Categories
Language

ACE in Action.

In the previous post I looked at ACE (Attempto Controlled English), with the idea of adapting its grammar to Diinlang. I have found the ACE rules useful for standard English too.
A friend and myself had some fun experimenting with the sentence:
“John and Mary with the dog arrived later.”
In common English this is ambiguous. In ACE we have the rule that “John and Mary” is treated as a single noun phrase and subject. The implication is that John and Mary arrived together, or at least at the same time.
Suppose this was not the case, and we wanted to make this clearer. We might write:
“John, and Mary with the dog arrived later.”
This makes it clear that John is independent of Mary. What is not clear is if Mary has the dog with her, or is just known for being a dog owner. “Mary with the dog” may be an unusual nickname. We can write:
“John, and Mary with her dog arrived later.”
or
“John, and ‘Mary with the dog’ arrived later.”
and things become clearer.
Using ACE, we worked over a sentence that had been proving a problem for my friend, and were sucessfully able to rewrite and draft some alternatives. This reminded me that I too had a sentence that was proving problematic.
The original sentence was:
“A scout and his bike can easily and quickly be concealed by laying/lying both down under a section of net.”
The main problem her is the verbs “to lay” and “to lie”. One lies oneself, but lays an object. Here we have a subject (a scout) lying themselves and laying a bike. I could write: “A scout and his bike can easily and quickly be concealed by laying the bike and lying himself down under a section of net.” Which would be correct, but is unwieldy and unnatural sounding. 


Firstly, I applied “Can-Prime” to the sentence. Then, applying ACE I placed the adverbs “easily and quickly” to a better position. This gave: “A scout and his bike may be concealed easily and quickly by both laying/lying under a section of net.”
Better, but the main problem of the laying/lying verb remained. ACE regards “the scout and his bike” as a single noun phrase/subject. I think as a person “the scout” has precedence over the bike. I tried playing with different tenses and decided that “had lain” sounded more natural than “had laid”. I also changed “and the bike” to “with a bike”. This made my final sentence:
“A scout with his bike may be concealed easily and quickly by both lying under a section of net.”
Is this “correct”? Doubtless, many will disagree, but the meaning is clear and unambiguous, which should be the objective of any grammatical system.
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Language

ACE Grammar

Version 2.

Lancelot Hogden notes that many artificial language projects “have either (a) too much grammar of the wrong sort, or (b) not enough of the right. ” Molee selected English grammar from his possible choices, regarding it as the simplest of the possible choices. English, however, has its ambiguities. There have been auxlangs that have attempted to eliminate all ambiguity. A little ambiguity may make a language more flexible.
Nevertheless, while Diinlang grammar may be modelled on English, there is room for improvement.
The brain does not read a sentence word by word, but phrase by phrase. Each phrase is placed in short-term memory and placed in context by the following. If we are to eliminate unwanted ambiguity, we must address the rules of how the components of a sentence can be joined together.
Recently I came across a form of formal English called ACE (Attempto Controlled English). These may be a good place to start when formulating the rules for Diinlang.
Some points that caught my eye:
A sentence prefixed with * is not part of ACE, but serves as counter example.

Nouns, Noun Phrases and Plurals

Noun phrases must have a determiner. We already have this rule in Diinlang, a determiner identifying a noun.
The conjunction of noun phrases creates a plural entity that can be anaphorically referred to.
By default, plural noun phrases have a collective reading; distributive reading is indicated by each of.
A collective plural, for instance two girls, denotes a group of two girls that is viewed as a whole. A distributive plural, for example each of two girls, denotes a set of two girls that are considered individually.
A man and at least 2 women wait. They are tired. (The man and the women are tired, not just the women)
The determiner a means existential quantification, not universal quantification. To express universal quantification use, for example, every. Compare the following two sentences.
A cat is an animal. (= There is a cat that is an animal.)
Every cat is an animal. (= If there is a cat then the cat is an animal.)
The textual position of a local quantifier (universal: every, each, …; existential: a/an, some, …) opens its scope that extends to the end of the sentence; in sentence coordinations the scope extends to the end of the respective coordinated sentence.
The textual position of a global quantifier (universal: for every, for each, …; existential: there is a/an, there is some, …) opens its scope that extends to the end of the sentence, coordinated or not.
Some nouns, for instance, laundry, have both a countable interpretation (a laundry) and a mass interpretation (some laundry). Their use with no and their combination with Saxon genitives and possessive pronouns can introduce a lexical ambiguity between the countable and the mass interpretation. This ambiguity is resolved in ACE by preferring the countable interpretation. The mass interpretation can be enforced by using the of-prepositional phrase.

