Re: Non-linear / full-2d writing systems?
|From:||Ray Brown <ray.brown@...>|
|Date:||Monday, May 23, 2005, 18:12|
On Sunday, May 22, 2005, at 07:21 , Schuyler wrote:
Welcome aboard :)
Certainly interesting - I've only skimmed through it and must find time
too look at the material more carefully (even tho it will be substantially
updated. Your claim to its being non-linear seems well founded & it is
clearly 2d :)
> Excuse me if any of this is redundant, because I've read a good amount of
> the thread, but it's enormous!
> 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:
tr( tr( nil, full-2d, nil), non-linear, tr( tr( nil, system, nil), writing,
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.
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
> 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)
> 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'.
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.
> 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
> 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
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 ........it 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.
It seems to me really that _three_ separate issues here:
1. A non-linear fully 2d representation of thought, independent of (spoken)
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.
"A mind which thinks at its own expense will always
interfere with language." J.G. Hamann, 1760