Ken Caviness wrote:
> Je 01:49 PM 9/29/97 -0700, Mark P. Line skribis:
> >> No, only to the extent that after recovering from my
> >> surprise I wondered if you judged yourself to have a
> >> sufficient basis for comparison of "simple" natlangs and
> >> conlangs.
> >
> >In other words, you're exploring the possibilities of an
> >ad hominem argument.
> No.

So there's some other reason for asking me if I know what I'm talking
about? Are you going to tell us what it is?

> >Do you really think that's a good idea?
> You misunderstand completely.  Why should you interpret a
> request for information as a personal attack, or perhaps
> gathering ammunition for one?

> Well, I suppose enough personal attacks have been seen on
> auxlang and the old conlang list that perhaps a certain
> degree of paranoia is understandable.

There's no paranoia involved, because I do not feel threatened by ad
hominem arguments (I don't tolerate them, that's all). I simply don't
see why you would assume that I might not really know what I'm talking

> Let's back up.  You mention the relative non-complexity of
> Malay and other natlangs.  I've heard similar things from
> time to time, but not from anyone who has studied the
> language(s) in question.

So you've observed some ignorant people saying something, and assume
that, if I say something similar (or at least not incompatible), then I
might be ignorant, too -- the probability being high enough in your mind
to warrant the question, at least.

I think you might want to review your logic here.

> I may or may not get around to looking at the languages you
> mention, I certainly will not be able to look at all
> languages somebody says are relatively uncomplicated.

Nobody is asking you to. I was merely rebutting an unsupportable claim
about the necessary degree of complication of any natlang. As long as
you don't make unsupportable claims, I see no reason for you to learn
anything at all, ever again.

> So what do I do?  I ask.  I don't demand anyone's
> credentials, but I want to have an idea of how much they've
> looked at the particular question.

You already knew how much: More than you have. For many people, that's
sufficient in cases where they aren't aware of a substantive rebuttal to
something that has surprised them.

Ken: "QED predicts that electrons can move backwards in time, but we
ourselves can only move forward through time, so we perceive such
electrons as positrons -- as antimatter."

Mark: "What? It's overwhelmingly obvious that nothing can move backwards
through time."

Ken: "Don't be so arrogant."

Mark: "I've talked with quite a few people about time travel, and they
were all completely ignorant of physics. Tell me, Ken, could you please
tell us how much physics you've studied? Are you completely familiar
with QED? I always like to have an idea of how much people have looked
at the particular question. Thanks."

> It would be pretty foolish to listen to professional advice
> without first determining whether one is talking to an
> expert.

I was not giving professional advice, I was stating facts as I know them
and judgments as I call them. I assume that anything I say here can and
will be debated. If I were dispensing professional advice, you wouldn't
be able to engage me in a debate: I'd tell you to find another
professional either as corroboration or to advise you in my stead. [I
dispense professional advice for a living, BTW, though not often in
linguistics anymore.]

> I know that *I* am an amateur here, as are many others on
> the auxlang list.  Until you tell me you're a linguist, I
> don't know it.

Although I thought everybody here knew I'm a linguist, I still don't
think my background is relevant. Either my claims about Malay are
tenable, or they are not. Whether or not they are tenable is UTTERLY
INDEPENDENT of my status as an authority. I do not claim that my
statements must be believed on the weight of any professional authority
I might enjoy; I claim that my statements should be believed on the
weight of evidence that can be found in a rather straightforward (though
time-consuming) manner.

> Until you tell me you've studied Quechua, I can't know
> that.

How could I say anything about the complexity of Quechua if I knew
nothing about it? Or why do you assume that I _would_ say something
about the complexity of Quechua while knowing nothing about it? Do you
know anybody who does that on a regular basis [see below]?

> >> As I mentioned, I've heard so many opinions from people
> >> who hadn't even looked at the question,
> You see?  I explained *precisely* why I needed to ask!  But
> you respond:
> >It might be wise of you not to make that kind of
> >assumption in my case, unless you have reason to believe
> >that I am in the habit of stating unconsidered opinions.
> I made no assumption here.  Rather than making assumptions,
> I sought information.

