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CONLANG  August 2015, Week 1

CONLANG August 2015, Week 1

Subject:

Re: No Phonology!

From:

Jason Cullen <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Constructed Languages List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 3 Aug 2015 13:07:08 -0500

Content-Type:

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@Mark J. Reed & R A Brown

Thank you! I feel most welcome!



@James Kane



Hello, James!



“This orthography could then be considered an alternative phonology (in the
broad sense)”



Except, of course, that writing systems aren’t always only phonological (as
the Spanish script appears to be [I say 'appears' because I have almost
zero experience with Spanish and have mostly cobbled my understanding of it
from the remnants of my dying High School Latin...]). English, for example,
is highly morphological. The simple present indicative 3rd-person
singular/-z/ (grapheme {s} with two allographs, {{s}} and {{es}}), the
Saxon genitive (or ‘apostrophe S’), and the plural are all three distinct
morphemes, but with a single phoneme (and three phonetic realizations) and
a single grapheme with two distinct allographs. English has actually
handled this situation in a rather elegant way.



Then consider our Latinate vocabulary. (By *Latinate *vocabulary, I mean a
strata of English vocabulary mostly borrowed either directly from Latin
[often, but not always, *vis-à-vis* French] and Ancient Greek [another
agglutinative IE language that was borrowed either *via *Latin or
*vis-à-vis* French]. Along the way, Ancient Greek vocabulary acquired the
stress patterns and some pronunciation features of medieval Latin and
French, which is why the whole strata is called *Latinate*.) Both *nature *and
*natural *have a stem that is spelled the same despite different vowels
created by trisyllabic laxing: [ei] vs [ae]. In a writing system as found
in Spanish or Russian, these words would be spelled quite differently
(where vowels and diphthongs are represented differently). However, by
focusing on similar morphology, relationships between wildly different
phonetic forms are preserved.



So I don’t think we should consider ‘orthography = phonology’, although in
some languages (I’m thinking of Spanish and Ukrainian in particular, or
Tagalog to use a non-IE example), this might be useful. But we have to be
careful.



@Logan Kearsley



Hello, Logan!



(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.


> 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.



As Carl Sagan once paraphrased a good skeptic, ‘extraordinary claims
require extraordinary evidence'. It’s not for me to produce ‘negative
evidence’ for a half-made claim; rather, it is for the claimants to provide
the positive evidence and then undergo scrutiny from peers. Which is what
I’ve been doing. As I said in my original post, I am open to (and looking
forward to) more evidence from those who advocate semantic scripts.



(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.



The “semantic space of the L2” isn’t a space that one can move one’s mind
into. It is only available through deductive inference from the L1 and
abductive inference from L2 speech acts and environments.



In fact, in the field of Second Language Acquisition, the term
*interlanguage* is used to describe an L2. After all, any L2 is in fact
language, but it is not language like the L1; it is, often, a mixture often
producing grammatical rules that are not actually present in either the L1
or the target L2 but in the misunderstanding and misapplication of
grammatical rules in the language production of the L2. Hence,
interlanguage.



(Logan writes) “These are no different than the problems that occur when
translating
between *any* set of languages. The modality used is entirely
irrelevant. Can Mandarin not possibly work as a language because it's
different grammatical features can cause miscommunication and
confusion for English and Russian speakers who try to force it into
their native molds?
Of course not! That just means they're using it wrong. The same
applies to an entirely graphical language.”



Actually, yes, that is why in areas such as airplane communications and
international law, not only are single languages selected (often English)
instead of multiple language, but L1-L2 interference in a single
international language (English) by Mandarin and Russian users have lead to
serious accidents and disasters. (There is an excellent article on this in
‘World Englishes’ (an academic journal from Oxford UP) about misuse of the
L2 due to L1 semantics and the number of accidents caused by such, the
worst being a plane crash in northwestern China that killed over 250
people. I will try to find it.)


OK, those are my two bits. Thank you to everyone for their input!


