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Gah, I really want to jump in here and say stuff, but I really have to. I’m going to mention a couple of headline points:

(1) Lakoff says conlangs aren’t languages because they lack metaphors. Obviously, laughably false. The issue is whether or not the conlanger has created metaphorical concepts in the language without unconsciously borrowing in metaphors from the natlangs they speak, under the notion that if you didn’t actually try to do something it’s not art: it’s lazy. Also, metaphor works on two separate levels: semantic evolution (dead metaphors) and daily conceptual metaphor (active). Two different things that require two different skillsets/mindsets.

(2) The best way to get irregularities and other naturalistic features is to evolve the language, as Jörg mentioned. If the processes you use are sound, the result will be naturalistic, whether or not it actually exists in a natural language. That’s the test. Then you don’t have to worry about coming up with a grand list of everything that exists in every natural language on Earth and measuring the conlang the way one validates the HTML on a webpage.

(3) It doesn’t matter if, for example, a language has [θ]. It matters how it got it. For example, Mexican Spanish is like most languages: it lacks [θ]. Castellano, however, does have [θ]—same language. It’s exceedingly rare, crosslinguistically, but it doesn’t really matter, because we know exactly how it got [θ]. In this case, neither fact is particularly interesting. Looking at the percentages crosslinguistically rather than the diachrony is a mistake, because you’re examining the end result, not the process. In the case of Spanish, *ts > [θ] in Castellano and *ts > [s] in Mexican Spanish. How common are each of those specific sound changes? Now you’re asking the right question.

(4) While I agree there’s something to natural languages that makes them easy (or easier?) to learn, I’m not 100% sure we can pinpoint that yet. For example, it’s common for pronouns to be irregular in some way. Would it be easier to learn Esperanto if there were some irregular accusative forms (e.g. yo~mi, li~en)? I doubt it. The -n accusatives for pronouns may not be natural, and it may not be easier to learn than a natlang pronoun system, but I doubt it’s harder. I think it’s a good question to ask, but randomly sprinkling in irregularities is not the way to either create a good naturalistic conlang or a good auxlang.

Awesome discussion! I’ve really been enjoying reading the entire exchange.

David Peterson
LCS Member Since 2007
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www.conlang.org

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> On Jun 3, 2015, at 4:09 PM, Alex Fink <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> 
> On Wed, 3 Jun 2015 13:43:21 -0700, Jeffrey Brown <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> 
>> Jörg R: I apologize for my lack of clarity: I didn’t mean to imply that a
>> naturalistic grammar had to contain the same COMBINATION of grammatical
>> features as a natlang, but that use of a truly novel feature, one that is
>> not observed in any natlang whatsoever, will compromise the naturalism of
>> the grammar (such as Fith’s stack-based grammar). I think that any
>> (consistent) combination of natlang grammatical features ought to work.
> 
> Re this, and re your original (2), I'd add that "consistency" is a fuzzy property.  To resume Joerg's example, are ergativity and VO order _inconsistent_? No.  So are they just another unremarkable combination? No again, they're pretty rare together.  That is, the combination is somewhere in the fuzzy periphery of "consistency", not in the centre near its prototype.  
> 
> I've stated my concept of _strong naturalism_ around here before, as the version of naturalism I aspire to, though surely don't attain.  The strong-naturalist strives to make conlangs whose statistics, on every feature and combination of features, follow the distribution of natural languages, given a large enough sample (this bit is necessarily a bit nebulous, e.g. we might have to observe the world for a million years to get enough data).  If 43% of natlangs are VO, then your languages should be VO with 43% probability.  If only 7.5% of natlangs have [T], then you'll have to go without [T] 92.5% of the time.  (That's one of the scores on which conlangers taken collectively are way out; there's way too much [T].  Of course that's a hard type of thing to "solve"... not entirely unlike the problem of ensuring representation of minorities in fiction collectively, though of infinitely less social importance.)
> 
>> Taliesin: But would you say that Tariana has a naturalistic grammar,
>> despite it being a freaky monster conlang?
> 
> I wondered if you had confused Tariana and Tariatta.
>  http://conlang.org/language-creation-conference/lcc5/11-tariatta/
> 
>> John Q: (1) If cryptotypes are defined in the description of a conlang, are
>> they still cryptotypes? Hmm…? I don’t think a constructed language can have
>> cryptotypes. 
> 
> My reaction to that idea is not dissimilar to my reaction to Lakoff's "a conlang can't have frames": both seem to include a sort of confusion of levels between the description and the (imagined, typically) describendum.  
> 
> A cryptotype is simply a semantic or syntactic type of feature which lacks explicit _morphological_ expression.  It's not something like an "undiscovered" feature.  One could easily even make a sketchlang with a cryptotype -- you know, suppose verbs don't express an active vs. stative distinction in their morphology at all, but suddenly when you add an adverbial adjunct naming a point in time ("at noon"), statives are all of a sudden read inceptively while actives are read normally.  Bam, cryptotype.
> 
>> (And I suspect that is why, in my opinion, no exolang really “feels”
>> complete and naturalistic, even on its own terms. It’s missing a consistent
>> conceptual framework which is a deducible extension of the sensory/motor
>> apparatus of the aliens who are purported to speak it. To create a great
>> exolang, one probably has to spend a few years beforehand working out the
>> anatomy and physiology of the aliens, before tackling the conculture and
>> the language.)
> 
> Well said.
> 
>> Anyway, this (conceptual metaphors and cognitive frames) is a really
>> excellent point, and something that conlangers striving for naturalism
>> should pay closer attention to.
> 
> In accord with your "read a dozen natlang grammars" advice, what we really need is a cross-linguistic (and not overfocussed on SAE) treatment of which sorts of metaphors and frames are commonplace and which are rarer -- without this, how will we know what makes a naturalistic and not too calquey set of frames and metaphors?  So, have any linguists done any work at all like that?
> 
> Alex