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Re: My Three Assertions

From:Mike Ellis <nihilsum@...>
Date:Friday, February 25, 2005, 21:28
You know, I see this kind of thing a lot. Some people are SO bothered by the
idea that words can be used for things that aren't one hundred and zero zero
percent perfect examples, or that people might refer to X and Y with
different words even if there's no single defining thin line between them,
that they set their bar so high on every definition that every term becomes
meaningless. This is GREAT for generating a lot of deep-sounding
philosophical text, but useless when it comes to discussing the ideas
involved. It's not specific to the natlang/conlang distinction; you can do
it with anything.

Trent Pehrson wrote:

>To me, this is not a phenomenon unique to languages designated as >conlangs. There are many instances of intentional language creation and >permutation throughout recorded history-- prescriptivist reforms, creation >of new writing systems and other varying degrees of intentional >contrivance by groups or individuals. Since even a designated, a >posteriori conlang is a contrived permutation of a designated natlang, the >distinction does not hold for me. An intentional permutation is an >intentional permutation. *Every* language has degrees of intentional >permutation.
Yeah, DEGREES of intentional permutation. I can still say (to use someone else's conlang as an example -- sorry, none of mine are 'a-posteriori' enough, in the Conlang-L sense) "Jan van Steenbergen created Wenedyk". Or can I? After all, he didn't create Vulgar Latin and Polish, so he can't have created Wenedyk because it's based on them. No, you didn't build that birdhouse because you didn't make the wood. So, it must be that NOBODY created Wenedyk, just as nobody created Polish. Is it that you really *can't* tell the difference, or that you choose not to? Yes, there are natlangs that have been forcibly reformed or tinkered with. Some people here have even included them as 'conlangs'! (but I wouldn't.) And yet, somehow, we're able to tell that German is a tinkered natlang and Wenedyk is a conlang. Go figure.
>As to your thought on a priori conlang genesis being a distinguishing >feature, I find this argument to be invalid as well (And perhaps this >should have been my fourth assertion). I do not believe that an a priori >language can exist. All language stems from language -- even so called L1 >comes from experience with the linguistic context of the learner. Hence, >even if it is only within the mind of one individual all language is a >posteriori.
What does it matter if nothing's *perfectly* a-priori? That's like telling someone off for calling something 'square': "no object is *perfectly* geometrically square, there are always imperfections in it, so you can't use that term for anything EVER." Gee, thanks. What good does it do to set the bar so high on a term that we use all the time, like "a-priori" (or "create", as above), that we can't designate *anything* with it anymore? No languages are a-priori, and yet there's apparently something wrong enough with my worldview that I can say I'm making an "a-priori" conlang, or that one of my languages is "more a-priori" than the other, and some other poor listmember is so similarly afflicted that he/she'll actually get what I mean?! What a disaster. There are things that are square *enough* and conlangs that are a-priori *enough* that we can know what each other's talking about.
>>> I'd suggest a different criterion: a human language is one that a >>> human being can learn to understand and speak in real time. > >This still supports my assertion that any speech declared as language 'a' >is arbitrarily designated as such. > >You are arbitrarily defining 'real-time'. In doing so, you are making a >subtle but arbitrary decision that humans always have had and always will >have the same capacity for language learning diachronically and that all >humans synchronically have the same capacity for language learning. The >distinction remains arbitrary for me.
I'm pretty sure Damian's comment on "real-time" had nothing to do with diachronic language change, or humanity's capacity for language throughout history. "In real-time" here was contrasted with having to work it out on paper first (my previous message concerned stack-based LIFO grammar) -- at the level of the individual speaker, at the time of speaking. Just as I learned to understand and speak English in real-time. At least that's how I understood it. And it's not a bad definition for 'human language' ... it does bring things like Klingon and Sindarin (invented for fictional aliens/elves) into that definition, but those languages aren't really that 'alien' anyway -- plus, all their speakers are human. Anyway, for whatever reason, we know what each other means by "conlang/natlang" and by "a priori/posteriori". And we've been able to discuss these things. If you *choose* to disrecognise any such distinctions, and don't want to be able to understand the simple concept that so-and-so made conlang-such-and-such, that's your hangup.
>Just my opinion :).
Who else's would it be? M