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Re: Stack-based syntax (was: affixes)

From:Jörg Rhiemeier <joerg_rhiemeier@...>
Date:Tuesday, February 22, 2005, 20:34

On Tue, 22 Feb 2005 18:38:22 +0000,
Ray Brown <ray.brown@...> wrote:

> On Monday, February 21, 2005, at 08:12 , Jörg Rhiemeier wrote: > > > Hallo! > > > > On Sun, 20 Feb 2005 19:09:57 +0000, > > Ray Brown <ray.brown@...> wrote: > > > >> On Saturday, February 19, 2005, at 11:01 , # 1 wrote: > [snip] > >> I am strongly of the opinion that if one is going to construct a truly > >> stack-based syntax one simply has to think in terms quite different from > >> traditional western 'parts of speech'. > > > > Maybe. Fith still has nouns and verbs, though. But at least, > > adjectives and adverbs are one and the same in Fith. The difference > > is merely what is on top the stack, an NP or a clause. > > Yes, I have now looked at Fith. I was writing in general terms about how I > perceived a stack-based syntax.
> Fith does indeed have a part of speech called a 'modifier' which acts as > an adjective if the top of the stack is a NP or as an adverb if it is a VP. > The modifier combines both lexical meaning and also acts as an operator. > I assume this must have some parallel in FORTH. > > I am well acquainted with stacks and their various uses. Probably because > I associate 'stack-based syntax' or LIFO syntax with the evaluation of > 'Reverse Polish' expressions, I would prefer operators and lexical items > to be kept distinct.
Comparisons between human languages (or languages of some other sort of sapient beings; we definitely go beyond *human* languages when discussing stack-based languages) and computer programming languages are always problematic. I have heard of a grammar of Vietnamese which describes the language in terms of "classes" and "methods"; obviously done by an object-oriented programmer on the rampage ;-)
> >>> Articles would also work that way to tell the definiteness of the noun > >> > >> _Many_ languages do not have articles. I believe in fact the majority do > >> not. So I think one needs to ask whether they would figure at all. > > > > Yep. I think Fith has articles, though, which are indeed unary > > operators. > > It does indeed & they are unary operators - but their use is optional, > which is not the case with unary oprators like NEG or NOT.
> >>> Case marks would act that way with a single noun > >> > >> Surely not! Is not the whole point of case markings that they show how > >> the > >> noun/pronoun _relates_ to some other part of the sentence (usually the > >> verb). As I see it, the the case markings are binary operators. > > > > Yes. Case markers in Fith are binary operators: they take the NP > > on top of the stack and the item (phrase or clause) below it, and > > knit them together. > > Which is exactly what one expects. Although in the version of Fith I > downloaded, it says "Nouns are not marked for number, gender or case.." I > assume we're talking here of postpositions.
Yes. I was referring to the items Jeffrey calls postpositions.
> >>> And the intransitive verbs also because they only affect one noun > >> > >> I do not see how a lexical category like verb should act as an operator. > >> Isn't it something more like: singing, John, NOM = John is singing? > > > > It is a question of semantics. In Fith, verbs are indeed operators. > > Intransitive verbs are unary operators, transitive verbs are binary > > operators. > > You're right. Once again the Fith verb is combining both lexical meaning > and operator.
> > Perhaps more "part-of-speech" thinking involved here > > than there should be. > > I agree entirely. My impression is that the Fithians, tho intelligent > marsupials, are not so very alien from us humans. IMO the language is too > dependent on western IE language structures. It is even necessary, > apparently, for the Fithians to use hand signals in conjunction with > speech to clarify parts of speech - "The exact part of speech is marked by > a hand signal..."
Yes. There is much "SAE" thinking involved in the grammar of Fith, which is misfortunate. And the hand gestures associated with the language are a device which strikes me as hackish and clumsy. It seems as if we could do better. Nevertheless, Fith stands out as a language that breaks out of the corset of human language thinking at least in one regard. I have seen "alien" languages that don't look more alien than, say, Old Albic.
> If I were asked to construct a language with stack-based syntax I would > keep lexical items strictly separate from operators. The lexical items > would be my 'literals' and the idea of 'part of speech' has no meaning in > that context.
Yes, that would be nicer.
> >>> Other operators will simply link two arguments in different ways like > >>> conjonctions and other in more sophisticated ways like transitive verbs. > >> > >> I would see a transitive verb more like: (John NOM (loving ACC Jennifer) > >> ) > >> which in postifix (stack-based) form would be: John, loving, Jennifer, > >> ACC, > >> NOM. > > > > Yes, that's more elegant. Keeping content words and operators nicely > > apart. > > Yes, certainly more what I am used to.
> >> [...] > >> > >>> On Sunday, February 20, 2005, at 03:56 , # 1 wrote: > >> [snip] > >> > >>> Isn't exactly as an SOV, postpositionnal, noun-adj language? > >> > >> IMO no - not exactly. Certainly such a language might be a good place to > >> start. > > > > A stack-based language is not only "not exactly" an "SOV, > > postpositional, > > noun-adj language", it is *not at all*. > > I agree - I was indulging in typical British litotes,
Of course. I am aware of the fact that _not exactly_ sometimes takes on the meaning `not at all'.
> and I didn't want to > be too discouraging to Max. But you are right - it ain't a SOV at all.
Yes. The term "SOV" is part of a typology meant for the kind of languages humans use, but stack-based languages, even if they happen to have "nouns" and "verbs" like Fith, operate outside that frame, so a resemblance of a stack-based language to an SOV etc. language can only be superficial.
> > It lies wholly outside the > > range of human language structures. A simple clause in a stack-based > > language may perhaps look like one in an SOV, postpositional, noun-adj > > language (as a simple clause in Fith indeed looks like), but that > > resemblance is merely superficial, because the clause is parsed in an > > utterly different way from *any* human language. > > I agree entirely. Unfortunately IMO because Fith is described in terms of > the familiar Latinate 'parts of speech' one can get the impression that > the stack is merely another way of presenting a SOV human language.
Well, I think that even in the concrete case of Fith, it is clear that it isn't. But the terms "noun", "verb", "postposition" etc. are not very well chosen.
> In > fact, as you say, a true stack-based language will be utterly different > from any human language. But it is not easy for us to think in alien terms > :)
Right. And I expect languages of real alien intelligences to be much more bizarre than any science-fictional speculations that have been made so far. We know no non-human sapients and no non-human sapients' languages, so our models of alien languages are inevitably anthropocentric.
> [snip] > >>> > >>> A sentence like: > >>> > >>> dog the big cat your small love = the big dog loves your small cat > >> > >> But this doesn't clearly separate lexical items and operators. This would > >> imply, for example, that 'love' is a combination of lexical item and > >> operator. IMO in a truly stack-based system, lexical items and operators > >> should be kept distincr. > > > > That would at least be more elegant. However, in Fith, verbs are > > operators as well as lexical items, as in the example sentence above. > > True - as I said, I wrote the remarks above before looking again at Fith. > To me Fith seems a bit of a compromise, but maybe this true of FORTH - I > don't know.
It is long ago (almost 20 years) since I had my last exposure to FORTH, and don't remember much of it. So I cannot comment on this.
> [snip] > >> IMO with a stack-based syntax, lexical items are literals and operators > >> make explicit how the literals relate to one another. > > > > Yes, that would be indeed much more elegant than Jeffrey's Fith. > > Thanks :)
Greetings, Jörg.


Ray Brown <ray.brown@...>