Re: Wordless language (WAS: NonVerbal Conlang?)
|From:||R A Brown <ray@...>|
|Date:||Thursday, June 29, 2006, 19:29|
I meant to reply to this this morning & forgot. Also, I think the reply
is more pertinent to the changed subject line.
Sai Emrys wrote:
> On 6/28/06, R A Brown <ray@...> wrote:
>> 'Word' itself is not as easy to define as is often thought. I would
>> hesitate, tho, to include ideographs (at least in the strict sense of
>> the term).
> Why? And please make explicit what you mean by the 'strict sense'.
Of course, otherwise the "Why?" can't be answered :)
By 'ideogram' strictly defined I understand: "a symbol denoting an
_idea_ directly, with no reference to the linguistic form by which it is
It was thought by 17th century western scholars that Chinese script was
just that. We now know better; but one still occasionally finds hànzì
(Chinese characters) referred to as 'ideograms'. Even greater
misconceptions were rife concerning ancient Egyptian writing before
But even now one still occasionally finds the term 'ideogram' loosely
used to mean a _logogram_ (for example, hànzì, where each symbol
corresponds one-to-one with a morpheme, or occasionally
'pseudomorpheme', in the spoken language).
By 'ideogram' I understand symbols such as:
∈, ≡, ∞, ♀, ♂
'is an element of', 'is identical to', 'infinity', 'female', 'male'
While some can be verbalized as single words, others require more than
one word. I would say an ideogram (as opposed to a logogram) is
verbalized in a string of one or more words.
Some people also distinguish 'semesiograms', quoting numerals as an
example. But I do not see how these differ from ideograms. Numerals,
however, are interesting in that they often form _composite_ ideograms.
For example, single digits will map to single words in most languages,
but consider the compound ideogram _95_:
- in English each digit maps to a separate word: ninety five;
- in Welsh the first maps to two words & the second to one: naw deg pump;
- in French we must take the two symbols as a unit: quatre-vingt-quinze;
- in German they do map to separate morphemes, but the morphemes come in
the opposite order to the symbols and we need to add an extra morpheme:
>> Interesting. I am told that some mathematicians can look at mathematical
>> formulae and do the math(s) without the need for any mental verbalizing.
>> I don't know how true that is. Certainly, I would need to process them
> I do to a certain extent. I think it is much like how one learns to
> "think in" any new system (music, math, Arabic, morse code, whatever);
> it takes a while to be able to "natively" process the stuff, rather
> than doing what amounts to a quick translation.
Interesting. I tend to read Latin in chunks and not word for word. I
take in the meaning of phrases and sentences without verbalizing in
English. Quite often if I'm asked to translate, I do sometimes find it
difficult to break the thing up into English words for another person,
tho I know perfectly well what is meant.
I would imagine that this must happen whenever people have a fluency in
more than one language, or are can read mathematical symbols or some
other form of abstract symbolism. It does suggest to me very strongly
that whereas the poor computer must parse symbol by symbol, we humans do
not do that with systems with which we are familiar.
> One way I've heard of defining a 'word' (or even the core of
> 'language') is what happens when you change that pointing into a
> symbol, so you no longer need the pointee to be at the end of it. :-)
That would work for writing, I guess. But what about spoken language?
Replying to myself :)
R A Brown wrote:
> To have a language with words (if such a beast is really possible) is,
> as far as I can see, to move away from the 1D sequential model.
Yes, I've been reading Trask again (never a bad idea), and he gives
three meanings to 'word' in _grammatical_ use (he explicitly does not
deal with 'phonological word' or 'orthographic word'). His third
"In formal language theory, a string that is a member of a language; a
The other two definitions define more precisely what such a string is
grammatically; but I'll not bother with those at this point.
The thing is that any sequential form of language is ipso_facto a
string; and we can thus have strings which are members of any utterance
or piece of writing. As I said, any ID language, and that surely
includes _all_ natlangs, must therefore have elements which may be
called 'words'. The question is the delimiting of words in a particular
As I see it, if a wordless language is possible then it must be fully
multi-dimensional (i.e. 2 or more _real_ dimensions - not a 1D language
cunningly chopped up and re-arranged in 2 or 3 dimensions, as we had
suggested in one of the earlier NLF2DWS threads). So it seems to me that
to answer the question whether such a beast can exist is to answer these
two questions in the following order:
1. Is a non-linear fully multi-dimensional language possible?
2. Does such a language have elements that can be called words, or are
its elements of a different kind?
"A mind which thinks at its own expense will always
interfere with language." J.G. Hamann, 1760