Is Naturalistic Conlanging a Coherent Idea?

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HoskhMatriarch
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Is Naturalistic Conlanging a Coherent Idea?

Post by HoskhMatriarch » 27 Jan 2017 07:28

(I apologize in advanced for the rambling on several different points, some of which are contradictory, but all can potentially lead to the same conclusion.)

Well, the whole idea behind "naturalistic conlanging" is that conlanging is an art form. The problem with that is that any idea of "naturalism" in the arts is basically decided upon by agreement. For example, does this look exactly like real life to you?

Image

OK, so that's a painting, so what about photographs? Surely those are exactly representative of real life? http://photo.net/philosophy-of-photography-forum/00Iw51

For examples, even with just different photographic techniques, you can get very different images of something:

Image

Image

You might argue that the second photograph is more "realistic" because it's more typical, but if you take a break from looking at photographs for a while, you'll realize you can see dynamics within a given moment and that the more typical kinds of photographs do exclude them (even if the dynamic photographs exclude other features). As the article said, photographs have to learn to be read, and people living off in remote tribes and never encountering photographs don't even know what they are, much less consider them depictions of how things actually look. (As a side-note, taking sort of a detox from viewing the world as photographs or movies can be very interesting.)

And of course, there's the debate over linguistic universals. There really doesn't seem to be any universal that all languages follow, but what i think really needs to be asked is if the entire planet doesn't count as some sort of Sprachbund, and not because humans speak human languages so there are those constraints, but because, as the old song goes, it really appears to be a small world after all. If you just look at the spread of various cultural artifacts across the world, especially things like crops and livestock that have genetic components, specific human cultures have traveled far and intermixed heavily, no matter how many people have never left their village, and if you include contested things like large-scale hidden travels to and settlement in the "New World" in medieval and ancient times (which there would be good economic reasons to try to cover up), the world only looks smaller. Extremely "weird" languages like Pirahã appear to be mostly the result of some sort of cultural rebellion, since "barbarian" and "primitive" cultures largely form as a result of civilizations popping up, and "natural" languages are largely constructed by communities (as you know if you've read anything remotely like this book or have watched the progress of Modern Hebrew, which now appears to be on an Anglicization stage rather than a Yiddicization stage). All language change actually appears to be driven primarily by contact, with languages like Swiss German dialects that haven't had much outside contact for thousands of years also not changing much for thousands of years. The idea of "naturalism" is itself based on the idea of "nature", and I'm not sure that's even applicable to languages beyond the concept of "human nature".

"Naturalistic conlanging" comes off largely like "literary fiction", or, just an attempt to imitate what you already know has been done. "Impressionist and surrealist conlangs" sound like a good idea, but, this idea hinges on conlangs-as-representation, when, if they ever get to the point that they can be considered real (although not natural) languages at all by anyone (either through use or through mere potential for use, no matter how high or low your standard is this point still stands), they're no longer representation, and to have impressionist or surrealist conlangs at that point requires impressionist or surrealist natlangs, which is completely absurd, but would end up correlating with the most common and probably "SAE" languages if someone attempted to define it at all. Conlangs as languages or as representations of languages is essentially what any conlang-based legal hassle is about, so even that's not settled.
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Re: Is Naturalistic Conlanging a Coherent Idea?

Post by Salmoneus » 27 Jan 2017 11:45

HoskhMatriarch wrote:
Well, the whole idea behind "naturalistic conlanging" is that conlanging is an art form.
No it isn't.

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Re: Is Naturalistic Conlanging a Coherent Idea?

Post by Salmoneus » 27 Jan 2017 12:40

*sighs*
OK, maybe I should address the rest, although frankly that error was enough, I think.
HoskhMatriarch wrote:(I apologize in advanced for the rambling on several different points, some of which are contradictory, but all can potentially lead to the same conclusion.)

