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Tuesday, July 08, 2008  

In Depth INFER-mation

A while back, I wrote about how to use the default settings of the new INFER command to look for literary connections between various passages, such as between the books of Amos and Deuteronomy. Today, I want to show you how you can go beyond the default settings to narrow and expand your search.

You'll remember that to use the INFER command, you need to begin by establishing your base text. I'm going to set up a Search window with the BHS-W4 as my search text and an English Bible like the HCSB in parallel. I'll set this window to Search for verses, and then I'll enter Proverbs 9:10.

Now, by using a single verse as my base text, I'm limiting my inference search to a very specific set of phrases, but I'm interested in finding other places in the Hebrew Bible which express ideas similar to "the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom."

Having set up my base text, I'll duplicate this window using the keyboard shortcut command-D. In this new window, I'll switch to searching for Words and then enter the INFER command by using the keyboard shortcut shift-command-I. This will insert an INFER command which links to my first window and which defaults to searching for any six-word phrases from Proverbs 9:10. When I click OK to search using the default settings, the only verse I find is . . . Proverbs 9:10!

By using the default settings of the INFER command, I found only the verse I started with, which seems rather disappointing at first. But if we look again at Proverbs 9:10, we'll see why this is the case. In Hebrew, there are only 8 words in the entire verse, and I'm looking for all six-word phrases derived from that verse. No other verse in the Hebrew Bible matches Proverbs 9:10 quite that closely, so I need to loosen up my search just a bit.

The easiest way to do that is by reducing the length of the phrase the INFER command is looking for. By replacing the "6" in the INFER command with a "5," Accordance finds Proverbs 2:5: "then you will understand the fear of the LORD and discover the knowledge of God."

If we reduce the phrase length to "4," we find 4 more verses, most of which deal with the phrase "the fear of the LORD." If we reduce it to "3," we find nearly 1000 verses, and at that point, we've probably made our search too broad! As you can see, the shorter the phrase you're looking for, the more likely you are to find matching phrases.

Now, if you've been following along, you may have noticed that when we entered a "3" in the INFER command, our results showed a series of two-word phrases. By default, the INFER command actually allows for the possibility that one word may be dropped from, or inserted into, each phrase from the base text. So if Proverbs 9:10 contains the phrase yir’at yhwh w "fear of the LORD and," the INFER command finds "LORD God and" (dropping "fear" and adding "God") in Genesis 3:1 and "LORD and" in Genesis 4:16. In addition to varying the phrase length, we can also vary the number of words which may be dropped from and/or added to a phrase. We can even specify that we want to ignore the actual order of words in the phrase.

To tweak these additional aspects of the INFER command, we can either enter additional parameters into the syntax of the INFER command, or we can select those options from a dialog.

The INFER dialog appears whenever there is more than one window which could be used as the base text for an inference search. To force the INFER dialog to appear, therefore, I'm going to duplicate my second window (using the keyboard shortcut command-D), hit the tab key to select the contents of the argument entry box, and then use the keyboard shortcut shift-command-I to insert a new INFER command. Since it is unclear whether I want this INFER command to point to my first or second Search window, a dialog appears asking me which window I want to use as my base text. I'll choose the first window (BHS-W4).

This dialog also lets me tweak the various parameters I just mentioned. I can use the default phrase length of 6, or enter a new number of words. For now, I'll leave this set to 6.

Since BHS-W4 is a tagged text, I also have the option to look for inferences based on the lexical forms (lemmas) of each word in the phrase, or to base my inference on the actual inflected forms (words) which are used in Proverbs 9:10. Let's go ahead and set this option to Words.

By checking the Use advanced settings checkbox, I can change the number of "source words ignored" and the number of "destination words added." Let's broaden this search by setting both of those options to 2 words. Lastly, there's the option to ignore word order. This means that Accordance will find similar phrases even if the word order is slightly different. So, for example, even though "wisdom" comes before "knowledge" in Proverbs 9:10 (our source), checking the option to ignore word order will find similar phrases in which "wisdom" comes after "knowledge." To see how this works, let's go ahead and check that option.

When we click OK, the dialog will close and a new INFER command will be inserted into the argument entry box with all the right syntax.

The syntax is really very simple. The "=i" after the INFER command indicates that the inference will be based on inflected rather than lexical forms. The first number after the INFER indicates the number of words in the phrase, the second is the number of source words ignored, the third is the number of destination words added, and the plus indicates that the word order will be ignored. If any of these parameters is missing, the default setting will be used. Now that you know the syntax of the INFER command, you can simply type in whichever optional parameters you wish, and if you ever get confused, you can always force the dialog to open by making sure you have at least two windows to which a new INFER command could point.

Okay, so now that I've told you about all these optional parameters, shown you how to select them from the dialog, and explained the syntax to you, let's click OK to see the results.

When we originally did an INFER with the default phrase length of 6 words, we found nothing but the verse we started with, Proverbs 9:10. By choosing to base our inference on inflected rather than lexical forms, we made our INFER search even more stringent. But by expanding the number of words from the source which could be missing, as well as the number of words in the destination which could be added, we broadened the search. By ignoring word order, we broadened it even further. Thus, this search finds Proverbs 2:5, 15:33, and 30:3 in addition to Proverbs 9:10.

If I now go back and delete the "=i" parameter so that this search uses lexical forms, I'll find four other verses (Isaiah 11:2; 33:6; Proverbs 1:7; and 1:29).

As you can see, the INFER command has a variety of "knobs" you can tweak to vary and refine your results. We tried to make the default behavior of the INFER command as simple and easy to grasp as possible, but if you want to go deep, these options promise to give you all the control you could ask for.

thanks David. very, very helpful

Great post! Indeed, this was the post which convinced me to purchase the upgrade to Accordance 8. However, the problem which I am running into is that too often the matches I receive are based on prepositions and suffixes which are common to the target verse, rather than the actual "content words". Now, I realize that there is no real marker which defines a "content words", but I think that it would be immensely helpful to be able to instruct the infer command to take into account all nouns, verbs, and adjectives of the target verse, while ignoring any suffixes, particles, or pronouns. It seems to me that adding this option would result in much more effective INFER results.

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