Best,


Jason

On Mon, Aug 3, 2015 at 11:47 AM, Jörg Rhiemeier <[log in to unmask]>
wrote:

> Hallo conlangers!
>
> On 03.08.2015 13:11, R A Brown wrote:
>
> On 03/08/2015 07:59, Pete Bleackley wrote:
>> [snip]
>>
>> What Wilkins and others failed to do was create a writing
>>> system that could represent concepts independantly of
>>> language - ie one where I could write a letter, thinking
>>> in English, and a monoglot Xhosa speaker could read it,
>>> thinking in Xhosa. A purely semantic writing system has
>>> to be a language in its own right.
>>>
>>
>> Like Blissymbols.
>>
>> Nit pick: in that scenario, neither you nor the Xhosa
>> speaker are monoglot; to communicate you must both be able
>> to use the semantographic language in which you are
>> communicating and which you say "has to be a language in its
>> own right."
>>
>
> Yep.  There is no language-independent "purely semantic writing system" -
> any such writing system is a language in its own right. The 17th-century
> polygraphists, who essentially tried to use cryptographic techniques to
> "re-cipher" languages into each other, were wrong.
>
>
>> I suspect in the modified meaning of 'phonology' which is
>> now being bandied about in this thread, someone could give a
>> meaning to the 'phonology' of Blissymbols      ;)
>>
>
> Why not?
>
> ----------------------------------------------------------
>>
>> It seems to me that there are two problems (at least) being
>> discussed here.  One is what we mean by 'phonology' and the
>> other is what we mean by 'phoneme' on the assumption, it
>> seems to me, that phonology implies phonemes.  It does not.
>>
>
> Indeed not.  A language that uses graded signs as words would not have
> phonemes; it would still have a phonology.
>
> [ORIGIN OF TERMS PHONOLOGY & PHONEME]
>>
>> The etymology of 'phonology' suggests that it means the
>> study of sounds; it does not.  That is 'phonetics.'
>>
>
> Likewise, 'astrology' is not the study of stars; that's 'astronomy'.
>
> The word 'phonology' was coined to denote a branch of
>> linguistics which dealt with the _sound systems_ of
>> languages.
>>
>
> Yep.
>
> Out of the very wide range of possible sounds
>> produced by the human vocal apparatus (which is what
>> phonetics studies), only a relatively small number are used
>> _distinctly_ in any one language.  The sounds of this set
>> used by a language are organized into a system of contrasts
>> which are analyzed in terms of phonemes, distinctive
>> features or other such phonological units, *according to the
>> theory used.*
>>
>> I.e. although the term 'phoneme' is widely used, it is not
>> _universally_ accepted and other theorists have used
>> different systems of analysis.
>>
>
> Certainly so.  Some phonologists abandon the notion of phonemes entirely,
> using distinctive features or other abstractions from the concept of
> phoneme instead.  There are grammatical rules in some languages that
> involve the change of *a single phonetic feature*, leaving all other
> features intact, and are thus sensitive to the internal structure of the
> phonemes.  Examples are the vowel harmony systems found in many Uralic and
> "Altaic" languages.  Also, diachronic sound changes clearly operate on
> phonetic features (example: "to any intervocalic stop, the feature [+voice]
> is added").
>
> [EXTENDED USE OF THE TERMS PHONOLOGY]
>> In 1960 by William Stokoe of Gallaudet University coined the
>> term 'cherology' to denote the study of 'cheremes', i.e.
>> basic elements of gesture and location, in sign languages.
>> At the time it was controversial as many still did not
>> consider these as languages per_se, but as derivative of
>> "real" spoke/written language.
>>
>> Now sign languages are now considered as full languages in
>> their own right. As such the terms 'cherology' and 'chereme'
>> have become deprecated in favor of 'phonology' and 'phoneme'
>> of mainstream linguistics.  As far as I know, this is now
>> generally accepted (though whether, as with spoken
>> languages, there are theories that do not use the term
>> phoneme, I do not know - but there could well be).
>>
>
> Yes; sign language linguists use the terms "phonology" and "phoneme" just
> that way.  I don't know about such "phoneme-less" theories on sign
> languages, though.
>
> If we have a language for extraterrestrial beings then it
