Theiling Online    Sitemap    Conlang Mailing List HQ   

Re: LUNATIC again

From:Logical Language Group <lojbab@...>
Date:Thursday, November 5, 1998, 19:35
David Durand:
>The fundamental problem is that they attempt to create >differences of kind where there are actually differences of degree.
Of course. I really think that "language" is best dealt with as a "fuzzy" concept with languages existing along a spectrum from "real" and "natural" to whatever the opposite is. But I don't control grant money, and all of my arguments are based solely on the need for our efforts to gain respectability among those who would presume to judge. The world of academia isn't usually nice and friendly and cooperative with upstart efforts led my those who havenot got the proper credentials and backing of a big name institution. (The same is true of the 'real world' in how it jusges the practicality of auxlangs, etc. - not all opinions are equal, and ity usually isn't fair.)
>The crucial reason most linguists don't want to hear about conlangs is that >they study "languages in the wild." Considering conlangs of any sort is >bizarre, because it's not what they do.
Matt has essentially said this. However, I HAVE had success in gaining interest of some linguists in Lojban. And there are linguists who do work on "interlinguistics". Some of the former are even mainstream linguists of note. The latter is still a rather specialized arena of linguistics that is not too well-known. But there has been at least one linguistics conference organized around the theme of constructed languages. It will be a long battle to make conlang linguistics more "mainstream". Unfortunately, the first step in becoming mainstream is to not seem to be challenging the existing mainstream so that you are rejected from the get-go. This means that I have to assume some of the attitudes of an academic linguist towards the discipline, cater to the existing definitions while trying to evolve them in directions that will aid my/our cause.
>I think definitions are really incidental: the sociology of linguists makes >unnatural languages marginal at best. >
And I intend to change that. Indeed the whole rationale of the Loglan project requires it.
>I have read similar statements to the ones below in some linguistics books, >and they offend me there too...
Well, it comes down to "who is the arbiter of the meaning of a word", the masses or the experts. I am active on where academic mathematicians constantly decry the public education teaching of mathematics. They fail to recognize and deal with hte plain fact that to the masses, "mathematics" means the hierarchy of manipulative procedures and algorithms that constitute "arithmetic" and "algebra" etc., and that is what they presume will be taught in a math class. The math theorists want something fdifferent to be taught and don't even really care if the kids can add withou calculator. So which definition of math wins? In this case, the masses win. If you are seekingf to publish in a math journal, the masses lose.
> They remind me of the definitions of >"language" that were used to marginalize and oppress deaf people: because >the definition used to include a clause that "language == speech."
Academia, much as other arenas of life, has many socillogical effects associated with a struggle for power or control. Peoples jobs and careers depend on their work being seen as important, more important than the next person's work which is competing. It is thus a viable strategy in academia to marginalize those whose work is quite unlike your own. This is in effect what Chomsky is accused of doing (see my response to Matt on this). People doing conlangs solely as an avocation without a particular goal, have no reason to marginalize anyone. Those of us trying to get our work taken seriously by people who in general do not take conlangs seriously have to amke clear what the differences are between the different kinds of conlangs. I wish it didn't have to be.
>I will attack these definitions as an example of why I think this kind of >definition is futile. Another good thing to read is the "what is language" >section of intro. Linguistics textbooks. They never have a satisfactory >definition, and they usually admit as much.
But the people who write the books are the ones that review trhe grant proposals and control the education of the next generation of linguists. Their opinions count more than yours does, or mine. What they say is a language, is a language. Until we change their minds by showing that something that doesn't fit their definition, can be shown to be USEFUL if included. Since you use the example of sign language of the deaf, this is now taken as being "language" primarily because people before mefought from within the system to make it so, by showing that the study of sign language gave results consistent with and useful to the rest of the body of linguistic research.
>>1. A language is a means of communication. > >Presumably a system of signs that can be used to communicate. Otherwise >Latin, or any language not in active use is not a language because it is no >longer the means for anyone to communicate if it is not actually used.
I guess I have internalized the Lojban tense system too much. I did not intend the present tense by using "is". Future and past tense also can be taken (future being a fuzzy truth basedon the potential for it to become reality). Latin was a language, so it is a language.
>>2. To exclude computer languages, we have to restrict this to communications >>primarily between biological entities (if not actually restricting to humans) >>It is clear that computer languages have little in common with human >>languages. > >This again means that Latin is not a language. Nor would be the words and >music engraved on Voyager, in the case where it is never found, or is found >only by intelligent machines.
I used "biological enitities" to show that I was indeed quite fuzzy about who could be considered "users" of language. Whether Voyager engravings are a language is certainly debatable. If it is never found, I would call it representational art, and not language. If it is found and understood, then it is probably language (given that this opens the question about the meaning of "understood".
>So all dead languages are not languages, but "systems of signs that once >were languages". This is even more bizarrely true for dying languages, >since the next to last speaker takes the language with her when she dies >(sooner, actually, if she doesn't talk to the last speaker until the moment >of death). For some period of time it's in a limbo state, where it's not a >language, then it is used to communicate, so it's a language for a while, >then it's not used again, and it's not a language. If you say it's a >language between all the times that it's used, then it stops being a >language the last time the two talk, but you can't tell until one of the >two speakers dies.
Ya know, I grow to appreciate the Lojban tense system every line you write %^) You are in effect questioning whether something must be continuous to be true. Carrying your reasoning to its extreme, at a moment in which all speakers of English were silent, English would not be a language. And at the moment between inhaling and exhaling, you are not breathing. Yes language can be fin. I mean fun.