of-Constructs

A definite noun phrase followed by an of-construct, as in the father of John, does not introduce a functional relation between John and father, but is interpreted as the relation, a father of John.
An of-construct followed by a noun phrase conjunction pertains to the complete noun phrase conjunction. Thus the following sentence
A man sees a dog of Mary and John.
that is ambiguous in English gets in ACE the unique interpretation that a man sees a dog that belongs to both Mary and John, i.e. as A man sees {a dog of Mary and John}. To express that the man sees John and a dog of Mary, one can write
A man sees John and a dog of Mary.

Adjuncts

Adjectives may be conjoined by and.

Prepositional Phrases

Prepositional phrases modify the verb not the noun.
Prepositional phrases used as adjuncts modify the verb, not the noun. If you want to modify the noun, you have to use a relative clause. In the relative clause you have to introduce a verb or an adjective that captures the intended meaning.
A customer inserts a card with a code.
then with a code attaches to the verb inserts, but not to a card. It does not mean: A customer inserts a card that carries a code.
All verb phrases can be modified by adverbs and by prepositional phrases. Modifiers can precede the verb phrase or — with the exception of sentence subordination (see further down) — follow it.

Adverbs

If an adverb can modify the preceding or the following verb, then it modifies the preceding one.
A customer who {enters a card manually} types a code.
(The card is entered manually, not the code)
If several modifiers are used, two or more adverbs must be conjoined by and, two or more prepositional phrases must be concatenated, and a sequence of adverbs and prepositional phrases must be concatenated.

Coordination

Relative Clauses

Relative clauses modify the immediately preceding noun. In order to express coordination within the relative clause, the relative pronoun who/that/which must be repeated.
A customer enters {a card that carries a code} and opens an account.
A customer inserts {a card that is valid and that has a code}.
A relative clause can optionally follow a noun phrase, a proper name, or an indefinite pronoun. Relative clauses can be coordinated by and and by or.
a customer that is rich
a customer who is rich and who is well-known
a man who waits or who sleeps
John who waits
some men each of who waits
everything which is important
Relative sentences always relate to the immediately preceding noun phrase.
Verb phrases preceded by a coordinator after a relative clause belong to the main sentences not the relative clause.
To make the coordinated verb phrase belong to the relative clause repeat the relative pronoun that.
Input: The customer enters a card that is valid and has a code.
Interpretation: The customer enters {a card that is valid} and has a code.
Reformulation: The customer enters {a card that is valid and that has a code}.

Binding Order

Binding order of coordinators is the following:
and > or > ,and > ,or
I.e. and binds stronger than or, but this can be reversed by prefixing and with a comma.
A client {enters a red card or enters a blue card}, and enters a code.
Coordination by and and or is governed by the standard binding order of logic, i.e. and binds stronger than or. The coordinators ,and and ,or can be used to override the standard binding order.

Hyphenation of Phrasal and Prepositional Verbs

Phrasal particles and those prepositions that introduce a complement of a transitive verb, must be hyphenated to the verb. Prepositions for the indirect object of ditransitive verbs are not hyphenated since they do not immediately follow the verb.
ACE expects that the phrasal particle of a phrasal verb (e.g. look up, drop out, shut down) and the direct preposition of a prepositional verb (e.g. look at, apply for) are hyphenated to the verb.
A steward waits-on the table. (compare with: Some hot food waits {on the table}.)
John looks-up an entry. (compare with: John looks {up the hill}.)
What does John apply-for? (compare with: John applies {for the second time}.)

Passive Sentences

Passive sentence have the same meaning as their active counterparts

Modal Verbs and Sentences

ACE provides modality with modal auxiliaries for possibility (can/cannot/can not/can’t), necessity (must/have to/does not have to), recommendation (should/should not/shouldn’t), and admissibility (may/may not).

