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Re: Wordless language (WAS: NonVerbal Conlang?)

From:R A Brown <ray@...>
Date:Friday, June 30, 2006, 10:37
Eldin Raigmore wrote:
> When it comes to writing systems, the question of "what is a word" is very > hard to separate from the question "where do I have to put the white > space"? In early writing the answer seems to have been "between the end of > one sentence and the beginning of the next",
No - various forms of interpuncts are in fact found in ancient writing. Although ancient Greek inscriptions are generally written without them, you can find examples where, for instance, vertical lines are used as _word_ separators. Dots are certainly used in some Latin inscriptions (in some syllables have dots between them!). IIRC double dots were used as interpuncts in Etruscan texts and single dots in Osco-Umbrian texts. The Phaistos Disk (17th cent BCE?), if indeed the symbols are writing (which most people think they are, tho some question this), most clearly has interpuncts.
> so as far as the writing > system was concerned, a "word" was a sentence.
AFAIK writing systems without interpuncts do not mark mark sentence boundaries any more than they mark word boundaries.
> In Sanskrit, ISTR having > read (IIRC), the "white space" was put after each sigma or [s]-grapheme; > take a look at "the Lord's Prayer" as translated into Sanskrit.
Sanskrit is a special case, in that it is the deliberate work of Panini to codify the 'pure' language so Hindu scriptures could be _read_ properly. It was concerned with the spoken form; this sandhi, which is a feature of spoken language but often not reflected in written language, is shown in Sanskrit. In deciding where word breaks should appear, it is the phonological word that is important, not the grammatical word. [snip]
> It does seem that most examples thread-responders have posted that we > mostly accept as "languages without words" are not the mouth-to-ear > phonological kind of language most natlangs are.
Surely all natlangs are either or were once "mouth-to-ear phonological kind of language"? Such languages are sequences of phones, i.e. 'strings of phones', then they must, as I see it, contain elements that are 'words' ("a string that is a member of a language" [Trask]). If such a beast as a wordless language is possible it cannot be IMO a "mouth-to-ear phonological kind of language" [Replying to me]
>>>FWIW, I think it's worth putting aside the question about whether >>>particles are "real words" or not, unless we're to talk about a >>>language that would somehow be entirely composed thereof. (What would >>>it be like?) > > Are you saying And Rosta's conlang is _not_ worth considering in this > thread -- at least not yet?
I am very puzzled by this question. AFAIK And has not yet given a comprehensive description of Livagian, but there is an example given on: This is clearly not all particles in the sense I was using the term. gghoekhg = 'is foul' and gkhnqehr = 'originates at' look like lexical items to me. What do you mean by 'particle'? (Another ill-defined word) Do you simply mean 'bound morphemes'? I note that Trask in fact gives three meanings of 'particle': 1."Traditionally, any lexical item which exhibits no inflectional morphology and hence is invariable in form; the term is used only in connection with languages in which the open classes Noun, Verb and Adjective do inflect." 2. "In the grammar of English, one of the preposition-like items which occur in *phrasal verbs*, such as..........." 3. "A label typically applied to some more-or-less well-defined class of uninflected words in the grammar of some particular language when no more obvious label presents itself." Clearly meaning (2) is irrelevant here, as it is English-specific and it just would not be sensible to ask the question: "What would a language consisting only of particles be like?" Nor does the question make sense with meaning (1), as that has meaning _only_ if a language also has flectional elements, i.e. by definition such 'particles' cannot be the only elements in the language. That leaves only meaning (3). If Livagian consists only of particles it means that Livagian has only one part of speech and, as no obvious label can be attached to this part of speech, then the term 'particle' is given it. It may be that And has actually said this; but I have no recollection of his doing so. However, I have no doubt And himself can tell us :) But I am at fault, I guess, in seeking to define 'particle' in this context. In all three of Trask's definitions "particle" is a word, therefore it does not make sense to question whether particles are words. However, it was being questioned; therefore I assumed what was meant was that category known as: empty words/ grammatical words/ function words/ form words. It seems clear to me from the example of Livagian referred to above than it does not consists solely of such words.
>>As far as I can see, it would convey no meaning. If we have particles >>only, there are no lexical words. > > AIUI that applies to And Rosta's conlang.
Not AIUI - see above. (Of course we should ask him.) Indeed. [snip]
> I don't think And Rosta's conlang is actually "unsatisfactory".
