Re: Wordless language (WAS: NonVerbal Conlang?)
|From:||R A Brown <ray@...>|
|Date:||Tuesday, July 4, 2006, 13:38|
Eldin Raigmore wrote:
> Without pointing you to the specific conlang it will be difficult to make
> you understand unless you are willing to help me explain it to you.
It is difficult for me to help you explain when I do not know what it is
you are trying to explain. The picture I getting is of a conlang
explicitly modeling a binary tree - and my remarks below are intended to
> But the secondary point I was making was that this conlang's idea of what
> were "full" words was much larger, and of what were "empty" words was much
> smaller, than we are used to in most natlangs or most other conlangs. The
> primary point was that all of its "full" words were 0-valent; all of its 2-
> valent words were "empty".
To use LISP syntax:
(EMPTY FULL1 FULL2)
At least that is what I understand from your description.
> And of course I can't say all of that without saying the language
> had "words". But it only had "words" according to some definitions, not
> according to others.
Of course it doesn't have 'words', for example, according to the
definition of phonological words, or morphophonological words - but
that's because we have not been told the language's phonology (assuming
it has been given one).
But I do not understand what you are getting at here. You admit that you
have been unable to talk about the language without using the term
"word" and that it does have 'words' according to some definitions. So,
as far as I can see, the language is not wordless.
> It had no syntagma intermediate between the morpheme
> and the sentence.
Now you have confused me. I thought the language concerned was
explicitly constructed as a binary tree. I understood that a binary tree
is a finite set of nodes which
(a) either is empty,
(b) or consists of a root and two disjoint _binary trees_ called the
'left subtree' and 'right subtree'.
If it's a binary tree, then it surely each subtree is a syntagm? But, as
I wrote above, I am working somewhat in the dark as I do not actually
know which language you are writing about.
> What I have called "words" above, were morphemes; and
> when one combined them, one couldn't stop until one had a sentence; else
> what one produced wouldn't be meaningful.
To some extent that is true of all languages - in practice, of course,
especially in speech we leave parts of a sentence "understood".
But I do not see how this helps. In a strictly isolating language, such
as Vietnamese, morpheme & word are co-terminous; at the opposite extreme
are polysynthetic languages, such as the Iroquoian languages, where
often complete sentences seem to consist of a single word. All this
tells me is that the various phonological, morphophonological,
morphosyntactic, lexical & functional units we call 'word' will vary in
detail according to the phonology, morphophonology, morphosyntax, lexis
& grammar of each language.
> I think _for_purposes_of_this_thread Trask's _third_ definition of "word"
> is not worth using more than once.
I must confess, I wish I knew what the purpose of this thread is. I
thought from the subject line that is was whether a wordless language
were possible or not. But that is clearly not what has been discussed above.
> It is worthwhile in its own right; and
> it was worth mentioning once, thank you, Ray; but the definition is such
> that every language has words by definition.
> Trask's other two definitions are more useful for purposes of answering the
> question "Can there be a language in which every or almost every utterance
> doesn't consist entirely or almost entirely of words?".
Trask's other two definitions are strictly grammatical, as his
dictionary is concerned with _grammatical terms in linguistics_. Indeed,
he quite specifically states that there are other meanings, such as
'phonological' words, which he does not define. But I agree his other
definitions are useful in that he does stress that it is *essential to
distinguish the two quite distinct senses of the term 'word'* [emphasis
I feel that part of the confusion which, at least, I am experiencing is
that distinct meanings are *not* being distinguished. Your question
above IMHO is meaningless without specifying in what sense you are using
the term 'word'.
> definition of "word" we use in this thread -- and I hope we use more than
> one of them -- not much useful can be said if we use a definition that
> guarantees the answer must be "no" even before we begin any investigation
> (beyond pointing out that we shouldn't use that definition on this thread,
> no matter how useful it is in other discussions).
In other words, as far as I can see, we must rule out any definition of
the term 'word' if it guarantees the answer is "no". Doesn't that mean
that you are trying to define a meaning of the term 'word' for which at
least one language (be it natlang or conlang) does not conform? What
purpose is served by that? [That is a _genuine_ question - I really am
confused as to what this thread is about]
> This makes it sound like the conlang I had in mind was indeed J. Knibb's
> T4. I might have been thinking of a version earlier than the current one.
> These are the features I had in mind;
> o Only two "word-classes", a very small closed one and a very large open
> o The "open class" contains many of the "bound morphemes" of other
> o No division between morphology and phrasal syntax.
> o All "syntactic words" are single morphemes.
"Word class", if you recall, is one of the definitions of 'word' given
by Trask. I fail to see how a one can speak of a language having word
classes and also claim the language to be 'wordless'.
> I don't see why there can't be two parts of speech both of which are
But in what sense of the term 'particle'?
> But I suppose what I "really meant" was that there were two parts of speech
> and both consisted of bound morphemes.
But that does not make them particles per_se.
> Would "function words" vs "content words" be the useful division into
> two "parts of speech"? If all of them are "bound morphemes" then is it not
> true, in a sense, that every sentence consists of a single "word", and that
> there are no "words" except for such sentences?
It means that words are co-terminous with sentences, or at least
clauses, as in the Iroquoian languages.
> Probably only due to the fact that Trask wasn't thinking of conlanging.
