Categories
Language

Managing Capitalization

This is a follow on to my last post, with some ideas to make capitalization in English more user-friendly. The core of this seems to be a consistent manner to identify proper nouns and related adjectives. The proposed approach is:
Treat proper nouns as the names of specific things. Often this will apply to an individual item, or a very select grouping. Such proper nouns will be capitalized.
Treat common nouns as generally applying to categories or sub-groupings. A common noun may or may not encompass one or more proper nouns. Common nouns are uncapitalized unless first in a sentence, all the sentence is capitalized or in title case.
This approach still leaves some grey areas and ambiguities. For want of other authorities, whether to capitalize such nouns is left to the writer. Whatever choice is made for each case, the treatment should be applied consistently throughout the document.
All or None: If judged a proper noun, all of the noun phrase will be capitalized. This gives the reader a clear indication of where the proper noun ends. For long proper noun phrases title case format may be used. For ease of reference and accessibility I suggest the system on the Wikipedia Manual of Style be used. Effectively this means capitalize the first and last word. Each word in the clause/ phrase is capitalized unless it is:

  • A definite or indefinite article in a non-initial position.
  • A short coordinating conjunction (FANBOYS).
  • A preposition of four letters or less.
  • The word “to” in infinitives.
Proper nouns may be taken to include, but are not limited to:
  • Proper names, including titles and adjectives that are a part of the name.
  • Titles used in place of proper names. Such incidences are most likely to occur in speech. “Can I get a comment, Senator?”, “I need you Granny.” I am uncertain as to whether this applies to third person statements.
  • Names of specific organized religions and their adherents.
  • Names of specific books, films or other works of art or reference.
  • Names of specific companies, brand names, product or model names. Brand names that have become generic terms are uncapitalized.
  • Names of specific geographical features, including the names of individual mountains, rivers, seas, oceans, valleys.
  • Names of specific roads, streets, buildings, cities, towns, villages, regions.
  • Names of specific countries, counties, areas, continents, nations. Specific names derived from such: Italian Coffee, English Muffin.
  • Names of specific nationalities or ethnicities: Asian, Italian, Mexican American, Caucasian, Black, White.
  • Names of specific days, months and named holidays.
  • Names of specific time periods, historical evens and geological eras. Spanish Civil War, Middle Ages, Boxer Rebellion, Jurassic Era.
  • Names of specific planets, moons, stars or other celestial bodies.
Not usually capitalized:
  • Definite and indefinite articles, unless an integral part of the name: “The Hague”, “The Lord of the Rings”.
  • The names of the seasons, unless personified.
  • The points of the compass and similar terms, unless integral to a name.
  • The designation of centuries: twentieth century, fifteenth century.
  • Common names of animals, plants and other organisms unless they include a proper name. Names of cultivar groups and breeds probably should be capitalized. The latter are often named after regions, anyway.
  • Names of literary or musical genres, unless containing a proper name.
Scientific names are capitalized at genera-level and higher. The second half of a species name is never capitalized, even if derived from a proper name. The subspecies name, if stated, is treated the same as the second part of the species name.
It was once the convention to underline a species name when it was written. In typed format the convention now seems to be to italicize the species name. Hence, the correct format for a scientific name is Homo sapiens idaltu.

As seems inevitable with English, inconsistencies arise. In a sentence such as “The army wants to buy more” the term “the army”, clearly refers to a specific army, such as the US Army or British Army. This would suggest it should be “Army”. The Wikipedia Manual of Style requires “the university” to be uncapitalized in a similar construction. This page suggest that a proper noun should be capitalized except when they are used alone later in the paragraph: “We went fishing on the James River. Later, our family joined us at the river.” This reminds me of how an abbreviation may be used if already introduced in previous text.
Another construction that “feels wrong” is to leave “the pope” uncapitalized. There may be many kings in the world at any time, but usually only one pope. When used in the singular, the title refers to a very specific individual, and the title is effectively substituting for a proper name. The same logic may be applied to “god” when used as a proper name to refer to the Abrahamic diety.
Categories
Language

