Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Role of Errors in the History of Loglans 3

Maxim Three: Loglan is culturally neutral.

In the original context of testing the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, this meant that Loglan was a language with a syntax totally different from any other language, so so not projecting any other language's metaphysics and accompanying culture. As noted earlier, Loglan is, in fact, an SAE language, committed (if SWH were true) to the familiar metaphysics and culture of Northern Occident. Even if the superficial appearance of FOPL, the underlying source of Loglans, were convincingly different from other languages, the language which emerges from the transformations to make it “speakable” is clearly a familiar sort.

So, even though this root problem went unnoticed, the notion of cultural neutrality shifted from the syntactic in the broad sense to a more narrow sense and even to vocabulary. The basic idea became that every culture should have equal (or at least proportional) access to Loglan. This began with the decision to construct physical forms of the basic predicates of the language should be derived from the corresponding terms (as near as might be) in the major languages of the world according to a procedure which allots contributions from the various languages according to their population of users. This has been done three times, with a changing list of languages and proportions. It has never been tested that this principle of word forms actually helps people, even those who speak languages which are heavily represented in the lists, to learn the vocabulary (anecdotal evidence suggests that the helpful cases are pretty much balanced off by the misleading ones). Since the meaning of the predicates are usually very different from (though related to) the words in the base languages, the procedure ends up being neutral in the sense that users of all languages, however hard learning the vocabulary is, are equally unfamiliar with the meanings of the word learned.

But “equally unfamiliar” was not the cultural neutrality eventually sought (though, of course, the one the original purpose aimed for). Loglans ended opting for the Anglican formula, “All may, none must” (maybe skipping the “some should”). That is, features of languages of the world would generally not be obligatory in Loglans, but whatever a language had would be available in Loglans and roughly as easy to do as alternatives – except skipping the whole thing. The list of such items that are, or were at one time, in Loglans reads like a Fun Facts list about languages. Loglans have optional tenses, of course, but also optional aspects and moods and modes and other things that seem related. All of these are expressed in very similar ways, the one about as easy as the other, and can even be combined for new possibilities. (Loglans do not, curiously, have the tense system which appears to hold at least partially in all tense languages, but rather have a more inclusive system, from Logic, which covers the natural system somewhat misleadingly. The aspect includes all that occur in any system, which is more than any one natural language has.)

The same goes for most other features that one tends to hear about some language. Loglans have no singular/plural distinction but can mark the notions with equal ease (also dual, trial, ….). Loglans have no gender distinctions, but can mark masculine, feminine, neuter, and probably just about any other such category with nearly equal ease (though not as easily as tense or even plurality). Loglans do not do much marking of relations of terms in a sentence (case or adpositions, typically, in natural languages) because most of the common ones are inherent in the meaning of the predicate with regard to given places, but it has prepositions available to display those relations and many more beside and means to create even more if need be (though slightly less efficient than the ones already in the vast vocabulary). Loglans do not have honorifics or dismissives as a rule, but the means are there to use them, scarcely more difficult than in their native languages. Loglans have ana rray of inclusive and exclusive first and second person pronouns, but require only the one form of each, ambiguous even to singular and plural. iIt is even possible, though not easy, to produce a process sentence or a mass language one, thus coming back to the original idea. And, of course, Loglans' vocabulary can mange all the distinctions that natural languages do, though, admittedly, not always so simply.

Were the population of Loglan speakers drawn from all the cultures of the world, one might expect to see this wealth of possibilities get regular use. One might even see dialects of Loglans arising depending on different habits of using various items. But that population is almost entirely at least competently anglophone and the non-native English speakers are drawn primarily from other European languages. As a result, when not just opting out of various possibilities, Loglans' speakers fall back on the familiar: three tenses more or less, say, rather than aspects or other systems. It is not clear how well understood a person would be who used some significantly different array of devices from the storehouse. So, despite its cross-cultural (if not neutral) potential, in use, Loglans remain thoroughly Euro-American (and ANZ, too, of course – sorry about that).

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