Rules vs. Lists

A. Katz amnfn at
Sat Jul 5 15:06:48 UTC 2008

I assume that "the system" under consideration would be all inclusive of
every item and every level, so this seems fair, although it's Rob that is
leading this discussion on more rules than examples.

Jouni Maho, you are implying there are roots, so as well as the lexicon,
there would be a list of roots, presumably, and these would add to the number
of rules.

If there are roots, then presumably each root could appear with each
suffix, (unless there's an additional rule that says that they can't) and
there should be more lexemes than you listed.

The question that seems more interesting to me is: could there ever be a
human language with only five lexemes? If there could, why haven't we
found one like that?

Language is an information bearing code. The number of contrasts helps
determine the amount of information transmitted. If there are fewer
phonemes, then words have to be longer. If there are more phonemes, the
same information can be transmitted in shorter words. More
grammatical syntax allows for the same information to be coded in
shorter sentences, in terms of word count. Less grammatical
morphology requires more words per sentence. It all evens out, based
on a very simple calculation. Languages of the world deploy the same
basic phonological inventory inherent in our physiology in different
ways in order to transmit about the same amount of information per
time unit. Every language codes for a certain amount of redundancy in order to
deal with noise in the signal.

Redundancy could be viewed as adding extra rules that don't directly help
with transmission of information. Is that what you are getting at, Rob?


     --Aya Katz

On Sat, 5 Jul 2008, Jouni Maho wrote:

> May a lurker butt in with a little thought experiment?
> Re Rob Freeman's:
>  >
>  > Can you show me a system where there are more rules implicit in the
>  > examples than there are examples themselves, and explain why it must
>  > be so?
> Assume the following (complete) lexicon of a hypothetical language:
> berama
> bilama
> butaba
> metama
> tilaba
> And the rules:
> C > b r m l t
> V > e a u i
> Root > CVCV
> V2 > a
> R+ba > agent
> R+ma > causative
> That is, 5 list items, 6 rules. This assumes, of course, that the types
> of rules can be of any "kind", i.e. morphological, phonological, etc. Or
> does the question suppose that there should be restrictions on type of
> rules (only morphological, only phonological, etc.)?
> I'm not sure how easy this would be if the lexicon's size was
> considerably larger, but at least it's possible to devise a
> less-items-more-rules system as a thought experiment. I have no idea why
> it should be so, but it's certainly pissoble.
> By the way, would a vowel-consonant inventory (list) with it's
> accompanying rules (phonotax, assimilation, etc.) count as a valid
> less-items-more-rules system?
> ---
> jouni maho

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