Saturday, January 28, 2012

On Sapir. On interlingua basis.

Edward Sapir (/səˈpɪər/; 1884–1939) was an American anthropologist-linguist, widely considered to be one of the most important figures in the early development of the disciplines of linguistics.

With his solid linguistic background, Sapir became the one student of Boas to develop most completely the relationship between linguistics and anthropology. Sapir studied the ways in which language and culture influence each other, and he was interested in the relation between linguistic differences, and differences in cultural world views. This part of his thinking was developed by his student Benjamin Lee Whorf into the principle of linguistic relativity or the "Sapir-Whorf" hypothesis.

Sapir was active in the international auxiliary language movement. In his paper "The Function of an International Auxiliary Language", he argued for the benefits of a regular grammar and advocated a critical focus on the fundamentals of language, unbiased by the idiosyncrasies of national languages, in the choice of an international auxiliary language.

He was the first Research Director of the International Auxiliary Language Association (IALA), which presented the Interlingua conference in 1951. He directed the Association from 1930 to 1931, and was a member of its Consultative Counsel for Linguistic Research from 1927 to 1938.[21] Sapir consulted with Alice Vanderbilt Morris to develop the research program of IALA.[22


D - aside: he contributed greatly during his work in Canada!


In OttawaIn the years 1910–25 Sapir established and directed the Anthropological Division in the Geological Survey of Canada in Ottawa. When he was hired, he was one of the first full-time anthropologists in Canada. He brought his parents with him to Ottawa, and also quickly established his own family, marrying Florence Delson, who also had Lithuanian Jewish roots. Neither the Sapirs nor the Delsons were in favor of the match. The Delsons, who hailed from the prestigious Jewish center of Vilna, considered the Sapirs to be rural upstarts and were less than impressed with Sapir's career in an unpronounceable academic field. Edward and Florence had three children together: Herbert Michael, Helen Ruth, and Philip.

[edit] Canada's Geological SurveyAs director of the Anthropological division of the Geological Survey of Canada, Sapir embarked on a project to document the Indigenous cultures and languages of Canada. His first fieldwork took him to Vancouver Island to work on the Nootka language. Apart from Sapir the division had two other staff members, Marius Barbeau and Harlan I. Smith. Sapir insisted that the discipline of linguistics was of integral importance for ethnographic description, arguing that just as nobody would dream of discussing the history of the Catholic Church without knowing Latin or study German folksongs without knowing German, so it made little sense to approach the study of Indigenous folklore without knowledge of the indigenous languages.[11] At this point the only Canadian first nation languages that were well known were Kwakiutl, described by Boas, Tshimshian and Haida. Sapir explicitly used the standard of documentation of European languages, to argue that the amassing knowledge of indigenous languages was of paramount importance. By introducing the high standards of Boasian anthropology, Sapir did incite antagonism from those amateur ethnologists who felt that they had contributed important work. Unsatisfied with efforts by amateur and governmental anthropologists, Sapir worked to introduce an academic program of anthropology at one of the major Universities, in order to professionalize the discipline.

Sapir enlisted the assistance of fellow Boasians Paul Radin and Alexander Goldenweiser, who with Barbeau worked on the people's of the Eastern Woodlands: the Ojibwa, the Iroquois, the Huron and the Wyandot. Sapir initiated work on the Athabascan languages of the Mackenzie valley and the Yukon, but it proved too difficult to find adequate assistance, and he concentrated mainly on Nootka and the languages of the North West Coast.[12]

During his time in Canada, Sapir also acted as an advocate for Indigenous rights, arguing publicly for introduction of better medical care for Indigenous communities, and assisting the Six Nation Iroquois in trying to recover eleven wampum belts that had been stolen from the reservation and were not on display in the museum of the University of Pennsylvania, the belts were only returned to the Iroquois in 1988. He also argued for the reversal of a Canadian law prohibiting the Potlatch ceremony of the West Coast tribes.


