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Ben_Jones comments on Disputing Definitions - Less Wrong

48 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 12 February 2008 12:15AM

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Comment author: Ben_Jones 12 February 2008 02:10:02PM 5 points [-]

Without concern for the proper use of words, language becomes useless.

A valid point, as long as you're careful that language work for you and not vice versa. The moment you find the expression of your concept being stifled by grammar or vocabulary or tradition, find another way. Invent a new word; define it using comparison, differentiation, pictures, hand signals, noises. Language should bend to incorporate reality; otherwise the tail is wagging the dog. Language has enormous power to make our world, hence the sort of typical argument Eliezer discusses. But we should never lose sight of the fact that it is our tool, and any rules should be enabling rather than restrictive - clarity of communication is the goal.

Comment author: thodirycgoyust 15 August 2011 09:08:23AM 2 points [-]

This is why I advocate the adoption of logical language(s). Those in the tradition of Loglan, for example, share vocabularies and grammars designed such that context can be made irrelevant given appropriate sentence construction (some other ambiguity reducing features as well), and tools to easily make temporary (ie: until end of conversation) extensions to their vocabularies where the base is insufficient while generally behaving like natural language.

Comment author: [deleted] 15 August 2011 09:23:41AM 1 point [-]

And yet as far as I'm aware, it's impossible to infer the place structure or semantics of a predicate. This is a massive problem in Lojban (who knows or cares if it's in Loglan -- the language is kept as a trade secret, after all).

E.g., I could print pamphlets defining 'klama' as standard 'se klama' and it would take a while for anyone to notice the difference.

Comment author: lessdazed 15 August 2011 10:16:48AM *  1 point [-]

Let's discuss partial solutions.

Suppose you and random other English speakers were abducted by aliens and accelerating out of the solar system on their ship. You strongly suspect you will never be able to go back, and get to work on building a new society.

You are the smartest person in the group and convince everyone that language is important. They agree to reform the language, but aren't capable of constructing or learning a new one, and aren't interested in teaching their children one. What simple reforms might be a good idea?

I can suggest some:

It will no longer be correct to say that something is (a color or similar property). One must say it "seems" a color, as well as to whom. Not "Snow is white", rather, "Snow seems white to me".

"Rationalize" will be replaced by a word with a different root.

Comment author: PetjaY 03 May 2015 09:51:32AM 0 points [-]

"It will no longer be correct to say that something is (a color or similar property). One must say it "seems" a color, as well as to whom. Not "Snow is white", rather, "Snow seems white to me"."

I´d say this is not needed, when people say "Snow is white" we know that it really means "Snow seems white to me", so saying it as "Snow seems white to me" adds length without adding information.

My first fixes to english would be to unite spoken and written english with same letters always meaning same sounds, and getting rid of adding "the" to places where it does not add information (where sentence would mean same even without "the").

Comment author: Kindly 03 May 2015 04:49:15PM 1 point [-]

I´d say this is not needed, when people say "Snow is white" we know that it really means "Snow seems white to me", so saying it as "Snow seems white to me" adds length without adding information.

Ah, but imagine we're all-powerful reformists that can change absolutely anything! In that case, we can add a really simple verb that means "seems-to-me" (let's say "smee" for short) and then ask people to say "Snow smee white".

Of course, this doesn't make sense unless we provide alternatives. For instance, "er" for "I have heard that", as in "Snow er white, though I haven't seen it myself" or "The dress er gold, but smee blue."

Comment author: TheOtherDave 03 May 2015 08:55:41PM 1 point [-]
Comment author: Jiro 03 May 2015 09:46:24PM 1 point [-]

It isn't possible for someone to consistently assert "X is true, but X doesn't seem true to me". And it isn't possible for someone to consistently assert "X seems true to me, but X is false". [1] So even though "seems to me" and "is" are not logically the same thing, no human being can separate them and we have no need for a special word to make it convenient to separate them.

[1] Of course they can assert that if we use a secondary meaning for 'seems' such as "superficially appears to be", but that's not the meaning of 'seems' in question here.

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 May 2015 11:13:19PM 0 points [-]

A quarter of the worlds languages mark evidentiality at a grammer level. Indo-European languages like English don't do this but other languages do.