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From:David J. Peterson <dedalvs@...>
Date:Thursday, October 13, 2005, 6:31
Hey all,

I just read a terrible, terrible paper that has an idea which is,
nevertheless, interesting, if you're willing to entertain the idea
that it has merit.  The article can be downloaded from my
downloads page here:

It's the latest one.

Anyway, the basic idea is that spoken language is iconic, in a
very particular sense.  Specifically, Haiman brings up the idea
of conceptual distance--a concept which he believes is so intuitive
that it doesn't need a formal definition (yes, he says this in the
article).  What it comes down to is that two concepts are more
distant from each other if their linguistically distant from one
another.  Thus, take the English word "feed", and the expression
"to make eat/to force to eat".  Both of these contain the concepts
of person X causing person Y to eat.  In the word "feed", though,
the concepts are conceptually closer, because they're contained
in a monomorphemic word, and are more distant in "to make
eat".  Due to this, Haiman says the multiword expression implies
that the causer has a less direct role in causing the causee to eat.

So that's the basic idea.  If words (or morphemes that encode
concepts) are physically closer to one another in the surface
structure, that says something.

Among the interesting things he points out (all of which were later
explained by other theories), is the idea that more formal expressions
require more verbiage, because they distance the hearer from the
message.  Thus, if a language has 4 registers, the least formal one
will require the fewest words, the next one up slightly more, the
next one up slightly more than that, and the most formal register
will require the most words.

He also makes some interesting claims about conjunctions and
switch reference systems, that's too complex to go into here.
Essentially, though, he suggests that many "different subject"
markers come from the word "and".

Anyway, the reason why I'm talking about this on the conlang
list is that there are a number of ideas in here, which, if taken
semi-seriously, can be helpful when constructing a language.
In serious linguistics, I'm not sure if this paper (or the theory
of iconicity) is relevant any longer.  Plus, this paper is a fun read.
Here are some of the article's greatest hits:

"Since linguists hope to find all universals most perspiculously
expressed in the language they have studied most..."

"Whether or not this is an interesting hypothesis is, of course, not
a subject for debate."

"Finally, one cannot hope to dismiss principle 3 by robust common
sense.  I have nothing against common sense: in fact, principle 3
incorporates it, and languages conform to it.  In the present context
of linguistic research, I maintain that this is a significant finding."

Said of "He lifted himself up": "Here the most plausible
interpretation is one in which the subject is somehow handicapped,
and forced to treat his body as dead weight.  (This is, of course,
also the most plausible interpretation of the English gloss.)"

"Where the causee is inanimate or unconscious, the analytic causative
suggests that the causer has magical powers."

"In the absence of such contact, and in the absence of an explicit
intermediary, the result can only be effected by telekinesis."

"While conceptual distance is intuitively obvious, I will not offer a
formal definition at this point."  (Note the use of "while".)

"A male love inevivi i'ala'i oku i ue pokulu'ume o heki a."
"No eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn."

-Jim Morrison


Paul Bennett <paul-bennett@...>Translation Challenge? (was Re: Iconicity)
Chris Bates <chris.maths_student@...>