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Part 3: Managing The Complexity Of (The English) Language v1.2

by Darren Tomlyn on 08/19/15 01:00:00 pm

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

A Study Of Games As A Matter Of Linguistics

Section 1: The Problem With Our Understanding Of The Meaning(s) Of The Word* Game

Part 3: Managing The Complexity Of (The English) Language

By Darren Tomlyn

Contents

V1.2  I've added more context to the problems with adjective as it's currently perceived.

 

I’ve been working on a post for part 3 for a while, (though I’ve not been well, so haven’t spent as much time on it as I would have preferred), mainly in relation to verbs/adverbs/auxiliary verbs, but it was only after I’d finished a couple of different drafts, that I realised it still needed additional context, first.

Note: Some of what I talk about here is similar to - (even repeating) - some of what I described in the previous part, but with additional context and information that I realised I needed for later. Rather than add all this to the previous part, I created another instead.

 

The Fundamentals

Language is about adding a set of rules to communication, to enable greater consistency in its use.  All of the other benefits of language are either further additions to communication, (such as rules governing the individual representations themselves), or a side-effect of the greater consistency language enables - (to communicate more intangible, ephemeral or fictional pieces of information more easily etc.).

Such a set of rules therefore also exists to manage the inherent complexity of communication, itself.

None of which, however, means that language itself, and its rules, have to be simple, or uncomplicated - languages just have to be simple and basic enough to do their job, which, in the case of the English language, isn't very simple at all.

So why do we have problems?

We have problems, because the most basic group of concepts, and different ways in which they are treated and (syntactically) applied by different languages, appears to be simple and easy enough to recognise and understand, and therefore affect our perception, recognition, teaching and description of language itself.

Unfortunately, this has led a lot of the descriptions and teaching of language to almost take itself for granted.

Because the main differences in our perception of such concepts appears to be found in their (syntactic) application, this has since become our main focus when it comes to understanding language, and has therefore caused our perception of all the other concepts a language uses and has to be also recognised by their syntactic application, and therefore fit within a basic syntactic framework we’ve constructed for language in general.

But the basic concepts an entire language has are rarely that simple, and so our teaching and description of English has become extremely simplistic, and therefore incomplete, inconsistent and even inaccurate.

 

The Basic Rules Of Language

The main way in which the underlying complexity of language is managed, is by the basic set of rules it has:

  1. Of applied semantics (content)
  2. Of applied syntactics (grammar)

(Again, the rules of grammar are caused by the rules of content.)

Unfortunately, our focus on the rules of grammar, for a language, is causing us to fail to truly and fully recognise and understand its rules of content, and, even worse, confuse its syntactic application for its basic meaning, and the concept any piece of information being represented happens to belong to.

This means that half of the rules a language has to govern its complexity, and enable its purpose (and definition), for all intents and purposes do not exist – they are not being used to teach and describe, and therefore understand, exactly what information is being represented, and how and why a language functions and therefore exists.

Without such rules of content, the rules of grammar for a language have no reason to exist – no context at all – and so it should be no surprise when we get confused between language and syntactic communication.

If all language was, was syntactic communication, then its syntactic application would be essentially random – but it’s not.

The rules of content are never random, so neither are the rules of grammar.  That some basic concepts are directly related to others (things/properties of things etc.) is then also reflected in their syntactic rules and application, (which will still vary depending on the language), should be fairly obvious to understand.

The fact that we just essentially had a study to find that out should tell everyone something – let alone that anyone found its results surprising…?

http://www.pnas.org/content/112/33/10336

But this is what happens when you confuse language for syntactic communication.

So, in order to manage the complexity of any and all languages, we need to recognise and understand their basic rules, and then teach and describe each and every individual basic means of communication in relation to them.

The two elements that matter in relation to each description, are:

  1. What basic concept the piece of information belongs to.
  2. What basic manner of (syntactic) use its representation has.

Neither of which are fully and completely recognised and understood in relation to the description and teaching of the (entire) English language at this time.  The first is essentially non-existent, meaning that the second may not always be consistent or accurate in relation.  Our problems are also compounded by our attempt to still make everything fit within our single, simple syntactic framework, as mentioned earlier.

Any time a peice of information is described for what it is in isolation of the concept it belongs to, the rules of language, for all intents and purposes, cease to exist.  This means that any further rules governing it's syntactic application can do nothing more than define it as syntactic communication.  If our recognition of its individual syntactic applications are incomplete, inaccurate or inconsistent, then we have further problems that only syntactic communication can solve - as individual means of communication used in combination with each other because of their individual semantic meaning and/or identity.

