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Linguistics: Minimal Rules For Language

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A fundamental rule for the English language is that you can't have a complete thought without both a noun and a verb (even if one or the other is only implicit). My understanding is that this is a universal principle, that it's not possible to construct a complete thought in any language without these concepts.

Since that principle has played a key role in my own philosophic contemplations, I thought it would be a good idea to get confirmation and to explore the basics of language further. So for any objectivist linguists out there, I want to ask: what are the minimum rules and concepts that no language can be without and still deal with reality?

For the record, the only language I speak is English.

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Entities and relations.

Entities, yes. They correspond to nouns. Also, actions (as they correspond to verbs).

But I'm not so sure on relations. If a complete thought can be formed with only concepts of entity and action (noun and verb), are concepts of relation impossible to do without? Granted, you'd have an incredibly crude and limited language, but you could still form a few valid thoughts ("I am hungry.").

How do you figure concepts of relation to be inescapable in forming a thought?

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How do you figure concepts of relation to be inescapable in forming a thought?

You say you see clearly that at least entities (nouns) and actions (verbs) are needed but you question the neccesity of relationships. But aren't all actions also a relationship--a causal relationship.

Speaking of causality causes me to think if this issue in slightly different terms. Perhaps the bear minimum for a language is for it to contain words that pertain to identity, like nouns, and words that pertain to causality, like verbs.

hmm, I need to do some more thinking on this.

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I assume that it's clear why a language has to be able to express concrete existents. Now, quoting Andrew, actions are a type of relationship, a causal one (between entities). Note that if I had to pick the one thing that's most important, it would be entities, immediately followed by relationships. So in a sentence like "Man bites dog", there are two obvious entities "man" and "dog" plus a recognition that "teeth" are another entity forming a part of "dog", and some other things (it's really hard to describe simple verbs like "bite") where the dog causes his teeth to become closer and closer to the man, and so on. It's easier if I show you. Of course I can add more things which are also important, and the first thing that comes to mind is "attribute", which I'm subsuming under the concept of "relationship".

BTW the distinction between noun and verb is often made in conflicting ways, either in terms of the syntactic properties of the word or else by reference to meaning properties, and this can sometimes lead to confusion. For example, the word "eating" could be treated as a noun or as a verb, depending on which properties you're focusing on (examples "My eating is none of your business" vs. "Hal is eating a sandwich"). I assume that the conceptual distinctions entity and relationship are truly universal to all languages and are essential characteristics of human consciousness, but "noun" and "verb" is rather variable and even optional, since some languages make no detectable distinction between nouns and verbs in their grammar, e.g. Lummi.

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Do you have any comments on my thoughts about grouping tyes of words based on a Identity vs. Causality distinction. Under this distinction it would make sense to group entities and attributes (and some relationships) under 'identity', while grouping actions and (and the rest of the relationships) under 'causuality'.

To test the validity of this disntinction, can any complete thoughts be formed by pulling words from only one of these categories?

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I assume that it's clear why a language has to be able to express concrete existents. Now, quoting Andrew, actions are a type of relationship, a causal one (between entities). Note that if I had to pick the one thing that's most important, it would be entities, immediately followed by relationships. So in a sentence like "Man bites dog", there are two obvious entities "man" and "dog" plus a recognition that "teeth" are another entity forming a part of "dog", and some other things (it's really hard to describe simple verbs like "bite") where the dog causes his teeth to become closer and closer to the man, and so on. It's easier if I show you. Of course I can add more things which are also important, and the first thing that comes to mind is "attribute", which I'm subsuming under the concept of "relationship".

I have to (humorously) point out that you actually have the man biting the dog in your example sentence, though the rest of the description is about the dog biting the man. :D

VES

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Do you have any comments on my thoughts about grouping tyes of words based on a Identity vs. Causality distinction.  Under this distinction it would make sense to group entities and attributes (and some relationships) under 'identity', while grouping actions and (and the rest of the relationships) under 'causuality'.

To test the validity of this disntinction, can any complete thoughts be formed by pulling words from only one of these categories?

I'm having a hard time concretizing that, so I don't think I really understand what such a grouping would imply. All existents have a nature, i.e. an identity, so I can't imagine an action which has no identity. Nor can I imagine causation without a causal entity. You can certainly say things like "This is a cow", which makes no claims about causation, nor are you asserting anything about the attributes of a cow. On the other hand, I can't think of any statement you can make about action without at least an implicit actor.

The identity vs. causality distinction is clearly valid since there are indeed these two separate concepts, even if by the nature of causation you can't speak of causation lacking a causer. Languages do even encode those properties overtly.

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Hmm... This topic hasn't really helped me. Let me try asking something more specific and see if that shakes anything loose.

