- Jul 26, 2014On 26 July 2014 04:38, Patrik Austin <patrik.austin@...> wrote:
> I think maybe now I see what you mean and you could be right. There may still be some misunderstandings on my side, but correct me whenever I'm wrong and I'll get back to it a little later when I have the time to read everything more thoroughly.

Pretty much. It goes a little farther than that, though; there are

>

> So, essentially you've made a grammar that doesn't have verbs. And when there aren't any verbs, it's pointless to talk about subject, object and adverbial as they are constituents that are supposed refer to the verb.

several other languages that don't have things that look like "verbs"

in the usual sense, but still have some kind of clause-controlling

element that assigns roles asymmetrically, or other syntactic

requirements that allow you to consistently distinguish different

kinds of argument positions. E.g., Kelen, which I mentioned before,

and which has "relationals" which basically fill in for the purely

*syntactic* functions of verbs while being semantically bleached and

forming a small closed class. This is sufficiently odd that it's

entirely reasonable to conclude that Kelen really doesn't have verbs,

but it's still possible to distinguish subjects, core objects, oblique

objects, and clause-modifying "adverbials" (though that nomenclature

would be odd, given the circumstances).

Weird-syntax-lang, on the other hand, puts every sub-clausal

constituent on the same level; it's just a very thing layer of

notational veneer on top of a particular formulation of predicate

calculus semantics, where the "parts-of-speech" are one-place

predicates (content words), two-place predicates (postpositions),

logical connectives (conjunctions & the not operator), parentheses

(which was just for convenience; in a real language I'd find a way to

remove them, probably allowing for ambiguity), and (so far only one)

modal propositional operator (which *could* be reformulated as a

two-place predicate over reified relations, but that would take more

design effort). Not only are there no verbs, but neither is there any

*other* mechanism to reliably distinguish one argument from another.

> That was really clever and I must admit I hadn't thought of it. It looks like a solution. The way I understand the sentence is as follows:

Eh, well, I'm not sure what that notation is supposed to represent, so maybe?

>

> IF in-forest-tree-fall THEN future-sound-causation, yes?

> That's actually not weird at all. It's very logical and computer-friendly. Russian famously omits the copula: eto pravda (это правда) – "this true" for this is true.

Just as an aside, I have noticed "это" apparently being used in a very

>

> I could say I want to add the copula to make my analysis neat, but then you can argue that the copula is redundant. True, the computer wouldn't see any use for it.

copula-like way in colloquial speech (e.g. "Моя машина - это Вольво."

-> "My car is a Volvo"; yeah, it's *actually* a cleft, and you can

tell by the intonation, but it's just *begging* for reanalysis). Kinda

makes me wonder if "Future Russian" mightn't re-evolve a present-tense

copula by that mechanism, along with reanalysis of predicate

adjectives as full-on verbs. That in turn could lead to the

development of distinct "active verb" vs. "stative predicate" parts of

speech, or to an analogical leveling that reduces normal verbal

inflections and turns forms of быть into tense markers (like English

"will" and "did"). That last option is probably less likely just

because of how much more common normal verb inflections are vs.

predicate adjective or predicate adverb constructions, but hey, this

is conlanging, I can do what I want. :)

> On the other hand I could point out that the conjunctions can actually be analysed as verbs: " in-forest-tree-fall ifs (is iffing), future-sound-causation thens (is thenning)" so I can go back to using subject, verb, object and adverbial in my analysis. But then you can argue I have no evidence my analysis is better than yours. So it follows that I won't be able to refute your argument.

A much cleaner correspondence comes from just using "implies":

"in-forest-tree-falls _implies_ future-sound-causation".

I might argue that that's odd because then "verbs" in

weird-syntax-lang would only ever take full clauses as arguments. On

the other hand, that's exactly how the English verb "implies" works

(it takes clauses or anaphors for clauses- propositions, anyway). In

fact, most logical connectives can be rendered as verbs as well as

conjunctions in English, with a little creativity: "accompany" for

"and", "exclude" for "not" (or "and not"), etc. After all that,

though, I'd have to point out that the connectives act much *more*

like conjunctions, and it's simplest to just assume that that is

indeed what they are.

> Am I anywhere near?

Yup!

At this point, I feel it might be useful to bring up the concept of

"vector spaces" and "basis sets", where a basis set is a set of

vectors that can be combined to create any point in the space. The

simplest example of a vector space is just regular 3D space, which

requires 3 basis vectors- one per dimension- to describe. However, the

basis set is not unique: you can use {x, y, z} (cartesian), or {r,

phi, theta} (spherical), or {r, y, theta} (cylindrical), or any number

of other possible transformed sets.

But, we can have more abstract vector spaces. Like, say, the space of

all possible computations. There are tons of equivalent basis sets for

that- sets of operations that for Turing-complete systems, where the

members of the set can be combined by mathematical operations to reach

every point in the space (describe every possible computation). Oddly,

it turns out the minimal basis set for computation only has one

member, but there are still lots of options for it; e.g., lambda

abstraction, the NAND operator, etc.

Now, what does that have to do with conlanging? Well, we can describe

the set of all possible syntactic structures as a vector space. (We

can also describe semantics as an infinite-dimensional vector space,

but infinite-dimensional things are tricky to deal with.) So, it's

gotta have basis sets- collections of basic syntactic structures that

can be combined to form all the possible ones. Not all languages

display every possible syntactic structure in every theory of syntax,

so some languages are actually using an incomplete basis set defining

a sub-space of possible syntax. And I'd bet that few if any natural

languages actually encode a minimal basis set.

But let's say you found a minimal basis set of morphosyntactic

operations that could describe all of human language. Better, let's

say you found a minimal basis set that could describe all possible

logically lossless syntaxes. I would bet that you could not prove any

such set to be unique. Actually, I've got an existence proof that it

won't be unique- already, we have predicate logic and set semantics as

mathematically equivalent but definitely different systems for

describing the compositional operations that syntax encodes. I'm not

willing to bet on this next one, but I'd at least be surprised if it

could be proven that there was a finite, enumerable set of possible

minimal basis sets. As a result, I would expect to find that genuinely

alien languages use organizational features that we won't have thought

of as linguistically possible before encountering them. Now, I could

be wrong about that. Maybe there are practical constraints from

computational complexity, ease of modelling the real world,

error-correction mechanisms, and so forth that will end up making

alien languages a lot more human-like than they could be if

constrained only by pure information theory and logic. But without

some truly breakthrough advances in formal semantics and theoretical

syntax, which are likely not forthcoming since Real Linguists tend to

be concerned just with studying human languages, I don't think we can

safely *assume* anything at all about aliens' linguistic abilities

apart from basic information theory and logic. The space of possible

languages is just too huge.

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