The proposal that led to Voksigid

Originally posted on the Conlang mailing list, October 25, 1991.

Date: 25 Oct 91 08:30:00 EDT
From: "61510::GILSON"
Subject: "Reversed Japanese" as a model for a conlang syntax?
To: "conlang"

Lately I've been involved in a discussion, partly on the lojban-list and partly in private with lojbab, relating to the mixture of dissatisfaction and confusion I feel over the Lojban usage of places in a relationship, and particularly my feeling that Lojban's rule that an omitted place is somehow "still there in the relationship." I have also had repeated brushes with Esperantists who feel that a word-order-based indication of the accusative is insufficient and that the freedom of order that the Esperanto -n provides is desirable, claims that I do not feel to be correct. Between the two of them, I almost feel I am taking opposite positions in the two arguments: favoring less reliance on word order than Lojban has, but more than Esperanto uses. However, I think that is really an illusion, because it is not so much the reliance on word order in Lojban but rather the implications of omission of a place that are the sources of my difficulty.

For some reason, I was thinking about how Japanese handles relationships in a predication. In Japanese, as in Hebrew, the idea of "accusative" is expressed by a word (in Hebrew, this is only true when the object is definite, but Japanese does not have this complication) analogous to a preposition. (In Japanese, one speaks of postpositions rather than prepositions, since they follow their nouns. I will in what follows use PP to mean "preposition" or "postposition" as appropriate for the language under discussion.) In addition, even the subject is so marked; every noun in a sentence has a PP to show its relation to the predicate verb in the sentence. I do not know of any other language that goes to that extent in using PPs to show relations.

I think that this Japanese approach makes some sense. For one thing, in Japanese, there is a different PP for two kinds of subjects, sometimes called "subject" and "topic." In a conlang based on this idea, a distinction could be made between different types of objects as well. To me, there is a big difference between the function of the word "house" in the three sentences:

  1. I built a house.
  2. I painted a house.
  3. I demolished a house.

In (1) the house did not exist until the action was performed; in (2) it existed both before and after, but in some way was changed; in (3) it existed at the start of the action, but did not at the end. In fact, we could even distinguish at least 2 more cases:

  1. I photographed a house.
  2. I envisioned a house.

In (4), as in (2), the house continued to exist throughout, but it was not even modified by the change; if my photographing it was not observed, nobody would know it took place, while anyone who saw it before and after I painted it, regardless of whether they actually saw me paint it, would know someone had painted it. In (5), on the other hand, the house never needed to exist at all (except as a mental construct). In an ideal concept-language, the PP used with the word for "house" would be different in all these five cases [except that if (5) were thought of as my creating a mental image, it could be subsumed under (1)].

One thing I would recommend if anyone wanted to follow up these ideas, however: The Japanese word order, with postpositions and sentence-final verbs, is so foreign to most of us that I would think it easier for most of us if it was reversed: the verb at the beginning of the sentence, and all relationships marked by prepositions.

Since all relations in this type of language would be marked by PPs, the special role of the accusative would drop out. In addition, no Lojban-like baselining of the places to be filled would be necessary; any speaker would use those PPs he felt necessary to express the relationships needed to say what he wanted to.

Is anyone interested in following this idea up?


Please inform me of dead links and any other problems.

Last modified by B. R. Gilson ( June 24, 2009.

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