[extropy-chat] languages

Robert J. Bradbury bradbury at aeiveos.com
Sat Feb 14 21:22:16 UTC 2004

On Sat, 14 Feb 2004, Ben Cunningham wrote:

> I read recently that a native South American language (Tariana) has a
> structure such that if you don't specify just *how* you know something that
> you are talking about, you are lying.

Ben, I am not sure this is certain (I am not a language specialist)
but there may be a native Russian language that has a similar character.
It might be the Udmurt language.  If I recall what I read properly
it had verb conjugations that required you to assert where knowledge
came from (e.g. I know from my personal experience, I heard it
from a family member I trust, I heard it from a friend that I trust,
I heard it from a 3rd party source, etc.)  The multiple verb conjugations
gave increasingly diminished reliability to the information, in large
part based on the number of levels of indirection.  Tariana sounds
a little more strict (because I don't think in the Russian language
that there was an assumption of lying) -- simply that one had a graded
scale with respect to how one should view the quality of the information.

But I would agree with anyone who would argue that a language structure
like either of these examples would change both scientific and
political debates.  Might also alter legal disputes significantly
as well.

It raises whole interesting questions regarding language and "intelligence".
What would happen if "thou shalt not lie" turned into "thou cannot lie".(*)


* Obvious redirects required to Asimov's Laws of Robotics and similar
sources.  And I'm also aware that it seems the "thou shalt not lie"
commandment has some significant problems with reinterpretation (from
"thou shalt not bear false witness" to "thou shalt not swear a false oath".)

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