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Monday, October 09, 2006

Disambiguation in Caia

Ambiguities are fun (and troublesome) in any language, but when you're designing a language from scratch, they tend to be even more fun, as now it's YOUR fault that they exist. Lately I've been spending a moderate amount of thought trying to solve a problem.

Let us take the following classic phrase from IRC and syntactically translate it into Caia:
'the holy castrating sledgehammer'

That seems relatively unambiguous in English, thanks to the intuitive meaning of the word order used. In Caia, however, there are almost no true adjectives, as Caia instead forms pseudo-adjectives by relating one noun to another with an attributive particle ("of"); true adjectives are things which do not have an acceptable noun form (things like "more"). Thus, in Caia it would look something like this:
'sledgehammer of holiness of castration'

Now that looks a bit frightening even in English, although it's even worse in Caia. The most intuitive interpretation of this phrase, in Caia, would be 'sledgehammer of (holiness of castration)' (parentheses added as an indicator of how the syntax tree would be formed), suggesting that it is the holiness that is being castrated - something along the lines of "sledgehammer of castrated holiness".

'sledgehammer of castration of holiness' is no better. This implies that holiness is a property of castration. More freely translated, it would sound something like "sledgehammer of holy castration", which is also not what we are trying to say.

Caia has something called delimiting particles, which act like the parentheses used earlier to illustrate word grouping - they indicate that everything in between the delimiters should be treated as a single syntactic unit, with regard to the rest of the sentence. While this can be handy for longer things such as relative (noun) clauses ("the house that Jack built with his own hands"), the fact that they must be paired makes them annoyingly cumbersome to use for simpler relations.

Another possible "solution" would be to make a list of the pseudo-adjectives like so:
'sledgehammer of holiness and castration'

This, however, presents a similar problem in a different place: is castration in a list along with holiness ('sledgehammer of (holiness and castration)' - what we're actually looking for) or with the sledgehammer ('(sledgehammer of holiness) and castration')?

That problem made me think quite a bit, and I believe I've come up with a solution: the disjoining particle. The disjoining particle does exactly the opposite of what the delimiting particles do: rather than indicating that a block of words go together syntactically, the disjoining particle indicates that a group of words do NOT go together. Speaking with regards to the syntactic tree, the disjoining particle indicates that the attachment for the following words is not the previous word (as we would intuitively assume), but rather the syntactic parent of the previous word. In this case, the syntactic part of "holiness" is "sledgehammer". Thus, the following unambiguously represents the phrase we were trying to translate (and, in fact, you could switch holiness and castration and have the same meaning):
'sledgehammer of holiness DISJOINING_PARTICLE of castration'

This is not limited to single word shifts. Suppose, for illustration's sake (this wouldn't actually happen in Caia, as the particles for attribution and ownership are different) we tried to translate the following:
'Justin's holy castrating sledgehammer'

The correct and unambiguous translation would be the following (actually, you could put the relations in any order and retain the same meaning):
'sledgehammer of Justin DISJOINING_PARTICLE of holiness DISJOINING_PARTICLE of castration'

Of course, now that we've added two disjoining particles and two duplicated attributive particles, it might be more elegant (and would require no more words; in fact, if we had one more attribute to attach to sledgehammer it would actually come out to be less words) to just use the delimiters and conjunctions as follows:
'sledgehammer of (Justin and holiness and castration)'

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you can set a precedent in your language that English lacks, which is clear distinction between the "adjective" and "verb" form of a given word.

Particles help in this regard, but a more fundamental alteration might get the job done and make it more useful.