No one has said it is "unsatisfactory".
> But if it had native speakers, I'm pretty sure they'd think it had words.
The text given on the web page I cited above is clearly broken up by white space interpuncts. [snip]
> >>But the question of whether particles ('empty words') are "real words" >>or not is surely just asking whether they are free or bound morphemes >>and/or whether bound morphemes should ever be considered as words. > > > And what about clitics? Are they free or bound? Either way, are they > words or not?
Clitics, of course, are bound morphemes. The whole point of a clitics is that it cannot occur unless affixed in pronunciation to another word. At the phonological level they are, therefore, not words. But the way they are treated in writing varies. It is the practice to print Greek texts with white space between 'full words' and clitics; however the change in accentuation that enclitics cause shows quite clearly that they are 9and were) part of the same phonological word as the one they are appended to. It is normal to write Latin enclitics without any iterpunct. However the abbreviation SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus = the Roman Senate & People) shows us that intuitively they had a 'semi-word' status. Interesting the conjunctive pronouns of French, which are clitics, are written with white space interpuncts (or apostrophe interpuncts) if the precede the verb, by with hyphens if they follow. [snips]
> >>The point, as I understand it, is that these North American languages >>have few, if any, unbound morphemes. They are bound in whole phrases, so >>that 'word' and 'phrase' are more or less synonymous (at least by some >>people's analyses). > > Perhaps even, "word" and "sentence" are more-or-less synonymous. > John Q's Ithkuil could be an example.
More likely, I think, 'word' and 'clause' or 'word' and 'phrase' in some languages. Also we should remember that written & spoken forms of the same language exhibits different behavior in this respect. For example, in _spoken_ French phonological words are co-terminous with phrases and sometimes whole clauses; it behaves more like the North American languages to which you referred in your last email. But the written form shows separate words more in the manner of its Latin predecessor.
>>It seems to me that if we cannot sensibly discuss whether a language is >>wordless without also discussing morphology. > > Depends if we're talking morphosyntax or prosody. > We can't talk about the "morphosyntactic words" without talking about > morphology; we can't talk about the "phonological words" without talking > about phonotactics, suprasegmental features, and prosody.
> >>If a language can be >>morphologically analyzed then it seems to me that it must ipso_facto >>have words. > > That could be true; IMO it remains to be proven, at least on this thread.
Surely a string A must have at least one string B which is an element of string A, even if in certain circumstances A and B are co-terminous. What is there that needs proof?
> However general consensus among professionals seems to be that all natlangs > do, in fact, have words.
As I have said, both in this mail and a previous one, I do not see how it can be otherwise. [snip - a lot of stuff already answered]
> It might at least help. > I don't think a >1-dimensional language could be oral/aural; and all the > best-accepted proposed examples of non-verbal (i.e. "without words") > languages so far on this thread seem to have been non-spoken ones.
They include oral elements of course but, yes, they have to be >1 dimension.
> But would a tree-shaped language -- one in which the utterances were trees - > - necessarily, or even easily, be without words?
As trees can be decomposed into strings, we are not IMO dealing with _fully_ >1D languages.
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------- > > I think if you take any major definition of "word" you can find a natlang > which doesn't have "words" by that definition, or, at least, one most of > whose utterances are not mostly composed of such "words".
I do not think this true. Can you please give clear examples? Trask, who is concerned only with _grammatical_ terms in linguistics, gives: 1. "A *lexical item*; a single item belonging to some *lexical category*, having an identifiable meaning or grammatical function and typically fairly consistent phonological shape, though possibly exhibiting a certain amount of *inflectional* variation reflecting its grammatical environment in particular senses. In this sense of the term 'word', such forms as _go, goes, went, going_ and _gone_ are all forms of the single word (lexical item) _go_." 2. A *word form*; a particular morphosyntactic form of a lexical item occurring in a particular grammatical environment. In this sense of the term 'word', the forms _go, goes, went, going_ and _gone_ are all different words; in fact, it is usually regarded as representing more than five word forms, since the _go_ of _I go to Rome on Tuesday_ and the _go_ of _I want to go to Rome on Tuesday_ are regarded as syntactically distinct in spite of their identical form, and much the same is true of _going_ and _gone_, which also represent two syntactically distinct forms." Trask also adds that it is essential to distinguish between these two quite distinct senses of the term 'word', to which I say "Amen." He also says quite explicitly that he is not defining 'phonological word' nor 'orthographic word'. However, he does give a third definition, which I have quoted before, but it seems to me needs to be quoted again: 3. "In formal language theory, a string that is a member of a language; a *sentence*." Before more misunderstanding arise, it should be noted that Trask lists _five_ separate meanings of the term 'sentence'; but clearly the only one relevant to meaning (3) above is that of formal grammar, namely: "In a formal grammar, any *string* which is generated by the grammar." I make that five meaning for 'word', three being defined by Trask and two explicitly not defined.
