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On Tue, Aug 4, 2009 at 9:10 PM, Thomas Alexander<[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> Alex Fink wrote:
>> Well, there you're up against the distinction
>> between learners and crafters, [...]
>> We're here because we're crafting; we may
>> or may not have particular interest in
>> learning.
>
> Well, that's too bad, I suppose.  I imagine
> one of the topics in the discussion you mentioned
> was that there is not a clear line between the
> two.  For example, it is proving necessary for me
> to reconstruct Pakuni in order to learn it.  I
> have pretty much learned it in my effort to
> document it.

Indeed, there's a fair bit of overlap between the two groups; but I
think Alex is probably right in saying that most members of CONLANG
(at least among the active posters; one can't infer anything about the
lurkers) are crafters, and may or may not be learners as well.


>> So what's necessary to know about languages
>> to be able to _use_ them isn't what determines
>> the standard of discourse on the list.
>
> At the risk of looking like I'm taking your
> comment personally, I'll ask for a clarification.
> Are you saying that the "standard of discourse"
> on Conlang includes all the funny symbols such
> as "<s>", which could be replaced by plain English,

In general, I suppose jargon and symbology evolve for several reasons,
including desires for precision, conciseness, and excluding outsiders
from discussions.   I like to think, though I don't know for sure,
that the use of jargon and symbology on CONLANG is almost exclusively
motivated by the first two factors (plus "fun", in the case of silly
terms like "maggelity").

Symbols and jargon peculiar to a given discipline or hobby or
subculture can in general be replaced by "plain English", just as it's
generally possible to translate most concepts from any language to any
other language, but the result will probably suffer in conciseness or
precision or both.  So we could replace e.g. the symbol /s/ with a
long, precise phrase like "the sound in the language under discussion
which is typically pronounced like the 's' in English 'see'", or we
could replace it by an equally concise but less precise symbol like
"s" or s.   But preferring to maximize both precision and consiseness,
we use IPA or CXS symbols, and the /phoneme/ [phone] notation, and so
forth.


> I would be very interested for any example (from
> anybody) which could illustrate the danger of
> thinking in terms of letters which would not
> apply equally well to a conlang represented by
> phonemic symbols.  I am open to the possibility
> that such an example exists, but I am not able
> to think of one.

To my mind the danger is not so much of unclarity in one's thinking --
a person, especially a polyglot like yourself, can have a clear idea
about how sounds differ from letters and how the sound systems of
different languages differ, without knowing all the technical terms of
phonology like "phoneme", "phone", "allophone" and so forth -- but of
unclarity in discussion.  And that danger is greater or less in
proportion as the language the discussion happens in has a less or
more phonetic writing system.  As I said earlier, if we were talking
in Esperanto about Esperanto phonology, or about a language whose
phonology is not too different from Esperanto's, we could get by with
less technical linguistic terminology than we need when talking in
English, where referring to the sound represented by particular
letters tends to be far more ambiguous.


> This isn't to say that it's not necessary to
> understand that sounds and letters are different,
> merely that if I write <cxi> and you write /tSi/,
> we're both dealing with symbols which represent
> sounds.

True, but it generally helps for everyone in a given discussion to use
the same standardized set of symbols.  This used to be a problem in
linguistics literature, before IPA became fully standardized and
widely deployed.

-- 
Jim Henry
http://www.pobox.com/~jimhenry/