You cannot rationally ask somebody whether or not they're ignorant
without assuming that they're possibly ignorant.

I resent the assumption (unless you have reason for so assuming, in my
case) that I might be ignorant of the subject I'm talking about. This is
nothing more than a thinly veiled ad hominem probe, and I'm not the only
one here who sees it so.

> It might be wise of you not to make the assumption that I'm
> attacking you personally unless you have reason to believe
> that I am in the habit of making such personal attacks,
> unconsidered or otherwise.

I agree. And I never said you were attacking me personally. I said I
thought you were trying to collect data to inform such an attack,
because I see no other reason to ask me if my ignorance might be the
cause of my claims about Malay.

> * And maybe you have a difficult time making simple
> statements without being gratuitously insulting.  Who
> knows?

Come on, you're the one who asked me if I was just another one of those
ignorant people parroting this or that urban legend about Malay.

> (Yes, I do consider several of your statements to have been
> insulting and otherwise content-free.

Of course they were. Until you decide to engage in substantive debate
instead of ad hominem probing and patronization, I reckon I'll insult
you any time I feel like it. Something about geese and ganders, IIRC.

> Mark, you have my thanks for the overview of your
> complexity comparison of languages.  It's very interesting!
> But I see no reason for you to be so offensive in the
> process.

Oh. Well, maybe you're not looking in all the right places to find the
reasons. Here are a couple of them:

> Ken Caviness wrote:
> > Most of the comments about how logical and easy to learn
> > Indonesian is seem to have been made by people who also
> > have no personal knowledge of the language.  Such is the
> > stuff of Urban Legends, and I would like to hear more
> > from people who has studied it.
> > [...]
> >
> > Mark, you're being very modest here, but would you
> > describe the extent of your knowledge of these languages?

[Paraphrase: Most comments I've heard about how easy Indonesian is have
been made by ignoramuses. Mark, are you such an ignoramus, too?]

> Ken Caviness wrote:
> > I've heard people who know nothing about Malay or
> > Esperanto claim that Malay is "just as easy to learn" as
> > Esperanto.  So may I ask, which conlangs have you
> > studied, and to what degree compared to the natlangs you
> > mention?

[Paraphrase: There are ignoramuses who make claims about things they
know nothing about. Mark, are you such an ignoramus, too?]

> This is not my field.

Whose field it is is irrelevant. The facts of Malay and Esperanto are
not dependent on one of us being a linguist, or even a Malayist or
Esperantist. As always, your options are to engage in substantive debate
on the subject or to shut up about it. Remember, this set of threads has
to do with people making unsupportable claims about natlangs -- once
those claims are retracted, there is no reason to engage in further ad
hominem poking.

> I don't know you, I don't know what you've been
> saying "for years", nor the degree of solitude you enjoy
> (whether you are "not alone").

You don't need to. You need to know something about Malay before making
assumptions about it, that's all. The fact that you were surprised by my
comments on Malay, TP & Quechua, along with your own statements,
indicate that you are almost completely ignorant about all three of
these languages. If you were surprised by my comments, then that means
you found that certain assumptions you had been making about those
languages (surely more complicated than Esperanto) were being
contradicted by my claims. In other words, you were making assumptions
about the complexity of Malay, TP and Quechua on the basis of your study
of a handful of (mostly related, mostly European) languages. Then, YOU
write this to ME:

"Most of the comments about how logical and easy to learn
Indonesian is seem to have been made by people who also
have no personal knowledge of the language.  Such is the
stuff of Urban Legends, and I would like to hear more
from people who has studied it. [...] Mark, you're being very modest
here, but would you describe the extent of your knowledge of these

No personal knowledge of the language? But you feel justified in making
ad hominem jabs at somebody who makes claims which contradict _your_
assumptions about languages you've said (later) you haven't even

Are you beginning to see why you've pissed me off, or would you like to
invite somebody else to take a crack at the explanation?

> I'm glad for whatever pertinent information you care
> to share, and I rate the informed opinion of someone who
> has training in the field over the opinions of amateurs
> like myself.

That's your prerogative, but I in fact do _not_ value the opinions of
professionals over those of amateurs, because I don't value opinions
very much at all. I do value supportable facts over any kind of opinion,
though, and sometimes (not always) it's the professionals who have
access to the greater stock of supportable facts.

