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Re: Additonal features for CALS

From:JR <fuscian@...>
Date:Tuesday, June 10, 2008, 13:44
First ... congratulations and thank you Kaleissin, this site is really
great! Some thoughts/comments/suggestions:

It would be useful to have a comment box for every feature where one could
specify a conlang's behavior. On this and the WALS, I find it frustrating
not to know what 'other' and 'mixed' really signify for individual
languages. And even for the more explicit values, on WALS the articles make
it clear that languages are often shoved into a category for purposes of
generalization even if the fit is imperfect. I don't object to that, but I
do think that when it's done, it should be noted. A comment box on CALS
would also help us cope with value sets from WALS that are problematic for
conlangs specifically, but that we can't alter. And it would come in handy
for features like "based on": there could be a few values for the most
common types (Romance, Germanic, Indo-European, etc.), and then "other",
where one could add in something else as a comment.  These comments would
only show up on an individual language's page. (I see someone already made a
ticket for a similar idea.)

Also, as it is now, the pages for individual feature are basically
redundant. The main feature page (unlike the one at WALS) already lists all
the values for each feature, and the only other thing on the individual
pages is a couple of links to the relevant WALS pages. Perhaps either the
values could be hidden on the main page; or the individual feature pages
could also list all the languages matching each value (which would then make
the individual value pages redundant, but then those could be deleted); or
the two could be conflated, i.e., the links to WALS pages would be moved to
the main feature page and the individual feature pages deleted. I guess
could make a ticket for this, but I'm not set on any particular option and I
wonder what other people think.

Would it be totally ridiculous to map langs based on the location of the
creator? I doubt we'd find any areal tendencies beyond the presence or
absence of (participating) conlangers themselves in different areas, but you
never know. Well, it's just a thought ... I guess I really just miss the
maps, and even if those conlangs that are supposed to inhabit the Real World
are mapped, most will still be excluded.

As for additional features, besides a priori/a posteriori, non-human
phonemes, based on, and length of active development (or rather, year begun,
or to be more general, decade begun), some other possibilities are:

1) approximate lexicon size: not sure what values would be most useful, but
something like 1-500/501-1000/1001-2500/2501-5000/over 5000, for example
2) vowel harmony type: absent, backness, height, roundedness, ATR, multiple,
3) vowel harmony pervasiveness: getting the values right would be tricky,
but something like absent/weak/moderate/strong/absolute, taking into account
presence in both affixes (inflectional and derivational) and roots, and
whether loanwords undergo adaptation.
4) allophone to phoneme ratio: not at all sure what values would be most
5) absence of common parts of speech:
nouns/verbs/adjectives/adverbs/multiple absent/all present (I suspect that
such a value set might obscure more tendencies than it would reveal, by
lumping too many langs into 'multiple', but I'm not sure which combinations
would be best to single out. On second though, perhaps this could be split
into two features, one for nouns and verbs, and one for adjs and advs.)
6) person distinctions (made anywhere in the language; mere syncretism in
certain instances is irrelevant): none/1,other/1,2,3/1,2,3,4/more than 4
persons distinguished/other. I'm not sure how relevant this is for most of
us, but I have one lang each to put into the second and penultimate
categories. Also, 4th person should not be taken to mean here some kind of
indefinite subject, as it sometimes is, but a category beyond 3rd that any
NP can belong to.
7) unusual number distinctions (made anywhere in the lang, but in a fairly
productive way): dual/trial/paucal/other/various combinations/none

What say ye? I regret I probably wouldn't be able to do much actual
write-up, as my computer has just kicked the bucket and I don't expect to be
able to replace it in the foreseeable future ... of course I'm on someone
else's at the moment.



Herman Miller <hmiller@...>