Re: Lojban (was Copy paradox)

Wesley Schwein (
Mon, 17 Nov 1997 13:22:42 -0500 (EST)

On Sun, 16 Nov 1997, Lee Daniel Crocker wrote:

> 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;

Nouns and verbs _are_ roles, not absolutes. As I tried to make clear
before, such terms are not convenient categories for describing word
classes but functioning units of the language-machine. English is pretty
good at making verbs out of nouns (to benchmark, to chair (be a chairman),
to contact, to progress, to host --some of these have been used as verbs
so long we forget they came from nouns and were once decried as debasing
the language); other languages have less fluidity between categories. The
ease with which Lojban transfers meaning-words from one part of speech to
another is a great design feature which I'm sure can be used to great
literary effect.

Dr Moore, the chair, chairs in his chair.

Nevertheless, when I use "chair" to refer to the person
in charge of a department, that's a noun. When I use "chair" to refer to
the _act_ of that person being in charge, that's a verb. Nothing inherent,
just the way our language module processes the message. English does this
occasionally; Lojban does it regularly; Lojban still has nouns and verbs.

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.

How is recognizing actor-actor assumptions different from recognizing
nouns and verbs?

> 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".

Copula verbs (to be, to seem, to resemble, etc.) are a poor choice, since
all the metaphorical action they show is a = a. There are plenty of
languages, such as Spanish, Latin, or ancient Greek, where the copula is
strictly optional. Speaking Greek, I could point to my girlfriend and say
_ _ _ _
hede gyne hede gyne estin
this a woman this a woman is.

Both, in English, would be "This is a woman;" arbitrarily, English cannot
drop the copula. It's a surface detail. Lojban doesn't need an explicit
copula to show a = a relationships; so what?

> 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:

That's the point of natural language's distinction between verbs and
nouns --it is semantically incomprehensible to transfer some meanings
to different functions. We can do it in any natural language though;
consider "I sky the blueness while you ocean the door." Structurally this
is fine, even though English does not (as far as I know) have any
verb-roles for sky or ocean; using our ability to apply multiple mental
modules at once, generally known as metaphor or analogy, we could come up
with such meanings. All Lojban does is make the metaphorical or logical
relationship less cumbersome. As I have said, Lojban's syntax is
convenient; it is not a different way of processing.

> 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.

Sure they are; the structure just doens't mark the verbing or nounness by
adding morphemes directly to the root, morphemes that say "hey, I'm a
verb" or "hey, I'm a noun." We process the meaning the same way; surface
details are relevant to Universal Grammar only insofar as they demonstrate
the underlying relationships.

Does anyone on this list know Chinese? A language more fully isolating
than English would be useful for demonstrations.

Wesley Schwein That that is is that that is not is not.