Simon Kissane wrote:
> But to have each language develop from a previous one would require
> either an infinite chain of languages or an initial a priori language.

Perhaps, but you're eliminating a third possibility - primitive
communications systems that aren't languages, something between animal
cries and human languages.  But I pesonally have ceased believing that,
and I think that the first language probably arose quite rapidly,
perhaps given by God Himself.

> Reminds me of a principle in chemistry... oxygen is the same no matter
> what reaction pathway you used to generate it... same with languages.
> There is no difference between an invented and a real language, because
> the final result is indistinguishable. How do we know the so called
> "natural" languages weren't invented by a conlanger? Of course, it is
> highly unlikely, but it is still a possibility, because we simply don't
> know for sure how they came about.

That's not a good analogy - oxygen *is* exactly the same no matter how
you produce it, it is an element which consists of eight protons, eight
neutrons in its most common isotope, and eight electrons, unless it is
ionized, and the oxygen molecule is two of those atoms.  Languages *are*
different from each other.  And conlangs are different from natural
languages.  No one can simulate the centuries of interactions that
produced natlangs.  It's just like cities, there's an observable
difference between cities with histories going back hundreds or
thousands of years, which grew without any central plan, and modern
cities built according to a plan.  If a conlang were adopted by a
community of speakers, it would gradually change and become, eventually,
indistinguishable from natlangs.  Mind you, I agree with you in as far
as saying that conlangs are "real" languages, if by "real" you don't
mean "actually used", but I don't agree with you that there's no
fundamental difference between conlangs and natlangs - they ARE
fundamentally different.

> But I reject your distinction
> between "invented" and "natural", because it is pointless, useless and
> completely unworkable in cases where we don't know anything about how
> the language was developed.

I may not know whether a certain plant was genetically engineered (and
soon that may apply to animals as well), but that doesn't mean I can't
speak of "artificial" and "natural" crops.  To use an even better
example, many people on listservs and other electronic media I don't
know if they're male or female.  Does that make the male/femal
distinction "irrelevant"?  I don't think so.

"It has occured to me more than once that holy boredom is good and
sufficient reason for the invention of free will." - "Lord Leto II"
(Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert)
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AOL screen-name: NikTailor