Lojban (was Copy paradox)

Lee Daniel Crocker (lcrocker@mercury.colossus.net)
Sun, 16 Nov 1997 17:51:07 -0800 (PST)

[In reply to my comment about noun/verb being an artificial distinction,
Wesley Schwein replied:]

> Adjectives are not universal, but nouns and verbs are not an artifical
> distinction or categorization made by people with nothing better to do;
> they refer to real units of organization in _all_ human languages. It's
> not just convenience that allows linguists to say a string of phonemes in
> a given language is a noun or verb; verbs and nouns relate to each other
> and to other parts of utterances in specific ways.

I understand that you maintain this claim after briefly examining
Lojban, so perhaps my original claim was not clear enough. In Lojban,
there are no content-words that are /inherently/ nouns or verbs. There
are certainly /roles/ analagous to verb and noun: the predicate,
which expresses some relationship among one or more things, and
arguments to the predicate, which are the things which stand in that
relationship. Those arguments can be thought of playing the noun
role, and the predicate the verb role, but there are some distinctions
that are not merely cosmetic: first, any content-word in Lojban can
serve either role (and other roles), and there is are prototypical
noun-verb as actor-action assumptions built in to the grammar of the
language as there are with all natural languages.

If I point to a dog in English and wish to express to you that this
particular existent stands in the relationship "dog" (to itself,
there being no other arguments to this particular predication), I
have to squeeze that predicate into actor-action form by making a
"verb" called "be", and having the thing take that pseudo-action
upon the "recipient" of the action, "dog": "This is a dog". In
Lojban, the predicate-word "dog" asserts that its argument stands
in that relationship, period. "ti gerku". Whether one wishes to
interpret that as "this is-a-dog", or "this is dogging", or "this
is doggish", is a matter of taste; if you wish to actually assert
action, identification, or property, you must explicity use
predicate words for action, identification, or property; the
language itself makes no such assumptions. Similarly for the
content-word for "blue"; it makes no specific assumption whether
the thing you say holds that predicate is actively bluing, or
has the property of blueness (unless you choose to specify /that/
predicate as well).

Words for predicates like "go", "blue", "chair", "longer", etc.,
are all identical in form as far as the language is concerned;
of course some uses of them are semantically incomprehensible,
but structurally they are all interchangeable:

le blanu ca klama
"The blue thing goes"
le klama ca blanu
"The goer is blue"
le clanymau pu klama le stizu
"The longer-thing went to the chair"
le stizu cu clanymau le klama be le blanu
"The chair is longer than the [goer to the blue destination]
mi klama le zarci sei stizu
"I go to the store in a chair-like way"
ti ckaji le ka blanu
"This thing inherently has the property of blueness"
ti zukte le gerku
"This is a volitional being actively dogging (i.e. being a dog)"

The English glosses here are just convenient translations, not
necessarily exact equivalents (in fact, the exact equivalents of
each would take a page or two oto specify all the language's
defaults and quantifications and such). Certainly the concepts of
actor/action are meaningful concepts; no one argues that. But
those concepts are simply not central to Lojban in the way they
are to natural languages. I likewise stand by my claim: Lojban
does not have nouns and verbs /in the way that natural languages
have them/.

Lee Daniel Crocker <lee@piclab.com> <http://www.piclab.com/lcrocker.html>
"All inventions or works of authorship original to me, herein and past,
are placed irrevocably in the public domain, and may be used or modified
for any purpose, without permission, attribution, or notification."--LDC