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Re: Kalusa conlang in review - is it working?

From:Yahya Abdal-Aziz <yahya@...>
Date:Monday, August 28, 2006, 12:13
Hi, Gary, Larry and mo',

Let's begin at the beginning:
"The Kalusa experiment ( ) was an
attempt to
> build a conlang collaboratively by allowing anyone to contribute any
> words and sentences, and to have other participants vote on the
suitability of
> those contributions."
These were pretty much the parameters for Kalusa, weren't they? It seems a tad unrealistic to now turn about and complain that this "open-ended" experiment didn't turn out the way we would have liked it to! Allow me to draw a parallel. For most of my working life, I have been designing and constructing software systems. Although implementations change with new technical resources, some basics of systems design were established in the early days of general systems theory, and these basic principles reflect some immutable needs. One of the common models for systems development uses the notion of "the systems life-cycle". An entire system's life is regarded as comprising several distinct phases, each conducted more or less formally or effectively. Those phases are: 1. Analysis 2. Design 3. Development 4. Testing 5. Implementation 6. Review Effective systems spend most of their life being used, in the Implementation phase. For that to happen, it is essential that the Analysis phase first discloses the needs that system must meet; the Design phase next invents ways to meet those needs; the Development phase creates the means to implement those ways; and the Testing phase ensures that the developed system meets the original needs. Finally, after the system has been in use for a while, it is reviewed to determine whether the needs have changed and whether the system still meets the needs. The foundation-stone of the whole system is correct analysis. Failure to discover a need means that the system designed and implemented can only ever meet that need by chance - by sheer good luck. 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. Also, when I last looked at Kalusa - admittedly some months back - it struck me as phenomenally successful in meeting its stated goals. Minor dissatisfaction with one aspect of the achievement should be seen in perspective, and ways designed to avoid a repetition. Possibly the most effective way to rescue Kalusa from its unfortunate detour would be - if possible - to backtrack it several weeks (I hope you've had regular backups?); put new constraints in place to reduce the chance of repeating the undesirable behaviour; and resume running, monitoring the results at least once a week for suitability. 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 themselves? An examination of the way it went wrong may suggest suitable corrective measures; for example: 1. Should I be allowed to vote on my own proposal? 2. Should any new word be accepted into the corpus with fewer than 5 votes? It'd be a pity to see the enthusiasm and effort that's gone into Kalusa completely wasted due to avoidable design faults. Unfortunately, Gary, the actual history of Kalusa reflects the importance of your ideas 1) cultural context and 2) basic needs; by showing that those "needing" to establish "Seussian" sounds can have their way if not actively and vigorously countered. I agree those notions are important, but the hardest to establish objectively may be the "basic needs". It's therefore in this area that most work needs to be done (Analysis) BEFORE ever the Design and Implementation are attempted. BTW, I note that your examples of basic needs, while well- suited to, say, an IE people at any time in the last five millennia, would be completely inappropriate to any Australian culture at any time in the last 40 millennia (excepting the last two centuries in both cases). That doesn't matter, however; what does matter is that the experiment begins with very clear notions of the needs the language must meet. Also BTW, the sound of many Austronesian languages may strike you, as many other non-native learners, as rather "babyish", simply because they make extensive use of reduplication to derive words from more basic ones. But if you don't want the language to use those means or create those sounds, you need to define this as a need up front, and accept no design as adequate that will permit them. I don't actually like your idea 3) canonised vocabulary, since it could easily play into the hands of would-be hijackers. All they'd need to do would be take the Basic English vocab, for example, and generate a set of unwieldy and ugly gibberish words for them (using, eg, the magnificent "wordgen"), get them voted on several times. Providing they were quick enough, this would effectively sabotage any chance of success in the resulting collaboration. No, Larry, having to create an interlinear would put off many contributors with suitably simple and practical ideas for new vocabulary and constructions. I don't think that would help. But requiring people proposing a new word to explicitly define it doesn't seem too onerous. Most words, particularly nouns, will correspond one-t-one to existing words in some natlang; a new kind of construction needs to be exemplified (and possibly counter-exemplified) in order to delimit its range of application. As you wrote: "there should be enough information that folks can see what is meant by each morpheme and each word." 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 fields by which the user can indicate an extension of the noun's meaning in this context; any new construction should require at least three example sentences, perhaps including a negative instance if applicable. Proposed sentences could be flagged with a list of warnings of potential rule violations eg "this construction has no negative example" for the information of voters. Having said (all!) this, I invite you to open up discussion on the needs of your ideal collaborative language, beginning by posting all those needs of which you are already fairly certain. Now I'm off to have a geek (a gander, a captain cook, a look) at Kalusa, to see how closely it approximates any natlang of my experience to date. Best wishes for happy experimenting! Yahya --- On Sun, 27 Aug 2006, Gary Shannon wrote:
