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CHAT: Early Conlang Archives

From:Edward Heil <edheil@...>
Date:Tuesday, March 9, 1999, 21:38
I've just been having a lot of fun browsing some old (91-94) archives of
the Conlang list:

What struck me was the immensely different character of discussion then
and now.  I imagine a major part of it comes from splitting off auxlang:
back then it seems to have been dominated by idealist discussion on
IALs, and what was the best or "right" way to do things.

I have no taste for IALs personally, no matter how "correctly" they are
done, and given a year of leisure to spend learning an artificial
language I'm sure I'd prefer Boranesian to Lojban or Ido, anyday!  I'd
even prefer Esperanto to Ido because of its status as a work of art, the
brilliant creation of (mostly) one mind, despite its many flaws from the
point of view of many auxlangers.

Anyway, it struck me that one thing a lot of auxlangers went on and on
about was regularity of compounds, and regularity of derivational
relationships in general.  Everyone (esp. Rick Morneau) seemed to deem
it way important that languages be *regular* so that you could quickly
derive forms from each other, 'cause that would make it "easier."

I think there's a basic problem here, and I'll tell you why.

If I know one thing about neuroscience, it is that as far as the brain
is concerned, memorization and subsequent retrieval are *always* more
effective and efficient than calculation -- to *use,* anyway.  The brain
has an effectively unlimited storage volume -- you don't run out of
neurons like you run out of hard drive space.  The brain calculates
slowly, but retrieves quickly.  And when we *do* learn to do certain
calculations quickly, it is usually because we have internalized (i.e.
memorized, and therefore have available for our retrieval) a large
number of shortcuts and idealized cases for calculation, and we have
learned to analyze problems as instances of our large inventory of
stored idealized cases.

So while being able to look at the word "sankapepabotu" and calculate
that because of the exact combination of syllable forms and affixes it
must mean "toad the wet sprocket" might be useful to a language learner,
it will be far less useful to the language *speaker*.... because
"calculation" as it is usually understood simply does not get used.

And if we are to believe this article(1) (and I do believe it), and
other similar ones (2), when we combine concepts in language we are *as
a rule* combining them in creative, potentially metaphorical, and
context-sensitive ways, and the kind of regularity that the old
auxlangers idealized is a degenerate case of a much more flexible field
of possibilities.


I guess this is a semi-rant that doesn't apply to many people on this
list, but I thought it might at least provoke a little interest.

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