LINGUIST List 7.1513

Sat Oct 26 1996

Disc: Natural language

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Jouko Lindstedt, Re: 7.1490, Disc: Natural language
  2. Dan Moonhawk Alford, Re: 7.1480, Disc: Natural language

Message 1: Re: 7.1490, Disc: Natural language

Date: Thu, 24 Oct 1996 14:17:49 +0300
From: Jouko Lindstedt <>
Subject: Re: 7.1490, Disc: Natural language
Benji Wald is probably right in saying that the major structural
difference between Esperanto and acknowledged natural languages is
that there are no exceptions in Esperanto grammar -- all verbs
conjugate the same way, all derivational affixes are productive
etc. But this does not amount to a language with no inconsistencies;
there have existed some from the very beginning. Some of them have
been done away with during the century-long use of the language, but
others have persisted.

For instance, an apparent asymmetry is that the subordinating temporal
conjunction 'before' is "antau ol" (lit. "before than"), but 'after'
is "post kiam" (lit. "after when"). Though "post ol" is used at times,
it is definitely a rare form. But notice that we do not really know
whether this is simply an inconsistency, or whether there are some
cognitive reasons for this distinction between the two conjunctions to
persist (for instance, the sometimes different factual status of the
situations referred to in the two types of embedded clauses).

Benji Wald also asked:

> In sum, it seems to me that Esperanto and other creations of that type
> are nothing more than parasitic creations based on natural language/s.
> In saying this, I may not be aware enough of some of the fine points
> of consciously created Esperanto grammar. Are there any rules that
> are not found in natural languages -- or, maybe more difficult to say,
> "impossible in NLs"

In an earlier contribution, Ivan Derzhanski in fact suggested that
there may be such a rule in Esperanto, namely "the assignment of
nominative case by prepositions in Esperanto" -- instead of the
accusative which is the only other (surface) case in Esperanto. After
prepositions, the accusative marker -n is only used to show direction,
e.g. "en la urbo" = 'in the town', but "en la urbon" = 'into the
town'. Apparently some theories of Universal Grammar predict that the
complement of a preposition cannot be in the nominative. There are two
ways of approaching this problem:

When children acquiring Esperanto from one or both of their parents
learn to use the accusative ending for direct objects (some time after
their third birthday, I assume), we could investigate whether they
tend to overgeneralize it after all prepositions as well. I do not
know what the result would be. But the problem is that the child is
practically always simultaneously acquiring another language as well;
if this language does not have surface case, it may inhibit the
"natural" overgeneralization in Esperanto; if it does have surface
case, what looks like an overgeneralization may be in fact
interference. So there might be difficulties in interpreting the data,
but the investigation would still be worthwhile.

Another interesting approach is to question the validity of the
standard grammatical descriptions of Esperanto -- as linguists are
ready to do with other languages. Notice that the "accusative" ending
is also used after adverbs to show direction, e.g. "hejme" = 'at
home', "hejmen" = '(to) home', and "tie" = 'there', "tien" =
'thither'. So it might just not be a case marker at all in a
typological sense, though its use as a marker of the direct object has
made the name "accusative" traditional for it.

Incidentally, in the discussion so far creologists have been
absent. Do they endorse the characterization that pidgins are
"non-natural" and creoles are "natural"; and what are then "extended

Jouko Lindstedt
Slavonic and Baltic Department, University of Helsinki
e-mail: Jouko.LindstedtHelsinki.Fi or
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: Re: 7.1480, Disc: Natural language

Date: Thu, 24 Oct 1996 08:57:25 PDT
From: Dan Moonhawk Alford <>
Subject: Re: 7.1480, Disc: Natural language
> Another issue: bivalent or Aristotelian logic is nowadays being seen
> (at least by some) as one of many possible logic system - quite like
> Euclidean geometry, once perceived to be the only possible geometry,
> was relativised by Riemann. ("Fuzzy logic" is the term for
> incorporating this new understanding into statisitcs and computer
> applications.) This does not mean Euklidean geometry is suddenly
> "wrong"; it is now perceived as a subset instead of the whole set and
> can thus only be applied correctly in the appropriate context.

I'm glad this was brought up, since this was Einstein's basic
LINGUISTIC point in his principle of relativity (which was not lost on

In addition, a friend of mine, Andy Hilgartner, has produced an
article published in Papers in Physics recently called "A
non-aristotelian view of quantum physics," in which he rolls back all
scientific knowledge to the time of Aristotle, finds the "law of
identity," which Aristotle called a law of thought, on which
everything else is built (a=a); then he switches tracks to Korzybski's
"law of non-identity" (you can't step in the same river twice, you're
not today who you were yesterday) and rolls it back forward to the
present time. Result: the 'bizarre' effects of the quantum realm
become understandable, unparadoxical, in the non-identity version
which replaces the ancient binary logic.

By the way, for any linguists who don't know anything about the
quantum realm and were afraid to ask, here's a key: if you know about
phonemes, and their relation to phones, you ALREADY know about the
quantum realm and its relation to Newtonian 'facts'. Sh! Physicists
don't know we know yet! But the underlying structuralism of quantum
physics and linguistics are cut from the same early 20th-century cloth
that came out of Humboldtian education in Europe.

warm regards, moonhawk
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue