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On Tue, Apr 5, 2011 at 10:02 PM, And Rosta <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> Jim Henry, On 04/04/2011 21:20:

>> In general, for a conlang with one or more speakers to be interesting
>> for academic study, I would think you'd need a new descriptive
>> grammar, lexicon, etc. written *after* you have one or more fluent

> On the whole, yes -- if there's stuff in systematic usage of invented lgs
> that doesn't occur in natlangs, then that'd be of interest. But some
> linguistic theorizing considers matters of pure design -- of possible design
> solutions to the problem of how to achieve the functions lg must achieve --
> and to this theorizing, lg designs ought to be relevant, not usage, except
> maybe to the extent that usage proves human usability.

That last clause, "except....usability", seems to almost negate the
rest of the sentence -- if a language design isn't eventually proven
to be human-usable, by being learned and spoken by one or more (or
more rigorously, two or more) speakers, then it's not obvious to me
that any non-conlanger linguists would see such designs as being
relevant to their concerns.

Some linguists may be more interested in *langue* than in *parole*,
but with natlangs, we only know the existence and nature of *langue*
by studying *parole*.  For conlangs with a speaker communitty, so far,
actual *parole* often (or even always?) turns out to imply a slightly
different *langue* than was originally described or prescribed by the
conlanger's orignal grammar, lessons etc.  And if there's no *parole*
yet, how do we know if the theoretical *langue* described in the
conlanger's grammar, lessons, etc. corresponds to anything "real"?

> In practice, I think
> this is the area where conlanging (more specifically, engelanging) has the
> greatest (i.e. least nugatory) scope for contributing to linguistics:
> specifically, in what ways, if any, is it possible to functionally improve
> on natlangs' design? To what extent are natural languages perfect?

Is a theoretical improvement in design interesting (for these
purposes) if it turns out that nobody is able to learn to speak said
engelang fluently?  Of course, languages are gestalts, and we can't
necessarily judge whether a given engelang's failure to acquire a
speaker community is due to any specific feature being too unnatural
to learn, or to some other feature or combination of features making
the language too hard or impossible, or to social or psychological
factors having nothing to do with pure speakability.  But if one
engelang after another implements the same possibly-unnatural feature,
while differing from each other in other features, and none of them
acquires any fluent speakers in spite of concerted efforst by creators
and fans to learn them, we would have some suggestive though not
probative evidence that this feature may really and truly be
unnatural.

Ideally, we'd control the experiment by designing a new engelang
that's near-identical to a given natlang, or a conlang of proven
speakability, except for one feature; then give the learners some
strong incentive to learn and use it if it's at all possible to do so.
 But that (giving learners a financial incentive to learn and use the
language) is liable to be too expensive for most lingustics
departments' budgets, I suspect.  And for unpaid amateur engelangers,
the temptation to try to improve on natlangs and previous conlangs in
multiple ways at once is probably too strong. :)

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