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CONLANG  August 2015, Week 1

CONLANG August 2015, Week 1

Subject:

Re: No Phonology!

From:

Logan Kearsley <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Constructed Languages List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 3 Aug 2015 15:50:54 -0600

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On 3 August 2015 at 12:07, Jason Cullen <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> @Logan Kearsley
>
> Hello, Logan!

Hello, Jason!

> (Logan writes) “One could just just as well ask of spoken languages "what
> can such a
> sound system 'reference' and how?"
> The switch to writing as a modality doesn't make any practical difference.”
>
> Clearly lexemes (‘word’ is an extremely vague term that can mean very
> different things in very different languages) are processed phonologically,
> so a phonologically or morphophonologically-based script would reference
> lexemes directly. The semantic fields generated by lexemes are much messier
> and complex than individual lexemes. To take a relatively simple example,
> [‘gu:gl] or ‘Google’ could refer to 1) a listed company, 2) an internet
> browser supported by said company, 3) a verb derived from the noun
> ‘google’, meaning ‘use an internet browser’ (even while living overseas in
> a country where Google was blocked, we’d say ‘Google it’ to mean ‘check
> online’), and 4) a number in mathematics (a lonely and often forgotten
> usage of the word, although it is the original!). I am of course assuming
> that the mental lexicon is independent of both phonological and syntactic
> systems, and that the mental lexicon is connected to multiple neurocircuits
> for memory, emotion, etc, which account for semantic aspects of the lexicon.
>
> A writing system that encodes the phonological organization of lexemes
> would then generate multiple scripts that could enable a particular
> semantic field. (I use ‘script’ here in semantic-pragmatic usage meaning ‘a
> narrative or possible world in which one reading is more optimal than
> another’.)
>
> This of course also explains the enormous popularity of morphophonological
> writing systems and the almost inevitable demise (one again, except for
> Chinese) of character or semantically-driven systems, or even how most
> glyph systems evolve phonetic auxiliaries soon after being launched on
> semantic primitives. Toki Pona will probably resist this only because they
> stubbornly refuse to add any new lexemes to the lexicon of 120.

I suspect we are talking past each other, so I shall attempt to be
extremely precise.
If words built out of the sound systems of spoken languages reference
"lexemes", however you care to define them and whatever the relation
of a lexeme is to semantic fields, then it seems to me obvious that
words built out of the visual systems of entirely graphical languages
with no spoken realization can perform exactly the same function.

In the extended sense of phonology that covers, e.g., sign languages,
such a graphical language would still have phonology. And I could
probably be persuaded that you can't have a language without phonology
of some sort in that extended sense- a system of organizing minimal
contrastive units that have no individual meaning into larger minimal
units of meaning. Written Chinese which you already referenced, is a
tempting counter-example, but even Chinese characters are composed of
common strokes and common radicals which could probably be interpreted
as forming a "phonological" system in a context where one learns to
read and write, e.g., Mandarin, without knowing anything at all about
how it is pronounced. If that is all you mean to argue- that a
practical human language must have that sort of low-level structure,
rather than being composed of an arbitrarily large set of completely
unrelated, unsystematic symbols- then that seems quite reasonable, and
I can't provide any strong argument against it.

But if "phonology" is interpreted in the limited sense of "a system of
sounds which is used to encode a language", which does seem to be the
sense that JS Jones had in mind at the start of this thread, then it
seems blatantly obvious to me that the existence or possibility of a
phonological encoding is in no way necessary to a usable human
language. Others have already pointed out natural sign languages as
example of languages which have no obvious sonic encoding, and you
have so far provided no argument to convince me that there is anything
special about *writing* that would prevent the existence of a
practical purely-graphical, purely-written language with no sonic
encoding that is just as effective as any spoken or signed language.

>> It seems that people default to
>> semantics; however, I've never seen such a system work. UNLWS is a good
>> example of a thought experiment that has gone nowhere.
>
> (Logan writes) “That seems a very strong claim without much support. In
> what sense has
> it "gone nowhere"?”
>
> I use negative evidence: UNLWS has a number of examples, but not many. And
> paucity of evidence doesn't inspire confidence. The only examples I’ve seen
> have been short sentences, not complex groupings of sentences, to say
> nothing of entire texts. (E.g. a translation of the *Dàodé jī**ng* 道德經 or
> *Hamlet*, for example, are both extremely complex, poetic works and are
> available in Klingon, or even some original texts.) And in every article
> I’ve seen, there appears to be examples that trail off with “more work
> needs to be done here,” which is usually a sign that something isn’t
> working.

I see. I am in agreement with And here; it seems to me that UNLWS is
*more* well developed and *more* practically functional than *most*
conlangs, and I see no reason why it shouldn't succeed. I do, however,
understand your position on it.

> (Logan writes) “If you learn a common L2, the semantics of your native
> languages shouldn't matter anymore- [sic] you communicate in the semantic
> space of the L2.”
>
> This is obviously not the case. There is a great deal of literature on
> language interference and language transfer (the former the original term;
> the latter the post-80s more PC term) from L1 to L2. All L2 learners begin
> by using the semantics of their L1, and most rarely abandon it. Which is
> why speakers of English as a Second Language so often produce such
> hilarious and interesting constructions.

In practice, yes, people do transfer concepts from the L1 to their L2.
But it is nevertheless true that people *do* successfully communicate
in shared L2s despite non-congruity with their differing L1s, and that
the *point* is to communicate in the L2 language, regardless of the
fact the interlocutors may do so imperfectly. And that is all that is
required for my argument- that people *try* to communicate in L2s that
do not share the semantic space of the L1 of any interlocutor, and
that they do in fact succeed. Thus, the fact that a non-phonological
language may not map the same semantic space as any given phonological
language is no argument against the possible utility of a
non-phonological language. If it works at all, it would be used as an
L2 in the same way that phonological languages are used as L2s.

-l.

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