> I am willing to bet that you could take any _two_ major definitions > of "word" and find a natlang not composed of "words" by _either_ of them.
Sorry, this seems to me - excuse the pun - just playing with words. Because it may be possible to find a natlang where there is no element corresponding to X's definition of 'word' does not mean, surely, that the natlang does not contain elements that can be meaningfully called 'words'. It might, however, suggest that X's definition is at fault - it will be if X attempts to give one grand definition to a term that clearly has more than one meaning, even in linguistics. [snip]
> I imagine the same is true of most conlangs; especially of those intended > to be spoken and heard. I think And Rosta's conlang, for example, misses > several definitions of "words" but hits a few.
Yes, but if it hits a few, then we cannot describe it as wordless! It seems to me that in fact this thread is discussing two quite different things, which to some extent is causing confusion: 1. What do we mean by 'word'? (We mean more than one thing IMO) 2. Is it possible to have a language in which there is no elements that could be considered a 'word' in any of the normally accepted senses? ======================================= Sally Caves wrote: [snip] > But I think some of these are wonderful and already "workable" examples, > since they communicate. Music is a "language" that has no words. Music does communicate to some extent, but it surely is not a 'language' in the sense that we mean on this thread. Attempts to use musical in order to communicate in a linguistic manner, e.g. Solresol, have not had much in common with what most of us would consider to be music. If music were included, then would we not have to include painting, sculpture & other arts? Are cave paintings, then, the earliest examples of writing? I think if we extend the definition of language too widely & do the same with 'word' the thread becomes rather meaningless. OK - I know, Sally, I did notice the quotes around "language" and know that you were giving music as an example of "Gestahlt" :) That's fine for giving us an analog of what a wordless language might be; but I think by language we must expect a medium that could not merely give some vague warning but allowed us to call out clearly to some one that a car was approaching fast from the right - a medium that allows great works of literature to be produced and scientific papers to be written etc. Is it possible to conceive of such a medium being wordless? [snip] > > Another def: "a configuration or pattern of elements so unified as a > whole that it cannot be described merely as a sum of its parts." > Cheated: got it from Google. > > What a fascinating semiotic question when applied to a wordless language! Exactly! This is, I think, what Sai was after with his NLF2DWS and what, it seems to me, a wordless language would be. > But for anything that expresses something more complex than a pleading > child in music, or an event acted out in a silent movie, we're going to > have to have the "sign." What we're debating here is whether "word" is > just another term for "sign," Possibly (tho 'sign' itself is open to more than one definition) - but rather as I understand it to be whether it is possible to have a language (possibly non-human) in which the configuration or pattern of elements is *so unified as a whole* that it cannot be described merely as a sum of its parts. > and whether it's a bound morpheme or a > free-standing utterance, or a gesture in Sign Language. Personally, I think these things are somewhat peripheral - see my reply to Eldin above. >How would you > say, in a wordless/signless? language (practically speaking that is), "I > wonder if the pleading child is acting this way because he has been > indulged by his mother?" Well, when Sai had got his NLF2DWS together, we shall see ;) Yes, that is the question. Can we think of a language in which it would be possible to have this information conveyed in one single whole without any elements that could be considered words? > I think a wordless language would have to dispense with this level of > detailed information, unless it is telepathy. I do not think we should call it 'language' if it could convey that level of information. I have suggested telepathy on several occasions. Certainly SciFi has had races that communicate telepathically. If such a language were committed to written form, how would it be done, and would it contain elements that can meaningfully be called words? > So I don't know how > "workable" it is qua language, except in a rudimentary way. For music > or graphic art to become more workable as languages, they will have to > start incorporating something more akin to signs, which brings us closer > to words. And part of their great beauty is they don't. Agreed. -- Ray ================================== ================================== "A mind which thinks at its own expense will always interfere with language." J.G. Hamann, 1760


And Rosta <and.rosta@...>