Re: Kalusa conlang in review - is it working?
|From:||Jim Henry <jimhenry1973@...>|
|Date:||Monday, August 28, 2006, 20:19|
On Sun, 27 Aug 2006, Gary Shannon wrote:
> Being entirely open-ended meant that people could contribute whateverwords and
> sentences they wanted to. Unlike a real pidgin or contact language, orlanguage
> developed within a community of people sharing work and social activities,
> there was no pressing need to develop the means to say certain "necessary"
> things like "I need two pounds of rice and a cabbage." or "Help me unloadthis
> crate of nails." or "Come quickly! The goat has fallen into the well."
Maybe we should try to turn this weakness into a strength, by
growing a language whose basic corpus of sentences would
express things of concern to computer geeks obsessed with
linguistics? And strongly suggest that comment postings should be
partly or wholly in the conlang whenever possible?
> As a consequence, a great number of "frivolous" sentences and frankly
> ridiculous words have been contributed. How often will we need the wordfor
> "hyperinfracaniphilia", or "epistemic"?
Not very often. I agree that in growing a conlang one should
generally work on basics that will be used frequently before
esoterica that will be used rarely; but in a project like this
I would prefer to have it enforced as a social norm than
as a software constraint. I.e., set out this principle in the
"charter" for the new language-growing community, and
let people's votes on words and sentences be the enforcement
> Not being a spoken language, apparently little attention is being paid tothe
> sound of the language, and words and sentences that are either unpleasant
> tongue twisters, or frankly childish sing-song constructions have found
There was some discussion of phonology and phonotactics starting
early on, and at least up until mid-July the consensus phonology
was being pretty effectively enforced by the voting mechanisms.
I haven't kept up with all the new developments in the last month or so.
Maybe it would make sense, with the next Kalusa-like language
project, to have some discussion about phonology up front before
even creating the seed corpus? Or suggest in the charter that
the phonology will be stabilized after the first one or two weeks
based on the phonemes and phoneme clusters found in the
higher-ranking sentences at that time, and introduction of
new phonemes or new kinds of diphthongs & consonant clusters
will be discouraged after that baselining period?
> 1) Language and culture probably evolved together, and the culturalcontext
> would be important to the development of the language. Therefore it wouldbe
> helpful to provide at least a basic cultural context for the language.
This is a good idea.
> and "hyperinfracaniphilia". Therefore, rather than allowing contributorsto add
> random (and often "goofy") sentences and words, a large collection ofsimple
> sentences dealing with the daily concerns of the people would be providedin
> English; sentences such as "It is time to plant the corn." and "Father hasgone
> to the marketplace.". Contributors would suggest translations for thesentences
It seems like a good idea to have both mechanisms - allow people to
add more translations for existing sentences, and allow people to
add new sentences. The first Kalusa project had that, but for a long
while the "standard sentences" translations weren't well integrated
into the main corpus, and I think that discouraged some people
from working in that area. A sentence should have the same rating
no matter where it appears; there shouldn't be two copies of the
same sentence whose rating can vary based on where in the
system people have voted on them.
> a clear winner emerged the sentences with lower vote rankings would bedeleted
> and only one "correct" way to translate that sentence would be retained.Minor
> variations in emphasis or shades of meaning might be retained, buttranslations
> that departed radically from the highest ranking translation would bediscarded.
Rather, it seems good to keep all the translations that get a preponderance
of favorable votes, even if some of them are very different from each other
(not mere "minor variations in emphasis").
> 3) Languages do change and evolve, but they also exhibit a great deal of
> stability in their most basic vocabulary. Basic vocabulary would bestabilized
> as soon as a word emerged as clearly the most popular translation, andthese
> "standard" words would be added to a cannonical dictionary. Translationsthat
> radically violated this cannonical basic vocabulary would be dropped,since,
> for example, once the word "kaya" had been well established for "water" itis
> unlikely that the word "gumisumi" would suddenly take its place. Anyonewho
> suddenly began translating "water" as "gumisumi" would clearly beconsidered as
> being in a state of sin, and those translations would be expunged from thecorpus.
