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Re: LUNATIC again

From:David G. Durand <dgd@...>
Date:Thursday, November 5, 1998, 2:32
At 12:22 PM -0400 11/4/98, Logical Language Group wrote:
>Now as to the denigration or disparagement, whether it is productive or >not depends as much on how it is taken as how it is intended. I have >stopped >regularly expressing such criticism because it seems almost universally to >be taken personally rather than as an intellectual challenge. that I am not >the most tactful writer and thus am at fault for people taking things >personally cannot be denied. But my intent in criticizing IS intellectual.
I'll accept that (though I do find the claims that you make somewhat offensive). The fundamental problem is that they attempt to create differences of kind where there are actually differences of degree. We have many orthogonal axes that are in fact relevant to your (and others') arguments: vocabulary size, semantic scope, suitability for communicative use by humans (e.g. learnability of the grammar), effectiveness of the discourse structure, unique cultural concepts associated with linguistic representations, active speaker bases, etc. 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. It's a reasonable experimental method (though the most informative experiments are unlikely because of the unethical nature of intentionally raising children to speak potentially unlearnable languages as L1s). A few are willing to consider the idea that a language like Esperanto can be "naturalized" -- but even that is disturbing because it's fundamentally different. I think definitions are really incidental: the sociology of linguists makes unnatural languages marginal at best. On to the definitions.... I have read similar statements to the ones below in some linguistics books, and they offend me there too... 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." Nowadays people with the same mentality forget that mistake, but propagate similar ones. 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.
>So to return to a definition of language. >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.
>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.
>3. In order to have commmunication BETWEEN, there must be at least two people >who use the language - a speaker and a listener. Linguists tend to go much >further, and say that this communication must be bidirectional, must be >fluent, must be passed on across generations. Linguists exclude not merely >artlangs from the concept of "language", but pidgins and creoles that may >be spoken by large populations. I may disagree with that definition, but >I had better understand it when trying to communicate with linguists.
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.
>4. Linguists also distinguish between "languages" and "codes", where the >latter may differ in surface form from a parent language, but where the >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. You can't really get any decision power here. You can use a term like the CONLANG favorite "relex" to designate a word-for-word or morpheme-for-morpheme simple substitution. 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).
>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.
>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... I deny that _these_ definitions hold much water, and I suspect that I can come up with horrible counterexamples to any repairs that can be made to them. I didn't even start finding "non-language" things that fit these definitions: like clapping hands at a concert, burning crosses on people's lawns, etc.
>Given this definition, it seems clear that most conlangs are not languages >and are not intended to be languages, in that their inventors never seriously >expect them to be used by two or more people in communication, much less >learned by a community. This seems especially true of artlangs. I don't >see that this is necessarily a disoparagement of artlangs or artlangers - >it merely >recognizes that the goals are different from those linguists identify as the >basic nbature of language. I have no trouble forswearing criticism of >anything >labelled as an "artlang" because in using that label, the object is >distinguished from that which is studied by linguists.
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.
>Languages which are used for world-building can be called "fictional >languages" >without any problem. By labelling them as "fictional" we do not expect them >to have all the features and details of natlangs. Even if the language in >concept might have all the features, we understand that these details are not >necessarily all described. In most cases, the fictional nature of the culture >using the language ensures that what we see of the fictional language is not >a "code", since fictional authors tend to focus on what is different, and we >see the differences in these languages more clearly.
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. Many of your points have to do with practical efficacy and vocabulary size. 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? 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? -- David _________________________________________ David Durand \ Boston University Computer Science \ Sr. Analyst \ Dynamic Diagrams --------------------------------------------\ MAPA: mapping for the WWW \__________________________