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CONLANG  August 2008, Week 2

CONLANG August 2008, Week 2

Subject:

Re: Linguistic term for ease of changing word-class (was: 'out-' affix in conlangs?)

From:

Alex Fink <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Constructed Languages List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 11 Aug 2008 14:25:33 -0400

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On Mon, 11 Aug 2008 14:04:29 +0200, Benct Philip Jonsson <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

>Plura commentaria in uno voluta!
>
>Från: Alex Fink <[log in to unmask]>
>
> >
> > On Fri, 8 Aug 2008 20:14:05 +0200, M. Czapp
> > <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> >
> >>>*HIJACK: Is there a better linguistic term for
> >>>the ease with which you can change whether a
> >>>word is a noun, adjective or a verb? The best
> >>>example for weak typing (easy/implicite
> >>>changes) might be Esperanto, German is of the
> >>>languages I know the one with the most
> >>>problematic 'typecasts.
> >
> > Talk of casting tends to make me leery, for the
> > way it seems to make the background assumption
> > that given any two data types there should be
> > exactly one function between them of such
> > paramouncy that it makes sense to elevate it
> > above all others and crown it the Cast between
> > those two types. For some type-pairs I buy this
> > (smaller to larger floating point types, say);
> > mostly not.
>
>Talk of too strict disambiguity in language, at
>least naturalistic (qua natural human language-
>like) language as opposed to computer language or
>the most ivory-towered loglang, makes me leery.
>Ambiguity, fuzziness and under-specification are
>as much a feature of natural language as is
>redundancy! The reason of course is that any
>ambiguity at some level (lexical, morphological or
>syntactic) will be resolved by context at another
>level, or as the last resort by the recipient's
>knowledge of the world. Moreover the canonical
>communicative situation is not reading a book but
>a conversation (be it face-to-face or by email)
>and in a conversation the interlocutors can always
>ask/clarify if they don't or seem not to get the
>intended meaning.

*sigh* Looks like I worded that a bit imprudently; let's take another stab.  

I was cautioning against thinking that things like, you know, "the adjective
corresponding to the noun 'tooth'" is a good enough way to specify the
meaning of one of your lexemes.  Certainly there are plenty of langs, nat or
otherwise (indeed many of my conlangs are among them), that have an
all-purpose derivational operator "noun -> adjective".  I'm all for
naturalistic ambiguity in derivations; usage, or secondarily context, can
really sort out a great lot.  Even so, supposing you're making such a
language, I'd say it's not enough to note down in your lexicon something like
  *_matan_, tooth.  adj _matanko_
unless you define the adjectiviser _-ko_ in general elsewhere, or unless you
really mean to leave the operation a general adjectivisation in all cases
(and this seems either idealistic or lazy -- usage won't let it survive that
way for long).

Or, indeed, for maximal communicative flexibility, as an interlingua would
want, I'm with you that

>The best thing is to do as natlangs do: allow the
>sender to be either vague or precise as they see
>fit. 

though natlangs don't _explicitly_ do this; it can be harder than is really
"reasonable" to be vague about certain things, like sex of a singular
third-person pronominalised referent in standard English, or tense.  But
certainly speakers will find ways to be vaguer or preciser than the
grammaticalised options the language affords, if they desire to; and I'd
think any language would allow that, with enough circumlocution.  

>This said vague casting in an interlingua (be it
>an auxlang or a translation interlingua) which may
>be primarily used for non-conversational written
>communication is probably a bad thing.

Sure, as usual, natlangs and engelangs tend to have different clarity standards.

>I guess one could
>analyse Esperanto so that there is only one noun
>_o_ and one adjective _a_ which compound with
>different verb roots to form the syntactic
>equivalent of nouns and adjectives in most
>natlangs, or rather such a usage would be possible
>under the minimalistic codified grammar of
>Esperanto, but does not agree with actual usage,
>which is much more influenced by (European)
>natlangs, so that in practice some roots are
>nominal or adjectival rather than verbal.

Heh, that's a cute if bordering-on-the-absurd analysis.  Why not say there's
only one verb _i_ as well?

> > but aren't many "semantic cases" (that is, cases
> > other than "syntactic cases", that show
> > something other than the "grammatical relations"
> > of Subject, Object, or Indirect Object) also
> > "adverbial cases"? Isn't a noun in a case other
> > than Nominative, Accusative, Dative, or
> > Genitive, essentially an adverb? So, the
> > "changing of a noun into an adverb" is likely to
> > be fairly "easy" -- highly productive -- in most
> > languages with a robust case system, right? And
> > Genitive, in those languages that have one, is
> > essentially a way of changing a noun into an
> > adjective, isn't it?
>
>You are definitely on to something here -- cf.
>what I said about semantic overlap between
>adjectivization and genitive in Esperanto.
>
>At least in inflecting languages the difference
>would seem to be that an adjective is a derivation
>(possibly zero-derived from a root) and as such
>may be inflected (for case, number, gender...)
>while a genitive is an inflection and as such not
>further modifiable.

Well, yes, but syntactically there are phenomena like suffixaufnahme to
watch for, or on the other side there might be no inflection on adjectives
even if other classes are highly inflecting.  

> > Sort of OT, but relevant to the question about
> > Basque verbs-- IIRC the verbs that have their
> > own synthetic conjugation (i.e. without the
> > usual person+tense aux.) are a small and closed
> > class, I think mostly intransitive. There's
> > another productive (I think) class formed from
> > NOUN + 'to do/make' (egin?); one that has stuck
> > in my mind is 'to sneeze' (sneeze + egin? +
> > aux). (My Basque grammar is one of the books in
> > storage.......)
>
>The Semitic component of Yiddish vocabulary works
>similarly IIRC, using a Semitic verbal noun + a
>Germanic verb like 'be, have, do' rather than
>tacking Germanic endings to Semitic verbs.

It's pretty common for the light verb pattern to be productive and represent
the largest proportion of the new verbs in languages that have it,
especially borrowings, isn't it?

Alex

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