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Re: Non-linear / full-2d writing systems?

From:Schuyler <conlang-l@...>
Date:Monday, May 23, 2005, 23:49
> Welcome aboard :)
yee haw!
>> Some theoretical points: >> 1. Anything finitely representable (including anything with finite inputs) >> can be represented by a 1-dimensional string. > > True - tho some representations are more easily 'enstringed' than others - > but 'tis always possible. But often the un-stringed form is easier to read. > For example, the small binary tree below is probably easier to read (if > you have a monospaced font) than the string below it: > > non-linear > / \ > / \ > full-2d writing > / > / > system > > tr( tr( nil, full-2d, nil), non-linear, tr( tr( nil, system, nil), writing, > nil))
But another stringed version is "non-linear/full-2d writing systems" which is as easy to read. I think most of the benefit of your binary tree example is in the _potential_ to be a tree with multiple branches.
> As for thoughtwebs, of course they can be enstringed but I am not sure the > result would be readily readable by humans. > >> There's no use making a >> definition that says something is irreducible to a 1d string. > > When Sai wrote "not linearizable without loosing damn near everything in > the process in a way that's cognitively irrecoverable" I did not > understand him to mean that it could not be put into a string with > appropriate parentheses & other symbols without those losses. I understood > in the context of this thread to mean that it could not be put into a form > suitable for 'ordinary' spoken language.
I understand--I think your intuitive definition is a good one, but it might be difficult to get much more precise (if that's desirable!). Ordinary spoken language is very versatile--the symbols are linear, but they use conjunctions, abstract words and pronouns to represent texts which can be very non-linear.
> What I understand is this: > - the linear writing of the past 5 millennia has been recording of spoken > (or speakable) language; as the latter is obviously linear, therefore the > representation of it has been so. > - many people do not think in words or do not think entirely words and > find that 'words get in the way'; they find there is inevitable loss when > words have to be use. > - Sai suggested that a non-linear and fully 2d writing system might be > more appropriate for representing thoughts without 'words getting in the > way'.
I'm going to keep thinking about this, because bringing this into 2d could be beautiful, but so far, this is how I see it: If writing relies on common signifiers between writer and reader, then the only thing that gets in the way more than words is NOT having words. There are ways to increase the degree of freedom/ambiguity with words: prefixes, metaphors, inventing new words, inventing new symbols (e.g. smileys, :-). All of these can be done in a linear writing system just as easily. If anything, a 2d writing system will 'get in the way' more so than a 1d writing system, because implicitly a 2d writing system pre-defines the axes in some way. That is, whether 2d writing is defined by axis (Remi's example from May 8th), intersection (like mine), branch, loop or some combination of these, definitions will make 'free' use of the 2d space less possible, not more.
>> 2. With that, I'd like to propose a more general definition of 2d-writing >> that turns some of the past debate in this thread into a variable of the >> writing system: The loops and branches can be most common in a writing >> system at either: >> a. the word level (including iconographic languages, >> like cuneiform and Chinese) >> b. the phrase level (a la sentence diagramming) >> OR >> c. the sentence/multi-phrase level. >> >> I'm most interested in (b) and (c), because the advantages therein have >> gone largely unexploited. > > Yes, but these all relate to structures of spoken language. Indeed (b) & > (c) we used to do to some extent half a century ago at school in our 'box > analysis' with its different types of lines and where the placing of boxes > signified different grammatical categories. Tho I admit you have taken > things rather further :) > > But this is not representing the 'thought behind the words'.
I don't think there's a way to get around discretely recognizable symbols (using the term generally, so they can be stretched, or some 'symbols' could be the relational placement of other symbols, etc.) in 'writing.' Before representing the 'thought behind the words' you need to know what kind of structures (nouns, verbs, etc) 'pure thought' operates in.
> OK - yes, I know you are wanting to broaden the scope of this thread. But > (b) & (c) is significantly, I think, different from what I thought was the > original intent of the thread. I could well come up with a scheme for > (b) & (c) by the June 30th deadline - but not for what I understand was > the sort of writing system Sai had in mind. That is rather more difficult.
Maybe I'm interpreting Sai's post more broadly, but this is from the original post from May 3: By "full-2d", what I mean is something akin to a thoughtweb - rather than a serialized / linear sequence of characters, it would interconnect concepts in 2d (or greater) space. For example, copular forms - equation, adjectives, subset, etc. - could probably all be written by connecting two (symbolic) ideas with a line of a particular kind, representing their relation. I read Sai's "lines" as non-linear verbs ('is equal to', 'is in', 'is like', etc.) By (b) & (c) I really mean to describe 2d writing systems' 'resolution'--are the 'words' themselves created by 2d relations (axes/branches/loops) or is the 2d-ness at the phrase level (e.g. connecting adjectives and verbs to nouns; i.e. (b)), OR is the 2d-ness connecting complete 'events' (e.g. axes represent time and space, perhaps).
