lemÌc. Lemizh grammar and dictionary

Background

Occam’s razor … states that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible, eliminating those that make no difference in the observable predictions of the explanatory hypothesis or theory. The principle is often expressed in Latin as the lex parsimoniae (‘law of parsimony’ or ‘law of succinctness’): ‘entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem’, or ‘entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity’.

This is often paraphrased as ‘All things being equal, the simplest solution is the best.’ In other words, when multiple competing theories are equal in other respects, the principle recommends selecting the theory that introduces the fewest assumptions and postulates the fewest entities.

Occam’s razor

As you have noticed, Lemizh is a conlang or constructed language. It is an attempt to use Occam’s razor for creating a grammar, not because this should result in a better language, but just because I wanted to.

This means that the ‘observable predictions’ – to stay in the diction of the quoted Wikipedia entry – are the ideas we can represent in speech; the ‘explanatory theory’ is of course the grammar, used to arrange these ideas in a fashion typical of this language; and the ‘assumptions’ of which we should need as few as possible are the rules that constitute that grammar. Lemizh is the best solution I could find (provided it is a solution). To get an idea of its simplicity, have a look at the page Summing up, unless you have already been there. But don’t expect to understand much of it before you have read the tutorial.

The regularity of the grammar seems to imply that Lemizh is an engineered language but, as noted on the history page, it might as well be a strange coincidence in a natural language.

Epiphenomena

What fascinates me about Lemizh is that it reproduces a lot of the behaviour of natural science, if on a much smaller scale.

And the lexicon?

I was persuaded (mainly by Umberto Eco and Jorge Louis Borges) that Occam’s razor is unserviceable for creating a lexicon, and especially for the definition of sememes (units of meaning: ‘tortoise’ [tortoise] or ‘-s’ [plural]). The space of ideas, so to say, is not measureable.

I could make up arbitrary words as in Esperanto or Klingon, but people would ascribe this to my laziness. (At least I would.)

So the only way is to produce a completely anti-Occamian vocabulary: as many rules as possible, with any number of contradictions, cross links and short circuits. Not as we would conceive a scientific theory, but a novel or a symphony. Abundancy is the word, not succinctness.

Well, I’m trying my best.

Examples

What verbs does the language need?

Finally, a remark on a problem that I frequently encounter while creating words, mainly with nouns. What is the underlying verb? The default for a concrete noun such as drÌzd. ‘chair’ is to introduce a verb ‘to make/build chairs’, resulting in an inner accusative for the noun. But often there are other possibilities: gwrù. ‘knife’ is a tool noun derived with an inner instrumental from a verb meaning ‘to cut with a knife’. I could as well have derived it from a verb ‘make knifes’. On the other hand, there could have been a verb ‘to sit on a chair’, making ‘chair’ a tool noun or perhaps one with an inner scenic case… Come to think of it, what prevented me from deriving ‘chicken’ with an inner accusative from a verb ‘to eat chicken’, or ‘wolf’ with an inner dative from a verb ‘to dance with wolves’?

The lession is (and this took me quite a while to realise) that this is, so to speak, not a question for Occam but for Borges. Any of these solutions, and many more, would work grammatically, sometimes resulting in simpler, sometimes in more verbose sentences. So, if you ask yourself questions such as why ‘leg’ is a tool noun but not ‘arm’, or why trees are the content (acc) of tree-making but fruit trees are the source (nom) of their fruit: often the answer is that I did what I thought the Lemizh would do, and that’s all there is to it.

And so …

He knows that there are in the soul tints more bewildering, more numberless, and more nameless than the colours of an autumn forest; he knows that there are abroad in the world and doing strange and terrible service in it crimes that have never been condemned and virtues that have never been christened. Yet he seriously believes that these things can every one of them, in all their tones and semi-tones, in all their blends and unions, be accurately represented by an arbitrary system of grunts and squeals. He believes that an ordinary civilised stockbroker can really produce out of his own inside noises which denote all the mysteries of memory and all the agonies of desire.

(Gilbert Keith Chesterton: G. F. Watts)

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.

(Ludwig Wittgenstein: Tractatus logico-philosophicus)