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Re: Kani vora vora

William T. Branch ("William T. Branch" <bill@...>) on February 27, 2006

Hi All,

I have to say after some thought and research that I agree with Ei= ke. The strength of Glosa is its straightforward syntax.(I still have much = to learn in this regard.)

Below is an excerpt from Rick Harrison’s sight,

He pretty much mirrors w= hat Eike and the book, “The Loom of Language” have to say about syntax. I s= ee no problem with using the proposed syntax rules for artistic expression,= personal use, etc; However, It would not serve the Glosa language if it we= re an official part of it in my opinion.

Regards, Bill

  1. Grammar

6.1 = simplicity

As the great linguist Otto Jespersen observed, “That language r= anks highest, which goes farthest in the art of accomplishing much with lit= tle means, or in other words, which is able to express the greatest amount = of meaning with the simplest apparatus.”

6.2 syntax

6.2.1 the need for a = planned syntax

Much of the complexity in natural languages exists in the r= ealm of syntax (the rules that govern the arrangement of words and phrases = within a sentence). The English sentence “our dog’s barking indicated the p= resence of an intruder” contains 9 words which could, theoretically, be arr= anged in 362,880 different combinations, but only one of those combinations= is grammatical and conveys the intended meaning.

Unfortunately the design= ers of many proposed IALs have not considered the difficulties that can be = caused by a poorly-designed syntax, or by the lack of any plan at all. In s= ome cases, they have refused to spell out their rules of syntax, claiming t= hat the arrangement of words in their languages would be “natural” or “intu= itive.” This invariably means that it is “natural” to those who have the sa= me native language as the IAL designer, and not to others. The syntax that = comes “intuitively” to a speaker of English is quite different from that wh= ich seems “intuitive” to a speaker of Bengali or Japanese.

There are forma= l (objective) techniques for specifying the number of ways in which words c= an be combined to create grammatical phrases in any given language. A descr= iption of a typical natural language’s syntax, complete with all of its irr= egularities and variations, might contain thousands of production rules. In= order to conform to our design goals, the syntax of an optimal IAL must ha= ve a simple, predictable, easily learned and thoroughly described syntax.

= 6.2.2 the SVO approach

Linguists have attempted to classify natural langua= ges based on the arrangement of subject (S), verb (V) and object (O) in sim= ple declarative sentences. (Granted, this approach has some flaws: many lan= guages are difficult to classify or appear to be in a state of transition f= rom one category to another.) There are six possible orderings: VSO, SVO, S= OV, VOS, OVS, OSV. Most of the world’s languages fit within the first three= categories, placing the subject before the object. SVO is the most common = word order in the world’s predominant languages, and is notably common in n= atural languages which are used as interlinguas between different language = groups (e.g. English, French, Swahili, Indonesian).

A language with a rela= tively strict SVO ordering does not require the use of inflections or marke= r words to distinguish subject from object. The listener or reader can begi= n to interpret a sentence before reaching its end, which is not true of lan= guages that have free word order, in which the recipient must wait for the = entire sentence to arrive and then must mentally unscramble the various ele= ments before comprehension can begin. Some linguists feel there is a link b= etween grammatical structures and the ease with which the brain can interpr= et sentences. “The perceptual advantage of SVO languages is the ready ident= ification of subjects and objects, which are separated (by verbs) in SVO bu= t not SOV or VSO languages. It might also be mentioned that English tends t= o have topics in sentence-initial position… Subject and topic will often = coincide, a coincidence that apparently enhances processibility, especially= when the subject is also the semantic agent.” {8} Therefore it is reasonab= le to advocate an SVO syntax for an IAL, or the more flexible option of all= owing any sequence in which subject precedes object (SVO/SOV/VSO). However,= this still leaves many questions unanswered, such as: Should adjectives pr= ecede or follow the nouns which they modify? Prepositions or postpositions = (or neither)? And so forth.

6.2.3 configurational or inflectional?

There = is a larger question to be considered: should the roles of the verb’s argum= ents be indicated by word order or by overt markers (such as noun declensio= n or “case tags”)?

Jason Johnston states there is much evidence to indicat= e that word order is the most natural and efficient choice, “including the = fact that the words have to come in some specific order anyway, so that the=

order may as well signal something useful (a point due, I believe, to Jesp= ersen), and the fact that all pidgins and creoles are strictly configuratio= nal (as is still, for what it’s worth, the underlying logical structure of = all languages according to Noam Chomsky).” {3}

Sometimes we hear the asser= tion that an inflectional case-marking system and free word order are neces= sary to facilitate poetry and literature. This claim seems to be contradict= ed by the fact that Chinese has no inflections to mark cases but is neverth= eless powerfully expressive, as demonstrated by its 2000-year history of un= surpassed poetry and literature.

