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re: Existential-locative constructions in Novial

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  • Darwood Horace
    Dear Renaud: I read your recent article on the existential and existential- locative with much interest. I m sorry it has taken me so long to respond. It s
    Message 1 of 3 , Jun 6, 2007
      Dear Renaud:

      I read your recent article on the existential and existential-
      locative with much interest. I'm sorry it has taken me so long to
      respond. It's been a busy few days.

      For starters, I'm not sure I can go along with your advice about
      avoiding the adoption of EXISTA to fulfill this function. I agree
      that there is just enough of a hint of difference between "exist"
      and "there is"/are, "es gibt", "il y a", "hay", "yest'", etc. that
      it may be wise to avoid lumping the two semantically somewhat
      distinct forms together into one semantic category. On the other
      hand, it's probably worth asking ourselves whether that semantic
      distinction amounts to enough to bother with. I'm not sure it does.
      I do detect a difference in meaning between the two, however, I
      would be at great pains to explain this difference.

      Your example about books on a table illustrates this point well.
      Imagine the fictitious conversation from which I've drawn the
      following line, for example: "Sir, I think you misunderstood me. I
      didn't say the three books on the table existed necessarily. I just
      said they could be found on that table over there." Wouldn't the
      books, in fact, have to exist if they were to be sitting on a table
      somewhere? So, while I agree with you that there is a distinction to
      be made, I'm not sure it is crucial that that distinction be
      maintained in Novial. In fact, it may very well be in the interest
      of creating an environment for optimal understanding and
      communication for us to rid ourselves of such an arbitrary and
      needless distinction. Also, what with the international
      recognizability of EXISTA across the spectrum of I-E languages
      (exepting Farsi, Hindi and others down in that geographic region),
      it seems to me that EXISTA is a very good candidate.

      If one desires to maintain a difference between existence in general
      and existence in a specific location, the presence or absence of a
      prepositional phrase denoting a location ought to be enough to
      accomplish this. Consider the following examples:


      And, if the second phrase seems awkward, the verb EXISTA can, of
      course, always be replaced with something like TROVA SE, SIDA, LIA
      or something similar. Even ES, actually. As you yourself pointed out
      in your article, there is very little difference between "Some books
      are on the table over there" and "There are some books on the table
      over there". Both refer to books in the indefinite, ie. books which
      the speaker and spoken to have not previously discussed and have no
      common knowledge of. There are, of course, subtle differences in
      nuance. However, I would argue that such minute differences have no
      place in Novial, a language with no native speakers.

      When it comes to ES and the unconventional word order that is
      required in order to use it as an existential, I find myself in
      perhaps greater disagreement. In your article, you give examples in
      both English and French of how OVS word order can occasionally
      occur. But I would argue that the few examples you can find in these
      languages are rare holdovers from earlier times, and that such
      examples occur less and less as time goes on. In German, on the
      other hand, this odd word order continues to flourish simply because
      German has more overt case markers that make it a simple matter to
      know which entity is the subject of a verb and which the object in
      most cases. (Two plurals or two feminine singulars are among the
      problem cases. But other strategies can be used in such cases.)

      If you look at English and French from a synchronic standpoint, it's
      easy to imagine that those rare instances of OVS word order exist to
      help us express concepts we might not otherwise be able to express
      so easily. But I think it's important to understand that they are
      disappearing at a steady rate. If you look at Shakespeare or the
      King James Bible, you encounter many more examples of such word
      order than you do in today's language. And pre-Shakespeare texts
      have even more instances.

      As for French, I'm no expert, yet I know from personal experience
      that written French preserves several forms that no longer exist in
      contemporary spoken French. The most obvious example is, of course,
      the preterite or simple past. Also, recently, I read a French
      translation of the famous Austrian novel _Der Schachspieler_ (Le
      joueur d'echecs) in which I encountered many sentences of the
      form " 'Bla bla bla' dit X." (This is exactly the structure/word
      order in the two Jespersen examples you provided in your article.)
      However, as a native speaker of French, I think you would have to
      admit that you never encounter this structure/word order in
      contemporary spoken French.

      As I mentioned, the Novial examples you provided are the same in
      that they feature quoted text as a preposed direct object. In the
      story "The Emperor's New Clothes", it is obvious that the king said
      the words and not the words the king. But when you have two nouns,
      two pronouns, or one of each, as is the case in the vast majority of
      utterances, the message will no doubt be much more difficult to
      decipher. Especially when two animate beings are involved. Consider
      the case of "LO AMA LA". I would go so far as to say that it would
      be impossible for this sentence to mean "She loves him". "He loves
      her" is the only possible way this sentence can be interpreted. Yet
      if you allow for instances where OVS word order is allowed in
      Novial, you have to except that the above could have either meaning.

