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CONLANG  June 1999, Week 1

CONLANG June 1999, Week 1

Subject:

Re: Deriving adjectives from nouns

From:

Tom Wier <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Constructed Languages List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 6 Jun 1999 20:20:38 -0500

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Marcos Franco wrote:

> Tem Sat, 5 Jun 1999 22:08:57 -0500, Tom Wier
> <[log in to unmask]> skribis:
>
> >> >adjective suffix, as in "homely" and such (because "nice" is already
> >> >an adjective, and why do you need to adjectivalize what is already
> >> >an adjective?).
> >>
> >> However, it's possible to derive an adjective from an adverb (e.g.
> >> Esperanto nuna, chiama...).
> >
> >Okay, but that doesn't make an adverb + noun, in any language,
> >any more comprehensible, does it?  I know I kinda jumped into
> >the middle of things here.
>
> Of course, adverb + noun is, as you said, an impossible pair, if we
> define adverb as "a word which modifies verbs/adjs/advs". However,
> there is a kind of adverbs, derived from verbs, which we use ruling
> noun phrases. You've just seen one, they are gerunds:
> We use them ruling noun phrases.

I dunno... I think I'd call that a regular ol' participle, which
acts adjectivally (but see below).

> We can consider gerunds as verbal adverbs as well as we consider
> participles as verbal adjectives. In fact, in Esperanto they both are
> constructed with the respective ending -e and -a :
> la legho regante homojn funkcias bone,
> la legho reganta homojn,
> (where homojn is the object of reg-).

*Esperanto*  may interpret it this way, but morphologicly and
syntacticly, English considers these to be adjectives which match up
with a noun (here:  "ruling" with "we").  They may have an adverbial
meaning, but that doesn't mean it's an adverb itself.  Besides, English
*can* indicate adverbial participles explicitly, and there is a fairly
strong tendency to do so when it can.  For example, the linguist's
favorite:  "underlyingly".

> >> I think your mistaking here the meaning of the word "ambiguous".
> >> "Animal" is IMO not an ambiguous word, but a generic one. You can
> >> precisely define what an animal is ("organic being that lives, etc.")
> >> so this word be unambiguous, without having to refer to just one
> >> concrete being in the world.
> >
> >But what exactly do we mean by "ambiguity", then?  To me, ambiguity
> >implies that a term or phrase could have multiple possible interpretations
> >or meanings. What, exactly, without defining in circles, is an "animal"?
>
> Just look in a dictionary.

If you do, though, you'll likely find several *different* meanings, all of which
are in use.

> >Are fungi animals?  Are plants animals? By the definition given above, they are.
>
> Please note that my definition was conciously incomplete (hence the
> "etc.").

I understand that, but I'm just trying to highlight the fact that you *can't*
have complete definitions -- because the definition is based on how people
use it, and lots of people use even very basic words in very different ways.
Definitions, just like everything else about language, change all the time.

For example, the Linnaean biological systemization, IIRC, does not include
fungi or plants in the subheading "animal" -- both of them have their own separate
kingdom.  Yet I'm sure you can find plenty of people who have a broader
meaning of "animal": they're anything that lives (which is the definition you gave
above).

Remember again that ambiguity means lack of clarity which leads to multiple
possible interpretations (where context is the only guide to meaning).  If I
said to you, "Hey, there's an animal sitting over on that rock", who knows
what I meant by that?  The word "animal" itself could mean, without any further
context, anything from a gecko to the Constitution of the United States, depending
on whether you're talking, so to speak, about a physical _anima_ or a metaphorical
_anima_.

> >So you see, the problem is not so easy. There are multiple possible definitions
> >in actual use for the word.
>
> Perhaps in English "animal" has more than one meaning (I don't know),

It does.

> but a loglang would have just one of them (the main one, I guess).

Such a system would, if it were used by actual people in a large community,
begin to break down almost immediately.  Because people are individuals,
they feel the need to extend and expand the language to fill their own needs,
and often that means making meanings of words or constructions
conscientiously less clear.  One can't anymore force one and only one meaning
on a word than you can force people to use that meaning (and I don't think we
need to recount how often *that* has sucessfully been tried in history).

Now, in saying this, I'm not saying that "specificity" is impossible, only that I
think it's usually something of a false dichotomy to say something is, or is not,
ambiguous, or specific.  Such a determination falls along a spectrum; it isn't
an either-or thing, usually.  But how about "metempsychosis"? That's a pretty
specific word.  :)

> >The whole idea of genericness would be lost if it were defined in any specific
> >way: generic concepts are fundamentally ambiguous.  "animal" can refer to
> >any number of possible lifeforms that share certain characteristics with one
> >another. Similarly, the Hungarian third person pronoun <o"k> for example is
> >ambiguous as to the gender it conveys (there *is* no gendered pronoun,
> >IIRC). This is an example of genericness in action, and yet it's also obviously
> >an ambiguity.
>
> Following your arguments, no noun may be unambiguous in a language
> (except, perhaps, proper nouns). If you say, "a chair", then you're
> being ambiguous, because, no matter how precisely you define what is a
> chair, there are millions of chairs in the world.

Right -- that's what I implied in my last post, wasn't it? Like I said, I think
it's often more of a spectrum thing than an either-or thing. "chair" is just
less ambiguous than "animal" or "entity".

I think you're confusing syntactic ambiguity with general ambiguity: they're not
the same thing.  Syntactic ambiguity is merely a subset of general ambiguity.
And ambiguity in language is more than just syntactic ambiguity, just as there's
more to a language than its syntax (or morphology, or whatever).



===========================================
Tom Wier <[log in to unmask]>
AIM: Deuterotom ICQ: 4315704
<http://www.angelfire.com/tx/eclectorium/>
"Cogito ergo sum, sed credo ergo ero."
===========================================

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