A Science Of Human Language - Part #8

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 continues the theme of spoken and written language as interleaved components of semantics and syntax: nuons and quons.  I suggest that at least the articles  A Science Of Human Language - Part #6  and Part #7 be read before this current one.  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.

Quistic Analysis

Quistic analysis is a method by which any sample of language may be analysed to see what information is being conveyed.  To determine that, the quon element - the syntax - is discarded, leaving behind in the hearer's mind a plausibly accurate replica of the information encoded in the originator's nuons.

Language performs the function of copying information with plausible accuracy from one brain to another.  Language may transmit information as: information for its own sake, information for purposes of command, or information for emotive purposes.  In each case, language is nothing but information in the process of being transmitted.  An information transmission system requires some means by which original data may be recovered in spite of noise, drop-outs, masking and other hazards to communication. 

I submit that the 'grammar' or syntax component of language exists purely for the task of data compression and error-handling.  Once that task has been performed, the syntax codes are entirely discarded, leaving only the information which was initially formulated for transmission.

Information, as commonly understood in the context of human language, consists of facts, beliefs or ideas about things generally.  When seeking information we formulate questions.  These questions may be broken down into simply inquiries about ourselves, our environment and objects in our environment.  In quistic grammar, statements are analysed as if they were not volunteered 'out of the blue', but as if they were formulated in response to simple questions.

The simplest questions are represented in English by simple words: who, what where, etc.   It is possible to list all possible simple questions and assign them to all possible classes of information.  Rather than parse a sentence into the classic grammatical classes such as noun phrase, verb phrase, etc. quistic grammar analyses a sentence into 'chunks' of information.  The following examples should make this clear.

Child: "I want to go to the zoo."
Adult: "Why?"
Child: "Because I want to."

Child: "I want an ice cream."
Adult: "Why?"
Child: "Because I want it."

It is a common observation that small children end sentences with words like to, it, some, one to indicate that they are thinking of objects or actions.   The observation that children commonly indicate reference to a 'doing word' by ending sentences with 'to' should be proof enough to any impartial and objective observer that 'to' is not some hypothetical  'preposition' and is not an integral part of a hypothetical 'infinitive'.   In such cases, 'to' is a cue or clue suggestive of, or replacing a verb.

In traditional grammars, the sentence: "I want to go to the zoo." may be analysed as:

I want | to go | to the zoo

In quistic grammar, it is primarily analysed into the four core ideas, the nuons:

I | want | go | zoo

These ideas correspond to simple questions:

who? - I
what about you? - want
want what? - go
go where? - zoo

The pidgin-like expression, the semantic string: "I want go zoo", although it migh be adequate in a highly constrained situational context is inadequate for general purposes because it is error prone.   The four results of loss of a single word during transmission are shown:

 "_ want go zoo"
"I _ go zoo"
"I want _ zoo"
"I want go _"

Compare the loss of information in the above examples with similar errors in the complet, the 'complete' sentence which results from the addition of error-correcting quons:

1.  "_ want to go to the zoo."
2.  "I _ to go to the zoo."
3.  "I want _ go to the zoo."
4.  "I want to _ to the zoo."
5.  "I want to go _ the zoo."
6.  "I want to go to _ zoo."
7.  "I want to go to the _."

In the context of a child talking to an adult, only example 7 entirely fails to transmit the desired information.  Example 1 resembles a language such as Spanish in which 'yo', or 'I' is frequently not expressed.  Example 2 is somewhat ambiguous as to whether it states a fact or a wish.  3 is adequate to the purpose, the idea transmitted is plausibly accurate.  4. is ambiguous as to mode of travel, but so is the word 'go', hence insertion of a 'go' renders the sentence plausibly accurate.  5. is plausibly accurate as it stands, as is 6.

In only one case out of seven is there a failure of adequate communication: in example 7 the error of transmission is not automatically recoverable.  In formal written language the error-correction codes, the quons, have been carefully thought out as part of the overall style and presentation of the author's thoughts.  Despite errors, page tears, ink blots and such, the number of unrecoverable errors in the average published book is effectively zero.

As mentioned in A Science Of Human Language - Part #3,  members of a language-using community come to share a common way of applying the error-handling components, the quons, to their speech.  This conformity enables language users to recover the semantic content, the nuons, in speech and writing even when true or perceived errors occur.  A true error is any error which an unbiased observer would accept as an error.  A perceived error is any variation from the hearer or reader's personal notions of how language 'ought' to be used.

A Science Of Human Language - Part #9 addresses the bootstrap problem: the question of how babies, having no knowledge of language, come to be language users.

This has been part 8 of A Science Of Human Language , a continuing series in my blog, The Chatter Box.