Well, the whole idea behind "naturalistic conlanging" is that conlanging is an art form.
Whether conlanging is an "art form", whatever "art form" means, if it means anything, has got nothing to do with how we go about it. You could "prove" tomorrow that conlanging is actually better considered a form of cold-weather plumbing, it wouldn't change what anybody did, or even necessarily what they thought about it. Most of my conlangs have been naturalistic, but I have never particularly invested in the question of whether it's an "art form" or not. Although, obviously, it is.
The problem with that is that any idea of "naturalism" in the arts is basically decided upon by agreement.
First: I can't even work out what this means, unless you're making the really trivial point that what art movements are called is arbitrary.
Second: Don't see why this is relevent.
Third: whether something is part of a movement officially called Naturalism by historians is different from whether it's naturalistic. Futurist painting is not actually from the future. Cubism is not solely pictures of cubes. Rock music does not have rocks in (usually). Electronica is usually electronic, but a lot of electronic music (most, probably) is not Electronica. Classical music does not date from ancient rome. The consensus name of a particular movement often has very little to do with the normal usage of the word, even as regards applying the word to art.
For example, does this look exactly like real life to you?
No, obviously not. But what's your point? You seem to be making two immense errors of reasoning here:
- this picture is from a school of 'Naturalism', therefore it defines what it is to be naturalistic. Of course this is nonsense, just as paintings from the school of 'Futurism' don't define what it means to be futuristic (they don't even define what people thought the future would be like in the days of Futurism).
- 'naturalism' should, or is held up to, mean "exactly like real life". This is of course a ridiculous straw man.
OK, so that's a painting, so what about photographs? Surely those are exactly representative of real life?
What do you mean by 'representative'? If you mean that they represent real life, yes of course photographs are representative. If you mean that impressions gained from them match those that would 'on average' be gained from real life (i.e. the sense in which we say something is 'representative of' a group) then no, they're not. This all seems pretty obvious and I don't see your point.
[I don't know what 'exactly representative' is meant to mean, as the two words are contradictory. Exactitude requires that things are identical, whereas representation requires difference - I am not a representation of my self, precisely because I'm exactly the same as myself. Only something different from me can represent me, and if it's different from me it can't be exactly the same as me.]
For examples, even with just different photographic techniques, you can get very different images of something
Even with your eyes you can get very different images of something. Your point?
You might argue that the second photograph is more "realistic" because it's more typical, but if you take a break from looking at photographs for a while, you'll realize you can see dynamics within a given moment and that the more typical kinds of photographs do exclude them (even if the dynamic photographs exclude other features). As the article said, photographs have to learn to be read, and people living off in remote tribes and never encountering photographs don't even know what they are, much less consider them depictions of how things actually look. (As a side-note, taking sort of a detox from viewing the world as photographs or movies can be very interesting.)
Err, yes, sure, people who don't know what photographs are don't know what photographs. I imagine people who don't know what mirrors are find them pretty peculiar at first too. How does this apply to the question of a) whether conlanging is an art form, or b) whether naturalistic conlanging is a coherent idea?

