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Re: Telona grammar, part 2

From:Jesse Bangs <jaspax@...>
Date:Tuesday, February 12, 2002, 8:07
> > Actually, I think the better question is: is this possible? How
> > one conceivably make a language in which ANY sequence of morphemes is > > well-formed? If such a language were to exist, it would have to
> > sentences like this just-created example: > > > pa toko rana but gaw dom pes hama zeju. > > PAST PL SUBJ DAT QUOT fish take bubble bite. > > %% Past and subjunctive markers could occur anywhere in a > sentence without impairing understanding. Also, the target language
> question would not necessarily have dative, plural, or "QUOT"
(referring to
> direct quotes?) morphemes.
Good points, all. And yes, the QUOT particle is used to introduce direct quotes (my conlang, Yivríndil, has one, which is why I probably thought of this. Yivríndil, oddly enough, doesn't have a way to do what we call indirect discourse.) Note, however, that even if a language has no morphemes for dative and plural, it must have ways of expressing these ideas.
> So let's look at what's left, which I'll > render strictly in glosses, since this is a nonce language. > > FISH TAKE BUBBLE BITE > > As you probably realize, we're talking about sentences that are > *syntactically* well-formed, not necessarily semantically > interpretable.
I overlooked this initially. An important point. And in fact, once I look at this sentence with an open mind, I *can* interpret it: "The fish takes a bubble and bites it."
> Also, we're not excluding the possibility that word order could > change the meaning of the sentence; we're merely saying that all the
> orders would be grammatical. Also, we are not excluding a lexicon
> into two or more word-classes (like nouns vs. verbs).
I think a divided lexicon would provide you with the most problems, actually--even though I think every natlang has more than one lexical category. This may be the intractable problem--how does this language interpret strings of words in the same class? If I say: FISH BUBBLE ABSOLUTION COW CALCULUS . . . what relationship can these elements hold? The easy answer, which I consider a cop out, is to say that it's a conjoined set of existential sentences: "There exist fish, a bubble, absolution, a cow, and calculus." You can obviously deal with verb strings the same way: UNDERTAKE CARRY SCRIBBLE BLEND CONFUSE means "Someone undertakes to carry and scribble and blend and confuse." But this isn't interesting, or even all that unusual. If a friend walked up to me and simply named a bunch of nouns, I'd probably say "What are you talking about?", but I wouldn't consider his sentence ungrammatical. The real challenge would be to come up with something in which long strings of nouns have an interesting structure and still are interpretable. In fact, there *is* a class of natlangs in which any or nearly string of words is grammatical--pidgins. Early stages of pidgins are known for their loose word-order principles and lack of grammatical operators, which is strikingly like this. A lot of pidgin sentences do essentially boil down to a couple of nouns and a couple of verbs thrown together at random, and with enough context they're still understandable. But this feature is what makes pidgins unstable and primitive--and most importantly, this property is never retained in the creole. When pidgins are nativized, they suddenly start rejecting some sentences as ungrammatial. So I retract my earlier objection, and offer another one. It's perfectly possible to create a language in which every sentence is syntactially well-formed, but it would be an unstable and non-native grammar. You're still welcome to try, though! Jesse S. Bangs Pelíran jaspax@ "Skin and tragedy always attract a crowd." --Pedro the Lion


Jim Grossmann <steven@...>