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response to jimc on brivla meanings
- To: lojban-list
- Subject: response to jimc on brivla meanings
- From: lojbab (Bob LeChevalier)
- Date: Tue, 27 Aug 91 04:52 EDT
Subject: Re: brivla unique meanings (was: loopholes po la korant.)
>There's a scale here: each person acquires the meaning of each brivla
>through unique experience, but the language hardware/software drives
>everyone's meaning in the direction of being the same. Lojbab
>thoughtfully discusses the unique end of the range.
>But one of the basic philosophies of a "language artifact" or
>"constructed language" is that the language architect prescribes the
>basic design of the language. While it is possible to explicitly
>decline to prescribe (as Lojbab does in the case of today's lujvo), I
>think this choice is not in the spirit of "constructing" or "designing"
>a language. In fact, his position is that there hasn't been time to
>deal with lujvo, and guidelines (his word) will appear eventually.
A. Lojbab is not the "language architect". JCB had that job. Lojbab is
the leader of an engineering team whose purpose is to firmly place the
language under the control of its speakers as such speakers develop.
B. jimc misunderstands LLG policy slightly but critically, possibly
because he doesn't see lojbab's role as lojbab sees it. There has not
been time to deal with lujvo, because 'time' will come at the hands of
just those who speak and write the language. (It is true that I don;t
have time enough to do the job, either, but the impression given is that
what is needed is more person-months of work time while I intend
person-years of language-usage. The corollary of this is that
"guidelines" will indeed appear, slowly, as we observe actual usage
patterns and describe them. Some such patterns already exist, even with
the minimal usage thus far, but these are trivial in scope if massively
productive of new vocabulary.
>On the other hand, professional linguists study natural languages, for
>which there is no effective architect and the only credible rule is "let
>usage decide". We're engineers, not observers, and the world of normal
>linguistics is turned upside down for us, particularly in the dimension
>of observing usage. This is yet another scale: is usage determined by
>observation or by design?
In Lojban, by observation of actual usage. Lojbab and others here in DC
are users of the language in actual communication, and I feel entitled
to make observations on my own usage as well as on that of others. But
I will not go so far as to offer 'design' for usages that I haven't
actually used myself or heard/seen others use, at least in the area of
>I see a third scale perpendicular to the "individual <-> uniform" range,
>intersecting at the "uniform" end to make a T shape. (Of course it can
>slide along that axis but it is more clearly associated with the uniform
>meaning position.) The endpoints are:
>A. The language architect knows in advance what's going to work, and
>prescribes it unalterably in advance of testing on live users.
No deities around here, and nobody short of your personal deity (if any)
can claim to know enough about language to "know what's going to work".
Indeed, from the discussion here on this list, it should be clear that
linguists, much less Lojbanists, hardly agree on the semantics of words
used to talk about language, much less on semantic theories.
>B. The language architect tests various versions of a feature and
>selects the best one for final prescription.
This one doesn't apply either, because of the non-existence of a Lojban
language architect who unilaterally tests and selects. Only if you replace
"language architect" by "language community" is this scale meaningful for
Lojban, and the point-on-axis is then clearly: "All power to the people."
(I am much inspired by the events of the Soviet Union in recent days,
which supports the LLG assumption that the populace by consensus can and
should make the rules, not a totalitarian 'language architect' like JCB
and/or his 'Academy'.
At this point the intent is to ensure that there is enough robustness in
the language design to be SUFFICIENT for usage, not to determine 'the
best way'. In many cases this leads to multiple ways to say the same
thing. In the case of brivla meanings, of course, our putting out a
word list constitutes a prescription, but said prescription is never
'final' except that eventually we will stop fiddling entirely as
prescriptivists, and switch over entirely to being descriptive.
But even with acceptance of this prescription, it is not JCB or Lojbab
or Nick's "Lojban Central" that is testing the language and its
features, it is Jane Lojbanist using the language as she wishes that
tests the features that she uses. She will hopefully report on problems
and confusion, which will lead us to explain our intent, known usage
patterns, and suggested approaches. Such problems may also lead us to
change our pedagogy, and maybe if rarely lead to an alternate proposed
structure. But jimc is presuming that there is a much more organized
and structured research approach to the language design than there is,
while we say that the basic research is done, and we are only tying down
loose ends while waiting for the speaker base to grow.
>In recent discussions with Lojbab about diklujvo, I have been trying to
>make similar our understanding of my position on this latter axis and to
>negotiate a position acceptable to him. But I believe he has been
>negotiating a position on one (or both?) of the other two axes. As
>could be expected, the result was excessive energy spent, no results,
>and a desire on both our parts to abandon the effort.
We agree in general on the last point, though jimc has certainly had
significant influence on some Lojbanists who are trying to use the
language rather than design it, like Nick and John Cowan. If there were
more of these, the discussion would be moot because then we would know
how Lojban speaker/writers make words, and how well/poorly various
strategies of lujvo-making serve the communicative needs of real
>I still feel, though, that:
>A. The Loglan family of language artifacts is unique in that a very
>small set of gismu can be combined into lujvo that cover an extremely
>broad range of semantic space.
>B. Lojban can be made even more useful and easier to learn if the
>meanings of the lujvo are derived algorithmically from the meanings of
>the gismu, rather than letting each lujvo have a unique meaning that has
>to be learned the same way the meaning of a gismu is learned. Then a
>speaker or listener would only have to know the gismu meanings and the
>rules, and could create or interpret lujvo he had never heard before.
When jimc has memorized all the gismu place structures and can apply his
rules at conversation speeds and others can understand him, I will be
more of a believer. We claim, however, that you do not need to memorize
the 'prescribed' place structures, but in conversation and light usage
it is permitted to 'do the best guess you can', resorting to word lists,
as in English and other languages we resort to dictionaries, only when
instinct does not lead to communicative understanding. Our approach, of
course, makes jimc's *diklujvo impractical for now, and maybe forever.
And Lojban is easier to learn than -gua!spi. Because people ARE
successfully learning the language as it is and using it. It is only
those who spend time talking about what should be done rather than
learning and using what is done are the only ones who seem to feel more
rules are needed.
>It is understood that some meanings cannot be achieved this way so there
>is a place for "creative lujvo". It is understood that a number of
>technical problems have to be solved before such an approach can work in
>Lojban. It is also understood that a number of people wonder whether
>such an algorithm is even possible (i.e. whether I'm deluding myself
>that I've accomplished it in -gua!spi).
I don't know whether such an algorithm is possible of Lojban, but doubt
it due to other philosophical bases of the language and the testimony of
real usage (which is the only true test). I have no opinion about
-gua!spi, but am skeptical if disinterested since it has not been tested
by communicative usage. I do contend that unnecessary semantic rules
are undesireable in Lojban because they impose unnecessary metaphysical
just another Lojban user, not an architect or a god.