Capital Punishment

In general, it is good to learn new things. I am, however, a little disturbed by how many new things about English I have learnt over the last few years. Given how long I had to spend in school, I might hope that I would have been well-versed in these concepts by the time I graduated. It is a fact that my English teacher never formally taught us the rules of grammar, but I find many other people at a similar or worse level.
Contributing to the situation is that most of “the rules of English grammar” are not rules at all. Many of them are prescriptions; someone’s opinion of how English should or should not be written. Such opinions have many origins. How does on decide whether to accept or ignore a prescription? There are a number of style guides, such as the “Chicago Manual of Style” and Gower’s Plain Words. One may be obligated to follow one of these if writing for certain publications. Most guides differ on various points so whatever you write some of your readers will consider wrong! My personal “acid test” is based on whether a rule or prescription contributes to clarity and comprehension.
Another problem with mastery of English is that at an early age we are sold other lies. Not only are most rules not rules: we are taught false dogma too. “Sound it out” is not useful advice for learning how to spell English words. One in eight English words are not spelt how they are pronounced, and the same phoneme can be represented by a variety of letter combinations. One of the first things I recall writing at primary school used the word “wiv” multiple times.
To my shame, my Achilles’ heel in English is capitalization. I have no problem with beginning a sentence with a capital, nor with capitalizing the pronoun “I”. A fairly recent piece of knowledge is not to capitalize articles, prepositions nor coordinating conjunctions in title case. The problem is proper nouns, and another commonly encountered lie. This lie typically runs something like “Capitalization is simple, simply capitalize proper nouns!” Firstly, most articles entirely fail to mention that there is something called a “proper adjective” too, and that these should also be capitalized, except when they are not! Hence, it is “Italian coffee”, not “italian coffee”. A good rule of thumb is to always capitalize names of nations and nationalities. Some terms like “french fries” are no longer regarded as proper nouns, however. One source I have says “brussel sprouts”, another “Brussel(s) sprouts”!
As for the rules being simple: the US Government Printing Office Style Manual section on capitalization is 17 pages!
Identifying a proper noun is fairly simple when it is a given name or part of it is a given name. Capitalization can clarify, such as the grammar joke about the difference between “Helping Uncle Jack off a horse” and “Helping uncle jack-off a horse”. Place names are fairly clear, until we start using adjectives such as north, south, central etc. A trick here is to replace the compass direction in the phrase with a term such as “southern”. Consider “I know south New York and am from the South Bronx”. The first “south” is a common adjective indicating part of New York, while the second is an integral part of a place name. Family positions such as mother, uncle etc are capitalized when the preceding part of a title, or when used to substitute for a name.
The key word to remember when trying to identify a proper noun or adjective is “specific”. There are many people in the world, but “John Smith” is a specific individual (even though there are thousands of people of the same name).
I will admit, I remain uncertain about some areas. “The cowboy fires his Colt.” is clear. Colt is the name of a specific company, derived from the name of a specific individual. “Colt” here is a contraction of the name of a specific gun model, such as “Colt Peacemaker”. By the same criteria, it is “Armalite” rather than “armalite”. But what about “claymore” as in “claymore mine”? Claymore, the sword, is probably not a proper noun. It is a subcatergory of sword, but not really a specific model or trademark. Claymore the mine is a specific model of mine, but the term is also used for other models that work in a similar fashion. And is a military name a trademark or specific label?
My fallback of clarity and comprehension has only limited use when it comes to capitalization. Capitalization has very little relevance to spoken English. You cannot hear a word is capitalized when written. The only example that I can think of works in the reverse direction, as in when we use capitals to represent a certain word is stressed, such as “…the judge really IS a donkey!”
To confuse matters, the capitalization rules of other languages are different to those of English. German capitalizes all nouns. Other languages and alphabets use different systems or do not bother at all. Although an advocate of a German-based conlang, Molee was in favour of discarding capitals entirely.
Capitals are a visual, rather than a verbal element of communication. This needs to be kept in mind if we are ever going to simplify and rationalize capitalization for English and conlangs. Does it matter if I write “karate” rather than “Karate”, or if I wrote “Claymore Mine, Claymore mine or claymore mine”? In all variants the meaning is clear. On the other hand, “Polish” and “polish” have different meanings, and even differing pronunciations. “Save the Earth!” has a different meaning to “Save the earth! (Grandad wants it to plant some cuttings)”
“Grammar Essentials for Dummies” remarks that capitalization is more about tradition than logic, which gives us a hint on the right direction to take. New capitalization rules need to be simple, consistent, brief and geared towards clarity and comprehension. We need to look at European languages using the Latin alphabet that make less use of capitals than English or German.
What to do in the meantime? Articles on capitalization will sometimes tell you, “If in doubt, look it up”. This would be good advice except most on-line dictionaries do not identify proper nouns, or worse, are inconsistent. Unless you are bound by a particular style guide, my suggestion is to observe that given for capitalization in the Wikipedia Manual of Style. This has the merit that it is easily accessible any time one has an internet connection. Writer’s Web provides this quick reference, although some style points may differ.
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.
Categories
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.
Categories
Language

