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204141Re: Universal language for communicating with space aliens

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  • James Kane
    Jul 26, 2014
      Hi all

      I completely agree with Logan in that using the terms 'noun' or 'verb' to describe weird-syntax-lang is completely wrong and quite apparently so. It resembles Māori (which may well be similar to Riau Idonesian but I don't know) in that there are really only two categories of words, bases and particles.

      Noun phrases and predicates do surface in the language, and there are a couple of ways to tell (such as the causative prefix or passive suffix for verbs) if a base can be used as a noun, verb or modifier, but the trouble is that plenty of bases can be used as all three.

      Also, many of the particles can be used in more than one type of phrase:

      kei te kai
      at.PRESENT the.SG food
      (I don't guarantee correctness)

      might be a predicate 'eating' or the prepositional phrase 'at the food', depending on how its used. The whole thing is further complicated by the fact

      Weird-syntax-lang seems similar, but boiled down to the point that there is only a single phrase type as well as only two word types, and I also agree that grammatical categories such as subject, object, aren't apparent either. The semantic categories such as agent, patient etc. still are but that is irrelevant because those are semantic and have nothing to do with syntax.

      Syntactic discussion is still possible, but it won't have the categories that we're used to.


      > On 26/07/2014, at 4:42 pm, Logan Kearsley <chronosurfer@...> wrote:
      >> On 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.
      >> 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.
      > Pretty much. It goes a little farther than that, though; there are
      > 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:
      >> IF in-forest-tree-fall THEN future-sound-causation, yes?
      > Eh, well, I'm not sure what that notation is supposed to represent, so maybe?
      >> That's actually not weird at all. It's very logical and computer-friendly. Russian famously omits the copula: eto pravda (это правда) �C "this true" for this is true.
      >> 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.
      > Just as an aside, I have noticed "это" apparently being used in a very
      > 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.
      > -l.
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