Sunday, March 13, 2016

tp FAQ 2 How do I answer 'nimi sina li seme?'

Suppose you are (or plan to be) jan Wasi in the tp community.

Then the safe and adequate answer is 'mi jan Wasi'

But this doesn't seem to answer the question exactly, which calls for a word or expression that fits into the place of 'seme', but you have given a sentence of a different form. We will talk about the problems with this notion of answering questions later, but for now, look at some problems with attempts to meet that requirement,

'(nimi mi li) jan Wasi'. But 'jan Wasi' refers to you, so this literally says “My name is me”. It says that your name is a person and a person is a name, both absurd; names and people are different. Further, it says that 'jan' is part of your name, which it is not. Your name in tp is an adjective which requires to always have a noun to lean on when being used to refer to you and, for people, that noun is usually 'jan'. But your name is the supporting adjective, not the whole expression; that is just how we use the name to refer to you.

So, maybe a better answer is '(nimi mi li) Wasi', which is what pu recommends. But remember that the rule is that a proper adjective (name) has always to have a noun to lean on and there isn't one here, so this is ungrammatical apparently. The immediate rescue is to say that it leans on the 'nimi' subject of the sentence, but that isn't quite right either. Suppose we redundantly repeat that subject in the predicate: '(nimi mi li) nimi Wasi'. Remember that proper adjectives mean “called by this word”, so this means that my name – not me, necessarily – is named 'Wasi'. So, the interesting question now is, what is this name named 'Wasi'?

Incidentally, if the adjective in 'nimi mi li Wasi' actually does modify the subject 'nimi mi' and so does not need a noun directly in front of it, why is the correct answer to 'sina seme?' and the like not just 'mi Wasi.', which would then be grammatical as a sentence and have the adjective modifying the right thing, for a change?  

We need to pause here a moment to think about the names of words. If we want to talk about something, we have to use a name for it (in some broad sense, but in the present case we can stick with the narrow one). We cannot use the thing itself to talk about it; my claim that my cat is cute does not start off with my cat in all her furry glory in the subject place of the sentence. Subjects are words and cats aren't. But names are. So we can put a name in the subject (or object, etc.) place in a sentence about that name and the grammar will be possible, even fine. But we usually end up saying something weird: “Bets is four letters long. Bets is my sister. So my sister is four letters long” Ahah! An ambiguity in the use of the word “Bets”, once as a name for a person and once as a name for that name. But this ambiguity is systemic and should be avoided systematically. Let us have – as we do – a standardized name for words. Let us enclose a word in quotes as a name for the word itself (there are other systematic possibilities, like spelling it out, but this is short and simple), as I have been doing throughout here. If we transfer this pattern to tp, our problems disappear.

But we have to remember that quotation names (and this covers cases of quotations of longer expressions) are names, thus adjectives, thus needing a noun to lean on, typically 'nimi'. So the right way to answer the question at the start, if you insist on, matching 'seme', is '(nimi mi li) nimi 'Wasi''. The other possible unobjectionable approach is '(nimi mi li) ni:' Wasi. Where what follows the colon is not another word in the sentence by a display of a name to which we now point with 'ni'.

After all that, I admit that I have no expectation that anyone will do this right (well, I do hope most people will reply with 'mi jan Wasi') but will continue to use the three muddled forms. And everyone will understand and almost no one will complain. A proof that just because you understand what a person is trying to say, doesn't mean that he has said it correctly or even coherently; it just means you are a cooperative and involved listener.     

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