LoCaS Visual Language

While researching Blissymbolics I came across another, more recent system, called “LoCaS” by Yukio Ota. The original idea was based around eight symbols. The influence of Bliss is pretty clear. Some of Ota’s symbols are better, for others I prefer Bliss. It is worth remembering that Bliss designed his symbols so they could be constructed from the limited number of shapes available from a modified typewriter. This is no longer a requirement and many Bliss characters could be redesigned to be clearer. The “nose” could be more nose-shaped, and the “mouth” made oval, for example.
One LoCaS symbol I really like is the eye looking to one side for “search”. Many websites and programs use a magnifying glass logo for both magnification and search. Here is a perfect alternative!

Categories
Language

Blissymbolics

The other day I was discussing telepathy with a friend. Commonly in science-fiction telepathy is a convenient solution to any language barrier. Humans, at least, tend to think in language. If telepathic communication is possible it may need to be in the form of images and sensations. There may be problems with differing sensory apparatus and sensitivities. An object may look very different if your visual range extends into the mid-infrared. Many creatures have a world-view that is more reliant on their olfactory senses. Cultural context will also be a problem. A human might transmit an image of a middle-aged woman with a feeling of warmth. This might be translated as “spouse” but could have been intended to mean “mother”, the receiver being unable to appreciate the context of age. One species’ “warm” might be considered uncomfortably hot by another, and taken to mean “danger”.
Thinking about visual communication took me back to Blissymbolics. When I wrote about Awgzing, I suggested that some Blissymbols might be used for written communication such as signposts. In fact, the symbol for Awgzing was derived from Bliss.
According to various websites there are around 5,000 Bliss-words, 900 of which are “Bliss characters”: single symbols with a meaning. Some of these characters are combinations of two or more other other characters. In his original book Bliss suggests 100 basic symbol elements that can be combined.
Blissymbolics is used in the education of people with communication difficulties. Some of the simpler symbols deserve wider usage. The symbol for “exit” is a doorway-shaped arch with an arrow coming out from it. The symbol for gas is a small circle with an upward arrow, representing a rising bubble. See here for a searchable database of symbols
Blissymbolics suggests a number of strategies that may be applied to Diinlang.
Firstly, it is highly modular, so may help design a conlang where the majority of words are formed from compounds of simpler words. Bliss’ first 100 concepts could each be assigned a single syllable phoneme.
Addition of a modifier symbol to another symbol changed the symbol to a “chemical thing”, “action” or “human evaluation”, the equivalent of substantives, verbs and modifiers. This expanded with other symbols that indicate tense, aspect and voice of a verb. We see something like this in Diinlang. A small number of determiners make a word a noun, use of auxiliary verbs designates certain verb forms. Certain endings distinguish some modifiers, but there is probably room for improvement.
The original book by Bliss contains many interesting ideas. The addition symbol could mean “and” but also served as “also” and “too”. A symbol for “part” combines with other symbols for related meanings. With the symbol for fire, it has the meaning “flame” and with water it means “drop”
Blissymbols are inspiring some new trains of thought, so expect to see some of their influence in future posts.
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Language