> I have had an amateur interest in languages for many
> years, and because I recognize my amateur status, I _hope_
> professionals will tell me when my statements are
> off-track.

Okay, it looks like our communication broke down because you are a
person who is prepared to believe something you're told by a "real
professional" on the weight of their authority (which is, after all, the
stuff that ad hominem argumentation is made of), whereas I try to deal
only in supportable observations and inference about the substance under
debate. Your rules of battle told you to find out if I was an expert and
then to simply believe everything I say once you found that I was. My
rules of battle told me to do everything to focus the debate exclusively
on substantive issues and to reject anything else. Obviously, these
battle tactics are mutually exclusive.

> * But I am willing to forego the pleasure and chance of
> learning something new from you at this time if you can't
> conform to a certain minimum level of politeness.

I try to reflect the level of politeness achieved by my interlocutor. I
didn't find your inquiries into my ignoramus status very polite, and
I've gone to the trouble to verify behind the scenes that it's not just
my own personal paranoia getting to me.

> If you have found any of my statements even a fraction as
> irritating as I find your responses to me, particularly in
> this message, then please point them out to me.

I can't know, of course, how irritating that would be, since I can't get
inside your head. But I found your comments (which I quoted several
times above, for effect) asking about my ignoramus status pretty
irritating. In addition, the following comments of yours were also
pretty irritating (to me, at least):

> However, screams and hollers have arisen when someone did
> write in Esperanto.  Even though most conlang enthusiasts
> do know Esperanto, or have learned enough of it to get by.
> But those statistics do not hold true for participants of
> this mailing list, it seems.

[Ken obviously knows >= 50% of all conlang enthusiasts and is aware of
their command of Esperanto. This must be true, because otherwise, he
would be open to the rebuttal that he's making claims about things he
has no knowledge of, and I'm sure he'd never do _that_.]

> Why should I impose my language on other people?  Or why
> should someone else impose his/her language on me?  Is that
> fair?  Many people spend years in the U.S.A. and never
> really master the English language.  No, let everyone learn
> an EASY international language, and then no one is at an
> unfair disadvantage.  At this time, Esperanto really seems
> to be the only candidate for the job.  By means of
> translated literature it gives us a taste of other
> cultures, but it has also formed an international culture
> of its own.

[This was the famous "fossilized tripe boilerplate" that at
least a couple of us complained about. It was offered in
answer to the question of why Ken applied certain
arguments to Esperanto but not to English.]

> So, Mr. Line, are you about to convince us of the thesis
> that natural language would make a better IAL than a
> constructed language?  If so, let's hear what you have to
> say!  Why hide your light under a bushel?

[Just one more patronizing jab.]

> It is my opinion that the benefits of supporting a planned
> language as a world-wide IAL (in contrast to using an
> unplanned, "wild" language) are so overwhelmingly obvious
> that you'll have to creep a little farther out from under
> your bushel in order to make your meaning clear.

["Only an IGNORAMUS could possibly be so stupid as to miss seeing
something that is overwhelmingly obvious." You decided later that it was
in your best interest to retract this particular formulation.]

[But before Ken saw the need for his retraction, he saw the need for the
following verbiage:]

> In other words, you started the discussion, but left us
> hanging.  Rather than barging in with a lot of arguments I
> was waiting for you to clarify your position.  I got tired
> of waiting, and in a previous message finally gave an
> argument for conlangs.

[more pre-retraction polemics:]
> I'm beginning to dislike the Columbo method, as you apply
> it to IAL discussions.  You make a statement, with some
> historical references.  It wasn't clear to me that those
> were your "proofs".  I was waiting for you to get on with
> the show!  But when I ask you to fill in the blanks, and
> follow your lead (by making a statement and withholding
> immediate argument) you make statements like the above!
> Crazy.

[more pre-retraction polemics:]
> Well, apparently I truly misunderstood you.  All the time
> you were giving your proofs, and I missed them entirely. My
> apologies.

[Ken? Snide? Naaaah... not _him_....]