And of course, there's the debate over linguistic universals. There really doesn't seem to be any universal that all languages follow,
Not true at all.
but what i think really needs to be asked is if the entire planet doesn't count as some sort of Sprachbund, and not because humans speak human languages so there are those constraints, but because, as the old song goes, it really appears to be a small world after all.
It's really a very big world, actually, outside of your photographs. And it doesn't make sense to speak of a Sprachbund, because if everywhere is part of a sprachbund then nowhere is.
If you just look at the spread of various cultural artifacts across the world, especially things like crops and livestock that have genetic components, specific human cultures have traveled far and intermixed heavily, no matter how many people have never left their village, and if you include contested things like large-scale hidden travels to and settlement in the "New World" in medieval and ancient times (which there would be good economic reasons to try to cover up), the world only looks smaller.
...ok, so the idea of naturalistic conlanging is incoherent because.... because there's a global conspiracy by the Elder Protocols to conceal knowledge of intercontinental travel!?!?!?!?!?!??????
Leaving aside that, you know, that's a certifiably insane thing to believe in the first place (for one thing, there would be massive economic reasons to NOT cover that up, which is why a lot of time and money has been spent trying to demonstrate that such contact did take place, and indeed some success has been had (with the work on Viking contact)). The more pertinent point is that this has literally nothing to do with the question.
Extremely "weird" languages like Pirahã appear to be mostly the result of some sort of cultural rebellion, since "barbarian" and "primitive" cultures largely form as a result of civilizations popping up,
What? That's nonsense.
and "natural" languages are largely constructed by communities (as you know if you've read anything remotely like this book or have watched the progress of Modern Hebrew, which now appears to be on an Anglicization stage rather than a Yiddicization stage).
Incoherent! Define your terms! Obviously languages are shaped by communities because 'communities' is just another word for 'people who speak languages'. What contrast are you trying to draw here? And how is it relevent?
All language change actually appears to be driven primarily by contact, with languages like Swiss German dialects that haven't had much outside contact for thousands of years also not changing much for thousands of years.
No it doesn't, and no they haven't.
The idea of "naturalism" is itself based on the idea of "nature", and I'm not sure that's even applicable to languages beyond the concept of "human nature".
*points at languages*
Look, nature!
"Naturalistic conlanging" comes off largely like "literary fiction", or, just an attempt to imitate what you already know has been done.
I guess this is your conclusion section, but this has nothing to do with anything you've written in any of the rest of the post.
You may think these 'come off' the same, and you're entitled to that view, although it's a view that I think evinces very little understanding of either of the things you're comparing. For a start 'literary' is a social criterion (who reads or writes it), or arguably a value one (is it any good?). "Naturalistic" is instead a much more concrete methodological criterion.

I suspect that what you're doing here is, as usual, inventing a ridiculous definition for something and then complaining that the thing so defined is ridiculous.
"Impressionist and surrealist conlangs" sound like a good idea, but, this idea hinges on conlangs-as-representation,
Again, no, it doesn't. Whatever "conlangs-as-representation" means.

To give a concrete example: architecture is not representative. Sure, architects may choose to include representative motifs here and there, but architecture is fundamentally non-representative. Nonetheless, there is such a thing as surrealist architecture, which applies the principles of surrealism as a methodology to architecture.

I mean, I don't see why the conlangs-as-representation thing is relevant to anything here, but no, it's not a prerequisite for the existence of surrealist conlanging. [Indeed, I think some of the parodic and absurdist work done by specgram would count as surrealist conlanging]
when, if they ever get to the point that they can be considered real (although not natural) languages at all by anyone (either through use or through mere potential for use, no matter how high or low your standard is this point still stands), they're no longer representation, and to have impressionist or surrealist conlangs at that point requires impressionist or surrealist natlangs, which is completely absurd, but would end up correlating with the most common and probably "SAE" languages if someone attempted to define it at all.
What? How does that sentence make sense in terms of the end of the sentence relating to the beginning? What is surrealist about specifically European languages specifically? Be more precise!
Conlangs as languages or as representations of languages is essentially what any conlang-based legal hassle is about, so even that's not settled.
What does that have to do with anything?


I'm sorry, I don't mean to be harsh, but you've asked a question, then given us a series of paragraphs that don't appear to relate to one another, and none of which seem to relate to the actual question. How are we meant to reply to that?


Here's some advice:
- have an opinion
- say what that opinion is
- say what you mean by that exactly
- give reasons why we should agree with that, and explain why they are reasons
- ideally give some reasons why the issue is interesting or important
- not necessarily in this order
- if you're having trouble, try to define your terms, so that it's clear what you're talking about; the answer will often emerge just from the clarification of terms, and much dispute will be avoided.