4lsh “Every Word Can Be Abbreviated To Four Letters”

Version 1.1

While I was researching a topic for this blog I came across the webpage “Every Word Can Be Abbreviated To Four Letters”. Last night, while pondering what a long word “maintenance” was, I was reminded of this page.
Can any English word be represented by four letters? There will be a few homographs. An early one I encountered was that “short” and “shirt” might both be “shrt”. “Shorts”, however, worked as “shts”.  As the author of the page says, sometimes using five letters is necessary for clarity. Context plays a part, and use more letters if the meaning is unclear.
This idea has some merit as a shorthand for informal communications using type. A number of complimentary ideas occurred to me, in a system I call 4lsh:
The first is that any noun (four letters or otherwise), becomes possessive by placing an apostrophe at the end. Unlike formal English, the apostrophe is always at the end, it never sometimes occurs before an “s” when used genitively. It can be used to mark a pronoun as genitive, when necessary. For example “their” becomes “thr’”. Apostrophes are still used to mark abbreviations and omissions. “Cant” and “wont” are different words to “can’t” and “won’t” so using the apostrophe increases clarity (which should be the guide in using any grammar system!).
Third person present inflection of verbs is dropped. “Needs” is just “need”, “thinks” is just “thnk (tink?)”. The “-ly” of some adverbs can be dropped if the meaning is clear. In Scots and informal English, this is already done for some words. For example “want it bad”, rather than “want it badly”.
Plurals are made by adding a terminal “-s”. Plurals of four-letter contractions will be five letters, the last letter being “-s”. Where possible irregular plurals are regularized. “Chlds” is “children”, “goozs” is “geese”, “knifs” is “knives” and “sheps” is “sheep”. Since this is a variant of English there will always be exceptions. “Oxen” is already an understandable four-letter plural, although “oxs” is possible.
Getting phonetic can help in the creation of 4lsh words. “Actn movi” is “action movie”. “Nslv” is “enslave”. “Thru” for “through”. Some words are clearer as hybrids of phonetic and traditional, “whol” being “whole”.
While vowels are used in 4lsh, one of the first moves in creating a word is to see what it looks like without its vowels. “Maintenance” becomes “mntnnc” for “mtnc”. Certain terminal letter combinations will often represent a particular phoneme, or similar phonemes. A terminal “-g ”is often “-ing”“-r” is often “-er”, “-or”, “-ar” or “-ir”. “-d” is “-ed” and adding it to a 4lish word makes a past tense or passive participle. “-l” will often be “-al” but may be “-le”, while “-bl” is “-able”. or “-ible”. “-n” may be “-ion” or “-en”. “-st” is either “-est” or “-ist”, depending on the word. Being English-based, there will be exceptions! The original page suggests “addr” for “address”, but it could be read as “adder”. “Adrs” might be an alternative for “address”.
4lsh can be combined with other abbreviation systems such as that proposed by Molee or Dutton’s single-letter Speedwords and correlatives.
For English, Molee initially suggested nine abbreviations, but expanded the system in later books:
e (the), b (be) hd (had), v (of), bn (been), n (and), t (to), h (have), hs (has), nsf (etc), u (you), shl (shall), shd (should), wd (would), cd (could), whc (which), whn (when), whr (where), wht (what), thn (then), tm (time), ths (this), thr (there), tht (that), cm (come), cn (can), wl (will), ws (was), wth (with), s (is), z (as).
An ampersand (&) could be used for “and”, but “n” is more convenient on a keyboard. It could be confused with “no” unless the capital is reserved for “no”. “nsf” for “etc” is redundant. Possible additions to the Molee codes are: cnt (cannot/ can’t), wnt (won’t), bt (but), wr (were), thr’ (their), ar (are), bg (being), xg (thing), ys (yes), x (it) and nt (not), the latter compounding with cd, shl, shd, wd etc.
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Language

Diinlang 2.0: Prepositions Group 3

Version 1.