Overlap of Transitive and Ditransitive Verbs

If a verb is defined as a transitive verb and as a ditransitive verb (i.e. regard something / regard something as something) then for sentences like:
John regards a woman as a friend.
the ditransitive reading has precedence. Thus, a friend is interpreted as the indirect object of the ditransitive verb regards.

Composite Sentences

Composite sentences are recursively built from simpler sentences through coordination, subordination, quantification, and negation. Note that ACE composite sentences overlap with what linguists call compound sentences and complex sentences.
In sentence subordination (Subordination) modifiers of the verb of the main phrase must occur immediately before the verb. No modifiers are allowed between the verb of the main phrase and that, respectively to.
ACE knows five forms of sentence subordination:

• conditional sentences (if-then sentences)
• logical negation
• negation as failure
• modality
The scope of simple subordinated sentences, i.e. simple sentences following the word that extends to the end of the simple sentence. To express coordination within the scope of sentences subordination the word that has to be repeated.

Anaphora Resolution

You can use proper nouns or anaphors — personal pronouns, definite noun phrases and variables — to refer to a previously mentioned noun phrase. To resolve an anaphoric reference, the system always chooses the most recent and most specific noun phrase that has the same number and gender, and that is accessible. Sometimes you may find that this choice does not reflect your intended interpretation.
If the anaphor is a non-reflexive personal pronoun (he, him, …), or a non-reflexive possessive pronoun (his, …), then the anaphor is resolved with the most recent accessible noun phrase that agrees in gender and number, and that is not the subject of the verb phrase in which the anaphor occurs.
The non-reflexive personal pronoun they can refer to a noun phrase conjunction.
John and two friends walk. They are tired. (Note: The pronoun they refers to John and two friends.)
If the anaphor is a reflexive personal pronoun (herself, …) or a reflexive possessive pronoun (her own, …), then the anaphor is resolved with the subject of the sentence in which the anaphor occurs provided that the subject agrees in gender and number with the anaphor.
If the anaphor is a definite noun phrase then it is resolved with the most recent and most specific accessible noun phrase antecedent that agrees in gender and number.
There is a blue ball. There is a red ball. John sees the ball [= the red ball].
Mary sees the blue ball. If a definite noun phrase cannot be resolved then it is interpreted as an indefinite noun phrase introducing a new entity.

Numbers, Expressions, Lists, Sets, Strings

Numbers, expressions, lists, sets and strings cannot be anaphorically referred to.

All Other Cases

Resolution of anaphoric references is governed by the accessibility, recency, specificity, and reflexivity of an antecedent.

Accessibility of Antecedents

Proper names are always accessible for anaphoric reference.
A noun phrase antecedent other than a proper name is not accessible if it occurs in a negated sentence, in a sentence with a modal auxiliary, in a subordinated sentence, in an interrogative sentence, or in a command.
A noun phrase antecedent other than a proper name is not accessible if it occurs in a negated sentence, in a sentence with a modal auxiliary, in a subordinated sentence, in an interrogative sentence, or in a command.
John does not enter a card. *It is correct. (use instead: John does not enter a card that is correct.)
John can enter a card. *It is correct. (use instead: John can enter a card that is correct.)
It is necessary that John enters a card. *It is correct.
(use instead: It is necessary that John enters a card that is correct.)
Mary believes that John enters a card. *It is correct. (use instead: Mary believes that John enters a card that is correct.)
Does John see a car? *The car is red.(use instead: Does John see a car that is red?) (use instead: A car is red. Does John see the car?)
John, identify a car! *The car is red. (use instead: John, identify the car that is red!) (use instead: A car is red. John, identify the car!)
A noun phrase antecedent other than a proper name is not accessible if it occurs in a universally quantified or if-then-sentence.
Every customer has a card. *It is correct. (use instead: Every customer has a card that is correct.)
If there is a customer then he has a card. *It is correct. (use instead: If there is a customer then he has a card that is correct.)
However, a noun phrase antecedent in the if-part of a conditional sentence is accessible in the then-part.
If a customer has a card then he enters it.