Instead I'm left grasping at... well over here it's "two photographs of the same thing can look different!" and over there it's "there's a colossal conspiracy to conceal the transdimensional portals linking egypt with papua new guinea and the secret spaceships used by the Hopi! eveyone's in on it, don't you see!?" and over here it's "but what about that Axanar lawsuit?" and over there it's "I don't like literary fiction! It's just a snobby word for fiction!" and, and, and.... but how does any of it relate to the question you actually asked of whether naturalistic conlanging is a coherent idea?


Here's how you might go about actually putting forward that question in a coherent way:
- work out what you mean by "naturalistic conlanging"
- work out what you mean by "coherent idea"
- show why the definitions you have chosen are interesting. Are they the definition we're all using? Is your thesis controversial?
- work out what it would take for "naturalistic conlanging" to be a "coherent idea". If it were, what would that look like? Let's call this the 'proposed world'.
- work out the ways in the 'proposed world' differs from the real world, if indeed it does.
- show that these differences are substantial enough for the proposed world in which "naturalistic conlanging" is a "coherent idea" to be clearly distinct from the real world, and show that there is not some other proposed world that meets those criteria that is NOT distinct from the real world. [I've explained that badly. It goes: "if X were true, this is what it would look like. It doesn't look like that, it looks like this. Is there any other way things could look if X were true, that might look like this? No. So it doesn't look like X is true"]

Until you define what you mean by "naturalistic conlanging" and by "coherent idea", nobody can even disagree with you meaningfully!

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Re: Is Naturalistic Conlanging a Coherent Idea?

Post by Keenir » 29 Jan 2017 18:02

HoskhMatriarch wrote: Extremely "weird" languages like Pirahã appear to be mostly the result of some sort of cultural rebellion,
that would make sense...but for Everett's statement that Piraha has been the same for 400 years. France would give its eyeteeth for a rebellion that assured French of that level of stability
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Re: Is Naturalistic Conlanging a Coherent Idea?

Post by Adarain » 29 Jan 2017 18:58

…like Swiss German dialects that haven't had much outside contact for thousands of years also not changing much for thousands of years.
I'm sorry, what? About two thousand years ago, Germanic wasn't spoken anywhere near Switzerland yet (that area was celtic and rhaetic) and we're somewhere in the times of late Proto-Germanic. About a thousand years ago, we have Old High German, still very distinct from any modern dialect. I assume you're referring to the Walser dialects, which are quite divergent among swiss german. They have quite an interesting history: basically what happened was that people emigrated from Valais into other parts of switzerland, but instead of replacing the existing populations they founded their own villages high up in the mountains where no one else lived. These communities are obviously geographically isolated, but to claim their language hasn't changed would be preposterous. They show a whole bunch of innovations not shared with the rest of the dialects of switzerland, some common and some distinct to only small areas.
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Re: Is Naturalistic Conlanging a Coherent Idea?

Post by Sumelic » 29 Jan 2017 19:00

Keenir wrote:
HoskhMatriarch wrote: Extremely "weird" languages like Pirahã appear to be mostly the result of some sort of cultural rebellion,
that would make sense...but for Everett's statement that Piraha has been the same for 400 years
Where is this statement? I'm curious about the basis on which we could know this.

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Re: Is Naturalistic Conlanging a Coherent Idea?

Post by Xonen » 30 Jan 2017 00:00

Salmoneus wrote:conlanging is actually better considered a form of cold-weather plumbing
Well, that would make at least as much sense as anything else in this thread.

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Re: Is Naturalistic Conlanging a Coherent Idea?

