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Re: Naturalistic ambiguity (was: Tiki vocabulary)

From:Jörg Rhiemeier <joerg_rhiemeier@...>
Date:Monday, April 10, 2006, 16:41

On Mon, 10 Apr 2006 15:53:18 +1000, Yahya Abdal-Aziz wrote:

> Hi all, > > On Sun, 9 Apr 2006, Jim Henry wrote, in reply to Carsten: > [snip] > > > > 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.
Yes. An artlang, especially a naturalistic one, needs a healthy dose of metaphors, to allow for poetry and wordplay. Metaphors are ambiguous by definition: they have a literal and a figurative meaning. And as far as I know, *all* natlangs have metaphors. So a totally unambiguous conlang is simply unnatural.
> [snip] > > In my experience, self-segregating morphology is primarily > > beneficial to the learner in the early to middle stages > > of learning a language.
And to parsing the language using a computer.
> > 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.
Yep. When an ambiguity becomes too awkward, something happens to "heal" the language from it. As in the dialects of southwestern France which innovated various words for "rooster" because the inherited word became homophonous to the word for "cat". Or English, which dropped the word _quean_ 'whore' when it became homophonous to _queen_.
> [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.
Depends on the design goals of the language; but most engelangs I have seen seek to avoid any ambiguity at all cost.
> > In an auxlang, I would think eliminating all compound > > parsing ambiguities, and the most common grammatical > > ambiguities, is sufficient.
Yes. Because people are smarter than machines when it comes to parsing language.
> > In a naturalistic artlang, having > > implausibly little ambiguity would be a flaw.
> > > 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.
Certainly. If an ambiguity becomes difficult to solve by the context in which it appears, it is eventually fixed. Of course, some contexts are easier to disambiguate than others. Or there are extralinguistic reasons, as probably in the _quean_ vs. _queen_ example as many sentences involving these words are not ambiguous at all: _The Queen of England held a speech before her knights._ _On the street corner, a sleazy quean stood, smoking a cigarette._ Both sentences include enough context information to disambiguate, but the homophony was considered unacceptable for social reasons.
> Regards, > Yahya
Greetings, Jörg a.k.a. WeepingElf