> > The Kalusa experiment ( ) was an
attempt to
> build a conlang collaboratively by allowing anyone to contribute any
> words and sentences, and to have other participants vote on the
suitability of
> those contributions. > > Being entirely open-ended meant that people could contribute whatever
words and
> sentences they wanted to. Unlike a real pidgin or contact language, or
> 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 unload
> crate of nails." or "Come quickly! The goat has fallen into the well." > > As a consequence, a great number of "frivolous" sentences and frankly > ridiculous words have been contributed. How often will we need the word
> "hyperinfracaniphilia", or "epistemic"? > > Not being a spoken language, apparently little attention is being paid to
> sound of the language, and words and sentences that are either unpleasant > tongue twisters, or frankly childish sing-song constructions have found
> way into the language. How many reduplicated words does any one language
> Sentences that begin to sound like "Hong Kong King Kong sing song ping
> ding dong." are not the kind of things one would hear in a real spoken > language, and yet such grotesque words are proliferating: "Zotasota
> rofkosofko onasona irusiru ishisishi zokusoku fezosezo." making the
> begin to sound like something created by Dr. Seuss while on mind-altering
> > A side effect of flooding the vocabulary with such words is that the web
> that shows the most recent contributions is so saturated with these
"goofy" and
> useless words that many of the participants and contributors become
> and leave the project because the "real" sentences have been buried under
> deep pile of ickysicky kakasaka dudupudu, which if not actualy destructive
> the language, is certainly not productive of a usable language. > > Comments from users include ones like this: "Ack! I go away for three
> and return to find Kalusa defeated! Oh well. It had a good run.
> certain contributors]... Looks like you've successfully driven everyone
> including me." > > While there is a lot good stuff in Kalusa, and I fully intend to continue
> keep the website going, I can't help but think that what I've learned from > Kalusa could be applied to a much better collaborative conlang project, so
> have to ask what was learned from the project, and how can these problems
> prevented in any future collaborative language project? Here are some of
> ideas to help keep the project more focused. > > 1) Language and culture probably evolved together, and the cultural
> would be important to the development of the language. Therefore it would
> helpful to provide at least a basic cultural context for the language. > > 2) The earliest utterances of the language should deal with the most basic > daily needs of the people who speak the language, and not with
> and "hyperinfracaniphilia". Therefore, rather than allowing contributors
to add
> random (and often "goofy") sentences and words, a large collection of
> sentences dealing with the daily concerns of the people would be provided
> English; sentences such as "It is time to plant the corn." and "Father has
> to the marketplace.". Contributors would suggest translations for the
> in this corpus of daily life, and all of the different suggested
> would be presented together on the web page where they could be voted on.
> a clear winner emerged the sentences with lower vote rankings would be
> and only one "correct" way to translate that sentence would be retained.
> variations in emphasis or shades of meaning might be retained, but
> that departed radically from the highest ranking translation would be
> > 3) Languages do change and evolve, but they also exhibit a great deal of > stability in their most basic vocabulary. Basic vocabulary would be
> as soon as a word emerged as clearly the most popular translation, and
> "standard" words would be added to a cannonical dictionary. Translations
> radically violated this cannonical basic vocabulary would be dropped,
> for example, once the word "kaya" had been well established for "water" it
> unlikely that the word "gumisumi" would suddenly take its place. Anyone
> suddenly began translating "water" as "gumisumi" would clearly be
considered as
> being in a state of sin, and those translations would be expunged from the
> > What other suggestions does anyone have for creating an improved
> conlang project? > > ------------------------------ > Larry Sulky replied: > > Gary, as always your posting is incisive and thoughtful. I think your > ideas for an improved go-round are spot on. One additional > 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. > Besides, that would be a necessary condition in order to establish > that, for example, "kaya" is the word for 'water' and thereby be able > to canonise it. > > ------------------------------
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Yahya Abdal-Aziz <yahya@...>