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Re: Telona grammar, part 2

From:Jonathan Knibb <jonathan_knibb@...>
Date:Tuesday, February 12, 2002, 20:16
I smell controversy...  Forgive me for replying to a private email not
addressed to me, but I think Telona's structure may answer some of the

Jim Grossmann wrote:
> Is it wise to construct a syntax in which all--or most--possible sequences > of morphemes constitute syntactically well-formed utterances? > Is it possible that constructing a conlang in this manner would increase > the chances that mistaken utterances would look well-formed, and so > increase misunderstandings among interlocutors?
Good point! That hadn't occurred to me before. Telona does compensate its listeners in other ways, though. I can well imagine that a Telona speaker learning English might complain: 'If there are so many homonyms in English, many of which belong to different syntactic classes, then ambiguous utterances must be pretty frequent. In Telona, of course, we can tell the syntax of the sentence immediately from the pitch accents and operators - but how do English listeners ever disambiguate?' I think the answer is the same in both cases - from context; either discourse context, or just common sense. Every language has ambiguities in the 'langue', and lapses in the 'parole', although Telona, I will admit, balances these with less redundancy than a typical natlang. But that just means that you have to pay a bit more attention to the listener's needs when speaking Telona, by making the context more explicit, making sure to activate a topic before commenting on it, and so on. Lower redundancy in the system means a little more work for both speaker and listener; it's not just the listener's problem. Jesse P. Bangs wrote:
> How could > 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 accept > sentences like this just-created example: > PAST PL SUBJ DAT QUOT fish take bubble bite.
Jim Grossmann wrote:
> As you probably realize, we're talking about sentences that are > *syntactically* well-formed, not necessarily semantically interpretable. > [...] Also, we're not excluding the possibility that word order could > change the meaning of the sentence; we're merely saying that all the > word orders would be grammatical.
Bravo! Exactly right, Jim. But more than that, you, Jesse, seem to have fallen into the same trap as Jim did a couple of posts ago, by assuming that (as in English) the syntax is constrained by, or at least indicated by, the lexical items. In Telona, this is absolutely not the case - for any given length of sentence, there are a certain number of well-formed syntactic configurations, but for each, any lexical item can fit into each slot. For example, there are two possible configurations for a three-word utterance, corresponding to ((A B) C) and (A (B C)), each of which can take any of the three operators in each of the two gaps between the words, giving a total of, er, eighteen possible ways of combining three words in Telona. The point is that any given three-word sentence indicates quite unambiguously which of the eighteen possibilities it illustrates, but it does so in a way which is entirely *independent* of the lexical items themselves. In fact, the operators are indicated by affixes (which may attach to any word), and the nesting structure is indicated by pitch accents (similar comments apply). In fact, over and above similar sentences with different word orders, there are many sets of Telona sentences with *identical* word order (and even operator positions) but different meanings. For example: T: Nála sema loichiwe analo. Ti: nála sema + lochiwe + calo Ei: love (shoot + (watch + girl)) E: The lover shot the guy watching the girl. T: Nala séma loichiwe analo. Ti: nala séma + lochiwe + calo Ei: (love shoot) + (watch + girl) E: The guy who was shooting loved the one watching the girl. T: Nala sema lóichiwe analo. Ti: nala sema + lóchiwe + calo Ei: (love (shoot + watch)) + girl E: The guy shooting the watcher loved the girl. T: Nala sèma lóichiwe analo. Ti: nala sèma + lóchiwe + calo Ei: ((love shoot) + watch)) + girl E: The shooting guy who loved the watcher (also) loved the girl.
> However, if you'd like to challenge this, I'd love to see some examples > of what you're thinking of.
Not aimed at me, I know - but does this fit the bill? Jonathan. 'O dear white children casual as birds, Playing among the ruined languages...' W. H. Auden, 'Hymn to St. Cecilia'