Acronymic Language Rules


Part One

Briefly, an Acronymic Language is a language composed entirely of acronyms.   For the moment please consider this only as a reference language, useful for the precise definition of terms or the creation of ontologies.   Inventing languages for actual spoken use by human beings is a much nuttier activity, discussed elsewhere.   Acronymic languages are most interesting because of several remarkable properties, discussed below, especially the summary and expansion properties. We are all familiar with text compression software — in constructing an acronymic language we essentially build a text compression scheme right into the structure of the language.   This is possible because of certain rules that any acronymic language must obey :

Rule One — Transparency of Vocabulary

The vocabulary of a language is transparent when any pair of words which are similar in sound, or similar in written form are also similar in meaning.   Some words in English seem to have this property, as illustrated by the sequence:  spit, spat, spot, spurt, spunk, and many other sets of words given as examples of sound symbolism or onomatapoeia,  most of which have been collected and published by Margaret Magnus .   Though such examples are numerous, English and all other natural languages most certainly do not obey this rule.   There may well be good reasons why not.

All constructed languages that obey Rule One are not acronymic languages, which must obey another rule:

Rule Two — Fronting, Most Significant Data First

The Greek prefix ‘acro’ means ‘extremity’ or ‘height’, as in the word ‘acropolis’ which usually means a fortress or temple on a hill or mountain top.   In the word ‘acronym’ it always means an initial letter or the sound at the beginning of a word, never the letter or sound at the other extremity, the end of the word.   We might by analogy coin the term ‘bathonym’ and talk about a ‘bathonymic language’.    What would this mean in practice?    In an acronymic language the words ‘stop’ and ‘strong’ would be considered very similar, since they both begin with ‘st’.   In a bathonymic language they would be considered quite different, since one ends with ‘op’ and the other with ‘ng’.    One might also imagine a neutral language in which all sounds or letters have equal significance, regardless of position in the word.   All three of these hypothetical languages would obey Rule One, but for reasons given below the acronymic languages, those which obey Rule Two, are much more interesting and potentially useful.

There is one more rule to present, and that is one adopted for convenience only.   Each of us speaks and writes a natural language which obeys none of these rules but which shapes our thoughts in profound ways we never fully perceive.   Neutrality is almost impossible, and constructed languages like Zamenhof’s Esperanto are probably weaker because of the attempt at neutrality, which deprived Esperanto of any consistent sound symbolism or phonosemantics.   So, instead of any attempt at neutrality, the example acronymic language presented here obeys the purely pragmatic:

Rule Three — Approximation to some Natural Language

Rule One and Rule Two do indeed rule, and all research has aimed at a language that satisfies them completely.   But that still leaves considerable freedom of choice.   Somehow those choices had to be made, and the only practical scheme was to approximate a natural language, in this case English.    Insofar as was possible given the very onerous constraints of the first two rules, words were given some approximation to the meanings of their English equivalents.

Copyright © 2002   Douglas Pardoe Wilson

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