Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Be a Which-What-Who?

Yesterday's Team Eating (the Linguamatics brown bag lunch thing I organise) was called A Linguist's Idioticon. In it, one of my colleagues gave an overview of some of the linguistic terminology used in the natural language processing components of our core product, I2E.

In a section on wh-words, Rudyard Kiping's Six Honest Serving Men were listed:
I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
Aside from any interesting language properties they might have, you might have seen these words presented as perspectives from which to view a situation alongside techniques like Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats.

In passing, the presentation noted that which and whose are rarely included when people are asked to list wh-words (and, as a further aside, and the talk had many of those, neither are whom or whither — but they are pretty archaic these days).

It occurred to me that when using the wh-word lenses, there may be some value in considering which and whose too. They differ from the others because they require a noun to go with them; you can't simply ask "which?" but instead need to nominate a referent, "which thing?"

How might  this be useful? Imagine that you are reviewing a feature proposal. You ask "who?" as a way to find potential stakeholders and come up with, say, end users and system administrators. You could then additionally list factors relevant to the project and ask about those, for example: "whose budgets?", "whose judgements?", or "whose priorities?" and find other people in a targeted way.

So I'm speculating: could this kind of tweak systematically broaden the scope of an analysis, but in specific and relevant directions?

And you're thinking: what?
Image: Dr. Seuss

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