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Re: Wordless language (WAS: NonVerbal Conlang?)

From:Eldin Raigmore <eldin_raigmore@...>
Date:Thursday, June 29, 2006, 19:33
On Thu, 29 Jun 2006 09:20:09 +0100, R A Brown <ray@...>
>Sai Emrys wrote: >>Moving this to a new thread... >>On 6/28/06, Eldin Raigmore <eldin_raigmore@...> wrote: >>>I want to open a third meaning; >>>(3) a spoken-and-heard language without words. > >Which, of course, was originally what I thought that other thread was >about :) >Anyway, Eldin, thanks for opening it up.
Actually you should get credit for first posting on that, although I somehow missed it until after I posted the message to which Sai replied above. And, of course, Sai deserves credit for starting this new thread with his reply to my post.
>>... >>> >>>is a very good introduction to the problem. >>" Definition of a word: >>" . Phonological word >>" . . Stress >>" . . Vowel harmony >>" . . Phonological processes >>" . Morphological-syntactic word >>" . . Mobility >>" . . Uninterruptibility >>" . . Internal stability" >> >>So how would a NLF2DWS fused symbol (or set of symbols, or whatever >>you'd call the thing) fit? It would not be phonological in any sense >>(perhaps one can create graphical analogs?). And because of the >>fusion, it would be both interruptible and internally unstable; dunno >>about mobility. > >I think the concept "word" does become fuzzy in a NLF2DWS, at least how >I understand what a NLF2DWS is. (I waiting eagerly to see some actual >examples :)
Like Ray says, the concept "word" is fuzzy, cross-linguistically. In a NLF2DWS, it might be fuzzy "language-internally" as well. 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", so as far as the writing system was concerned, a "word" was a sentence. 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. To sum up my answer to your question, Sai; I don't know, and I don't expect to ever find out.
>The Morphological-syntactic definition above is of course related to >natlangs and these are, or were, spoken in their primary form. Written >forms employed for them are (or were) representation of the spoken form. >Now, as you say, a NLF2DWS, as we have discussed it here, does not have >a one-to-one spoken form. If a person needed to verbalize the script >s/he would do some natllang or other - and different people's >verbalization would not be the same. So we are dealing with a different >beast than a natlang IMO. > >>For that matter, can anyone suggest a method of doing wordless >>language that does not involve a fusional 2dws? It's all I can think >>of, but surely there are other means... > >Yep - that's what I'd kind of hope would be suggested on that other >thread. The idea of telepathic communication crops up often in SciFi - >and R. Srikanth's Lin was supposed to be a written representation of >telepathic communication. The latter, tho, clearly has words. But does >such communication necessarily require the notion of 'words'.
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.
>>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?
>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. (Of course we should ask him.)
>We'd, I guess, get a whole lot of >information about plurality or not, temporal & aspectual references etc >etc, but no indication what these all applied to.
AIUI that does _not_ apply to And Rosta's conlang. Assuming I understood everything at all that either of you have said, that would mean your last statement is not a necessary consequence of the one before.
>Nor am I persuaded >that such an unsatisfactory 'language' would be wordless (see below).
I don't think And Rosta's conlang is actually "unsatisfactory". But if it had native speakers, I'm pretty sure they'd think it had words. It's just that the definition of "word" seems to be language-specific. As one of the sources I referred to said, "every language's speakers have an intuitive understanding of what its 'words' are." It's just tough to come up with a cross-linguistic definition that is valid for every language.
>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?
>>> >>>includes Dixon & Aikhenvald's quote of several grammarians, including >>>Milewski, to the effect that the "word" is irrelevant, or at least >>>not-very- relevant, in the polysynthetic languages of North America. > >Saying the notion is "irrelevant" or "not very relevant" is not the same >as saying it doesn't exist. For people living in cities awash with >artificial lighting, the phases of the moon are not very relevant. It >doesn't mean that the moon does not go through its regular lunations.
Good point.
>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.
>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. However general consensus among professionals seems to be that all natlangs do, in fact, have words.
>The debate will be where to put the white spaces when the >language is committed to writing.
I believe that is a somewhat separate question. But the question "what is a word?" apparently starts to get a more precise answer from a language's speakers when they start writing it, or at least when they start putting spaces in when they write it.
>As far as I see it, any >one-dimensional, sequentially expressed language will have 'words' - the >question is the exact definition.
Ancient Latin scripts were written without any spaces at all. Granting that spoken Latin had words, did written Latin (at that point)? Sanskrit, IIRC, was also written without spaces, but the convention was that any |s| was word-final (and no other letter was, until the end of the sentence).
>To have a language
I assume you meant "without". (Earlier when I said "without verbs", I meant "without words". So I don't mean to embarass you -- not that I think I'm likely to do so.)
>words (if such a beast is really possible) is, >as far as I can see, to move away from the 1D sequential model.
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. But would a tree-shaped language -- one in which the utterances were trees - - necessarily, or even easily, be without words? --------------------------------------------------------------------------- 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 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. But it seems most natlangs are mostly composed of "words" by some "major" definition; which definition, seems to depend on which natlang. 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. Thanks, Sai and Ray and others, for writing. ----- eldin


R A Brown <ray@...>