Ken Caviness wrote:
> My next question is this:  you have indicated that certain
> natlangs (listed above) are relatively uncomplicated, even
> compared to some constructed languages.  Will you please
> compare the level of knowledge you have about these
> unplanned languages with your knowledge about constructed
> languages (whichever ones you have studied)?

My knowledge of Esperanto is similar to that of the natlangs I mentioned
(and of some natlangs I didn't mention, of course). I once had the
opportunity to study in detail the results of a corpus-based grammar
project at the University of Saarbruecken, in which things like
preposition usage and verb valencies were exposed descriptively.

My knowledge of Ido is limited to more cursory impressions that lie
decades in the past. If you believe that Ido is much less complicated
than Esperanto (I didn't get that impression, which is why I didn't
pursue Ido further), then it might be worth my while to take a look at
Ido to see how I think it compares -- just for the sake of argument. I
don't know of any other conlang IAL candidate whose grammar is
succinctly enough prescribed/described to allow me to make any kind of
judgement at all, but I'd be happy to look at any materials you can
point me to -- again, for the sake of argument.

But my knowledge of conlang IAL candidates is hardly at issue here.
James had stated that natlangs can be discounted categorically as
possible IAL's, because they're too complicated. Although he has backed
off from his hyperbolic formulation, his (and presumably your) basic
assumption remains unshaken. My intention has been to show that this
assumption is untenable to the extent that there are some natlangs which
are quite uncomplicated. If I can show this assumption to be untenable,
then lines of argument must fail which discount the possibility of
natlang IAL's categorically because "they're too complicated".

> I guess my point is this:  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?  You see, I do remain surprised
> when you say that Malay, etc., are as simple as Ido or
> Esperanto, or ....  Yet if I understand you correctly, I
> think this is what you have said.

I hope that I have never said anything as stupid as "Malay is just as
easy to learn as Esperanto". At the very least, such a claim would have
to be relativized for numerous demographic factors. And besides, "easy
to learn" is a whole nother discussion -- we were talking about
"relative complicatedness here". Ease of learning would involve
similarity of vocab to one's L1 and L2's, whereas complicatedness is
something that (we assume) would be captured as a property inherent in
each language by itself -- how it compares to anybody's L1 wouldn't
enter into it.

Leaving James' (probably meaningless) formulation aside for now, I guess
we could define "complicated" in terms of the amount of information
necessary to describe the grammar of a language, using a descriptive
mechanism (formal, semi-formal or prose) that allows comparison across
typologically divergent languages. In that case, I would have to say
that I find Malay to be less complicated than Esperanto.

> >Is it your wish to pursue James' claim that natlangs are
> >always much more complicated than they need to be?
> But I notice your careful phrasing in both paragraphs
> above:  "more complicated than they need to be".  It may be
> impossible to define this concept.

That is _James'_ careful phrasing, not mine -- I've merely been quoting

The concept of "more complicated than necessary" is almost certainly
meaningless, the way I read it. That's why I asked James if he really
meant what he wrote. He did already say that the formulation was
hyperbolic (since he referred to _all_ natlangs), but I was hoping that
he would impart some meaning to his formulation of "more complicated
than necessary" by showing how it must be differently read. He hasn't
done that yet, so maybe he doesn't stand by that part of what he wrote,

Note that I responded to James with my suggestion of Malay, Quechua and
Tok Pisin/Bislama only after he made the more objective request
concerning possible natlangs which I believe to be no more complicated
than Ido. I was trying to be careful not to link any claims of mine to
James' "more complicated than necessary" concept before that concept
could be made meaningful for all of us.

> I cannot define your "more complicated than it needs to
> be".

You mean _James'_ "more complicated than it needs to be", not mine.

I can't define it either.

> But could we agree that a language with separate "formal"
> and "informal" vocabularies would take longer to learn (as
> an L2) than a language having one vocabulary with an extra
> "honorific" word to be placed in a formal sentence, or
> perhaps an "unhonorific" for informal sentences?

I suppose you could approach the question empirically by creating a
minimally-differenced conlang to compare with a natlang that does its
honorifics in a particular way. I suspect that you would find that your
results were significantly dependent on the learner's L1 and L2
background. The same would be true if you created a
minimally-differenced conlang, to be compared with English, in which
animacy is marked by a prenominal particle.

In other words: No, we can't agree that a language with lexically coded
honorifics would take people of every conceivable L1/L2 background
longer to learn than a language with analytically coded honorifics.

> However, since the human mind works well with patterns, a
> "less-complicated" language should have clearly visible
> patterns and few pattern-breaking exceptions.  (IMO!)

I think that formulation must be equivalent to the idea of relating
"complicatedness" to the amount of information necessary to describe the
grammar of a language. Clearly, a universal pattern with no exceptions
takes less information than a less-than-universal pattern plus a list of
exceptions (and probably less than two patterns which, taken together,
are universally productive).

-- Mark

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