Naturalistic ambiguity (was: Tiki vocabulary)
|From:||Yahya Abdal-Aziz <yahya@...>|
|Date:||Monday, April 10, 2006, 5:53|
On Sun, 9 Apr 2006, Jim Henry wrote, in reply to Carsten:
> Of course a naturalistic conlang can and probably should
> have such compound parsing ambiguities.
And IMO an artlang *needs* them so it can
support sufficiently poetic diction.
> In my experience, self-segregating morphology is primarily
> beneficial to the learner in the early to middle stages
> of learning a language. Once youve learned it fairly
> well and have a reasonably good vocabulary, apparent
> possible ambiguities are rarely a problem and actual ambiguities
> are fairly rare (at least in Esperanto; I haven't gotten
> fluent enough in Volapük to be sure).
I think this is true. One persistent source
of annoyance to me as a writer is that
English offers no clear, brief way to
disambiguate the two possible meanings of
"They had more demanding children".
I suppose one can always paraphrase, as in
"They had a greater number of demanding
children" or "They had more numerous
However, the contrary senses use different
words: "They had less demanding children"
versus "They had fewer demanding children".
But the language has very few such problems,
I think, as do most natlangs - they've already
evolved ways around them.
> > I conclude that in my humble opinion minor ambiguities
> > should be permissible if you don't go for an engelang.
> Of course. In an engelang you generally want to eliminate
> all or nearly all grammatical ambiguities.
> In an auxlang, I would think eliminating all compound
> parsing ambiguities, and the most common grammatical
> ambiguities, is sufficient. In a naturalistic artlang, having
> implausibly little ambiguity would be a flaw.
Tautology alert! ;-) Yes, but how much is plausible?
Based on my limited knowledge, I'd say that it's
only the experiment of having many people use the
language for a wide variety of material that will
expose the situations and places where ambiguity
may be a problem. A priori analysis is all very well,
but one needs to at least simulate widespread usage
in order to demonstrate that a language is capable
of clear communication to a naturalistic degree -
IMO, that's fewer than one utterance in ten thou-
sand that the language can be inherently ambiguous
in, when used between two proficient users (ie
speakers, or readers and writers) with only known
vocabulary, over a large corpus of utterances.
> > Since natlangs aren't always 100% clear, conlangs don't
> > need to be either. Some ambiguity only adds to naturalism
> > I think. Anyway, natlangs usually find ways to
> > disambiguate more sensible contexts by establishing an
> > alternative construction expressing the same as far as
> > I know.
> Yes. Almost any ambiguity is plausible in a naturalistic
> artlang in the short run, but ambiguities that are especially
> likely to cause confusion in real speech are likely to be
> corrected sooner or later by the speakers replacing
> one member of a homophonous pair, e.g., with a synonym
> or paraphase.
Yes. Languages evolve to cope with these problems,
simply because their purpose *is* unambiguous
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