Yesterday in The “L&O” Shortage I asked the question:
“…can something be recognized more than once?”
That may not be an artful way to frame the question. Perhaps better:
When an author uses some means for identification, whatever that may be, can it be recognized differently by different users?
One case that comes to mind in the interpretation of Egyptian Hieroglyphics over time. In addition to the attempts in the 16th and 17th centuries, which are now thought to be completely fantastic, there are the modern “accepted” translations as well as ancient Egyptian texts where it appears the scribe did not understand what was being copied.
If we are going to faithfully record the history of interpretation of such literature, we cannot flatten the “translated” texts to have the meanings we would assign to them today. The references of the then current literature would make no sense if we did.
Google Books is a valuable service but it is also a dangerous one for research purposes. In part because semantic drift occurs in any living language (or the interpretation of dead ones) and the results are reported without any warnings about such shifts.
Did you know, for example, that “cab” at one time was a slang reference to a house of prostitution? Would give new meaning to the statement: “I will call you a cab.” doesn’t it?
Before we can assign semantics to any word, we need to know what is being identified by that word. But knowing that any one word may represent multiple identifications.
Requirement: A system of identification must support the same identifiers resolving to different identifications.
The consequences of deciding otherwise on such a requirement, I will try to take up tomorrow.