Post by Creyeditor » 30 Jan 2017 01:18

HoskhMatriarch wrote:"Impressionist and surrealist conlangs"
I have been thinking about this kind of question for a long time now (also cubism), and I think that impressionist conlangs might stress the importance of prosody (in analogy to the "emphasis on accurate depiction of light in its changing qualities" (Wikipedia) in impressionist paintings. A surrealist conlang is easy, I guess. Expressionism in conlanging might stress the importance of pragmatics, sociolinguistics and emotions.
Naturalistic conlanging often stresses the importance of phonology, morphology, syntax, lexicon and diachrony (which actually makes it kind of abstract). There might also be people doing more surface oriented conlanging in the future, having phonetics and pragmatics as the primary design goals, minimizing abstraction.
Don't know how to call it though. Functionalism, maybe?
Making up new branches of conlanging by speculating without evdence is definitely fun. You'll should try cubism, pop art and futuristic conlanging.
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Re: Is Naturalistic Conlanging a Coherent Idea?

Post by Dormouse559 » 30 Jan 2017 03:14

A surrealist conlang would sound a lot like speaking in tongues, except the utterances would be expressions of the subconscious mind, not God.

An existentialist conlang appears to have well-defined vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, pragmatics and the like, but as you learn it, you come to understand these are just social constructs with no intrinsic meaning or value beyond what you give them. You attend Maman's funeral but do not cry.

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Re: Is Naturalistic Conlanging a Coherent Idea?

Post by shanoxilt » 30 Jan 2017 03:34

Salmoneus wrote:*sighs*
OK, maybe I should address the rest, although frankly that error was enough, I think.
"Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt" and all that jazz.
First: I can't even work out what this means, unless you're making the really trivial point that what art movements are called is arbitrary.
HoskhMatriarch is calling attention to the social-constructedness of the category of "natural", as defined both by linguists and us (as glossopoeists).

Given that all models, be they scientific or aesthetic, are necessarily limited and therefore imperfect, they are subject to the biases of their makers.

This is a huge debate in the arts and humanities, especially since the invention of the camera.

I'll leave the rest of your post alone, because you repeat the same fallacies and misinterpretations throughout your rebuttal.
Creyeditor wrote:
HoskhMatriarch wrote:"Impressionist and surrealist conlangs"
I have been thinking about this kind of question for a long time now (also cubism), and I think that impressionist conlangs might stress the importance of prosody (in analogy to the "emphasis on accurate depiction of light in its changing qualities" (Wikipedia) in impressionist paintings.
Would you expand on that? I've also been interested in the lingual equivalents of visual arts movements.
A surrealist conlang is easy, I guess.
I would suggest that it is much more difficult to execute than one might at first imagine, though there is a wealth of literature from which to be inspired.

The most challenging part would be to accomplish it without ableism: either fetishizing or denigrating mental illness and/or neurodiversity.
There might also be people doing more surface oriented conlanging in the future, having phonetics and pragmatics as the primary design goals, minimizing abstraction.
Isn't that one of the main design criteria of many auxiliary languages? (Now there's an interesting thought: auxiliary language qua non-natural artistic language.)
Making up new branches of conlanging by speculating without evidence is definitely fun. You'll should try cubism, pop art and futuristic conlanging.
I like to think of logical languages and some philosophical languages as the beginnings of a post-modern turn in glossopoeia.
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Re: Is Naturalistic Conlanging a Coherent Idea?

Post by Frislander » 30 Jan 2017 11:37

Sumelic wrote:
Keenir wrote:
HoskhMatriarch wrote: Extremely "weird" languages like Pirahã appear to be mostly the result of some sort of cultural rebellion,
that would make sense...but for Everett's statement that Piraha has been the same for 400 years
Where is this statement? I'm curious about the basis on which we could know this.
Yes, where is this statement? It can't have been Everett, surely: no true linguist such as himself (particularly one such has him who believes in cultural coventions instead of a language organ/universla grammar) would say something patently ridiculous like this without supporting evidence.
shanoxilt wrote:
Salmoneus wrote:*sighs*
OK, maybe I should address the rest, although frankly that error was enough, I think.
"Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt" and all that jazz.
First: I can't even work out what this means, unless you're making the really trivial point that what art movements are called is arbitrary.
HoskhMatriarch is calling attention to the social-constructedness of the category of "natural", as defined both by linguists and us (as glossopoeists).

