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Re: [glosalist] natural semantic metalanguage and Glosa

Robin Fairbridge Gaskell (Robin Fairbridge Gaskell <drought-breaker@...>) on August 20, 2006

Saluta Plu Glosa-pe, Great news: this is the first bit of international research discussed on Glosalist for quite a while. Thanks Bill for this report. The Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM) definitely sounds like a project to watch … and possibly to co-ordinate with! Excellent work, Bill: your thinking in attempting to break Glosa down to basic elements actually parallelled the more general thinking of those working globally on the NSM Project. So, the magic number for the fundamental bits of language is now 63. Interesting_ when I first came across Anna Wierzbicka’s work, it was thirteen categories of things that language fell into. I phoned her then - maybe twenty, or more, years ago - to suggest that possibly she and Glosa were on parallel paths: she said “No,” and that was it.

     I still think I was right.  And, while a lot must have  changed in the academic language world in twenty years, Anna might  still recall my attempt to touch minds, and the language, Glosa.  So,  if the Glosa crowd are thinking of running with this one,  I'd  counsel caution: we would need to study the NSM Project fully, reach  agreement on how we would approach NSM, and ... still ACT QUICKLY.
     An opportunity like this does not come along every decade:  it would be best for us to do some fundamental thinking quickly, and  to act decisively.  The Anna I spoke to was rather quick to decide; I  would hope that two decades has mellowed her a bit.  The analogy with  Chemistry is like going from "the Law of Octaves" to discovering the  whole Periodic Table: Anna has gone from 13 categories of things  covered by language to 63 basic semantic elements.

     Bill, you are quite right to suggest practising the  mechanics of a language with a reduced semantic set, and you have  applied your ideas, practically, while successfully gaining an  understanding of Chinese, thus vindicating the theory.
     Some of the rest of us in Glosa have also been promoting the  idea of starting the teaching/learning process with a reasonably  uncluttered Learner Vocabulary; and, now Anna and Cliff with a team  of student Linguists have formalised the idea of finding a universal,  fundamental basic semantic set into a theory.  ...And Bill, through  experience with learning Chinese, grafted onto existing experience  gained through learning Glosa, has been in a position to see a  possible connection between the NSM and Glosa.  Such intuitions do  not come often in one life-time.

     Either with the NSM group or without them, we in Glosa ought  to give the NSM  basic semantic set a fair trial for the betterment  of Glosa promotion.  However, it will obviously be better for Glosa,  and for communication in general, were we to travel together with the  people developing this Natural Semantic Metalanguage Project.

     And it's true, Glosa win on all three key-words:
  Natural_ as is the trend towards adoption of the predominantly  Syntax-based language, English;
  Semantic_ with each 'word' a lexeme, a concept-centre;
  Metalanguage_ in that the conveying of meaning is standardised  and simplified, even to the extent of possibly using a limited vocabulary set.

     It can be said that the world is still seeking a universal  communication medium.  Such a medium would be employed to facilitate  translation; it would be the medium of choice to provide neutrality  in sensitive areas of international co-ordination; and, increasingly,  it must be able to bring Artificial Intelligence into the  communication loop - allowing humans to communicate with other humans  as well as  with machines.  Even more bizarre, might it not be  hypothesised that machines increasingly talk to other machines  without human interaction: while such languages have been developed  with rigid syntax and very limited semantics, they are usually  transmitted digitally between dedicated machines - - - with the  communication flow capable of being monitored only by engineers who  can interpret the binary data-flow.
     Imagine the design of a metalanguage specifically for  machine-machine interfacing, but using a transfer medium that can be  written in human-interpretable form, reading much like a high-level  programming language that reads in crude, sentence-like form.

     What I am saying is that Glosa, or a subset of it, fits the  criteria of all of the above.  While the Glosa conceived by Ron Clark  can be used between people for the writing of love poems as easily as  for the writing of precise scientific treatises, its Syntax-based  Grammar and lexical structure (each word being a concept centre),  suits it perfectly for the communication needs of modern technology,  with both human/machine interaction, and the need for readily  monitor-able machine/machine interaction.  Glosa is already a  speakable metalanguage.

     On the other hand, last century's global language success  story, Esperanto, developed in an era when there was only human/human  communication, was formed to do this task very well in a thoroughly  human-like way.  The requirements of a modern communication medium  give a different specification from the one proposed by Zamenhof for  Esperanto, which is not proving easily adaptable to handling the  digital data-stream.

     Without any emotional factor at play, it can be said that  the construction of Glosa predisposes it towards the full range of  modern technical communication, and that the NSM Project represents a  perfect case where Glosa can be shown to be the Planned Language most  suitable to the task.

     I think we should go for it.


Robin Gaskell

At 02:32 PM 8/17/06, Bill Branch grafo:

I’ve been studying the NSM or natural semantic metalanguage developed by Anna Wierzbicka and Cliff Goddard. I was pointed this direction by my need to define Glosa words on the wiki. The idea is that words can be defined in terms of simpler words which in turn themselves get defined by even simpler words. At some point, the remaining words are so basic that you can no longer use more atomic words to describe them. The claim of NSM is that not only every language has a semantic core, but that every language shares a small number of words that although are lexically different, are semantically the same and can be used to build up the rest of the language. In other words, every language shares the same semantic core. So far sixty three primitives have been discovered and tested by various scholars.

If this claim holds up, (and so far it seems sound to me) then the implications are profound for all languages and especially constructed languages. It means a simple word list won’t and can’t cut it for an artificial language since several words don’t really translate across very well. It suggests that a language is best taught by starting with these primes and working out from there. This could be a shot in the arm for any constructed language.

What is noteworthy here also is how expressive and natural sounding these primes are. I suspect that carefully choosing a beginner vocabulary from the primes and adding a small group of general words is enough to be very expressive in any language.

I’ve had some success with this so far in learning Chinese and starting only with the primes of Chinese with the extremely limited time I have.

For anyone interested visit .

Regards, Bill

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Re: [glosalist] natural semantic metalanguage and Glosa - Committee on language planning, FIAS. Coordination: Vergara & Hardy, PhDs.