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On Jun 9, 2010, at 2◊52 AM, Jen Runds wrote:
> 
> This seems even more confusing. Would a relex of an existing language then
> be technically a priori? I guess my objection is that the terms don't seem
> to have a lot of usefulness. Vocabulary is such a small aspect of conlanging
> that applying such a broad label is just silly, isn't it?


You have to understand these terms in the appropriate historical
context. The terms came to exist during the Auxlang movement.
There was a sharp division between auxlangs that were a priori
and a posteriori--and strong opinions behind which way was the
"right" way. In the context of an auxlang, one can understand why
the distinction would be very important. Some argued that an
auxlang, in order to be maximally neutral, must have an a priori
lexicon, so that no speaker community would have greater access
to the language than any other. Others argued that, pragmatically,
an auxlang was more likely to be learned if the vocabulary was
familiar, and argued against neutrality by claiming that if the
vocabulary was familiar to a large number of the world's inhabitants,
it was more likely to be learned, and therefore more likely to be
successful (which is why many auxlangs draw from the vocabulary
of widely-spoken European languages, as opposed to languages
spoken by a small number of speakers).

When these terms were coined, I think the notion of creating a
language for anything other than international communication
was not in vogue. The concerns of an artlanger didn't factor into
the terms' creation at all.

Nevertheless, as non-auxlangs became more prevalent, the
terms became useful to distinguish between those conlangs
whose vocabularies were created whole cloth, and those languages
that attempted to do historical reconstructions, or possible branches
of existing language families, or new mixed languages or creoles,
etc. As such, it was a useful distinction--and still is, in my opinion.

The terms were never intended to say anything about grammar,
which is why we have terms like "relexicalization". Just because
the terms aren't broad enough doesn't mean they're not useful--
especially since those of us who aren't auxlangers are essentially
borrowing the terms, anyway (or perhaps extending their usage
to unintended domains).

Back to your original question, it seems that what you're talking
about is how original Tolkien's *grammar* is. That's something
which, as you've stated, has nothing to do with the origin of the
phonological forms in the lexicon (though may indeed have something
to do with the words themselves [a relex is a relex, even if the
words are a priori]). I'm afraid I can't add anything to that, since I
haven't really studied Tolkien's languages at all. Others on the
list have, though, so if you wanted to discuss that, I'd be interested
to follow the discussion. I just don't think that the terms a priori
or a posteriori are the ones you're after (or, perhaps, you can
coin a new sense--i.e. a priori grammar vs. a posteriori grammar.
It seems like a reasonable expansion).

-David
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"Sunlü eleškarez ügrallerüf üjjixelye ye oxömeyze."
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LCS Member Since 2007
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