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Naturalistic ambiguity (was: Tiki vocabulary)

From:Yahya Abdal-Aziz <yahya@...>
Date:Monday, April 10, 2006, 5:53
Hi all,

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. [snip]
> 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 demanding children." 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. [snip]
> > 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 communication. Regards, Yahya -- No virus found in this outgoing message. Checked by AVG Free Edition. Version: 7.1.385 / Virus Database: 268.4.0/306 - Release Date: 9/4/06