Given that all models, be they scientific or aesthetic, are necessarily limited and therefore imperfect, they are subject to the biases of their makers.

This is a huge debate in the arts and humanities, especially since the invention of the camera.
Half of me agrees with you, but then we currently have no examples of languages not spoken by humans. It's all very well talking about bias and social constructs but when the sample is restricted like that you don't really have much choice in the matter. And I struggle to see how a debate about representativeness in relation to the camera is relevant to conlanging.
I'll leave the rest of your post alone, because you repeat the same fallacies and misinterpretations throughout your rebuttal.
Actually the bulk of Sal's response was concerned with demonstrating the general incoherence of the OP and how much of it was irrelevant to the proposed topic of discussion.
A surrealist conlang is easy, I guess.
I would suggest that it is much more difficult to execute than one might at first imagine, though there is a wealth of literature from which to be inspired.

The most challenging part would be to accomplish it without ableism: either fetishizing or denigrating mental illness and/or neurodiversity.
[O.o] What's ableism got to do with it?
There might also be people doing more surface oriented conlanging in the future, having phonetics and pragmatics as the primary design goals, minimizing abstraction.
Isn't that one of the main design criteria of many auxiliary languages? (Now there's an interesting thought: auxiliary language qua non-natural artistic language.)
The two don't go together: a naturalistic auxlang would be preferable because you want people to actually be able to learn the darn thing, while a non-natural artlang aspires to some sort of aesthetic goal outside of the bounds of what humans have developed "naturally". On relies on natlang precedent in order to work while the other overtly seeks to move beyond it.
Making up new branches of conlanging by speculating without evidence is definitely fun. You'll should try cubism, pop art and futuristic conlanging.
I like to think of logical languages and some philosophical languages as the beginnings of a post-modern turn in glossopoeia.
Whereas I like to think of them as a series of dead-end thought experiments with relatively little coherence as a movement qua naturalistic artlanging. Many are perfectly capable of making a decent naturalistic lang: far fewer are capable of pulling off a convincing non-naturalstic englang.

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Re: Is Naturalistic Conlanging a Coherent Idea?

Post by Keenir » 30 Jan 2017 12:43

Sumelic wrote:
Keenir wrote:
HoskhMatriarch wrote: Extremely "weird" languages like Pirahã appear to be mostly the result of some sort of cultural rebellion,
that would make sense...but for Everett's statement that Piraha has been the same for 400 years
Where is this statement? I'm curious about the basis on which we could know this.
I'm pretty sure it was Don't sleep, there are snakes...but I'll double-check it next time I get to the library. (it may've been less an assertion, more a "other people who work with Piraha mentioned this")
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Re: Is Naturalistic Conlanging a Coherent Idea?

Post by Frislander » 30 Jan 2017 13:39

Keenir wrote:
Sumelic wrote:
Keenir wrote:
HoskhMatriarch wrote: Extremely "weird" languages like Pirahã appear to be mostly the result of some sort of cultural rebellion,
that would make sense...but for Everett's statement that Piraha has been the same for 400 years
Where is this statement? I'm curious about the basis on which we could know this.
I'm pretty sure it was Don't sleep, there are snakes...but I'll double-check it next time I get to the library. (it may've been less an assertion, more a "other people who work with Piraha mentioned this")
That would make more sense, yes.

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Re: Is Naturalistic Conlanging a Coherent Idea?

Post by Creyeditor » 30 Jan 2017 19:27

shanoxilt wrote:
There might also be people doing more surface oriented conlanging in the future, having phonetics and pragmatics as the primary design goals, minimizing abstraction.
Isn't that one of the main design criteria of many auxiliary languages? (Now there's an interesting thought: auxiliary language qua non-natural artistic language.
I've never been able to find anything on the phonetics or pragmatics of e.g. Esperanto. Have you?
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