Again, I think this is something that need not be enforced by software
or administrative action as long as the user community is large enough
for the voting system to be effective in enforcing the community's ideas
about how the language should grow and develop. And if the community
has shrunk down to just two or three people, I'm not sure there's any
point in using the Kalusa software - with so small a group a closed mailing
list might be a more effective way to collaborate on a conlang.
Larry Sulky wrote:
> consideration might be this: more clarity as to which morpheme in
> Kalusa2 corresponds to which morpheme in English. I'm not saying you
> should require folks to submit an interlinear (I'm kind of thinking
> it, but I'm not saying it), but there should be enough information
> that folks can see what is meant by each morpheme and each word.
This would make sense if we're growing a highly synthetic conlang,
but would be unwieldy overhead for a near-isolating language like
>Against this background, it seems to me that perhaps the
>essential cause of your dissatisfaction with the outcomes of
>the Kalusa experiment is an incomplete analysis of your
>requirements. However, the good news is that we can learn
>from this experience and incorporate new design goals for
>Kalusa Mark 2.
It seems more apt to consider Kalusa as an experimental
system. We didn't really know what the requirements were
until well after we started using it.
>I don't know the actual means by which Kalusa lost its way-
>Was it hijacked? Weren't enough people paying attention?
>Were a few users very active, with new words and structures
>they proposed by disproportionately used and approved by
At first there were a fairly large number of users. Over the course
of two months or so the number of users dropped to about three
or four, as far as I can tell, -- one of them posting under a large
number of sock-puppet aliases -- and then it seems to have
dropped to only one. I was active on Kalusa pretty near continuously
from its beginning until late July, when I had to take some time off
for the ELNA convention. When I returned I made some effort to
catch up with Kalusa, but was discouraged when I realized that
apparently only one other user was left, he of the many aliases.
Possibly it would help next time to show user ID and IP address
for every sentence and every comment, and to require users
to log in to post sentences. I don't think this would eliminate the
sock puppet problem, but it might help. Maybe, too, there should
be a way to ban users who consistently violate the community's
norms, as in Wikipedia.
>We need to think of ways to enforce this; eg, a sentence
>containing a new noun must have a compulsory pair of fields to
>give an English equivalent for the noun in the context of this
>sentence; any sentence using a noun should have a similar pair of
This seems a bit unweildy as something to enforce in software.
As a cultural norm among the users of the Kalusa system,
it makes sense to encourage this practice, but rigidly enforcing
it in software could drive away potential newcomers.
I guess my overall theory about Kalusa is that it worked well
as long as the number of users was large enough. When some
people lost interest or were obliged to leave for a while by work
or family affairs, the community shrank enough that one or two people's
antisocial behavior wasn't effectively counteracted by the votes
and comments of others, and this seems to have driven away most or all
of the the few other remaining users. I don't think there's a sure
way to avoid that happening again, but having more specific
goals and community norms expressed up front in a charter
might help, as would requiring registration and login. On the other
hand the latter policy would keep away casual anonymous contributors,
who are sometimes damaging but probably more often somewhat helpful,
and might become registered users later on if they can dip their
toe in the water a bit first, so to speak. Maybe anonymous
contributions are moderated and not visible until approved by
Another issue may be that a project like Kalusa is inherently
more interesting (to most conlangers) in its earliest stages, when
it's most in flux. As it grows and stabilizes, more people will
lose interest and it's less attractive for new people to get involved.
(This may be the same psychological phenomenon
that leads many conlangers to start and abandon large
numbers of sketchlangs.) Another factor is that a project
like this can be hard to catch up on again if you've been
away for a week or more, and it becomes more difficult
for new people to get up to speed as the language gets
This is a vicious cycle because the more people drop out, the less
interesting the project becomes for the remaining people.
Maybe regular progress reports / recruiting drives on
CONLANG-L, ZBB and so forth would help offset this a bit.
A companion wiki with a sketch of the consensus grammar
(and notes about still-unresolved issues) would help
newcomers get up to speed. The language need not
have its own dedicated wiki; there are plenty of conlang
wikis out there where we could create a set of pages
about the project, its charter & goals, the grammar
so far, etc.
Jim Henry - back after a month or so NOMAIL