There is evidence to indicate that the de= clension of nouns and adjectives is difficult for many people to master. St= udies discussed in the newsletter of the Esperantic Studies Foundation indi= cate that American students of Esperanto at the intermediate level have dif= ficulty using the accusative case flexion correctly. There is corroborating= testimony from Chinese Esperantists {9} and those who have taught Esperant= o in East Asia. {10}

Because inflectional case-marking is not strictly nec= essary, and because it provides questionable benefit in return for the sign= ificant difficulties it causes, we must conclude that it is not desirable i= n an optimal IAL. (The same principle can be applied to mandatory marking o= f tense, definiteness, and number; but these are not syntactic issues.)

6.= 2.4 a minimalist approach

If simplicity and consistency are viewed as the = main objectives in IAL syntax design, the best available choice might be a = purely right-branching VSO syntax in which heads always precede their modif= iers. Morneau {11} demonstrates that it is possible to design a syntax of t= his type that can perform all the communicative tasks needed in a human lan= guage with fewer than two dozen context-free production rules.

6.2.5 attac= hment ambiguities

Consider the phrase “little girls’ school.” It is not cl= ear whether the adjective “little” modifies “girl” or “school” or, possibly= , both items. Now consider the sentence “Men don’t talk about their relatio= nships with each other.” Does this mean that men don’t talk to one another = about relationships, or does it mean they don’t talk to anyone about the re= lationships that they have with their fellow-men? These are examples of att= achment ambiguities, situations in which there is no formal mechanism avail= able to determine which item a modifier (such as an adjective or prepositio= nal phrase) is meant to modify. Sometimes the context of the entire convers= ation or text provides enough information to indicate which meaning was int= ended, but very often it does not.

Attachment ambiguities often go unnotic= ed in casual conversation. However, they can be a significant cause of misu= nderstandings in contracts, technical instruction manuals, laws, and other = types of communication that require precision. People translating material = from one language to another =96 a scenario in which an IAL might frequentl= y be involved =96 often must expend a lot of time and mental energy trying = to interpret such ambiguous phrases. Many computerized text analysis system= s cannot cope with attachment ambiguities; they must pause and ask for huma= n assistance in interpreting the material. For these reasons, an optimal IA= L’s syntax should be designed in a way that reduces or eliminates such ambi= guities.

6.3 gender

One factor which complicates the learning of language= s such as German is the need to memorize the arbitrary gender of every noun= . Such an unpredictable feature would not be acceptable in an optimal IAL. =

6.4 transitivity

In some constructed languages, it is necessary to memori= ze whether a verb is inherently transitive or intransitive, and affixes are= used to convert transitive verbs to intransitive and vice versa. (And when=

transitive verbs are derived from inherently intransitive ones, it is not = always clear whether the resulting word means “do activity X to Y” or “caus= e Y to engage in activity X.”) Having to memorize a verb’s arbitrary transi= tivity is an unnecessary burden, just as having to learn the arbitrary gram= matical gender of a noun would be. Therefore an optimal IAL should form tra= nsitive, intransitive and causative verbs in some completely regular, predi= ctable and well-defined manner.

– In, Eike Pr= eu=C3=9F <mail@…> wrote:

Hi all, I am very suspicious of the propos= ed kind of flexibility. It is one of the things that turned me away from = learning esperanto. Let me give you ‘my two cents’:

Flexibility in s= entence structure is great for a) learning to write/speak a language, and=

b) poets because you can write the way you are already used to from yo= ur mother language. My impression is, that the latter is one of the rea= sons for the popularity of esperanto. There seem to be many creative peop= le in the community, that produce a large amount of texts.

Unfortuna= tely, the flexibility makes learning to read/understand harder. Every sen= tence you read has a different structure. The reader always has to adapt = to the way of the writer. The ‘object-marker’ gives the writer the illusi= on that she doesn’t need to care about structure, because the marker clar= ifies everything. So, sentences tend to become a mess. I tried to read a = discussion thread in esperanto with help of a dictionary, after taking 6 = (or 8?) lessons of the freely available learning program over a month or = so. I gave up, partly because it took me so long to find out which object= belonged to which subject and verb in the lots of very long sentences I = found there…

I don’t think flexibility in sentence structure would d= o glosa good. Better than flexibility, in my opinion, would be a clearer = definition of what the sentence structure in glosa actually is/should be.= Plus a way to seperate parts of the sentence, so I like the idea of a ‘n= eutral’ verb marker very much.

Saluta, Eike

Vasiliy wrote: [s= nip]

I have an idea of how to improve Glosa and to make it greatly= more flexible, original and popular. [snip] I agree on the flexibilit= y and popularity part. Originality, well, all the esperanto derived langu= ages, esperanto, ido, etc, use an ‘object-marker’ to gain flexibility in = sentence structure, so it wouldn’t be very original, would it? :-)


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Re: Kani vora vora - Committee on language planning, FIAS. Coordination: Vergara & Hardy, PhDs.