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

From:Tim May <butsuri@...>
Date:Friday, May 6, 2005, 10:29
J. 'Mach' Wust wrote at 2005-05-06 00:55:46 (-0400)
 > On Fri, 6 May 2005 01:11:15 +0100, Tim May <butsuri@...> wrote:
 > >J. 'Mach' Wust wrote at 2005-05-05 19:13:37 (-0400)
 > > > On Thu, 5 May 2005 13:25:37 -0700, Sai Emrys <saizai@...> wrote:
 > > >
 > > >
 > > > >merely because it hasn't been done before in a natural
 > > > >language. If you can argue that there is something to the *idea*
 > > > >that is impractical, impossible, or unsuited to human cognition,
 > > > >that would be an interesting argument. But your argument is
 > > > >essentially that it is not a code as [nearly] all other writing
 > > > >systems are... and that's a chiken-and-egg.
 > > >
 > > > It's a question of how the terms are defined. With my linguistical
 > > > background, I'm used to think of language as primary communication
 > > > system of humans that can be observed either as speech (spoken
 > > > language) or as writing (written language).
 > > >
 > >
 > >I think what's being overlooked in this discussion is sign language,
 > >which is accepted as language by most linguists despite having nothing
 > >to do with speech.  By analogy, it's at least possible to imagine an
 > >exclusively written language.
 > No I haven't, as you will see in my first message to this topic.
 > That's another reason why I prefer the term "language" instead of
 > "speech", since it embraces both the vocal and the signed
 > varieties. Of course there are exclusively written
 > languages. Today, Latin is (almost) exclusively written, for
 > instance, and so are most languages created here. There are more
 > exclusively spoken languages, I guess.

Forgive me, I have failed to be clear.  That's not at all what I meant
by "exclusively written language".  All those languages are spoken
languages that just happen not to have many, or any, speakers.  To the
extent that people learn them at all, they learn phonological forms
and an orthography through which these are expressed*.  What I meant
to say is: if the human "language faculty" (however we choose to
interpret that phrase) can operate not only in the realm of sounds and
gestures of the vocal tract, but also in the realm of manual gestures,
it may be able to operate in other realms also.  It might, in
principle, be possible for a child to acquire, under certain very
peculiar circumstances, a written language as a first language.  The
graphemes of this language would not, at least in the mind of this
child, have any relation to any spoken or signed form. The child's
linguistic thought would operate in terms of these graphical units.
This is all pure speculation, of course, and utterly unlikely to
happen in the real world (we can perhaps imagine a fiendish linguistic
laboratory in which a child is raised under controlled conditions by
sign-painting robots).  We would then have a written form which was
fundamentally a language in its own right, analogous to spoken or
signed language rather than to its transcription.

Do you agree that this is something that is imaginable?

To put it another way: I don't know how to define human language,
exactly, but I know it when I see it.  I agree that music and
mathematical notation don't really count.  But since both spoken and
signed language do count, I know that the medium of transmission is
not fundamental to the definition.  So I can imagine a written
language that is no more a representation of spoken language than sign

* With the possible exception of profoundly deaf learners who have
  never learned any spoken language.


David Starner <prosfilaes@...>
Ray Brown <ray.brown@...>