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Re: LUNATIC again

From:David G. Durand <dgd@...>
Date:Monday, November 9, 1998, 16:02
At 9:09 AM -0400 11/8/98, Logical Language Group wrote:
>David Durand: >>I claim that language is like baldness, only more so, since it's >>multidimensional, over things like number of L1/L@ users, fluency of >>speakers, potential speakability (in terms of human grammatical >>capabilities), compositionality of semantics, richeness of vocabulary, >>applicability to daily life, etc. > >Fine, but English language as used by most people supports binary thinking >and not fuzzy thinking. Either something is a duck or it is not. This >type of thinking has crossed into all avenues of life (especially politics). >If you want English terms to be understood fuzzily, you have to be very >wordy and careful.
Maybe. I'm not very convinced by this linguistic argument, since I've presented reasonable English definitions of at least 4 axes of variation, all of which have ranges. There's a range of each one where being in that range on all axes makes something _unequivocally_ a language: as more and more axes go off the norm, the equivocation begins: differently for different people. Since the everyday sense of language is so broad (any system that allows for communication between living things), we should be inclusive in how we use the term, but precise in fixing the precise meanings in question for a lnaguage under discussion. If we state the size of speaker base, goals, semantic structure, etc. of a language, then it should be clear where we stand. Actually, for most discussions I've seen on this list, it's pretty clear where these things stand. It's only when people judge other people's project by _their own_ goals, rather than the ones of the project, that we run into misunderstandings. This philosophical discussion can go on forever. We're closing in on Wittgenstein's arguments about private language, of which I was reading a resume' in Steiner's "After Babel" just last night. But this will move us rather far afield. I think we're converging on a notion of tolerance that I approve, as well as seeing some eyes opening as well, which is also good!
>>Just as we don't require a code to be >>used, to tell if it can encode the messages we intend to send, we already >>know enough to tell if a proposed system is _adequate_ to be spoken by >>human beings. > >The proof is in the pudding, so to speak. We have claimed that Lojban is >adequate, but we have felt it necessary to prove it. And our credibility >was >greatly enhanced when we did so. People want to SEE that a language is >being used in order to believe it CAN be used.
That's fine. I think that the need for such proof is relatively small in this forum. Most of us have had the experience of creating a system _adequate_ to communication, if impoverished (in grammar or vocabulary, or both). We _know_ that it's possible to create such a system. For that matter, Esperanto is an existence proof in itself that language creation is not impossible. Given that, your insistence on these matters is odd _in this forum_. (A separate thread to my definitional quibbling: even if you did create a workable def., I'd then claim that it's inappropriate.) Now, some languages (like Rikchik or Jacques Guy's center-embedding language) seem like they might be beyond human speakability. Rikchik _can't_ be spoken by humands because we lack tentacles. The semantics is odd enough that it's arguable whether anyone would learn to be fluent in even literary Rikchik. Jacques' langauge seems to require processing power that the human brain just can't apply to language understanding: a human native speaker, or even fluent second language speaker would be very surprising. On the other hand, with appropriate vocabulary, it could be decoded and produced by humans -- it would satisfy the communicative functions, if not the ability to be fluently used.
>>That's exactly the question you had to answer in finalizing Lojban. You >>certainly didn't have to reach a critical mass of speakers to know that. > >What a critical mass of speakers proves is that the language has a chance of >continuing beyond the inventor. (critical mass means of course that you have >a self-sustaining interaction). Given the tendency of conlangs to not >survive their inventors, and indeed usually to not be learned except by them, >I recognize legitimate skepticism in people who sayor imply "not another >conlang".
Your desire to prove feasibility to others doesn't change the fact that _you knew_ that it was adequate. Your desire for the language to continue to be used is separate from whether the abstract system you created (grammar, vocabulary and semantic explanations) is powerful enough to be a language.
>>It happens. As far as I can tell, _very_ rarely. What usually happens is >>that such people are ignored, but may be noticed decades later when >>external factors lead to the rediscovery of their ideas by others. Then >>someone remembers that it's not _really_ new. Continental drift is my >>canonical example here. > >Things may be changing here. Discover magazine, for example, tends to focus >and promote scientists who in general are not of the mainstream of their >field, who make new discoveries. In part because their stories are more >interesting to the non-scientist. Now Doiscover magazine has little >weight in the scientific world, but it is read more widely by the general >public than any scientific journal, andthus has a chance of feeding the >political arena surrounding scientific funding.
Being published is no guarantee of any eventual acceptance. Velikovsky was in print forever (probably still is). It still won't get taken seriously. Of course I think V. is much less serious than Lojban, but popular press attention is widely denigrated in the science community. Many feel that because the popular press is so generally ignorant, it should be ignored. (Others point out the stupidity in intentionally ignoring popular channels in disseminating "real science").
>>I don't see you, or the semi-mythical close-minded linguist, as the arbiter >>of what the word language means. > >We all can play Humpty Dumpty. %^) Language is luckily not very proprietary. >But most people rely either on dictionaries or experts for their definitions >and categorizations of phenomena.
