Monday, June 4, 2012

Obama's Polish death camp quip. Ambiguity.

Obama on Tuesday used the expression "a Polish death camp" while honoring a Polish World War II resistance hero rather than wording that would have made clear that he meant a death camp that Nazi Germany operated on Polish soil during its wartimeoccupation of Poland.
Warsaw has been waging a campaign for years against phrases such as "Polish death camps" or "Polish concentration camps" to refer to Auschwitz, Treblinka and other German killing sites. The language deeply offends Polish sensitivities because Poles not only had no role in running the camps, but were considered racially inferior by the Germans and were themselves murdered in them in huge numbers.
"In referring to 'a Polish death camp' rather than 'a Nazi death camp in German-occupied Poland,' I inadvertently used a phrase that has caused many Poles anguish over the years and that Poland has rightly campaigned to eliminate from public discourse around the world," Obama wrote. "I regret the error and agree that this moment is an opportunity to ensure that this and future generations know the truth."
D - an innocent mistake. English is ambiguous. In fact, all natural human languages are.
I mean, the camp WAS *in* Poland. That technically makes it a Polish camp.
In Poland, run by Germans, sure. My point here is that a language design that cleverly nestles prepositions in a brief and condensed fashion within compound nouns (and other grammatical categories) would allow great nuance- and less gaffes.
For example:
1) death camp FOR Poles
2) death camp BY poles
For that matter, the term "death camp" is itself vague. We joke here about the retirement home next door in this fashion. Seriously- it's where the elderly go to die.
Particularly with a Lojban-esque vocabulary generation system relying on c.1000 word roots for the million vocabulary items needed in a robust language (in one form or another) we need clever use of prepositions (and other 'function word' categories). I'm just starting to look at Lojban now, and will likely acquire the c. 1300 word roots this summer. 
Ranto on Espo: Again, never ever say Esp*****o. Recall that horror movie where you summon a ghost if you say "Candy Man" 3x? Same thing - but in the form of internet trolls and auto keyword spam. 
Espo claimed to need "only 1000 words or so" initially. Now they're around 10,000. Those are 10,000 ROOTS you need to learn. Seriously, at 10,000 words in English, I am fluent in a NATURAL language!
Building on Lojban, a carefully planned embedded preposition system in compound concepts would allow a future world president to avoid the former social gaffe. After all, CVn will parse "Polish death camp" as a-camp-for-death-IN-Poland. Voila- no gaffe. Note that attempt to mislead by being overly vague will become immediately obvious when the speaker resorts to the most broad and unspecific of mid-level concepts (the highest CVn will go- see entries on propaganda).
I must wait until I learn Lojban before I complete CVn - or even begin the proto-vocabulary. I will build on its successes - and overcome its limitations.

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