Supposedly, a number of languages such as Tok Pisin have only two prepositions. In practice I suspect there are a variety of workarounds and some other words or phrases serve as prepositions too.
With Diinlang we have a similar situation, in that the words “per” and “di” can be used for most prepositional needs. These are not the only prepositions in Diinlang, and the addition of “ad” and “po” greatly increases the flexibility of a learner’s vocabulary. From here it is but a short step to add words such as “in”, “eks”, “up” and so forth. The prepositions of Diinlang are a good place to start building your vocabulary.
The third group of prepositions are, unfortunately, still a work in progress. This page will hopefully see numerous updates, so check the version number.
To the prepositions learnt in groups one and two we can add the word “kom”, meaning “with”. We have already encountered this word as a conjunction, but it can serve as a preposition too. “As” is another word we have already seen in use that may act like a preposition. The meaning is the same as in English, but applications are a little wider.
Still open to change are our terms for BEFORE and AFTER. These have both spacial and temporal uses. The words selected may be “pre” and “pos”, respectively.
The remaining words in group three are still being developed. Words/concepts that need translation include:
AGAINST: Some conlangs have used “contra” or “anti”, and these may be valid Diinlang words due to their use in Internation Scientific Vocabulary (ISV). It would be desirable to have a more compact Diinlang word. Also, to my mind “contra” and “anti” have a different meaning to how the word is used in context such as “The brick is leaning against the wall.”
ALONG: As in “Move along the path”.“trans” is a possible candidate, and has ISV precedents, but I am not really happy with this.
ACROSS: as in “The black rod is across the white rod.” “Tran” has been suggested, but it may be a little too close to “trans”.
AROUND: In English this word can indicate a location, a course or an approximation: “I will be around the bandstand at around three. Go around the fair.”. The ISV-derived “sirka” can be used, but a more compact Diinlang term is also desirable.
ABOUT: “The bricks are about the ball.” I considered the Portuguese “por”, although this has many alternate uses and may be too similar to prepositions such as “per”.
BESIDE: Whether a specific word for this is needed has to be decided. Combinations of existing words may serve instead, for example “ad siy” = “to (the) side”.
OPPOSITE: A term or word for this needs to be determined.
PASS: A word that can combine with directives to create terms equivalent to “overpass”, “underpass”, “bypass” etc.
BEYOND: this use may already be served by the word “vong”, meaning “yonder”.
AT: The English word “at” is derived from the Latin “ad” , meaning “to”. A literal equivalent does not exist in many languages, so I have tried to avoid it in Diinlang. Alternate words include “ad (to)”, “on (on)” and “veng (near)”.
BY: is another word for which a variety of other words can be used instead. These include veng, on, per and di.
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Language

Diinlang 2.0: Asking Questions.

Asking questions in Diinlang is very easy. The grammar of Diinlang resembles that of English but is more regular and simpler.
Asking a question in English often uses inversion. One says “Have you a phone?” instead of “You have a phone?”. English also makes use of “do-support” so the above inquiry might be “Do you have a phone?”. Diinlang makes use of neither mechanism, so the equivalent translation would be “Yu av je fohn?
In fact, a Diinlang speaker would generally add the interrogative “ke” to the sentence and say either “Ke yu av je fohn?” or “Yu av je fohn, ke?” As you can see, this may occur at either the start or the end of a sentence. In the initial position you can think of it as having a similar function as “do-support”, although the literal meaning of “ke” is not “do”. At the end of a sentence it is rather like how some English speakers will add “eh?” to the end of a question. Alternately, think of it as an audible question mark.
On its own, ke means “what?” It can be combined with a number of other words to construct alternative interrogations, which would usually be used at the start of a sentence. Some of the possibilities are:

Ke? What?
Ke do? Where? (What place/ area?)
Ke per? Why (What for?)
Ke tem? When? (What time?)
Ke zem/jhen? Who? (What person?)
Ke li? How? (What manner?)
Ke jeve/un? Which one? (What each?)
Ke ving? What is that/there?
Ke vang? What is this/here?
Ke ta? How much/big?
Ke taz How many?
Note that a different word (su) is used for who, what, which, that when they are used as relative pronouns for connecting parts of sentence.