that was rejected, and the claim was about elections. But my parser gave the following ‘logical’ solution:

(1) [The claim that the elections] were rigged.

The sentence means some ‘claim was rigged’, and it is not clear what the claim is. The claim that the elections?? The correct parse is this:

The claim that [the elections were rigged]

where it is the elections that were rigged, not the claim. My point is that without this program, it would have never crossed my mind to think that my assumptions would entail (1) as a plausible meaning/parsing of this sentence. Yet it did, because this alternative followed logically from my assumptions. Humans do not think logically. But I like this, because when the computer does something like this, it is always it and not me who is correct. So it’s all like mathematics–unambiguous, logical, clear.

It took me one day and several discussions to fix the issue. It is not trivial, because sometimes you have to do as my parser did in (1), as here:

(2) [The claim from the administration] was rejected.

See? Now it is the ‘claim’, and not the ‘administration’, that is rejected. Why is that? I leave this for you as a home work assignment.

At any rate, I will be posting something about parsing here. The project is not just about writing a parsing application, which would be an applied project, but our main goal is to see if the parsing perspective could help us solving certain open issues in the overall linguistic theory. I have assumed for some time now that this must be the case, and will explain my reasons in a later post.


Incident manufacturing in real time

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If you read history, you have certainly noticed a pattern. Whoever hopes to start an unjustified military campaign against somebody else must first create an “incident”.

For example, when the Soviets wanted to attack Finland, they first created an incident in Manila in Novermber 26, 1939, where, it was alleged, the Finns started the war by shooting at the Russians. The event was staged. Four days later, the Soviets attacked Finland in “defence”. Read More

Unsolved problems of Finnish: floating of null pronouns?

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I decided to post here certain problems of Finnish I’ve been unable to solve. If you can solve them, write your solution to this blog or send it to me via email, and you’ll get it into the annals of Finnish syntax research. You don’t need to tell me the answer, especially if you are not a native speaker, but some idea of how we could proceed to find the answer, even in principle.

The first challenge is to find out if it is possible to float an empty pronoun in Finnish.

Let’s formulate the problem more precisely first. The problem can be stated as follows. In Finnish, under certain conditions a subject pronoun can be phonologically null.

(1) Pekka sanoi että __ uskoo Merjan valehtelevan.
Pekka said that __ believes that Merja lies.

Here, the subject position of the embedded clause is empty, but the consequence is that it must refer to the same person as the matrix clause subject. Hence in (1), the person who believes that Merja lies must be Pekka. If you use an overt pronoun hän ‘he’ instead, it can also refer to a third party. Let’s designate this type of special null pronoun as “pro” (from pro-noun).  (Notice that in English, it is not possible to do (1), but in Italian it is; in Italian, the null third person pronoun cannot be controlled by the matrix clause antecedent, however.)

The second preliminary to this problem is the fact that in Finnish, being a “free” word order language, arguments can be floated like adverbs. Thus, the following is possible:

(2) Pekka sanoi että tämän kirjan lainasi __ kirjastosta Merja.
Pekka said that this book.acc borrowed __ from.library Merja.nom

The grammatical subject Merja ‘Merja.nom’ has been floated to the clause-final position, whereas the direct object is in the subject slot. This is why the word order in Finnish finite contexts is “free”. 

The problem: is it possible to float (in the sense of 2) also null pronouns (pro in 1)?

Because pro is phonologically null, it becomes hard to construct an experiment that could detect such movement, if it were possible. Yet it is near certain that either such movement is possible or it isn’t, so there could or should be a way. I can’t find it.

Can you?

The purge of Alex Jones’ Infowars

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The sterilization of the Internet is going forward full speed. Big channels are being de-platformed left and right, one of them being Alex Jones and his Infowars channel that was recently purged from several platforms, all at once. He had millions of subscribers. Tech monopolies will ultimately become like modern cable TVs – controlled news plus mindless entertainment. Read More

Ajatuksia fennistiikan nykyvaiheesta (2018)[in Finnish]

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Oheisesta linkistä löytyy suomenkielinen käsikirjoitus Ajatuksia fennistiikan nykyvaiheesta, jossa tarkastelen fennistiikan tilaa tieteen historian ja tieteenfilosofian näkökulmasta. Kommentteja voi lähettää minulle sähköpostilla tai laittaa tähän blogiin. Koitan julkaista lopullisen version tämän vuoden aikana. Käsikirjoitus käsittelee teemoja joista olen kirjoittanut tässä blogissa, mutta se on laadittu tieteellisen artikkelin muotoon ja suomeksi. Lisäksi siinä on jo melko paljon lähdeviitteitä asiasta kiinnostuneelle.

Artikkelissa kuvataan ensin keskiaikaista aristoteelista tutkimusmenetelmää sekä sen sovelluksia fennistiikassa. Käytin taas kerran esimerkkinä Laura Visapään tutkimusta relatiivilauseista — toisaalta Visapään työ on vain esimerkki siitä, mitä kaikki tekevät. Sen jälkeen selvitän, miten 1600-luvulla kehitetty menetelmä (ns. “scientific method”) eroaa keskiaikaisesta menetelmästä, ja lopuksi pohdin mitä tämä menetelmä voisi tuoda fennistiikkaan.

Mielestäni aihe on tärkeä, koska tämäkin ala tulee vääjäämättä siirtymään modernin tieteen aikakauteen kuten muutkin tieteenalat; kysymys on vain milloin. Ehkäpä artikkeli auttaa nuorempia sukupolvia valmistautumaan tähän muutokseen?

Some thoughts on language technology

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I have been recently in talks with several research projects and private companies who are in the language technology/AI field. In several first world countries (excluding the idiot belt of course) the field is huge. More than once I have now encountered a situation in which not one qualified candidate has shown up for an open position in this field, yet the career possibilities are practically unlimited.

Where is everybody? Read More