Monday, September 21, 2015

A Compositional "yes" and Other Discoveries

Since WSL is radically everything-drop, it recently occurred to me that a complementizer (or "projector" in WSL-specific terminology) and a modal particle with no other content words nevertheless constitute a complete sentence (in fact, just a bare complementizer should constitute a complete sentence, but I decided that would be pragmatically weird in every case, and just Not Done).

So, of course, I had to set out to figure out what all the combinations would actually mean. Not as an exercise in formal semantics, but idiomatically; how would native speakers of WSL actually use these short phrases in everyday life?

The four basic modal particles are

es - normal realis mood
miy - approximately equivalent to "could be" or "might, for all I know".
bi - logical possibility
pek - roughly equivalent to "should" or "it better be"

There are ten projectors, so that gives a total of 40 possible combinations. 16 of them (plus two more we'll consider later) can be complete sentences on their own:

k'es (ka+es): an assertion that some contextually-provided proposition is true. I.e., "yes". But not all the time! We'll come back to this later....
ka miy: "Sure, if you say so."
ka bi: "That is definitely a logical possibility." (I expect this one is typically used sarcastically, with the implication of  "no, I don't really think so".
k'pek (ka+pek): "If not, we got problems."

tc'es: "No". But again, not all the time....
tce miy: "That is probably wrong"
tce bi: "Not necessarily"
tce pek: "I hope not"

em es: "Is it?"
e'miy: "Could it (for all you know)?"
em bi: "Could it ever?"
em pek: "Should it?"

mi's: "Ain't it?"
mi miy: "Couldn't it?"
etc, You can guess the last two.

While figuring those out, I also came up with this bonus phrase, which includes an extra third word:

ka ves bi: "This is an obvious logical necessity in all possible worlds".
Or, more colloquially: "Well, duh!"
(This sentence, small as it is, is actually structurally ambiguous, but the alternate reading
is the very weird "it is a logical possibility that everything is that thing". Not something you'd need to say very often!)

The next 16 combinations are not complete sentences, but are valid nominal clauses:

vr'es (vor+es): Something. Anything. I'm thinking this might end up getting used as a generic indefinite pronoun for when you really don't care what (cf. "mek", which is the indefinite pronoun "one", but frequently gets used as a  cataphor for dislocated nominal clauses)
vor miy: a hypothetical entity which you posit to exist, but might not
vor bi: any hypothetical entity, whose actual existence is irrelevant
vor pek: that which darn well ought to be. Like flying cars.
Em intc mot "flying cars" jesihu!? K'ajnu vor pek es!
Where are my flying cars!? We should have those by now!

votc es: a nonexistent thing. I'm thinking this might be an idiom comparable to "unicorn"
votc miy: a thing which you are really darn sure does not exist. The emphatic "rainbow-vomiting nuclear unicorn", for example.
votc bi: a logical impossibility
votc pek: that which darn well oughtn't to be. Like social spiders... ick!
Ka votc peku "social spiders" es!
Social spiders are a thing which should not be!

vm'es (vem+es): "whether it is"
ve'miy (vem+miy): "whether it could be, as far as you know"
vem bi: "whether it's logically possible"
vem pek: "whether it should be"

vmi's (vmi+es): "whether it isn't"
vmi'y (vmi+miy): "whether it isn't, as far as you know"

Finally, the following combinations can be either complete stand-alone sentences, or nominal clauses:

s'es (sa+es): "Yes, they are" or "the fact that they are", asserting that a predicative relationship holds.
satc es: "No, they aren't" or "the fact that they aren't"

You can probably fill in the remaining 6 combinations for the other moods.

So, not only have I discovered the WSL words for "yes" and "no, we've also found that there are two different ways of saying "yes" (k'es and s'es) and two different ways of saying "no" (tc'es and satc es), conditioned on whether the question you are responding to is about a predicative relationship or not.

Additionally, the internal structure of a compositional "yes" or "no" parallels the syntactic structure of the question. So, if somebody asks you a negative question, like "Aren't you going?" responding with "Tc'es" means "No, I'm not"- confirming that the negative that the questioner used was
appropriate. If, however, you respond with "K'es", that actually means "Yes, I am"- contradicting the questioner's use of a negative. Thus, there is no confusion over "was that a 'yes, I'm not', or a
yes-like-'no, I am'?", and no need for yet another word like the French "si" just to take care of answering negative question unambiguously.