A Science Of Human Language - Part #7

Quistic grammar is a predominantly semantic grammar based on the observation that any statement in human language can be re-phrased as one or more simple questions.  This article introduces the idea of quons - cue-ons,  cues embedded in language.  I suggest that the article  A Science Of Human Language - Part #6  be read before this current one.  Part #6 introduced the idea of language having two major components: nuons and quons.  For a fuller exposition of quistic grammar, a grammar based in semantics, I recommend that the whole series of articles be read.  Part #1 of this series outlines the need for an inclusive theory of language based in science; other articles build on this foundational idea.

Quons And Their Role In Language

Although it is convenient to think of nuons and quons as word categories, strictly speaking they are informational categories.  Nuons encode the semantic content of language: the core ideas or information.  Nuons encode information about objects and actions and carry labels: tokens which link to or represent the core, root or generic form of a word.   Quons perform a multiple role: error-correction, error preemption and code compression.  Quons encode information which is redundant to the semantic content of language output (spoken or written).  The information encoded in quons serves as cues which are used to predict forthcoming words in a string and to preempt or to correct classification errors during the processing of language input.

I suggest that the first step in formulating a spoken idea is the selection of linked nuons.  This process is  illustrated in part #6 .  The nuon-linking process is closely allied to the social norms of item sequence - the sequence in which objects, actions and their attributes are introduced in adequately intelligible speech by members of a given language-using community.  An example ot the 'raw data' of a nuon string might be:  (not snake) > (not danger)> us > get > apple.

The next stage modifies the string by interleaving quons as 'grammar words', affixes, inflections and suchlike syntactic elements.  Following on from the example of raw data above, a string of actual speech might be: "There are no snakes here so it's safe for us to pick apples."    Just as the semantic sequence is dictated by social custom, so is the embellishment of the data stream with quons.  The combination of nuons and quons generates a language output string which, within a broad range of tolerance, satisfies the language receiver that it is a plausible message in the receiver's language.  In the example, the recovered nuon string might be:  (not snake) > (safe)> us > acquire > apple.

Plausible Accuracy

Notions of truth and falsity in language have generated much discussion in philosophy and metaphysics.  I suggest that it is not the scientific linguist's role to decide the  truth or falsity of any example of language1.  It does not matter what we are analysing: "Plato is alive and well.", "All sin is evil."; the linguist must be concerned only with the ideas being expressed and their mode of transmission.  Instead of looking at the 'truth value' of the ideas encoded by language, the linguist should be examining the means by which a reasonable facsimile of an original idea may be reproduced.

To avoid constant reference to speech or writing, phrase or sentence, I shall refer to the idea of any string of words as a struct.  A struct is a 'structure' in sound, ink, electrons or gestures which is produced by a sender as a whole item.  A struct may, from whatever cause, be incomplete.  For the purposes of quistic grammar - a grammar of questions - a struct is incomplete if it predictably prompts any receiver to ask one or more questions indicative of missing information, e.g. "I just bought a new ..."

Whenever a struct conveys sufficient information to suit the whole of a specific context, it may be said to be complete.  A self-sufficient string of language is a complet.  A properly functioning language output system produces complets: self consistent structs.  For example: "all dogs bark." is a complet.  A properly functioning language input system can recover, to a close approximation, the nuons encoded within a complet.  For example: "all dogs bark" transmits the 'meaning': "add to nuon 'dog', the  behavioural aspect: 'can bark'."   A complet is not necessarily a 'grammatically complete' sentence.  Within a context of language in actual use, as for example in dialogue, a single word, or even an incomplete word may be a complet.  "You broke my b-" "No I didn't!"

In the naturally evolved grammar of a language as used in everyday speech, there is no such thing as 'correct grammar'.   The determination made intuitively by every natural speaker of a language is the plausibility of what is heard.  The quistic aspect of language is the hearer's attitude to what is heard.  The hearer, in effect, expects a positive answer to the question:  "Is this my language?".  A struct is recognised as being formed in the relevant language if its semantic and syntactic elements are strung together in an order which is in conformity with the norms of the language.

If a struct conforms to the expectations of a hearer, by being a complet in compliance with the norms of the language-using group, then any failure of comprehension by the hearer will generally be targeted at novel nuons.  To put the matter another way: the hearer will not reject the complet as being in some way ill-formed, but will struggle to find at least some meaning in what was heard.  The classic example of this is Alice's puzzlement over the poem Jabberwock.

In the following example, the quons are in bold.  'Went' is counted as a quon since it is a syntactic substitute for the nuon-token 'go'.

"Charlie went to visit his ___ who lived in Hong Kong."  (sic)

This sentence leaves unresolved the question:" Who did Charlie visit?", hence it is not a complet.   Although quons perform the primary error-handling function by serving as cues to enhance comprehension, nuons may also serve as cues.   From the fact that 'person' is strongly cued by 'lived', together with a place name, it becomes plausible to assume that Charlie visited a person.    It is usually the case with typographical errors that further information becomes available, as shown by the italicised words:

"She was very happy to see her young nephew."

A proof-reader, whether human or computer-program, could now insert 'aunt' or 'auntie' with some confidence.  "Charlie went to visit his auntie who lived in Hong Kong."  Such an insertion of lost information is plausibly accurate.

Part #8 of this series will outline the process of quistic analysis of samples of language.  Quistic analysis is a method by which any sample of language is analysed to see what information is being conveyed.  To determine that, the quon element - the syntax - is discarded, leaving behind a plausibly accurate replica of the information encoded in the originator's nuons.

[1]  A linguist may be in an ideal position to analyse a statement within its whole context, perhaps in order to detect word choices, made by the author, suggestive of deliberate untruth, bias or agendism.  The exercise of such skill is, however, not necessary to the basic theory of quistic grammar.

This has been part 7 of A Science Of Human Language , a continuing series in my blog, The Chatter Box.