Although Trask does not mention conlanging, it seems to me very clear
that he did intend his definitions to cover grammatical terms for _all_
languages. He defines 'language' thus: "1. A *natural language.* 2. A
He defines 'natural language', thus:
"1. Any language which is, or once was, the mother tongue of a group of
human beings. 2. By extension, any conceivable language which is
consisted with the requirements of the theory of grammar and which hence
might in principle be such a mother tongue."
He defines 'formal language' thus:
"A language generated by *formal grammar." A formal language may or may
not resemble a natural language; one of the goals of grammatical
investigation is the construction of grammars which generate languages
resembling natural languages as closely as possible."
Thus the only conlang that would fall outside of Trask's definition of
'language' is one that fills _both_ these conditions:
1. It cannot be generated by any formal grammar;
2. It is not consistent with the theory of grammar and could not be used
as anyone's mother tongue."
> If he had been considering the possibility of a language without words
> while writing his definitions of "particle", he might have phrased some of
> them so that they did not require a "particle" to be a "word".
Why on earth should Trask consider a language without words!
> But I think even if he had been thinking of clitics, if he had agreed with
> your later remark in this post that a clitic isn't a word, he wouldn't have
> required particles to be words; because in many languages with "particles",
> some of the particles are usually "clitics".
"Typically, a clitic has the phonological form of a separate word, but
cannot be stressed and is obliged to occupy a particular position in the
sentence in which it is phonologically bound to an adjoining word." [Trask]
I would, personally, substitute "cannot bear the word accent" rather
than "cannot be stressed" so that we include both languages with stress
accent, like English & German, and those with pitch accent like ancient
But in any case 'particle' and 'clitic' are not synonyms.
> Not even as great an authority as Trask writes his dictionaries for the
> benefit of science-fiction creators and computer programmers.
On the contrary, *formal languages* are precisely what programming
> If you so define your terms that you are guaranteed to be right before the
> investigation even begins, then, of course, you need no proof.
As far as I can understand what you are driving at (and, to be quite
frank, I am finding it difficult to understand), you appear to me to be
"A 'word' is: 1. either a free morpheme; 2. or a word plus one or more
affixed bound morphemes. Some polysynthetic languages have only bound
morphemes. Therefore, such languages do not have 'words'."
>>>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.
> Does that mean you can't believe that anyone will ever show you how it
> could be otherwise? Nor that perhaps you will discover it on your own?
It means what it says. I said nothing about belief, and I do *not* want
to get into another tedious thread about that word! "I do not see" is a
colloquialism for "I do not understand." I hope this is clear:
I do not understand how the general consensus among professionals that
all natlangs do, in fact, have words can be mistaken.
> I don't think the definition
> "In formal language theory, a string that is a member of a language"
> has any use on this thread other than as a means to persuade the rest of us
> to quit contributing to it.
You have specifically brought conlangs into the discussion, so I quite
fail to see why mention of formal language theory is irrelevant.
Please do not attribute motives to me like trying "to persuade the rest
of us to quit contributing to it." I resent that implication. I was
trying - probably in vain - to understand what the thread is about.
> If we want to find a natlang that doesn't have "words", we have to use a
> definition of "word" that is not appropriate to that particular natlang.
What is the point? So we dream up a definition of 'word' that is not
appropriate to English, and then QED English doesn't have words!
Where does that get anyone?
> Even if the definition is not at fault, it will not cover every natlang;
> that was what I was trying to say.
Personally, I would say the definition is at fault. Can you give any
>>>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!
> Oh yes we can.
Wordless to my simple mind means "with words," "lacking words." Either a
language does lack words or it doesn't, as far I can understand things.
> That was my point; a language can be "wordless" by some definitions, and
> not "wordless" by others.
Well, obviously a non written language does not have orthographical
words, tho it has phonological words. But what value is it in saying
that spoken Xlanha is not wordless, but written Xlanha is?
OK - I know that is an extreme example, but I hold that this true of
other definitions of 'word'.
> definition? No, because Trask's third definition quite cleverly closes off
> that possibility, by defining "word" to mean "something in a language".
> Thus only an empty conlang could have no words.
I think you are doing Trask a grave disservice. I don't claim that Trask
was infallible; but I do find it a little insulting to have some on
Trask's linguistic ability & knowledge simply dismissed by "quite
cleverly closes off ....."
It was not Trask who defined 'formal language'. Wasn't Chomsky who first
derived formal grammars? Trask is merely defining what is (as he saw
it). Please tell me what is at fault with his definition or why it
should be dubbed "quite cleverly closes off ....."
I am not enjoying this thread as I seem to be boxing at shadows. It's
frustrating, time-consuming and, as far as I can see, getting nowhere.
I do *NOT*, however, wish to dissuade anyone else from joining in this
thread. But as for me, I shall not be taking any more part in this
1. I clearly and unambiguously know the purpose of the thread.
2. I clearly and unambiguously know what 'word' means on this thread.
3. If ill-defined words like 'particle' are to be brought into the
discussion, then it is made clear what, in this thread, is meant by such
4. We refrain from imputing other motives either to mailers (e.g.
"trying to persuade the rest of us to quit contributing to it") or to
respected authorities (e.g. "quite cleverly closes off ....").
"A mind which thinks at its own expense will always
interfere with language." J.G. Hamann, 1760