IALA (Wiki)

Development of a new language

Originally, the association had not set out to create its own language. Its goal was to identify which auxiliary language already available was best suited for international communication, and how to promote it most effectively. However, after ten years of research, more and more members of IALA concluded that none of the existing interlanguages were up to the task. By 1937, the members had made the decision to create a new language, to the surprise of the world's interlanguage community.[13]

To that point, much of the debate had been equivocal on the decision to use naturalistic (e.g., Novial and Occidental) or systematic (e.g., Esperanto and Ido) words. During the war years, proponents of a naturalistic interlanguage won out. The first support was Dr. Thorndike's paper; the second was a concession by proponents of the systematic languages that thousands of words were already present in many – or even a majority – of the European languages. Their argument was that systematic derivation of words was a Procrustian bed, forcing the learner to unlearn and re-memorize a new derivation scheme when a usable vocabulary was already available. This finally convinced supporters of the systematic languages, and IALA from that point assumed the position that a naturalistic language would be best.[2]

...The IALA closed its doors in 1953 but was not formally dissolved until 1956 or later.[16] Its role in promoting Interlingua was largely taken on by Science Service

...In 2000, the Interlingua Institute was dissolved amid funding disputes with the UMI; the American Interlingua Society, established the following year, succeeded the institute and responded to new interest emerging in Mexico.[19]


D - unless an aux-lang design with a different basis can in some manners outdo Interlingua, then there is little point in advocating an alternative. However, I believe this is indeed possible. However, one must begin one stage further removed in order to do so. One must not begin with the baggage inherent in a naturalistic-derived vocabulary. Barring this, Interlingua is about as simple as a language gets, and as flexible.


Links to Sapir's aux-lang works.

D - he makes some of the same mistakes in his basic assumptions that Zamenhof also makes. He assumes that of course folks can see the huge benefits that would accrue from a designed language. I happen to agree with him, but do not think for 1 second that this is a widely accepted premise. Sapir blames a combination of nationalism and either intellectual of affective myopia for this lack of support, where it exists.

D - since I have NO interest in learning irregular verbs in Spanish, maybe Interlingua is a sensible place for me to start with Romance languages. I'm afraid French suffered the same fate that Spanish would. It is just too complex for a post-pubescent mind in an untalented and unmotivated learner.


Dino Snider said...

It is not uncommon to hear it said by those who stand somewhat outside the movement that some such regular system as Esperanto is theoretically desirable, but that it is of little use to work for it because English is already de facto the international language of modern times -- if not altogether at the moment, then in the immediate future --, that English is simple enough and regular enough to satisfy all practical requirements, and that the precise form of it as an international language may well be left to historical and psychological factors that one need not worry about in advance...

D - though to the taxonomic designers, Espo seems quite naturalistic. Yup, the above pretty much sums up my objections to Espo - every argument in favour of it is also for English. Any attempt to distinguish it from English merely highlights how inferior it is, in turn, to other later and better aux-langs.

Dino Snider said...

QOTD: "Much of our seeming subtlety in expression is really verbiage." (Sapir)

Bill Chapman said...

Esperanto is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. It has survived wars and revolutions and recessions. Dozens of language projects have come and gone in those 125 years.

As to usefulness, the language has some remarkable practical benefits. Personally, I've made friends around the world through Esperanto that I would never have been able to communicate with otherwise. And then there's the Pasporta Servo , which provides free lodging and local information to Esperanto-speaking travellers in over 90 countries. A good place to start is Bondezirojn!

There is a downside to Esperanto. Esperanto has no country, or government or real money behind it. It has not had the support of millionaires which IALA had.

IO am confident that, if he were alive today, Sapir would be an enthusiastic supporter of Esperanto, as many linguists are.

Dino Snider said...

Re: the "Procustian Bed" comment about systematic schemes - this presupposes a derivation system. Sapir was opposed since he observed this involved more memorizing in practice. Conversely, a heavily word-compounding system is much less memory intensive. An IAL ought to be heavily compounding yet minimally derivational.