On Tue, Jul 8, 2008 at 8:36 PM, And Rosta <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> Rick Harrison, On 08/07/2008 21:53:
> In working on my own conlang
> I have found that it is very useful to include argument structure as a
> criterion. By 'argument structure' I mean what Lojban calls 'place
> structure' or 'sumti(-place) structure'. In a language in which grammatical
> behaviour mirrors logical properties, members of the same semantic category
> behave alike if and only if they have the same argument structure, and it's
> these that form natural rather than arbitrary categories.

Do you mean distributional categories -- sets of words that are
liable to occur in the same context as each other?  Yes, I think
members of true distributional categories would necessarily
have both the same argument structure and some aspect of
meaning in common with each other.  But does it make more
sense, in making a hierarchy of distributional categories,
to put the argument-structure categories at the top of the
hierarchy, and then subdivide those argument-structure
categories into subcategories based on their semantics,
or vice versa?  That is, would it make more sense to have
top-level categories like animate noun, inanimate noun,
intransitive verb, transitive verb, ditransitive verb, preposition,
etc., and then subdivide the animate nouns into spirit, human,
animal and the intransitive verbs into physical state,
involuntary process, voluntary process, etc., --- or have top-level
categories like "the mental world", "the physical world",
"relationships", etc., and then subdivide "the mental world"
into categories for e.g. thinking verbs, speaking verbs,
nouns for mental states, adjectives for mental states, etc....?

Now that I've articulated the question I'm fairly sure that the
first kind of hierarchy, i.e. common argument structure at the top level(s)
and common semantics at lower levels makes more sense
for most purposes.  But there may still be something to be said
for a kind of classification that would put the preposition
"to", the verb "move", the noun "motion," & the adjective "moving"
all in one (semantic) category even though they all have different
argument structures.

This brings up another point -- most of the taxonomic languages
I'm aware of have a semantic hierarchy.  Are there any that have
a hierarchy favoring argument-structure (or "part of speech")
over semantics?   Languages like Esperanto that have
pervasive part-of-speech marking are sort of like what I'm
thinking of, but not quite.  My own engelang säb zjeda has
something more like it, but with a shallow, one-level hierarchy,
partly semantic and partly distributional; the categories are:

* substance roots (which act as nouns unless otherwise marked)
* process roots (which act as verbs unless otherwise marked)
* relationship roots (which act as prepositions unless otherwise marked)
* quality roots (which act as adjectives unless otherwise marked)
* grammatical particles, incl. pronouns, core prepositions, conjunctions,
   numbers, modal particles...

A distributional taxonomic language -- which säb zjeda
might become in its next version, but probably won't  -- would have
a hierarchy like that but one or two levels deeper, with a root's
phonological form fully indicating its (default) argument structure
and perhaps hinting generally at its semantics as well, but
probably with a good deal of arbitrariness at the lowest level.
E.g., maybe the initial couple of phonemes indicate the
argument structure and a high-level semantic category,
while the remainder of the morpheme is arbitrary in form.
I probably won't do that in the next version of säb zjeda,
because its ultimate goal is to become more and more
concise with each iteration, and I think too detailed a
taxonomic hierarchy would work against conciseness;

Jim Henry
Conlang fluency survey -- there's still time to participate before
I analyze the results and write the article