BPFK gismu Section: Parenthetical Remarks in Brivla Definitions

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Work in progress

This is going to look horribly messy while I hunt down references and stuff to put in. Please feel free to not use the Discuss tab, with one exception: links to prior discussion on this topic is desperately needed, since at this point I'm mostly working from fuzzy notions in my head on "what someone, somewhere, might have said".

The problem

The gismu list contains portions that are enclosed in parentheses or square brackets. It is a contentious issue whether these parenthetical remarks have any normative bearing on the meaning of the gismu, and if they have, what kind of interpretation they should have.

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that an effort is underway to define as many lujvo as possible with definitions in the style of the gismu list. These definitions must now be called into question, to the extent that the authors' understanding of the meaning of parenthetical remarks differ from that of the gismu list, and from each others'.

A sub-case: subcategorisation of abstraction types

It is very common in gismu definitions to mention kinds of abstractions in parentheses. Examples of this are:

x1 is weak/feeble/frail in property/quality/aspect x2 (ka) by standard x3
x1 (abstract) is necessary/required for continuing state/process x2 under conditions x3
x1 assumes/supposes that x2 (du'u) is true about subject x3; [epistemology]

Some of these may be due to attempts to impart a sense of intensionality before an article type that could accommodate it (see BPFK Section: gadri) came about (Alexander 1994). Indeed the CLL explicitly says that "ka" properties are "what logicians call "intensions"." (Cowan 1997)

See also: BPFK gismu Section: Problems With ka.

Relation to design criteria

It is sometimes said (e.g. in Cowan 1997) that gismu are intended to "blanket semantic space". This has led to the emergence of the view that the meaning of gismu should be as wide as possible. It is easy to narrow down a sense by constructing lujvo or fu'ivla, but it is much more difficult to combine gismu to construct a sense that is broader. Hence, if there are two competing interpretive conventions for gismu definitions, one which consistently results in narrow senses, and another which consistently results in comparatively broad senses, according to this view one should prefer the broadness-maximising convention.

On the other hand, Cowan (1991) also notes that gismu should not be seen as semantic primitives.

Evidence from usage


Implicit Sumti Raising

There have be proposals that using a non-abstraction in an abstraction place should simply be assumed to have an automatic tu'a. The problem with this is that it destroys a very subtle distinction and usage like the following:

ko senva lo melbi/ko senva tu'a lo melbi
Have beautiful dreams./Dream of beautiful things.
mi djica lo banli
I want something great to happen.
la .alis. troci lo bebna
Alice tries something stupid.

The idea here is that, since abstractors could conceivably fill the x1 place of any of a myriad of brivla, then any of those brivla could be used in place of that abstraction. Implicit sumti-raising destroys this feature of lojban.


Iain Alexander, 1994. Posting on Lojban mailing list. Subject: TECH: RE: do djica loi ckafi je'i tcati. Search for "any-old-<x>" on [1].

John Cowan, 1991. Loglan and Lojban: A Linguist's Questions And An Amateur's Answers. [2]

John Cowan, 1997. The Complete Lojban Language. Logical Language Group

Lojban Wiki, 2003. factivity of djuno.