I mentioned in my opening post the need for both a subject and a verb (even if one is only implied) to express a complete thought in English. To put it in broader, philosophical terms, my understanding is that any complete thought must both refer to an existant (even if it's only a mental existant with no physical counterpart, like "gremlin") and say something about the nature of that existant (like "gremlins are green" or "I am thinking").

In other words, the pattern here is "some existant A," along with "some attribute B which is possessed by A." My impression is that any meaningful statement in any language must either already be in this form ( A is B ) or must be grammatically or implicitly equivalent to that form.

So, here's my question: can anyone think of any exceptions in any language? Or am I correct in believing this to be an inescapable law of rational thought?

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So, here's my question: can anyone think of any exceptions in any language?  Or am I correct in believing this to be an inescapable law of rational thought?

(That's a stub, so refer back to the post to get the context). I don't understand the question. You're mixing ideas in a way that I can't consistently pin down. The concepts of "subject" and "verb", as technical terms for language analysis, have to do with form properties such as case, and syntactic properties -- things like whether the phrase is the first phrase in the sentence, before the verb (in English: in other languages it may be after the verb), or whether the word has a tense inflection. I seriously doubt that you mean "subject" and "verb" in this sense (say so, if you do mean "subject", "verb" in the formal sense, since the idea of an "implicit formal subject" is a contradiction). So I assume you mean something meaning-based, like a "logical subject" and a "logical verb" (better, "predicate"). But even so, "subject" isn't a meaningful concept in terms of meaning. Sometimes subjects are agents (typically: "Bill kicked Tom"), but sometimes they are experiencers ("Bill heard a cow") or patients ("Bill underwent surgery"). The situation with "verb" is, frankly, hopeless: most languages do not in fact require a verb "be" for sentences like "Bill is tall" or "Bill is a clown".

any complete thought must both refer to an existant (even if it's only a mental existant with no physical counterpart, like "gremlin") and say something about the nature of that existant (like "gremlins are green" or "I am thinking").

This, AFAIK, is utterly true, and a pretty good characterisation: I'd say it's the quintessential characterisation of "proposition", or "statement". However, statements are declarative (not interrogative or imperative), and in fact what you say is also true of declaratives, interrogative and imperatives.

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(That's a stub, so refer back to the post to get the context). I don't understand the question. You're mixing ideas in a way that I can't consistently pin down.

Argh. This (formal english) was never my strongest subject, and I don't have my old textbook with me to look things up in. So for now, I'm just going to concede that I probably am getting my terms mixed up.

This, AFAIK, is utterly true, and a pretty good characterisation: I'd say it's the quintessential characterisation of "proposition", or "statement".
That's what I'm looking for. Not the specific rules of any given language, but what is required to form a valid statement in any language. Thanks.

However, statements are declarative (not interrogative or imperative), and in fact what you say is also true of declaratives, interrogative and imperatives.

Perhaps. But it's the declaritives that I'm worried about right now.

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Argh. This (formal english) was never my strongest subject, and I don't have my old textbook with me to look things up in.  So for now, I'm just going to concede that I probably am getting my terms mixed up.

The questions you're asking are well beyond the competence of the subject matter "English" (as she are writ nowadays), and many textbooks are totally wrong (sigh). For me to say that you made an error would require that I believe that you ignored things which you were told, which I am in no position to do. Welcome to the brave new world of post-Derridist ignorance of language. The main point I wanted to make is that there is a difference between the conceptual content (okay, money meets mouth...: see this for a skeleton of epistemology and especially here for discussion of concepts) of linguistic utterances and their form. The idea of "subject" is properly one about form -- measurable ordering of symbols -- and not the conceptual stuff (i.e. what metaphysical properties do "subjects" have).

But it's the declaritives that I'm worried about right now.

Okay, but at no cost to you, you could be concerned about interrogatives and imperatives. I'm just suggesting that you integrate the three sentence types. If you understand why they should be integrated: if not, you should object and I can justify this integration.

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Okay, but at no cost to you, you could be concerned about interrogatives and imperatives. I'm just suggesting that you integrate the three sentence types. If you understand why they should be integrated: if not, you should object and I can justify this integration.

I've been away for a while, but I gave the matter some thought and I've come up with an answer for you. Assuming that we already know what declaratives are:

A question is a declarative that you desire someone else to make a declarative of a particular nature. For example, the question "What color is the sun?" is equivalent to the declarative: "I want you to state what the color of the sun is."

An imperative is equivalent to a declarative that you will either do something or suffer some unpleasant alternative (like getting fired from your job, being charged with disobeying an order in the military, etc.). For example, if your drill seargent orders you to "Stand at attention", the full, implied declarative would be something like "You will now come to and maintain attention OR you will be considered to be disobeying a direct order and penalized accordingly."

Is that what you had in mind?

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