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CHAT: models and miniatures

From:J Matthew Pearson <pearson@...>
Date:Tuesday, August 7, 2001, 23:58
James Campbell wrote:

> > For some values of conlanging, yes. Some of us don't set out to make > > a "miniature", but something more like a glimpse of something > > full-size. > > That's how I felt... If I was a nadge more touchy, I'd be offended if anyone > claimed that Jameld was only a 'miniature', a toy in effect. Sure, it's not > finished, but the intention was always (and still is) to create a > fully-formed, living entity that can describe the real world. >
and Tom Tadfor Little wrote:
> Like others, I'm not really sure what I think of the model ship analogy. I > guess I find the emphasis on scale somewhat distracting. To me the > difference between a conlanger and a field linguist is parallel to the > difference between a novelist and a journalist. I'm sure some of our > projects are actually *larger* than the documentation of some real > languages (though not larger than the languages themselves). >
I for one always use the term "model", never "miniature", precisely to avoid the scale part of the analogy. A model of something can be full-size (think of a model of a human skeleton, for example). Somehow I fail to find the term "model" at all pejorative. A model ship is not a toy, or a counterfeit, or a fraud. It's a depiction (or "imitation", in the Aristotelean sense) of a real ship--just as a painting of a house is a depiction of a house. Similarly with model languages. Far from being belittling, I find that this point of view ennobles conlanging, placing it firmly within the sphere of Art. As for "describing the real world", that's hardly incompatible with being a model. Models can often do many of the same things as the objects they are models of: Just like real trains, many model trains can move and carry loads (of appropriate size). In the case of language, conlangs replicate the combinatory and creative properties of natlangs, and thus can be used to "describe the real world" just as well as natlangs can--to the degree that their vocabularies and grammar have been developed. Whether a conlang can ever be "living" or not depends on your definition. For me, a language is living if and only if it is actively used by a community of (two or more) speakers who have internalised complete mental grammars of that language. By that criterion, few if any conlangs could be described as living. Perhaps others use different criteria... Although my conlang Tokana follows all of the basic design specifications of naturally occurring languages, it is appropriate to characterise it as a "model" of such languages, (a) because it did not evolve spontaneously in the context of a community of speakers, but is the product of a single person's ingenuity (such as it may be); (b) because it is not actually used by anybody for communication (athough it certainly could be, to some degree); and (c) because it is 'incomplete', in the sense that the vocabulary is not as large as that of a naturally occurring language, and the grammar is not elaborate enough to express all of the nuances that naturally occurring languages are capable of. I think part of the reason why some people object to calling a conlang a "model" is their sense that this somehow negates the reality of that conlang. That's not the way I feel. Tokana is a model of a natlang, but it's also a "real" thing on its own terms, with its own structure and personality. It's own integrity, if you like. I see no contradiction in this view of things. Sally, are you taking notes for your book? :-) Matt.


Thomas R. Wier <artabanos@...>
Sally Caves <scaves@...>
Irina Rempt <ira@...>