[more pre-retraction polemics:]
> But perhaps you'd deign to specify if we should all sit
> back on our backsides and let natural selection hand us an
> IAL? Intriguing thought.  Or should we lobby to simplify
> English to make it a better (but still natural!!!) IAL?

["deign"? More patronization, but increasingly succinct and efficient
patronization. The balls of somebody who simply cannot fathom the
existence of an alternate POV.]

[more pre-retraction polemics:]
> Surely it is unbelievable to claim that a wild language,
> subjected throughout its history to an immense number of
> linguistic forces, would even come close to being easy as
> an L2.

["Only an IGNORAMUS would make unbelievable claims. That's why it's not
even necessary to engage in any substantive debate here, it's enough to
just keep repeating how overwhelmingly obvious my position is and how
unbelievable any contradictory claim must be."]

[more pre-retraction polemics:]
> All ethnic languages have exceptions to the natural
> patterns found in them.

[Written by Ken Caviness, the only human being who has studied every
single ethnic language. Otherwise, he would be open to the rebuttal that
he's making claims about something he's not knowledgeable in.]

[more pre-retraction polemics:]
> Great.  More hiding behind bushes.  I've ceased to wonder
> whether you support an unmodified natlang, a simplified
> natlang, a conlang, or the tweets of the Lesser Two-Tone
> Hoopoe.

[Ken made an unsupportable claim, Mark wants to see the support, Ken
later retracts the claim because it can't be supported -- but in the
meantime, it's MARK who is hiding behind bushes?]

[more pre-retraction polemics:]
> So, Mr. Brown!  Ante up, or I'm out of your game.

[I'm glad to know that age and nationality are not being discriminated
against here.]

[more pre-retraction polemics:]
> Would you like to convince us that we should support Tok
> Pisin as IAL?  I don't know more about it than what I can
> find in the encyclopaedia, so until you enlighten me, I'm
> at a loss on how to procede.  Or do you expect me to do a
> study of all the world's languages to find a regular,
> easy-to-learn "natural" language?  Hardly viable, I should
> have to rely on expert testimony to cut down on the number
> of applicants.  Perhaps now you'd like to provide your
> expert testimony on Tok Pisin?

[One last patronizing whack prior to The Retraction...]

[more pre-retraction polemics:]
> Anyone who works through a basic course in Esperanto (for
> instance) can see for himself that it is much more regular
> and simple than his native language.

["Only somebody IGNORANT of Esperanto could possibly believe that any
natlang is as regular and simple as Esperanto." Ken knows, because he's
studied every natlang there ever was. That has to be so, or else he
would be open to rebuttal along the lines of making claims about things
he knows nothing about.]

[more pre-retraction polemics:]
> It certainly seems obvious to me that any natlang is likely
> to have needless complexities and thus be needlessly hard
> to learn.

[I guess Ken thought it bore repeating just one more time, for good
measure. Sometimes things come true when you repeat them over and over
again. "There's no place like home. There's no place like home. There's
no place like home." I think you might have forgotten to tap your magic
slippers together, Ken.]

[in the same post as The Retraction, and after having written items (1)
through (15) above, Ken has the unfuckingmitigated gall to write:]
> I believe that I now understand that Mark is telling us
> that "Tok Pisin" or in general a pidgin or creole has a
> better chance of use as a world-wide IAL than does a
> constructed language.  But other places he appears to say
> IALs are unnecessary, and various other things.  As stated
> elsewhere, I have formed the opinion (aided somewhat by his
> comments that he doesn't care what I or anyone else on the
> auxlang list think) that his posts are more flame-bait than
> valid discussion.

["I have formed the opinion that his posts are more flame-bait than
valid discussion." And now you can't imagine why I don't love you

[The Retraction. Finally.]
> I hereby RETRACT the statement that the arguments in favor
> of supporting a planned IAL rather than an unplanned one
> are "overwhelmingly obvious"!

[Note that this retraction comes a LONG TIME after the comment in
question was uttered, with many, many words in between. Ken could have
simply accepted that his arguments were not overwhelmingly obvious and
proceeded to lay them out for us. Instead, we were treated to the many
gratuitous jabs I've listed above.]