>> Ray Brown wrote: >>> 2d writing for me becomes interesting only if it can achieve something >>> which our hitherto linear writing is not able to do. Mapping thought >>> independently of (spoken) language seems something that might lend itself >>> 'naturally' to 2d representation; and such representation would IMO of >>> necessity be non-linear. >> >> 2. Personally, I'm interested in human-usable 2d writing, > > So am I. As far as I know, humans do think - and it seems that quite a few > humans think independently of spoken language. Indeed, it is difficult to > see how the system I refer to above could be read by anything else other > than humans. > >> which adds a >> host of constraints. With that, I think 2d writing can be interesting >> even if it doesn't do something unique that 1d writing can also do. It >> just needs to do something *better*. > > If it can be shown to do something better, then fair enough. But it needs > to be significantly better if it is to persuade others IMO. > >> 3. Some things that I think 2d writing can do better than 1d: >> a. comparing abstract concepts or arguments to each other. >> b. Since computers have 2d screens, 2d writing is a perfect opportunity >> to add computer-context additions to the writing system. Generally, this >> relates to the easy mutability of computer texts--so change-logs, and >> identifying many authors in a threaded text (like conlang-l archives, for >> instance :-) >> c. Giving a text map-like qualities--this is something that outline >> form does for linear writing systems. 2d writing can give us the >> opportunity to 'zoom in' and 'zoom out' >> d. Related to (c) is that related ideas have another axis to nuzzle up >> to each other. >> e. 2d gives more freedom to the reader in what order they want to read >> the text. 1d largely gives a single order. 2d gives at least as many >> ways as there are loops and branches (and more likely 2^n ways). > > This is all very well, but it seems to me to be concerned with the > _presentation_ of texts largely through computerized medium. I must admit > that you examples are 'map-like' But the ways that texts are currently > presented with hyperlinks, bookmarks, thumbnails etc achieve quite a lot > of this. It could be enhanced possibly by improving our current linear > systems.
Yes, but I think there's a limitation in linear additions because you're still 'browsing blind'--you don't see where the hyperlink goes until you click it; there's no standardized way to build up meta-information about a site or document. In any case, it's possible that linear solutions can be just as good, but I'm working these into my system, so I'm partial :-)
> In "Language and Symbolic Systems", the Chinese linguist Yuen Ren Chao > makes the interesting observation: > "One does to be sure take in English by words and sentences in one glance > too, but since there is less individuality in the shapes of the letters, > the words do not stand out as prominently as in a text of Chinese > characters. In looking for something in a page of english you have to look > for _it_, but in doing the same on a page of characters the ting looked > for, if it is on the page, will stare _you_ in the face." > Then later on the same page he writes: > "I often speculate whether an ideal system of writing would not be some > golden mean between the unwieldy thousands of arbitrary units and the > paltty few letters of the Latin alphabet. To make a wild guess at an > optimum number of symbols will come out to a list of roughly > 170 symbols, which seems to be a list of manageable size." > > Later in the book, he writes: > ".... my guess for an ideal system of visual and auditory symbols for > general purposes of speech and thought will involve neither extreme > paucity in elementary units nor the extreme luxury of thousands of them, > but probably about 200 monosyllabic symbols, such that a string of 'seven > plus or minus two' of them can be easily grasped in one span of attention. > " > > Unfortunately, Yuen Ren Chao does not elaborate how a system of 170 to 200 > basic symbols will work. I have asked if anyone on this list could imagine > how such a system might work, but have not had any workable response.
OT, but wouldn't syllable lists be on that order?
> It seems to me really that _three_ separate issues here: > 1. A non-linear fully 2d representation of thought, independent of (spoken) > language. > 2. Full 2d writing per_se and what it might achieve. > 3. An optimal writing system for ordinary spoken/ speakable language > (whether a 'natural' language or a constructed one). > > Obviously there's some overlap between (1) and (2), and between (2) and (3) > - but they do seem to me to be separate issues. > >> My 2d writing system was developed somewhat before I knew I wanted to do >> all these things, so I'm still working on including them in a way that is >> satisfiably integrated. > > Even if I don't go along with everything, it will certainly be interesting > to see how your system does work out and how it integrates. > > Good luck!
cheers! sky
> > Ray > =============================================== > > > =============================================== > "A mind which thinks at its own expense will always > interfere with language." J.G. Hamann, 1760 >


Ray Brown <ray.brown@...>