>> seems to me that, just as we have extended phonology to mean
>> the study and analysis of elements of gesture and location
>> in sign languages, we should use it of the study of the
>> study and analysis of whatever medium of communication is
>> used by these aliens.  Therefore IMHO it is meaningless to
>> say the alien language has no phonology; whether it
>> necessarily has phonemes is another matter.
>>
>
> Exactly.  It *will* use some sort of signals; it *will* structure those
> signals and build up utterances in some way; thus it *will* have a
> phonology in some extended sense.  It *may* even have phonemes.
>
> -------------------------------------------------------
>>
>> {ADDENDUM: Plan B]
>> As Plan B has been brought into the discussion, I'll just
>> add a few points.
>>
>> The aims of Plan B, as given by its creator, are that the
>> language:
>> {quote}
>> * Is simple enough to be parsed by a couple of hundred
>> lines of straightforward C.
>> * Is simple for humans to learn and use.
>> * Allows for unambiguous resolution of continuous
>> human speech.
>> * Offers near-optimal conciseness and simplicity.
>> - the
>> {/quote}
>>
>> It achieves the first aim. That surely suggests that it has
>> more in common with programming languages than with
>> human-to-human languages.
>>
>
> Fair.  Prothero gives a parsing program which is indeed of modest length.
>
> In my opinion it fails on the
>> second aim. Indeed, the eminent French linguist, Jacques
>> Guy, clearly showed the failings of the language in his
>> parody 'Plan C'.  There are links to both 'Plan B' and 'Plan
>> C' here:
>> http://www.carolandray.plus.com/Exp/index.html
>>
>
> 'Plan C' doesn't load :(
>
> The language, in fact, consists of bit streams. *For
>> convenience* the author breaks up the bit stream into
>> quartets so that he may assign a separate character to each
>> quartet (i.e. a hexadecimal system).  That this is done
>> _purely for reasons of convenience_ is surely clear from the
>> author's own words:
>> {quote}
>> It is handy to have the alphabet size be a power of two.
>> Eight letters would be less concise, thirty-two would
>> be tough to map onto the standard twenty-six char
>> character set. The particular sixteen letters chosen don't
>> matter.
>> {/quote}
>>
>
> As I said in my reply to And's reply, the language *is* structured in bit
> quartets.  The quartets are relevant to the grammar; all morphemes are 4n
> bits long, with n being a positive integer.
>
> But of this alphabet, the author says:
>> {quot}
>> ... the particular letters and pronunciations chosen don't
>> matter much.
>> {/quot}
>>
>> Thus as the "pronunciations chosen don't matter much" and
>> breaking the bit streams into quartets rather than triplets
>> (eight letters) or quintets (thirty two letters) or even
>> bytes (256 symbols - quite possible) is just a matter of
>> convenience for people using ASCII, it seems to me that
>> talking about the phonology of Plan B in the original and
>> traditional sense of 'phonology' is meaningless.
>>
>
> The traditional sense of 'phonology' indeed does not apply here, as bits
> and bit quartets are not spoken sounds.
>
> The subset of American English (for it is clear he treats
>> the vowels of FOUGHT and PROP as identical) which he assigns
>> to his sixteen symbols has nothing to do with a language of
>> bit streams and is just a convenience.  As both Jacques Guy
>> and I show, there are neater ways it could be done.
>>
>
> Sure.  The spoken representation Prothero gives is entirely secondary to
> the language, and as you say, there are neater ways.
>
> If we use 'phonology' in its broader sense, then IMO talking
>> about the arbitrary division of a bit stream into quartets
>> as sixteen phonemes also does not make sense.  The smallest
>> significant unit in Plan B is a bit, i.e. it has only two
>> 'phonemes' - 0 1
>>
>
> Well, bits always come in quartets in Plan B, so one could argue that the
> 'phonemes' of Plan B are the bit quartets rather than the bits themselves -
> but your analysis with the bits as phonemes is not invalid, either.
>
> --
> ... brought to you by the Weeping Elf
> http://www.joerg-rhiemeier.de/Conlang/index.html
> "Bêsel asa Éam, a Éam atha cvanthal a cvanth atha Éamal." - SiM 1:1
>



-- 
Jason Cullen
MA Applied English Linguistics

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