      Now, as long as we elect to keep Jespersen's accusative ending, we
      shouldn't have any problems. "LOM AMA LA E LAM AMA LO" is pretty
      clear, after all. But let's face it. No one likes the accusative in
      Novial, and I have yet to encounter any Novial text using it aside
      from the couple of examples in AIL. The accusative ending makes
      Novial clunky and unattractive. These clunky unattractive endings,
      above all, the thing that turns so many of us off about Esperanto.
      And it also creates ambiguities in Novial's concrete and abstract
      pronouns. But, without the accusative, alternate word orders (those
      beside SVO and OSV) just aren't practical.

      Moving on, I have to say that your article was very comprehensive
      except when it came to the merits of HAVE, the form I favor. Novial
      allows such subjectless sentences as "Pluvar." and "Nivar." So why
      not use a subjectless "HAVE" to express the existential? Where an
      existential-locative is needed, a prepositional phrase can simply be
      added at the beginning of the sentence. Example: "OB HAVE DEE?"
      (Does God exist?); "IN MEN KLASE HAVE TRIANTI STUDENTES." (There are
      30 students in my class.); SUR LI TABLE HAVE DU LIBRES. (There are
      two books on the table.)

      This really isn't so different from a certain construction which
      often occurs in English and, I would suspect, in other related
      languages. Consider the following example: "Carson City, the capital
      of Nevada, has a barbershop, a pharmacy, and two grocery stores."
      Using the system I am proposing, we merely add a proposition to the
      front of Carson City. If you wanted, you could interpret this as a
      prepositional phrase acting as a subject. But what it really is, of
      course, is simply a preposed prepositional phrase in a sentence
      which has no subject.

      Some might argue that this changes the meaning of "HAVE" but it
      really doesn't. Even if it did, though, I would suggest that a word
      could be coined which, gramatically, could serve as a subject but,
      semantically, could simply serve as a function word denoting the
      concept existential in the way that English "there" does in
      sentences using the "there is" construction. Just off the top of my
      head, I would suggest a stemless "MOND" as in "MOND HAV DEE" which
      could be thought of as meaning "The world has a god" but which would
      actually merely mean "There is a god." (I'm not nominating the word
      MOND, I'm merely using it as an example.)

      In any case, those are my feelings on the subject. I think, in
      general, that I favor a system that is as simple as possible. In
      order to accomplish this, one thing you have to do is minimize
      exceptions. I have a programming background, so perhaps I go
      overboard with this a little bit. (Witness how few other Novialists
      accept the idea of UNANTI for 'ten', for example.) But I think it's
      important. Natural languages are a hodgepodge of idiosyncrasies
      which we shouldn't necessarily want to emulate. Think, for example,
      of English modal verbs like can/could which rely on supplemental
      forms when they are expressed in the future or infinitive form:

      I *can* ride a bicycle.
      I *could* ride a bicycle by the time I was five.

      I will *be* *able* to ride a bicycle by the time I am five.
      I want to *be* *able* to ride a bicycle by the time I am five.

      Interestingly, the modal verb "must" doesn't even have a past tense.
      If you've studied German or Dutch, you will recognize that this is
      because only the subjunctive form -- which mirrors the simple past --
      has survived. Again, do we really want to emulate such craziness in

      Anyway, there you have my two cents on the topic. I hope others will
      weigh in with their own opinions.

    • Renaud Kuty
      Dear Dave, Many thanks for your most extensive reply. Food for thought... 1. Regarding EXISTA, I do agree with you that the difference between existence in
      Message 2 of 3 , Jun 6, 2007
        Dear Dave,

        Many thanks for your most extensive reply. Food for thought...

        1. Regarding EXISTA, I do agree with you that the difference between
        existence in general and existence in a specific location (i.e.
        existential-locative) comes down pretty much to whether or not a
        prepositional predicate is present. Compare:
        - "there are swans"
        - "there are swans in Africa"
        In actual fact, Functional Grammar (FG: the linguistic framework I use
        for my own research) has argued that the distinction between
        existential and existential-locative is precisely that, i.e. that the
        latter clause features a prepositional predicate whereas the former
        does not. In case you would be interested in the details, FG explains
        that the two clauses have precisely the same structure, i.e. an
        indefinite subject and a prepositional predicate indicating location;
        the only difference is that in the first clause the prepositional
        predicate is unspecified. (This, incidentally, has much to do with the
        way FG envisions the role of the copulative verb "be" in English).

        In other words, provided I understand you correctly I think we both
        agree that we don't need radically different structures for
        existential and existential-locative statements.
        On the other hand, I remain unconvinced that EXISTA is the most
        suitable form to fulfil that function. The two examples you indicate:

        > DEE EXISTA.

        use the same construction (EXISTA) for both types of statement, which
        is fine. But as you point out the latter is awkward, which prompts you
        to suggest that

        > the verb EXISTA can, of course, always be replaced with something like TROVA SE,
        > SIDA, LIA or something similar.