Our current incomplete and inconsistent perception of such concepts and applications have led to most of our more comprehensive guides describing individual basic means of communication as and by their individual syntactic applications, rather than even their overall manners of use, and so further teach and describe the language as syntactic communication.

One of the other side-effects this has, is actually making the language even more complex than it really needs to be, even if its rules are complex enough in their own right.  The lack of consistency across the board in regards to the teaching and description of all of the required elements of the English language is adding to the problems we have, rather than solving them.

 

The Perception And Use Of The Rules Of Content

Communication, in itself, is far more complex than language, any language, could ever be.  The whole reason for language to exist is to manage the complexity of communication, by using a set of rules.

In order to manage the complexity of language itself, therefore, we need to recognise, understand and use the rules it has, fully and completely, to teach and describe all of the basic means of communication it applies to, and the semantic and syntactic context provided by such rules themselves.

Needless to say that this is not only not happening at this time, but cannot happen, as our understanding of such rules and context is inconsistent - both incomplete and inaccurate.

Our understanding of such rules and context is so inaccurate, there is very little evidence at this time that we truly and fully recognise what a basic concept even is, (regardles of any applicable label), let alone what the true role and purpose is of the basic manners of use they happen to cause.

So, a basic concept is the fundamental semantic context governing an individual peice of information for what it happens to be in relation to any other within a language, based on what the information happens to be of.  The basic rules of language govern what these basic concepts are, because of how and why they are related to each other, within a single taxonomic hierarchy, and therefore how, why and where each individual peice of information fits within for each and every language, and how and why they are all related to each other, directly and/or indirectly.

The most fundamental method of managing the complexty of a language, is therefore to fully and completely recognise all of these basic concepts, and be fully consistent in the teaching and description of them based on their relationships with each other, and therefore their overall identity.

Anytime our perception of such relationships is incomplete - in not describing things in a manner that allows any other concept to exist in relation, for example, the rules of language also cease to fully exist.  Any concept that exists, but isn't part of the taxonomic hierarchy itself, either because it is described in isolation from any other concept, or isn't recognised to exist at all, also denies the true existence and functionality of language itself, further reinforcing the perception of language as mere syntactic communication.

Sometimes we might get some help with recognising such different concepts, because the representations of the information that belong to them might reflect such differences and relationships in concept, but this doesn't always happen, and is therefore subjective depending on the concepts and individual language involved.

(When it does, however, and we still don't fully recognise and understand, teach and describe such concepts that the different relationships between them define, then it becomes obvious that we have some very fundamental problems.)

So differences and relationships in semantic identity and application within the functional taxonomic hierarchy of basic concepts are obvious ways we can use the rules of langauge, and the application of communication they further apply to, to manage the overall complexity of language.

It's by using such rules that we can therefore determine the different types of properties of things that the English language has, (as I did in the previous part).  The fact that we're not consistent in recognising such different properties as being different, individual basic concepts themselves, within the English language, is a simple sign that we don't understand the language for what it is.

But the main reason we're not being consistent in our recognition of such concepts, is because we currently perceive them almost purely by their syntactic application, and manner of use we 'think' they cause - adjective.

But our perception of this, is also far too simplistic.

 

The Perception And Use Of The Rules Of Grammar

So, the rules of grammar - of applied syntactics - are about how and why each individual basic concept is applied in combination with each other, and then, usually in addition, in relation to each other, when applicable.

Unfortunately, we are not being consistent in our recognition and understanding of how and why all of these manners of use exist, and what they fully describe, in themselves.

Our perception of adjective is a good example of the mistakes we currently make in our perception of such manners of use in general.

The mistake we make with adjective, in relation to properties of things, is very fundamental.  Because we only perceive the semantic context of properties of things as being that of things, themselves, we think that their syntactic context should also be as limited.  But it gets even worse, when we perceive its syntactic context completely independently of its semantic context, which also often happens.

This is why the following description of adjective is typical, problematic, and symptomatic of such bigger and deeper problems with our perception, recognition and understanding of (the English) language:

An adjective is a word or set of words that modifies (i.e., describes) a noun or pronoun.

(http://www.grammarbook.com/grammar/adjAdv.asp)

We can see why this description was considered applicable - it's about basic manners of use in relation to each other for the semantic context they're considered abstractions of, with the relationship and understanding of why defined by modifies.  Either way, it's a good example of trying to teach language based on its (applied) syntactic application first, (applied) semantic meaning, second - as back-to-front, as I started off with.

