[ExI] Universal languages (was: wta-talk Voting Members ...)

Vladimir Nesov robotact at gmail.com
Sat Dec 29 21:27:30 UTC 2007

On Dec 29, 2007 11:14 PM, Bryan Bishop <kanzure at gmail.com> wrote:
> Previously I've tried to imagine building up a fundamental minimalist
> language, and the more I thought about its implementation the more I
> realized I was trying to capture the essence of actions into a conlang,
> which makes little sense: you should just _do_ the action instead.

You might also want to communicate a thought that has no apparent
action counterpart.

Some highlights from Douglas Hofstadter's article that I think are relevant here
( http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/hofstadter/analogy.html ):
    I pack my mental goods down into tight, neat bundles, I load them as
    carefully as I can into the metafora truck of language, it drives from
    my brain to yours, and then you unpack. What a metaphor for
    communication! And yet it has often been said that all communication,
    all language, is metaphorical. Since I believe that metaphor and
    analogy are the same phenomenon, it would follow that I believe that
    all communication is via analogy. Indeed, I would describe
    communication this way: taking an intricate dance that can be danced
    in one and only one medium, and then, despite the intimacy of the
    marriage of that dance to that medium, making a radically new dance
    that is intimately married to a radically different medium, and in
    just the same way as the first dance was to its medium.


    Most people's (and most linguists') model of translation is as dry as
    the powder that carries dehydrated ideas from brain to brain; indeed,
    they conceive of translation as a mapping from one purely dehydrated
    chain of symbols to another dehydrated chain of symbols, without any
    need for "adding water" at any stage of the process. The whole process
    happens purely at the level of the dry symbols. Translation would thus
    be an activity for drones — and hence ideal for computers to carry
    Or, as the early machine-translation pioneer Warren Weaver once wrote
    (Weaver 1955), "When I look at an article in Russian, I say, 'This is
    really written in English, but it has been coded in some strange
    symbols. I shall now proceed to decode.'"

    Since translation is but the challenge of communication rendered
    crystal-clear, and since communication is but metaphor, and since
    metaphor is but analogy, I shall spend the rest of this article on
    analogy focusing on translation and showing how at its core
    translation is analogy, and indeed, is analogy at its most sublime and

So there is little point in 'mechanizing' language semantics on syntax
level. Main purpose of language is to evoke thoughts and imagery in
listener's mind that are analogous to ones in communicator's.
Appropriate language may depend on kinds of thoughts it needs to
communicate, but there is no escaping learning structures from which
process of text perception can construct required imagery.

Existing languages mainly pose a syntactic barrier, languages like
Lojban provide succinct ways of communicating certain kinds of
thoughts. 'Communication with aliens' would require extensive learning
of common concepts, not special kind of language. Communication with
other kinds of minds depends on kinds of imagery and processes that
can exist in them and consists in evoking of analogous thought
processes in communicating persons by any available means.

Vladimir Nesov                            mailto:robotact at gmail.com

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