Re: OT: Realism? Re: Super OT: Re: CHAT: JRRT
|From:||And Rosta <a.rosta@...>|
|Date:||Sunday, March 7, 2004, 0:15|
> And. wrote:
> <<I think verisimilitude is a major ingredient of what I most value
> in an artlang, too. How do you judge 'realism'? To me, it's mainly
> a matter of complexity, of scale, and of completeness. The more
> complex, the more large-scale, and the more complete it is, the
> more realistic it is. If this is enhanced by something like
> the Joseph/Alma Walker framing of Tepa, the delightful effect
> is intensified. This means that I find a conlang sketch that
> fits neatly into orthodox natlang typological patterns less
> realistic than, say, Teonaht, which is fantastical and is created
> by someone who by present-day conlanger standards knows
> comparatively little about linguistics and doesn't understand
> fully at a conscious analytical level, as opposed intuitively,
> how her conlang works. On the other hand, languages that seem
> to go beyond what is plausible for a human language, such as
> Ebisedian and Ithkuil, I don't find realistic (though they
> have other attractions).>>
> Ahh... I see, then, that we actually disagree on this point.
> Taking your three criteria...
> 1.) Complexity
> 2.) Scale
> 3.) Completeness
> ...let me judge my first language, Megdevi, by it.[drastic snippage:]
> 1.) Though it had a large "phonology", it wasn't a phonology at all: It
> was just a list of sounds.[...]
> 5.) I gave no thought at all to syntax. Word order was completely free.
> In short, I made no attempt to work within the identity of the language,
> or to imagine how the type of language I had created would solve the
> problems I encountered: I just round-peg-square-holed them.[...]
> Nevertheless, by your three criteria (as I understand them), it would
> probably be a pretty good language. Now, as I parenthesed above, you
> can probably further define your criteria to rule out Megdevi, but I
> still contend that the spirit of the criteria is wholy different from
> a criteria I'd come up with, which might be something like...
> 1.) Does language X have an internal logic?
> 2.) Does language X follow this internal logic?
> 3.) Could language X plausibly exist on Earth?
> I think my third criteria is somewhat the same as something you stated in
> your original reply, but I think we'd probably judge it differently. For
> example, for (3), I'd rely on typological information. This doesn't mean
> that a language has to obey every universal (most natural languages don't
> [or do any?]), but it should be passively aware of them.
I was groping towards something broadly similar to what you
articulate. Complexity, scale and completeness are all really
aspects of the same thing. A real language is intrinsically complex,
partly by the very nature of the task it has to perform, and
partly because of the effects of diachrony. By scale, I had
in mind that all core elements of the language would be fully
developed, as well perhaps as peripheral elements such as
idioms, style, texts, dialects, and so forth. Completeness is
just that: the thing is actually created and documented. Perhaps
completeness doesn't define verisimilitude per se, since plenty
of natlangs (all?) are incompletely described, but whereas real
languages exist in their speech communities, conlangs exist
only in their documentation; an incomplete conlang is like a
screenplay of an unmade film, or like an unfinished novel -- a
promise of a product, but not a product yet. Your descriptions
of Megdevi make it sound like it fails to satisfy the criteria
of complexity and completeness.
Taking your three criteria, I of course accept (3) as criterial
for naturalism. (My own tastes in conlangs are very much
confined to human languages, but not necessarily natural(istic)
ones; my own is an unnatural(istic) human language.) As for
(1-2), what you describe is a very treasurable quality, but I'm
not sure that I can apply it objectively and analytically.
Rather, it is to me what makes a conlang seem 'living and
breathing'; the creator has native-speaker-like intuitions
about it, and the language 'has a life of its own'. Sally's
Teonaht and Tony Harris's Aluric are examples of this that I've
talked about in the past. (With my own conlang, only the
phonology has got to the point where my intuitions outpace
my conscious analysis, that is, where I document the language
by analysing my intuitions rather than by conscious invention.)
Interestingly, I have found myself having (weak) intuitions
about Tokana, which would suggest that given a sufficiently
well-documented and coherent conlang, someone else can 'get
> Anyway, complexity can be relative. What about a created pidgin?
> They'll be markedly less-complex, but will be *appropriately*
I'll grant you that...
> (One could add that to the criterion, but then there's the question,
> "What's appropriate?") Scale is a difficult to define term. I think I
> defined above as "largeness", but maybe you intended "the intent to
> be large"?
Yes. To put it another way, the intent is to create a language in
its full richness (allowing for the fact that there's nobody to
actually speak it!) rather than a fieldworker's reference grammar
of a language.
> I think this would favor language with conculture over languages
> without--and, who knows, maybe this is a good thing--
I, like a good many conlangers (including Tolkien!), created a
conculture because (I discovered) a language cannot exist without
a culture. The culture doesn't have to be a conculture as such;
personal languages reflect the culture of their creators, and
Elet Anta is a secret language spoken by initiates in contemporary
> but I still don't think scale would be a good way, since (I
> assume?) a large scale language would automatically be better
> than a small scale language.
Given my further clarifications above, I think I will stick to
scale being a criterion, even if a clumsily labelled one...
> Depending on how you define "scale" with relation to a conlang,
> this might not be a good idea. And, as for the last criterion,
> "completeness", I admit that this is an admirable quality, and
> something that probably everyone attempts to achieve. But it takes
> time. A *lot* of time.
This is one I would insist on. It does take decades of work. The
effort is comparable to writing a roman fleuve or to making a
film (-- imagine if all the person hours that go into making a
film had to be done by a single person). It takes time not
only to build the conlang edifice but to refine the design
and for the conlanger to mature and refine their architectural
> So I might change this to "the intent to complete", until the
> language is done (which would mean that the creator no longer
> adds to it, for whatever reason). Even so, completeness can be
> applied in two ways: Completeness of grammar, or completeness
> of language (which would mean that every word that is going to
> be in the language is in the dictionary somewhere)?
For me, completeness would be when the conlang approaches the
expressive power of a natlang, without being more straitened
than a natlang, and when the creator no longer feels that
the conlang contains empty gaps waiting to be filled. That
still leaves room for the creation of new vocab, new idioms,
new texts, new constructions even. Surely all of us know
that kind of incompleteness I mean, and its attendant
agonies and frustrations?
> One could conceivably complete a grammar (and there are some
> of us that have),
Do you (as somebody about to begin a doctorate in linguistics,
iirc) really think that those grammars are complete? Complete
at the level of what a speaker of the language knows, rather
than complete at the level of what a fieldworker might
describe? That's a genuine question.
> but word creation is a lifelong process. So whether or not I'd
> use completeness as a way to measure would depend on how it's
> defined, again.
> So I'd be curious to know what you think about this. Do we have
> two completely different opinions about what is realistic in a
> conlang? If so, I think that's pretty interesting.
I think we broadly agree. But I have a strong convinction that
-- to put it in crude terms -- living with your conlang for
a couple of decades is more important to bringing it to life
than doing a degree in linguistics is. That is in no way a
snide remark directed at you or me or anyone else; it's just a
conviction that has grown on me as I have encountered more and
more conlangs over the last 13 years. In other words, vivacity/
vitality/vivescence (filtered though a creator with the
appropriate sensibility) is more key to 'naturalism' than
booklearning in linguistics.