Lojban, nouns/verbs

Lee Daniel Crocker (lcrocker@mercury.colossus.net)
Tue, 18 Nov 1997 15:16:13 -0800 (PST)

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

Not at all; that's rather my point. All languages I know
about (admittedly few) have such assumptions, and contrary
to your assertion, Lojban does not, though I have been
unsuccessful so far in showing that.

Ironically, you make a very good argument for UG, but not
by the content of your text; by the very fact that such
an intelligent mind still maps the Lojban concepts of
sumti and bridi onto the traditional actor/action form
of most languages--when no such mapping is necessary or
implied by the language in any way--demonstrates how
wired-in that structure is. It may well be that I and
other Lojban speakers also internally make that mapping
when we produce sentences; but that is a function of how
our brains are wired, not something that actually exists
in the language itself. In my more lucid moments, I can
see the difference, and I can construct bridi without
consciously mapping them to actions. Maybe I'm just
fooling myself and my mind is doing it subconsciously.

Lojban sumti are pretty damned noun-like, and if pressed I
would have to admit that I really don't see a difference.
But bridi (predicates) /are not/ verbs; they do not have
anything at all in their nature that implies action, actors,
location in time, or any of the other trappings of verbness
from other languages. If it were only the case that Lojban
was simpler at using words in multiple roles but still had
the same roles, you're right that that would be a minor
tweak, hardly worthy of study. But that's not the case.
Lojban bridi really are different.

Your examples of languages without an explicitly spoken
copula are interesting, but in those languages the copula
is exceptional in that regard. Many other verbs--even
those that express very non-verb-like things like spatial
relationships, properties, associations, etc., are still
expressed in a verb-like way (or else escape doing so by
using the copula): "I belong to this group" (as if that
were an action I'm taking, not a state of existence),
"This document supercedes that one" (as if the documents
were actor and acted upon), "I married Jane" (not referring
to the ceremony but the state), "Stones surround the fire"
(as if it were their choice).

The verbness of some of these constructs is more apparent in
some languages than others (for example, in German or Russian
the nouns would be declined to label which thing the "actor"
in these sentences), but the languages involved have
structures designed for prototypical actor/action type verbs,
and that accommodate other ideas into that form. Even when a
pseudo-verb like the copula is omitted, the language still
identifies who's doing the is-ing and who is is-ed (though
they may "mark" this with nothing more than word order.
Lojban regrettably has to put sumti [predicate-arguments]
into some order simply to serialize them, so there will be
some hidden implications of word order. Theoretically, a
non-serial representation of Lojban without the problem
would be possible).

So while I agree that verbness may very well be built into
the way our brains work, I'm not ready to give up on a better
idea just yet, because I /can/ see the difference, and I
think humans (if not me, then maybe my children or a later
enhanced me) will be able to use this structure as easily as
I use verbs. I'm not yet convinced that this isn't possible,
and I think it's important because language is by far the
single most important technology we have, and optimizing it
is likely to produce great benefit.

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