There two very large fundamental problems with such a description:

  1. It does not describe any applied semantic context (the basic concepts involved) at all, and is therefore both incomplete and possibly inaccurate.
  2. It does not describe exactly how and why such concepts are truly syntactically applied in relation to each other - it is not a list of individual syntactic applications between such basic concepts.

Such a description is therefore not just overly simplistic, it has no true relevance to the basic rules of language, themselves, and only generally does it govern syntactic communication, depending on how noun and pronoun are described.

This type of description is exactly how and why people are informed that mentioning the (supposedly) 'basic manner of use' a basic means of communication causes, is all that truly matters, not just for its syntactic context, but its semantic context and meaning aswell, which cannot be the case.  And is why we mistake the rules of content for the rules of grammar - for semantics as and by syntactics.

So how do we fix this?

We start by being consistent in our perception, recognition and understanding of what a basic manner of (syntactic) use actually is, especially in relation to the basic concepts that cause them.

So what does that mean and what does it involve, in regards to any particular concept or concepts - for example, the different properties of things?

What it truly means, is being able to recognise individual syntactic applications between different concepts for what they are, that then form part of their manners of use, and then being able to recognise all of the individual applications that form the overall manner of use, itself.  Only when the entire applied semantic and syntactic context is in place, will each and every individual basic means of communication truly and consistently exist within the rules of (a) language

For properties of things, in particular, it means that they cannot all share the same manner of use - they cannot all be considered to cause adjective, (assuming we still want to use that label for at least one consistent manner of use for one such (the basic?) property of things.)

 

(Some) Syntactic Applications Of Properties Of Things In The English Language

Note: Since I'm far more interested in recognising differences in semantic concept at this time, (with regards to the problems with game etc.), I'm not entirely fussed about having to recognise every, single, individual syntactic application of each and every concept in the language, including the different properties of things, unless absolutely necessary to do so.  Considering that doing this for the five individual properties of things in English would pretty much be the focus of one, if not more, academic papers in their own right, I don't want to get too bogged down on just this particular issue.  (It's taking me long enough to do all this as it is!)

So, hopefully the fact that we have five different types of property in the English language should be simple enough to recognise, e.g:

  1. Red
  2. Redder
  3. Reddest
  4. Red-ish (reddish)
  5. Office/tennis (work/racket) etc.

(Note again, that such relationships in concept are not always reflected in representation - even among the different individual properties.)

Beyond the fact that they have different semantic identity, and do not all share the same relationships and application within the hierarchy of basic concepts, (we'll come back to this in a later part), they also generally differ in syntactic application, in ways that are not currently recognised.

Why are they not recognised?

Because we fail to recognise, or worse, refuse to accept, that they matter in relation to their meaning and semantic concept.

At this moment in time, the only context we truly place them in, is that in relation to noun/pronoun as seen above, that is caused by things and their further representation that properties of things are recognised and understood to exist in relation to, as part of their own semantic identity.  But even then, we're not being consistent in relation to all of the properties above, and is why the last property isn't truly recognised at all, even if few of them are consistently described and taught to exist for such basic means of communication to be further described as belonging to.

So, there are a few, basic, individual syntactic applications that such properties of things can cause, that we currently perceive adjective as representing, even if not mentioned, specifically, as they should be:

  1. In combination, before, a thing/noun.  E.g. The red car.
  2. After, in relation to a thing/noun. E.g. The car is red.
  3. After an additional continuous thing of happening* in combination, (that further exists in combination or relation to a thing/noun).  E.g. The car is getting hot.
  4. After a thing/noun in combination, as part of a question. e.g. Is the car red?

(*More on this is the next part.)

Note: multiple properties are always possible with an additional relationship/comma (conjunction - more on this in a later part).

1. above can also be caused after in relation to another noun/pronoun.  E.g. It is the red/redder/reddest car.

All of these are caused by most properties of things, and therefore the only problems they suffer from, is that such a perception is simply incomplete, and not specific enough for such different concepts.

The 5th property above, however, is different.  The whole reason why this property exists, is to take other concepts that can exist and be used in relation to things, and further semantically apply them as a property of things, that is then syntactically applied only in direct combination beforehand, meaning that they only have 'one' syntactic application mentioned above - that of 1.

It should be no surprise then, given the difference in semantic application and manner of use it must cause, why we do not fully recognise such a concept to exist.

But in order to truly understand how and why such different types of properties exist and must be considered different concepts in their own right, we need to be far more specific in our recognition of different syntactic applications.

What would, should, we consider such different applications to be?

