critique of gua\spi

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John Cowan to Jim Carter:

The following is an unorganized series of notes commenting on -gua!spi characteristics I have problems with. Much of this, of course, reflects Lojban biases. (It's about time somebody ran your stunt the other way zo'o.)

  • Character set: I find the use of c, j, q, x rebarbative.
    • In particular, x = sh in some languages, notably Portuguese and Pinyin, plus it's ch in catalan, and I doubt it has the -gua!spi value in any language. Except some dialects of Basque "baeba". Likewise q = ch in Pinyin.
  • Phonology: affricates conflict with clusters; how can you reliably distinguish between "c" and the cluster "tq" (resp. "j" and "dx")?
  • Phonotactics (not explicitly discussed in the report): I find the consonant clusters way too loose: many of them are unreasonably difficult to pronounce. I would suggest starting from the Lojban set and adding carefully and selectively. What is the existing phonotactics anyway?
  • Tones: Six is too damn many.
    • Four (high, low, rising, falling) would be more like it. This would require a little more verbosity in subordinate clauses and transitive compounds. In addition, it would be useful if every monosyllabic word had an alternative disyllabic version to make rising and falling tones easier, i.e. no "VV" vs "V" contrasts where the V's are identical. (This may already be true, but should be guaranteed.)
  • Extensionality: Defining predicates purely in terms of the result sets has known problems. In particular, "x1 has a heart" and "x1 has kidneys" are true for the selfsame set of x1s, so in -gua!spi terms they are the same predicate.
    • But there would be no need to distinguish them anyway if there is nothing known that fits one predicate but not the other.
    • For mathematical predicates, this may be all right (to be negative is the same as to be less than zero) but in the real world it can lead to annoying results. See Quine.
    • Macro-like pronouns: These barf on self-referential sentences and also on the Bach-Peters sentence:
      • The boy who deserves it will get the prize he wants.
    • Vanilla macroexpansion produces:
      • The boy who deserves (the prize he wants) will get the prize (the boy who deserves it) wants.
    • and then:
      • The boy who deserves (the prize (the boy who deserves it) wants) will get the prize (the boy who deserves (the prize he wants] wants.
    • And so on. You lose.
  • Compounds: You don't give any examples in the report of compounds of length greater than two. Transitive compounds and event compounds can both suffer from ambiguity about associativity.
  • Masses: As you know, I have problems with your identification of masses with sets. The set of rats is large if there are many rats, whereas (part of) the mass of rats is large if at least one rat is large. Masses may have properties that appear self-contradictory because they are the conjuncts of the properties of their components (the mass of you is green if at least one of your components is green). Sets, on the other hand, have properties totally independent of the properties of their members.
  • Negation: I believe you need something equivalent to Lojban's na'e - nonspecific scalar negation. lo na'e gerku is a non-dog, probably another kind of animal (or something else if a different scale is presumed). This is distinct from lo na gerku - that which is not a dog, contradiction pure and simple. There also seems to be no way to express a metalinguistic negation (presupposition failure, categorical denial, etc.) like Lojban na'i.
  • Parenthesis: It would be helpful to be able to have subordinate clauses which are marked as digressions - () in English prose - or editorial insertions - [] in English prose.
  • Erase all: a sentence start word which erased all of the speaker's previous sentences (Lojban su) would be useful.
  • Change of topic: Sentence start words to clear anaphora assignments (Lojban da'o) and sticky tenses (approximately Lojban ki and/or fu'o) would also be beneficial.
  • Subscripting: there should be a mechanism for attaching an arbitrary phrase (typically a number) as a subscript to any word without affecting the word's grammar otherwise. This is excellent for manufacturing extra variables and the like.
  • Emphasis: Lojban ba'e emphasizes the next word, bringing it to the speaker's particular attention (similar to moving it to the beginning or the end of its bridi). It is like italics in English prose.
  • Sentence anaphora: there seems to be no analogue of Lojban di'u and friends: "the previous (following, earlier, later) utterance considered as an object". This is distinct from go'i and friends, which repeat the utterance implicitly.
  • And after making all these changes you end up with Lojban with tones. And rafsi pretending to be gismu.


  • ... Tones: Six is too damn many.
    • Tell that to the Yue (Cantonese) speakers.