>>4. Linguists also distinguish between "languages" and "codes", where the >>latter may differ in surface form from a parent language, but where the >--More-- >>semantics of the "words" in the code are essentially unchanged from the >>parent language. > >The intent of this is obvious, but the issue of whether semantics is >preserved between differing languages is a very open one.
Open to whom? Not to me. I know too many words in Russian that do NOT mean what their counterparts mean in English, and too many that seem to mean the same up to the point where they mean something entire different.
>You can use a term like the CONLANG favorite >"relex" to designate a word-for-word or morpheme-for-morpheme simple >substitution.
Yes, I can. Lojban started as a relex of TLI Loglan. In many ways it still is, though some gramamtical transforms are necessary and the Lojban root words mean something differwent from the TLI roots so that you would actually need to equate a compound of one root with the root in the other version. Yet it is safe to say that LOjban and TLI semantics are probably no longer identical ecven after correcting for all of these things. (I could be specific and prove this, but it would take significant quotes of text that no one would understand).
>Since most artlangs define grammatical features (like aspect, tense, >gender) that are different from the artist's native language: the semantics >argument is actually the weakest of the lot, even if you believe that we >know very much about semantics. (I think we speculate a lot, but _know_ >little).
They may define these things, but are the results of usingthem unlike the native language? It is possible to map Russian perfective tenses to English usage (but not English tenses),and even easier to map them to Lojban tenses. But the mapping is imperfect WHEN FACED WITH ACTUAL USAGE. Without the usage, you could map things algorithmically.
>>5. Linguists also distinguish between "languages" and "cants" or "jargons" >>which are incomplete languages that have distinguishing semantics in >>some areas of the lexicon, but are moreor less standard in the rest >>of the lexicon. > >This is essentially specialized vocabulary with meanings hard to express in >the rest of the language.
Not necessarily. Slang words are a cant, usually created by the young people or by a minority, in order to set themselves apart from others. the words may have identical meaning to someother word, but a different word is used merely to show differentness.
>>I will use the above definition, noting that any linguists here can probably >>run me over the coals for various misstatements therein. But I think it >>conveys that which is essential to my points and is not too far from what >>linguists accept. > >I agree that some closed-minded professional linguists accept these >definitions or something like them...
Thereby conceding my case.
>I deny that _these_ definitions hold >much water,
They hold all the water necessary IN ACADEMIA. THEY have the power, not you and not me. Unlike artlangs, languages like Lojban need some sort of acceptance in order to achieve their purpose. And the people who adjudicate acceptance are the ones whose definitions are all-determining. Sure, all definitions have holes. Among other things, I have read some of the theory of lexicography as a necessary step to learning how to write a proper dictionary. That does not stop us from writing definitions.
>I'm not so sure: linguists study many things, but certainly central to >linguistics is the study of the grammar and semantics of human >communication. Whether that communication is potential (as with Tokana) or >actual and ongoing, as with English, or historical, as with Tonkawa (an >extinct native American language), they are all languages.
The fact that Matt, in another post, has sais that he cannot use his Linguistics dept, Web site to put up his Tokana pages shows the falsity of the claim that all "languages" are equal. I am sure that a 160 page study of any natlang would be far more acceptable use of his Web space. When this changes, I will accept your statement most gladly.
>People can easily live within a vocabulary of a few thousand words, so that >even a perfectly respectable level of completeness is open to a conlanger. >The fact that such a language would have to borrow or coin many new words >to be used in our contemporary society is an accidental, not an essential >fact.
"People" can, but it is arguable that adults living in a 20th century society and possessing something akin to a college education cannot. I have a vocabulary of a few thousand words of Russian. I can talk somewhat fluently to a 6 year old (subject to some topical constraints). I cannot even start to talk to a Russian adult about any topic I think that person could be interested in without resort to a dictionary or charades. My situation with Lojban is somewhat similar - approxiamtely the same vocabulary size, except that there are no kids to talk to, and I have to coin new words on the fly ( a decidely non fluent activity) in order to converse with adults. I don't think it is accidental. A complex society with intellectually active members needs a far larger lexicon. If your conlang is intended for a real or fictional "primitive" tribe, a small lexicon might work. If they have space travel, I doubt it.
>Many of your points have to do with practical efficacy and vocabulary size.
Of course. I am not working on an artlang. Practicality is the be-all and end-all of most everything I do. Those who aren't trying to be practical are exempt from my comments and any real or implied criticism. they are doing something else. More power to them if they are having fun at it.
>What of dead languages where we have only a small corpus of texts. Is >Gothic not a language because we have lost knowledge of most of its >vocabulary?
Surely a lack of knowledge is not the same as a lack of truth.
>Are the Rongo-rongo tablets not language because they've not >been deciphered yet? Would they suddenly become a language once they were, >or could that never be? The tiny corpus size (probably no more than a few >thousand words) means that the vocabulary would be too small to make it a >language on basis of quantitative inadequacy?
What was adequate for wehoever wrote the tablets may have no bearing on what is adequate for people reading CONLANG. My definitions are determined by the society I have to deal with. lojbab ---- lojbab Bob LeChevalier, President, The Logical Language Group, Inc. 2904 Beau Lane, Fairfax VA 22031-1303 USA 703-385-0273 Artificial language Loglan/Lojban: /pub/access/lojbab or see Lojban WWW Server: href="" Order _The Complete Lojban Language_ - see our Web pages or ask me.