A basic example would involve 1, above.  Although it's primarily about how such properties are used in combination with (before) things, there are three different concepts and associated manners of use that can be used before such a property, normally existing in direct combination with things themselves.  The fact that such properties can also be applied in such a manner, means that these additional concepts must also recognise such an application themeselves - being used before in combination with adjective* (though hopefully we can already see why that isn't consistent enough, already), before a noun* ((maybe, definitely if we limit it to things) - more on this in a much later part), as it has an additional property used in combination.  These three concepts/manners of use (since we don't always truly make the distinction at this time) are:

  1. Pronoun. E.g. His red car.
  2. Article. E.g. The red car.
  3. A (cardinal?) number. E.g. One red car.

These three different applications must therefore also form part of the basic manner of use of such properties, as part of its application in combination with things, which we can now describe as:

  1. In combination, before, a thing/noun, and may be preceded by a pronoun, article or a (cardinal?) number.  E.g. The/His/One red car.  (And can be preceded by a relation with noun/pronoun/number etc. too - e.g. It/one is his red car.)

So this should be fairly simple to recognise and understand - any and all concepts that are used in direct combination with another, must form part of their basic manners of use - if they do not, then such applications cannot truly exist.

This type of difference in application is exactly what we should be studying language to recognise.  But this one doesn't have any real bearing on the types of property involved, and therefore forms part of all of their manners of use.  Since only one application of all of those above is shared, however, it should be easy to recognise the differences in concept for that which is not applied in any other manner.  So how do we recognise the differences in application for those that are all applied in such a list?

The syntactic applications they do not share, are those that are dependent on the differences in such properties themselves.  The basic and approximate properties, however, share the same manner of use - unless we wish to describe the use of ish as a separate word as an additional application of such a property.

There are two differences in context for the properties I will add here, (with further, additional context in later parts), such as those that can be used in further combination with such properties in further combination with all of the applications above, and those that are only applicable when applied in relation to things. 

The whole point about two of these properties, is that they are comparative - they compare the property of something in relation to another/others, even if previously mentioned, or even if its directly in relation to the object used in combination - (e.g. the hottest day).  The nature of the further, additional relationships they can use, however, are specific to each property, and are therefore part of their specific manners of use.  A failure to recognise such differences in application, is to deny any such differences in semantic meaning and concept that cause them.  Only the absolute-comparative property can be given an article without a subject/object used in direct combination, (application 1 above), with its relationship used instead.

The differences in relationship they can have are only used in relation to things, but since they are used directly in combination with the property itself, that is all that matters. These are:

  1. Today is hotter than yesterday.
  2. Today is the hottest of all.

The other properties do not share such applications.

There are a few other concepts that can be used in combination with such properties, some of which are currently erronously considered to be adverbs - as properties of things of happening. The reason for this, is that some of them can be applied in combination with things of happening, in addition to properties of both things of happening and other concepts.  The problem, is that we're not being consistent in the concepts we want adverb to truly describe, and the specific manner of use they cause.  The general properties of things of happening for example, are never used in combination or relation to things in a similar manner to adjective, or their properties themselves, (e.g. we don't say fast fast using properties of things and things of happening in combination),  (which is of course, the main defining reason of why properties of things and properties of things of happening are two different types of concept to begin with). 

There are a few concepts that can be used before the property, when applied both in combination and relation to things.  We can tell that these are different concepts already, because they are not applied in exactly the same way as each other, when used in combination with such properties:

  1. Very/already etc. is used before in combination with the basic and approximate-amount properties. E.g. It is very/already hot(-ish).
  2. Too is used before in combination with the basic property. E.g. It is too hot.
  3. Much is used before in combination with the relative-comparative property. E.g. It is much hotter (than that).
  4. Very can be used before in combination with much in combination with the relative-comparative property, and before the article in combination with the absolute-comparative property. E.g. It is very much hotter.  It is very much the hottest (day/of all).

Of course, we can recognise such differences in application as best as we can, but there are always some that seem to differ.  Again, recognising such differences is important, becuase it generally means they belong to a different concept.  Again, the fact that we do not currently do so, says a lot about our understanding of the language.

So, is there a word/basic means of communication, we currently consider to be used as an adjective, yet doesn't truly fit within the full context just described? According to many dictionaries, yes:

Like. (Similar to/resembles.)

The main reason this is considered to be used as an adjective is that it is applied in relation to noun/pronoun, even with an additional thing of happening (verb) etc.. E.g. It is (applied) like this.