Actually, most people rely on usage, not on either of those two things. My dictionary (AHD college) has 10 meanings (or usages) for the word language, including verbal and written utterances, animal comminication, mathematical notations, programming languages, etc... The term is a broad one. Your stubborn insistence on a particular (imperfect) definition of the term is what I'm arguing against.
>Valid point. But seemy discussion of the implications of "invented" (which >Humpty Dumpty can redefine as easily as any other word. But not if he wants >to communicate with others who do not share his definition).
It was nice, bot not convincing to me. Nik Taylor ( I think) pointed out that passive participle might be a better analysis of the usage in this context. Interstingly, Payne notes that passive nominalizations and perfective and past verb forms are very frequently related.
>>The question "Is it a language?" is a red herring, luring us into extended >>argument to no purpose. For language constructors the definition of >>language needs to be very broad, but also differentiated in ways for which >>many linguists have little use. >> >>This isn't sci.lang. > >True. I admit to often forgetting this, especially since the linguistic >sophistication on this list is sometimes higher than the newsgroup.
Gee, thanks. I suspect it's just the general S/N difference between lists and news, though. News, is, by the way, a very bad way to reach a scientific community -- there are so many idiots on netnews that people set their "bozo filters" much higher, if they read it at all. There's an extra burden of proof you bear in most electronic media, on that account, but especially on netnews.
>>This is true. My question is why assume that they _didn't_ do this. And, in >>any case, it's still a different language if the grammar is different, even >>if the word-concepts map one-to-one. > >I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on this. Lojban is Loglan, despite a >completely replaced lexicon and a redesigned grammar. JCB would take your >side %^).
By different grammar, I mean, especially, if it grammaticalizes different aspects of the semantic space. If you just inverted word order in English, I'd still call it a relex(ification). If you remove tense, add genders (or other such syntactico-semantic stuff), then you're moving along the continuum to a separate language. This is part of the issue with Black American English, since many basic semantic distinctions are different (aspect versus tense, etc.). This means that many "mistakes" are actually rule-governed distinctions with meaning in those dialects. The (approximate) mutual intelliibility of these dialects increases friction, in this case.
>>At least I would say so, because even if the volcabulary is similar or >>identical in semantics, the meaning of complete utterances my be very >>different, depending on what is grammaticalized. These things compound as >>language forms become larger, as well. > >That's plausible. Of course it requires that there exist text embodying such >longer forms to demonstrate that differences exist.
I don't necessarily believe that: the communicative functions need to be expressed somehow, and they will be. We aspire to create all the texts that would fix these details, but I think that they need not be created to be a langauge. English is not entirely fixed, because people extend it all the time, invent new narrative styles (Joyce did, certainly), invent new words, and so forth. Each speaker uses the grammar as they have perceived it (there's a little work apparently showing that the detail grammar of English varies much more than one would think, even person-to-person). That grammar will be used so as to express that they need to express. It's irrelevant that an Artlang may not have realized all it's possible styles, or have picked "preferred" solutions for resolving its ambiguities _when they are worth resolving_. Once the system has a certain ciritical mass of _grammatical rules_ it can continue to be extended from within. That state is one that art- and aux- and log-langers alike do, and _can_ aspire to. Whether the next steps to actual usage, actual literature, and actual L1 learning ever take place is an issue of Language acceptance, not a property of the symbol system itself. That's why I will continue to use "language" in its common meaning of "system of symbols for communication." Adopting your definition is impractical, as it' leaves me without a needed term: the one that unites conlangs, natlangs, auxlangs, etc.
>>Consider nonce-language "English-prime." It has 3 aspects >>--More-- >>(perfect/imperfect/repetitive), no tense, and no number distinctions. Most >>individual sentences will seem quite close in English and English-prime. > >I would have to understand better what you mean by those aspects, since >English aspect is so unlike Russian aspect which is how I have finally come >to understand perfect/imperfect.
Assume it's just like russian. That's my point.
>But you can look at "E-Prime", that variety of English that eschews the >semantics of identity. Is it a separate language from English? I would say >that it is only a code, and indeed from the articles I have read on the >subject, people who speak it have generally learned "recodings" of speech >in order to avoid the copula. The result is ofthen that noone realizes >they are >speaking anythimng other than standard English. The grammar has changed, at >least by some definitions of grammar, by elimination of the copula. But >in another sense, only part of the lexicon, a very small part has been >changed. I >don't think that whether you look upon the change as grammatical or lexical >makes any difference to the definition - E Prime is still a code, and I would >not call it a distinct "language" from English. This may merely be close- >minded prejudice on my part, just as my reaction to Glosa %^).
That E-prime is unconvincing to me because I think it's just paraphrasing around one grammatical construction, and preserving the semantics whole. I think count Korzybski (sp?) and his followers have confused grammar for semantics. My point is that I could use existing English words, but change the semantics of English discourse fairly heavily by changing the set of semantic notions grammaticalized in the new system. How that lanaguage would evolve is an interesting question: but we can clearly see some of the things that would need to be addressed in that style to solve everyday communicative problems. -- David _________________________________________ David Durand \ Boston University Computer Science \ Sr. Analyst \ Dynamic Diagrams --------------------------------------------\ MAPA: mapping for the WWW \__________________________