        In my opinion, this stultifies the very value of EXISTA for
        existential(-locative) statements. I think there is no point in
        stipulating that EXISTA should be used in both constructions if in
        practice one is to resort to another verb for existential-locative
        statements -- which, I believe, would happen most of the time --
        because of EXISTA's awkwardness or inelegance. In the final analysis,
        this would boil down to re-introducing different forms again, whereas
        we both agree that such a variety is not necessary.

        2. Regarding OVS, I believe you are misconstruing me slightly (or
        perhaps my own wording was ambiguous). In the article I featured
        examples of OVS such as (literally) "XXX, said the king" to indicate
        that Jespersen himself did not adhere rigidly to SVO, and did resort
        to other word order patterns when he felt it was appropriate. In
        actual fact, starting from a basic functional pattern SVO, if you
        front the object you get OSV, not OVS. ((Only languages such as German
        and Dutch would feature OVS if one is to front Object. This comes from
        a particular syntactic constraint in those languages that the verb in
        the main clause must be in second position; therefore if you wish to
        put O in first position, then S is ousted and comes after the verb,
        i.e. in third position)). And together with Jespersen I believe that
        in most cases OSV is not likely to give rise to ambiguity: provided
        one ensures that in Novial the natural position of O is after the verb
        (as in English "I see him", and not French "je le vois" when a
        pronominal object is involved), there is no risk of misconstruing OSV
        as SOV, i.e. mistaking the S for O and vice versa. In short, I'm by no
        means pleading for allowing OVS in Novial.

        3. Regarding HAVE, to be honest I have no definite objection to
        formulate right now. I should even say that I do not find your
        suggestion entirely unattractive ;-)
        Just two facts, however, which actually answer to each other:
        a) As I put it in the article, I believe that ES is particularly
        suitable because Novial formulates "the book is on the table" as LI
        LIBRE ES SUR LI TABLE. Inasmuch as "there is a book on the table" can
        be linguistically construed as the same sentence, the only difference
        being that the subject is indefinite rather than definite, expressing
        the existential-locative construction as LIBRE ES SUR LI TABLE (or ES
        LIBRE SUR LI TABLE, if one is to follow various languages Jespersen
        based Novial upon) appears to me as the most economic solution.

        b) In contrast to you I *do* believe that using HAVE would necessitate
        an alteration (or better: an expansion) of the meaning of HAVE, i.e.
        the introduction of a new grammatical feature into Novial, whether one
        uses a dummy subject or not. I have nothing against the idea of
        introducing new grammatical constructions (more about this below), but
        I believe that one should do it if (and only if) the same semantic
        content cannot be expressed by grammatical elements already present in
        the language. Otherwise one runs the risk of transforming what is
        essentially a simple language into a clutter of losely related
        grammatical items. For an IAL, linguistic economy appears to me as a
        necessity, because it garanties linguistic coherence and homogeneity.
        And in this regard I believe that ES is more economical -- and
        therefore also more suitable -- than HAVE. But as I said in the
        beginning I don't dislike the idea of HAVE. I'll give it some thought.

        4. I take the liberty of reacting to your other mail in this message.

        > I wanted to comment on a related issue that has come up several times. You and
        > some others are of the opinion that phenomena that don't exist in natural languages
        > have no place in Novial.

        Here too I think (or, at least, I like to believe) that you are
        misconstruing me slightly.
        As I said above (point 3), I'm certainly not against the idea of
        having in Novial features that are not mirrored in ethnic languages.
        The example you mention -- the epicene/masculine/feminine vocalic
        distinction -- is a case in point.
        What I mean is that such "not-natural" features should be used only
        and only if they *really* have something to offer. In the case of the
        E/O/A distinction the added value is obvious: among the languages I
        know there is none that does not struggle on a regular basis with the
        absence of a grammatical category "unspecified gender". Cf. the
        "he/she" or "(s)he" in English, and I could mention similar cases in
        French or German, among others. Introducing a specifically epicene
        category really answered a need, in that it fixed a "weakness" (or
        better: filled a gap) in the ethnic languages.
        And I believe that this should be the ultimate criterion when we
        consider to introduce a "not-natural" feature: is such a new feature
        really *needed*? Your suggestion (I hope I am not misconstruing you!)
        to extend the U/UM distinctions to nouns is not a bad idea in itself,
        but I really wonder to what extent it is *really* useful to
        distinguish between a material door and a non-material one... (no
        derision intended). Aside from the fact that it certainly allow
        greater precision of expression, the question remains whether such a
        precision is really necessary. Besides one would have to think such an
        idea through to all its implications and consequences (I'm not sure
        this is good English, but I hope you know what I mean...). Indeed,
        changing a feature at some level may very well generate important
        imbalances at other levels; in the worst of all scenarios it might
        even provoke the collapse of the whole system...
        Now, if you should write something about your suggestions, weighing
        the advantages and the drawbacks against one another, I for one would
        be most interested in studying your contribution... ;-)

        Friendly greetings,
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