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(From Lognet 95/1. Used with the permission of The Loglan Institute, Inc.)

Toward a Theory of Case Tags

By James Jennings


Loglan case tags have usually been considered somewhat ad hoc. They were added for pragmatic reasons such as avoiding the problem of remembering arbitrary place structures of suteri-place predicates. The "purists", like James Cooke Brown, accept case tags only after long thought. The "extreme purists" [like JCB, soi crano--JCB] not even then.

Suppose, however, that case tags were in fact the most human feature in Loglan. Suppose that they come closest to representing what everyone uses language for. I have come to believe that, while there is room for improvement, case tag patterns in some ways embody a particular theory of linguistics.

I am not a linguist by training, so I can't give you lots of references. However, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About the Mind by George Lakoff (1987), The University of Chicago Press, seems to be an excellent and readable review of the field and has an extensive bibliography. I'd also recommend The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason by Mark Johnson (1987), The University of Chicago Press. It's more specific to the topic of this article, but perhaps is not as readable as Lakoff's book.

The Idea

The key idea for our purposes is that the foundation of all linguistic reasoning is the image schema. All human beings have the same gestalt impressions about the world. Our nervous systems automatically tell us certain basic things such as, "This is on top of that," or "This is inside of that." These fundamental impressions which we all share are then used as the building blocks for all of the more abstract concepts.

The building of new concepts is not a rigorous process. It frequently relies on approximations like metonymy and metaphor. (Incidentally, Lakoff has also written a book on metaphor.) As a result, all languages have words for the "basic level" concepts like "cat" or "container" while the derived concepts differ from language to language. Derived concepts in different languages seem to organize reality in different ways.

While reading Lakoff's book, I saw many examples, not of individual case tags, but of case tag groups, buried within the image schemata. I have found that the most common case tag "signatures" of the Loglan predicates correspond with the most obvious schemata. Here are some examples that I pulled from a section called "Kinesthetic Image Schemas" (Ch. 17 of Lakoff's book.) I have noted the relevant case tag signatures in [square brackets]. (For a key to the signatures, see Loglan 1, 4th ed., p. 247.)

The Container Schema [D-B: e.g., veslo = contains]: Lakoff says, "The container schema defines the most basic distinction between in and out. We understand our own bodies as containers ... ." Lakoff also quotes someone else (Johnson 1987) as saying, "You wake out of a deep sleep and peer out from beneath the covers into your room. ... You look in the mirror and see your face staring out at you. At breakfast you perform [things like]... pouring out the coffee, setting out the dishes, putting the toast in the toaster, spreading out the jam on the toast ... ." Lakoff also mentions the metaphors "come into and go out of sight" (as if the visual field were a container) and "trapped in a marriage". Elsewhere in the book Lakoff claims that the Container Schema is the foundation of Set Theory and, indirectly, of Classical Logic.

The Part-Whole Schema [B-F: e.g., parti = is a part of]: Our first impression of anything is a "whole". When we examine the details we often see "parts", even when the parts are seamlessly joined together. Lakoff gives the "family" as a sample metaphor that uses this schema. We think of a family as a "whole", even though its parts are not connected.

The Center-Periphery Schema [B-F,P-S]: Lakoff gives as examples, "A tree that loses its leaves is the same tree. A person whose hair is cut off or who loses a finger is the same person. Thus, the periphery is viewed as depending on the center, but not conversely." He gives as an illustration, "Theories have central and peripheral principles. What is important is understood as being central." He gives two examples, which happen to also be of the B-F type, the primitives clife = B is a leaf of plant F and herfa = B is hair/a hair of animal F. I am also reminded of P-S predicates like flora = P is a flower from/of plant S where P may have been removed from S.

The Source-Path-Goal Schema [SVD]: Aside from the obvious rutma-like usages (B is a route to D from S via path V), Lakoff gives as an example of a metaphor, "Purposes are understood in terms of destinations, and achieving a purpose is understood as passing along a path from a starting point to an end point." A note in passing: there is currently a case tag for "Products, Outputs, and Purposes". Perhaps we could eliminate it in favor of a "goal" (D) case tag.

The Link Schema [no case tags found]: Lakoff says, "Social and interpersonal relationships are often understood in terms of links. Thus 'we make connections' and 'break social ties'." Loglan doesn't yet have a tag that represents links. It is no wonder that matma (the link between mother and child) seems to resist being assigned a sensible set of case tags.

The next section of the book is called "Experiential Bases of Metaphors". Lakoff's first example is "more is up; less is down" [G-M: e.g., groda = is bigger than]. It's based on the image of, the more you put in a pile, the taller the pile. He gives the examples, "The crime rate keeps rising. ... That stock has fallen again. Our sales dropped last year."

