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Re: Bootstrapping a cooperative conlang

From:Gary Shannon <fiziwig@...>
Date:Saturday, November 17, 2007, 23:33
--- MorphemeAddict@WMCONNECT.COM wrote:

> In a message dated 11/17/2007 3:44:56 PM Central Standard Time, > fiziwig@YAHOO.COM writes: >
> You're talking about the word "mouse", as if that had an exact equivalent in > all other natlangs. Such is not the case. Without all those extra details, > many of the nuances of the word for mouse are going to be missing, and your > hosts in Nepal may be as confused by your request for a word for mouse as the > > natives of Australia were when asked for the word for kangaroo (their answer > was > "I don't know"). >
Very true. Bear in mind, however, that I am not using this dictionary to describe an existing natlag, or even to make connections between one language and another, but to teach a new conlang, totally independent of whatever categories do or do not exist in the student's natlang. Even if the student did not have a word in his natlang for "kangaroo", this student could still learn the conlang word for "kangaroo" by associating the picture with the new conlang word. (I'm confidant that you, yourself, learned the word "kangaroo" before you had any deep understanding of the "real meaning" of kangaroo, and further that you probably first learned the word from looking at a picture.) An infant first learning English can point and say "doggy" before knowing very much about what "doggy" really means. And at the early stages of learning a new language, "point and say" is a good place to start. Also, a picture would suffice if and only if the conlang had a word that corresponded to what the picture represented. If this is not the case then using a picture would not suffice, and a more complete explication would be necessary. So I am not arguing for using pictures for everything, but for using pictures only in those cases where pictures of concrete objects can be used to connect a student's prior world-knowledge with a new conlang word.
> None of the information in Wierzbicka's explication of "mouse" belongs in an > encyclopedia. The information is inherent in the meaning of "mouse".
This is obviously true. But the purpose of this dictionary is not to teach the meaning of mouse, but to teach which word to associate with the meaning that is assumed to be known. There is no single English word for "all flying creatures whether insect, bird or mammal", however, with the proper selection of pictures I'm sure you would understand the meaning of the conlang word "flizabut" even though "flizabut" has no English translation. Clearly, as the language grows and becomes more advanced, dictionaries could be written that are more like conventional dictionaries in that they do give the meaning of the word to a person who is fluent in this conlang, and has no prior experience with the concept.
> Virtually all modern dictionaries, though, do include lots of information > that properly belongs in an encyclopedia, while omitting a large part of the > true meaning of the words. > > stevo >
Don't forget that the purpose of a dictionary is purely utilitarian. Regardless of their theoretical shortcomings, I've always found them very useful. ;-) Also of interest is that fact that ordinary dictionary definitions are circular, whereas the goal of Wierzbicka's work is to devise a non-circular dictionary. For practical every-day use, however, a circular mono-lingual dictionary is perfectly acceptable to someone who already knows the language. In short, it is my contention that a project like this should be guided by pragmatics rather than by theory. If it works, then it's an acceptable way to do it. --gary