Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Sentences and propositions

Pondering: language, full sentences in English. Are full sentences really the best way to express ideas? There is an art to producing paragraphs and works of prose that flow well (not to demean poetry), but is considering that the most proper form of language unduly restraining? Note that this is not meant to justify people who are poor wordsmiths, but to suggest that in addition to mastering wordsmithery, other forms of presentation might be considered appropriate. In particular, tabular data (and listing of things with attributes/commentary in bullet points) is something that tends to be considered, at best, an addendum or "figure" in most kinds of work. Although movies and audiobooks present such information in different ways, non-story presentation of information seems like it would often benefit from the option of saying things in other ways... e.g. scientific papers, which seem to have a very wordy default form. If we imagined trying to intelligently tokenise/compress scientific papers, that might be an amusing way to start to think about how these things might be better parsed. There is, of course, risk both in disrupting the existing standard formats (that presumably make for very rapid reading of papers as people are used to the standard language) and in losing expressive power if one becomes too standardised on some reduced (rather than expanded) form - there's an interesting tension there between the two kinds of expressive readability that has light parallels in more formal types of encoding.

One thing I really wish english had more of a tradition of is something I tend to use anyhow - sentences of the form:

context: content, where content may or may not be a full sentence of its own, and in many cases is just a noun. I'd like to think that it expands in the listener's mind as follows:

  • context: sentence - In the context $context, consider: $sentence
  • context: noun phrase - We're about to talk about $noun in the context $context
  • attribute: value - more general form of the C:NP above, distinguished by context

There are a number of other constructs (and traditions) I wish English had, like capitalising all nouns (a la German), tagging all parts of speech (like Japanese), block quotes (also like Japanese), a syllabary (like Japanese or kind of like Korean), as well as more organisational stuff like the above. I wonder if there are languages that have structures like what I elaborated above or similar... See also: Chomsky's Universal Grammar, Broca and Wernicke's areas in the brain, conlangs


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