Another idea that is kicked around a lot in Lakoff's book is the prototype. I don't want to go into detail here but I do want to give you an example from p. 54 since it seems to have a bearing on a large number of case tag signatures. (I'm quoting from Lakoff and, as before, my comments are in [square brackets].)

Prototypical causation appears to be direct manipulation, which is characterized most typically by the following cluster of interactional properties.
  1. There is an agent that does something. [K=agent]
  2. There is a patient [D=patient] that undergoes a change to a new state.
  3. Properties 1 and 2 constitute a single event [V=event]; they overlap in time and space; the agent comes in contact with the patient.
  4. Part of what the agent does (either the motion or the exercise of will) precedes the change in the patient.
  5. The agent is the energy source; the patient is the energy goal [D=destination]; there is a transfer of energy from the agent to patient.
  6. There is a single definite agent and a single definite patient. [Each gets one argument.]
  7. The agent is human. [K=Actor]
  8. a. The agent wills the action. b. The agent is in control of his action. c. The agent bears primary responsibility for both his actions and the change. [K]
  9. The agent uses his hands, body, or some instrument. [B]
  10. The agent is looking at the patient, the change in the patient is perceptible, and the agent perceives the change. [P]

The above description is particularly important to us because lots of Loglan complexes end with -mao (madzo, intentional causation) or with -cko (ckozu, unintentional causation). The main difference between -mao and -cko is, of course, item 8 above, there is an agent which wills the action. All of these "causal complexes" will have to deal with the tags involved in the "causal prototype", and thus have a "causal case tag signature" like [K-BDVP], e.g., nakso = K fixes B for D by doing V.


I did not just pick and choose my "image schema" examples; I gave you all of the examples in the "Kinesthetic" section. Quite by accident, every image schema but one was associated with, not just any case tag signature, but a common case tag signature. The one image schema that didn't match any tag signature, the Link Schema, did match one of the most difficult words to assign reasonable tags to, matma. I don't think that this is a coincidence.

What has happened is that the arguments of our predicates have tended to fall into patterns based on our immediate impressions of everyday living, what Lakoff calls image schemata. This is not to be regretted as a metaphysical bias since, according to Lakoff, all languages do the same thing. It is necessary in order for the language to have meaning at all.

Case tags as they are currently defined are rather clumsy. I believe that this is because they were designed to stand alone, following the analogy with European case systems. They were not designed to work in groups as parts of a schema.

How would one improve the case tags? I would first try to classify all of the different schemata that are currently used by the Loglan vocabulary. A single predicate may involve more than one schema at a time. Ketpi (ticket), for example, has a 'Purchase' schema and a 'Source-Path-Goal' schema. Also, since the choice of a schema is a choice of a metaphor, there could easily be more then one schema that could be used for a particular predicate. After all of the schemata are chosen each schema would be assigned a set of unique "schema tags". I don't call them case tags because I think that at this point we have left real Latin-like case behind.

Possible Objections

How do we know that we have all the schemata we need? We don't. We make our best guess and allow room for expansion. I gather that the stuff in Lakoff's book is pretty new, mostly less that 15 years old, judging from the bibliography. We would probably be among the pioneers of schema research.

The Shoot the Engineer objection: We may be loath to rework the Loglan case tag system into "schema tags", if only because we want to keep the language stable. It may not be necessary to replace the old case tags, but at the very least we should keep the schema point of view in mind as we assign and use case tags. It might bring some order out of the chaos.

The Jenny Brown objection: Wouldn't schema tags give us too many tags to remember? I expect at most a dozen schema (with perhaps five covering the majority of cases) with 2-4 tags each. That could easily be 30 tags, but we won't be remembering tags, we'll be remembering schema. It should be easy to remember a few short lists, each of which is a model of some aspect of everyday experience.

Are schema tags too metaphorical? Don't we want to keep Loglan concrete, analytic, and objective? Actually, Lakoff comes down real hard on what he calls "objectivism" in linguistics. I don't want to reproduce the entire argument here but the general idea is this. Traditionally, linguists have tried to define "meaning" and "knowledge" in objective terms, leaving out the subjective human element. To this end, they have borrowed various tools from mathematics, classical logic in particular. Lakoff argues that this is a mistake, that "knowledge" is ultimately grounded in subjective human experience, and that this experience in embodied by the image schema. He also shows how various versions of "objective knowledge" are unsatisfactory. As a finishing touch, he has one chapter discussing how meaning in mathematics is founded in subjective human experience as well. It is important to remember that Lakoff does not say that classical logic is invalid, only that it is insufficient for explaining our linguistic foundations.

Finally, would schema tags mar the pure beauty of our logical language? Doesn't it just import something from natural language that we can do without? I claim that schemata have already invaded Loglan and we might as well make a place for them. If Lakoff is right, we couldn't get rid of them if we tried.

Copyright © 1995 by The Loglan Institute, Inc. All rights reserved.

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