[Life after The Retraction:]
> I haven't recently reread the charter, but I would happily
> see discussion of *any* IAL on the list.  But historically
> the list has been the hangout of conauxlangers, and it is
> incumbent upon any proponents of natIALs to present cogent
> arguments if they wish a discussion on the topic.

[To the extent that many of us have been here longer than Ken, this is
just more patronization. "Well, discuss natlang IAL's if you think you
must, but we're going to apply much more stringent rules of argument
than for those who are discussing conlang IAL's." Sort of like, "I have
nothing against blacks, as long as they behave themselves."]

> It's [Esperanto] merely a very great deal *more*
> exception-free than most unplanned languages.

[We've made great inroads. Ken no longer believes that he can make
claims about _all_ natlangs, merely about _most_ of them, meaning
something on the order of 3,500 languages.]

> If you will forgive my "overwhelming", etc., I have been
> asking honest questions about this topic.  So why has and
> no profitable debate ensued?

[Yeah, right. See items (1) - (19) above.]

> I feel that whenever I ask for information, someone starts
> hollering about my assumptions.

["And all I'm really assuming is (a) my interlocutor might be an
ignorant cretin, that (b) I am knowledgeable about most natlangs, that
(c) ..."]

> I forgot to say:  the existence of > 0 persons who
> disagreed with the "obviousness" of my statement was
> already sufficent to prove (to me, anyway) that my
> statement was not "obvious".  At that point I might have
> thought of revising it, except I was so surprised by the
> "warm" reception!

["Sorry, folks, the only reason I've been acting like an arrogant
dipshit is because somebody _surprised_ me. It was the _surprise_, don't
you see? Not my fault, somebody came at me with a _surprise_!!!"]

> Note!  I have reread this message and attempted to remove
> ALL sarcasm.  I have already retracted the sweeping
> generalization which brought several sarcastic replies, and
> I wish now that I had not responded with further sarcasm.  > It didn't help, and in this message there are examples of
> cases where Ray ignored my thought and replied to the
> sarcastic tone, so the sarcasm defeated my purpose.  :-(

[Indeed. A few days later, though, you're already wondering if any post
of yours could POSSIBLY be even a FRACTION as irritating as my comments
to you. Ho hum.]


May I now remind our esteemed audience that this long list of quotes was
intended as a response to the following question Ken threw at me:

> If you have found any of my statements even a fraction as
> irritating as I find your responses to me, particularly in
> this message, then please point them out to me.

I apologize for my negligence in pointing out only _some_ of them, but
all I want to add now is

            Quod Erat Friggin' Demonstrandum.


We now return you to our regularly scheduled discussion, about
linguistic complexity metrics.

> >it was possible to differentiate the complexity metric
> >quite nicely into "complexity of phonetic realization
> >(allophony)", "phonotactic complexity", ...,
> >"complexity of morphosyntactic realization (e.g.
> >suppletion)", "morphosyntactic complexity", ... etc.
> Did you weight all these factors equally?  My guess is yes,
> since any other weighting scheme would be non-absolute and
> perhaps highly culturally dependent.

Counting of nodes and links was done by partitions of the overall
network (or, in the limiting case, for the entire network). The
partitions are dictated by structure of the (strat) model, so the
"phonotactic complexity" metric was counted up from that partition of
the overall net in which the phonotactic relationships are coded, etc.
There was never any thought of weighting, and combining metrics was as
straightforward as combining partitions (e.g. "phonological complexity"
= "phonetic structure" + "phonetic realization" + "phonotactics").

> If the weights are equal, is the list exhaustive?  It would
> appear that quite different numbers might be obtained if by
> adding a previously unconsidered factor, breaking a
> complexity factor into several which are separately
> considered, or combining concepts into one.

I'm not sure I understand your question, but see if this helps:

Different strat folks sometimes posit different strata. My work was
based on 4 strata: phonetic structure (at least sometimes),
phonotactics, morphosyntax, semantic structure. You could generate a
complexity metric for any coherent partition of the net: one of the 4
strata, the nodes and links connecting two adjacent strata
("realization" relations), or some combination of these partitions.

-- Mark

(Mark P. Line  --  Bellevue, Washington  --  <[log in to unmask]>)