Anaphoric Reference by Proper Names

Each occurrence of a proper name like John denotes the same entity. Thus anaphoric reference to a proper name is possible using the proper name itself.
John likes Mary and Mary likes John.

Anaphoric Reference by Non-Reflexive Pronouns

If the anaphor is a non-reflexive personal pronoun (he, him, …), or a non-reflexive possessive pronoun (his, …), then the anaphor is resolved with the most recent accessible noun phrase that agrees in gender and number, and that is not the subject of the verb phrase in which the anaphor occurs.
John has a card. Bob sees him and takes it.
John and Mary wait. They are tired.
*John sees his wife. (use instead: John sees his own wife.)
The non-reflexive personal pronoun they can refer to a noun phrase conjunction.
John and two friends walk. They are tired.(Note: The pronoun they refers to John and two friends.)

Anaphoric Reference by Reflexive Pronouns

If the anaphor is a reflexive personal pronoun (herself, …) or a reflexive possessive pronoun (her own, …), then the anaphor is resolved with the subject of the sentence in which the anaphor occurs provided that the subject agrees in gender and number with the anaphor.
Mary takes her own card and gets some money for herself.
John and Mary admire themselves.
John sees a man that sees himself.
John sees a man that is seen by himself.

Anaphoric Reference by Definite Noun Phrases

If the anaphor is a definite noun phrase then it is resolved with the most recent and most specific accessible noun phrase antecedent that agrees in gender and number.
There is a blue ball. There is a red ball. John sees the ball [= the red ball].
Mary sees the blue ball.
There is a ball of a boy. There is a ball of a girl.
John sees the ball [= the ball of a girl]. Mary sees the ball of a boy.
There is a ball that is blue. There is a ball that is red.
John sees the ball [= the ball that is red]. Mary sees the ball that is blue.
Notice that specificity means that a definite noun phrase anaphor can also be resolved if the sentence in which the antecedent noun phrase occurs contains all the constituents of the anaphor.
There is a man. His dog barks. The man whose dog barks is irritated.
(use alternatively: There is a man whose dog barks. The man whose dog barks is irritated.)
A man owns a dog. John sees the man who owns a dog.
(use alternatively: There is a man who owns a dog. John sees the man who owns a dog.)
If a definite noun phrase cannot be resolved then it is interpreted as an indefinite noun phrase introducing a new entity.
John goes to the bank.
(Note: The definite noun phrase the bank does not have an antecedent and introduces a new entity.)

Undefined Capitalized Words

An undefined word starting with a capital letter and occurring in a noun phrase position is interpreted as a singular proper name with undefined gender. Referring later to the word with a pronoun determines its gender.
Leonino sleeps.
(Note: The gender of Leonino is undefined.)
Leonino sleeps. Her fur is wet.
(Note: The pronoun her assigns to Leonino the female gender. Later references must respect this.)
Categories
Language

Can-Prime

I was watching and episode of “Legends of Tomorrow”. One character is a fairy godmother and is accompanied by a child. “She is here until we determine her deepest need” she explains.
I thought that fairy godmothers dealt in wishes, or desires, not needs!
Unfortunately, this is a language pattern that I have encountered frequently in the past few years. People tell me they need something rather that that they would like it or want it.
It is shoddy vocabulary, but does it matter? Yes, it does, since a significant proportion of these people clearly have trouble differentiating between their desires and what they may actually have. And when they do not get what they believe they are entitled to, that generally is unpleasant for those around them.
Some readers will be familiar with “E-Prime”, writing without using the verb “to be”. E-prime may be useful in encouraging a greater variety of copulas used, and in creating more accurate statements. Rather than saying “Jon is disgusting” one might say “I dislike Jon’s treatment of his girlfriend”.
It occurred to me that a similar strategy might be applied to the use of modal verbs in English. I will call this “Can-Prime”, since “can” is one of the most misused of verbs. Eliminate “can” from your writing. Replace it with “able” or other suitable verbs. Commonly people use can/ could when they actually mean may/ might. Use of other modal verbs should also be practised. Do not use “need” unless the requirement is truly a necessity.