But that is not exactly how properties of things are applied.  We cannot simply replace the word like in such a sentence with any property and have it be consistent with their application.  It is also not used before its subject without changing in meaning as all basic properties of things can be, which this would have to be seen as.  The fact that a property of things can be directly added to this sentence, (e.g. it is hot like this (one)) without any additional relationship, tells us that it's a different concept, with a different manner of use to properties of things in general.

So what manner of use does it have? Simple - it's a 'preposition'.  Exactly what concept it belongs to, however, I'm not sure.  It's use as a property before any subject is consistent with a futher, derived, property of the 5th type much further above.

How many have failed to recognise this, I don't know...

So, as I said at the start, our current perception, recognition, teaching and description of the language is currently, and inherently, flawed.

 

Lessons

So, the main lessons to be learned from this, is that each individual basic means of communication needs to be described and taught in the context of the basic concept its piece of information belongs to, that then exists in relation to the basic manner of use it causes.

Anytime the manner of use does not represent a consistent list of syntactic applications in combination/relation to each and every applicable other concept, for such a basic means of communication – it’s applied in a manner that is not represented by such a use, or such a use describes an application that is not applicable - we have a problem.  Its basic manner of use must be incorrect/inaccurate for this to happen, and the only further question is if the concept we’ve recognised it to belong to is also accurate and correct to cause such applications.  (The only additional question is if such a manner of use or basic concept is recognised to exist at all.)

All of which is currently a problem for our teaching and description of English at this time.

So, we should try and manage the complexity of (the English) language, by teaching and describing it in relation to its functional taxonomic hierarchy of basic concepts, and the distinct manners of use they cause.

Neither of which is happening in a fully consistent, complete and accurate manner at this time.

Now, for teaching materials that are printed - (e.g. textbooks etc.) - the nature of such context will be extremely broad, and therefore tricky to include, but with the use of the internet, there is no excuse for not creating such a taxonomic hierarchy and full syntactic framework for any and all online dictionaries/encyclopeadias and textbooks etc. to be related and linked to.  Until such a thing is created, however, no language will probably ever be taught and described in its true, proper, complete and (hopefully) accurate context.

 

Some Problems With Our Study Of English

The current teaching and description of English is based on studying its syntactic application, without fully recognising and linking it to its functional taxonomic hierarchy of basic concepts – if they know to do so…?

(There have been rumours this might be changing for years, though any effects have yet to be seen – and considering how simple some of them are – (the different types of property, for example, as I've described above and before, are by far the easiest to recognise, (the ‘lowest hanging fruit’)) – it doesn’t bode well for their recognition of the other concepts that need to be recognised as such, and therefore truly exist. This is not something that needs to happen all at once – it can be done piecemeal over time, if managed properly, but doesn’t appear to be happening at all.)

For this reason, there are a few basic problems such basic study, teaching and description currently suffers from:

  1. Not truly recognising distinct basic concepts for what they are, even when obvious in relation to our current perception of language (even as syntactic commnunication).
  2. Not truly recognising basic distinct differences in syntactic application between different concepts in combination or relation - especially beyond those that act as their greater semantic context.
  3. Not recognising that multiple, distinct, and even unrelated concepts can cause similar, even shared, applications, (and possibly manner of use), even if they do form part of such a different manner of use.)
  4. Not recognising different applications of a single concept, when they appear to fit within multiple, distinct manners of use that are currently recognised, and are therefore often ultimately confused for different, multiple concepts because of this – (assuming any such concepts are recognised/described at all).
  5. Not recognising distinct concepts that exist in (because of their) relation to others in the taxonomic hierarchy, irrespective of the manners of use they cause.

 

There is one further problem that may also, possibly, be affecting our description of the English language, though in a far more limited manner.  It may, however, affect other languages too, though I always expect its effects to be fairly small.  I expect it to be controversial, which is why its certainly something that needs to be decided upon, but I will explain in full in my next part:

  1. Not recognising different (incompatible) manners of use caused by different applications of a single/the same concept.

How is this even possible?  I’m afraid you’ll have to wait to find out, since I’ll need to explain in detail, though whether it is something we should recognise or not, I'm not sure.

 

Note: Because of the possibility and sometimes presence of multiple concepts causing a similar manner of use, (e.g. the basic and approximate properties causing adjective (if we wish to describe it as that) etc.), I hope you’ll begin to understand why I call a specific combination of the two a ‘basic means of grammar’ – since we simply do not have any such suitable label at present.

 

http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/DarrenTomlyn/20160128/264530/Part_4_The_Problem_With_English_Verb.php


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