Re: Changing worldviews with language (LONG)
|From:||Muke Tever <mktvr@...>|
|Date:||Monday, November 4, 2002, 13:30|
From: "Harald Stoiber" <hstoiber@...>
> The question is: Can this conceptual achievment be taken in one step? Can wesimply
> create an entirely novel tool of expression which will open up our minds whenused?
> But if we experience what George Orwell so brilliantly described in 1984 whenhe
> introduced the term "oldthinker", if we remain oldthinkers in our freshlycreated
> personal "newspeak" this would require us to design several other"approximant"
> languages in order to approach the conceptual barrier a bit more carefully. Ifnouns
> should all vanish then we would then have to do away with them gradually andnot at
> once - just as an example.
Unless you happen to be Nootka :-)
> Watching the conlang list for a while now I have noticed that far to fewconsiderations
> have been articulated about previously unseen ways of structuring the scope ofgrammar.
> People tend to stick with the well-known word classes and principles (liketransivity
> etc.) because they might see language as new sounds.
Transitivity isn't always a constant. There are several trigger languages and
conlangs in existence, and these are sometimes described as having no transitive
> Thus, they converse about phonology.
I converse about phonology because it's the easiest part to describe (and one of
the parts that comes first when conlanging...)
> They love the visual implications of new languages. Hence, they debate about
> writing systems and scripts. But what about the grammatical implications of
Those go into more work. If *every* interesting word people went through was
posted to the list, we'd be a bit busier, I think :)
But these are things that have to get thought about.. in the last weekly vocab
exercise was a phrase like "What kind of ..." and I started translating it with
an "of which kind ..." construct, and got into making a word for "kind" when I
realized "kind" can't be a noun in Trentish, because "kind" doesn't have the
properties of Trentish nouns [no bounded or implied quantity, for the major
part]. So I made it into a verb (something like "classify") and nominalized it
... actually I think I may have done it the wrong way, too. I'll have to go
look at it again.
> One trivial example that just came to my mind:
> "I eat pizza at the restaurant."
> Here I am not talking about peculiar details of the English language. What Iwill point
> out are two philosophical distinctions which are quite interesting from alanguage
> designer's point of view:
> The prepositional phrase "at the restaurant" obviously specifies a location.But which
> location does it specify? We are used to assume that the pizza and the eatingperson are
> in the same location. Consequently, we lazily specifiy one location for three(!)
> parts of the utterance: the subject "I", the object "pizza" and thepresent-tense activity
Because they *do* all take place in the same location.
> Wouldn't it sound odd to our conceptual conditioning if we heard somethinglike
> "I at the hotel eat at the airport pizza at the restaurant"? So, what we havehere is a
> typical out-law situation. Language as we know it (and as it is duplicated bymany
> conlangers) is strictly and neatly adapted to this physical (so-called)reality as we
> experience it all day during our lives. When it comes to metaphysics orunusual
> disposition of whatever kind, then conventional language has to become fuzzybecause
> its scope of ideas and concepts has been exceeded.
No, it doesn't. "I at the hotel eat at the airport pizza at the restaurant"
only sounds odd because of the semantics. (and as mentioned, can be made to
make sense if it is an airport hotel's restaurant..)
The analogous sentence "I among many others eat with great reluctance the pizza
on the checkered tablecloth", which doesn't have any problems shows that it
*can* be done. Or, "I in my suede trousers eat in a restaurant pizza from a
> Another consideration that took me some weeks to realize can be found in theway a
> preposition works. To clarify my thoughts I will formally define a predicatenamed
> "eat" using the following argument structure: "eat(x,y)". "x" is the activeparticipant
> who performs the process of eating and "y" is the passive participant whoexperiences
> the process of being eaten. With the location description "at the restaurant"we have
> two distinct ways to represent this information. First we could of courseexpand our
> freshly defined predicate "eat", thus: eat(x,y,z) - whereas "z" is thelocation where the
> eating takes place. Viewing it this way, a preposition adds to the valency ofthe verb.
> It provides extra details about the state or activity - as do agents,patients, indirect
> objects and so on.
Indeed, and some languages get by with a larger number of cases and a fewer
number of prepositions.
> A second way to formally express my example sentence can be derived from quite
> a different mental perspective. If we are to describe location details of theverb, then
> why not modify the verb using a verb. Or in a purpose-oriented predicatenotation:
For that matter you might as well make the preposition a verb and say:
> I know that this is rather an unorthodox notation but here I wish to apply apredicate to
> a predicate's core: I want to predicate the verb itself which excludes anyarguments.
> Implicitly, I assume that the "result" of "at" will be a modified "eat"predicate, then
> containing location information as well. Modifying verbs is the essence ofadverbs.
> Of course, we all know that "at the restaurant" is a locative adverbialphrase.
In English it is.
In Trentish you could say (I'm too lazy to make up the vocab here, but the
grammar outline looks like:)
(Where "TOP" is topic marker, and "1/1" is observer/agent, both of whom are
The central idea in this sentence is that we are "in a restaurant", after which
we have the verb, which means something like "I know I am eating pizza".
How does that look? [Note this isn't necessarily so... one can just have
"in-restaurant" without the topic marker, and it'll be the verb that has the
centerness, making "in-restaurant" a regular adverb.]
> If we wanted a most universal and generic language with a lexicon full ofconcepts,
> then why restrict those concepts by any pre-defined valency? What aboutagentive,
> patientive and focus adverbs, for example? Clearly, it will take one major
> sacrifice from us, namely convenience of speech. But if we can dispense withthat
> we could represent _all_ arguments as adverbs. Check this: No core argumentsfor
> any verb!
We already have verbs that work that way. Of course in English the grammar is
stronger than the semantics, meaning a "dummy subject" is put in, but there are
the weather verbs:
[I removed "it's raining" because it has standard _metaphorical_ objects, e.g.
"cats and dogs".]
Spanish, being pro-drop, gets away with it even better:
Nieve. (and not: *él/ella nieve)
> And if we'd like to get in fact perverse, then whatever verb occurs in a
> sentence... isn't it just a modification of universal existence? Isn't it justanother
> adverb of "to be"?
Not necessarily a modification. A sentence like "Nothing worth mentioning in
this sentence happened" doesn't modify much at all... >:)
Er, seriously... I think it has been mentioned here that some language pretty
much only does have the verb "to be" as a fully functional verb.
Certainly English is along this road: outside of semantic meaningfulness, the
"auxiliary" verbs (be, do, will, have...) have more features than the main verbs
themselves in that, e.g., they can handle negation, they can cliticize to
pronouns, they can be pro-verbs...
> Thus, concluding my wild philosophical speculations: *g*
> One way to build a universal grammar could be a corybantic system of nested
> verb modifiers (actually partially exceeding the scope of common adverbs).
[Ah, but how are they verb modifiers if they have no verb to modify?]
 ObConlang: On that Trentish feature:
1/1 = "I know I am eating pizza"
1/2 = "I know you are "" "" "
2/1 = "You know I am ..."
3B/3A = "He-B knows he-A is..."
3A/3A = "He-A knows he [himself] is...
A "frameverb" can be added, indicating a different attitude than "know"
in-restaurant=TOP pizza-eat-1/1 think
"I think it's in the restaurant I'm eating pizza"
i-r=T p-e-1/1 which?
"I wonder which restaurant I'm eating pizza in?"
= "Which restaurant am I eating pizza in?"
i-r=T p-e-1/1 CAUS
"In this restaurant I caused myself to eat pizza..."