(Originally appeared in Lognet 91/3)

We Need to Dethrone Pauses

by Bill Gober

I’ve discovered that the pause-comma is more powerful than I’d believed— and more powerful than I think it ought to be.

According to L1:199-200, Le sadji mrenu means “the wise man”; to say “The wise one is a man”, we use the marker word ga to separate the description from the predicate: Le sadji ga mrenu. In experimenting with LIP (the Loglan Interactive Parser), I’ve discovered I can do the same thing with just a comma: Le sadji, mrenu means the same as Le sadji ga mrenu.

Now some might take this as an occasion to celebrate: “Wonderful! More options!” The discovery disheartens me, however, because it adds to the evidence that pauses—written as commas—are too powerful in Loglan.

Pauses currently can end almost any kind of clause or phrase; the only kind of clause I know of that a pause can’t end is a lepo clause, which needs a punctuation word or the end of the sentence. The right sort of punctuation word—ga, gu, etc.—can also end clauses or phrases. I think that we should strip the pause of this power and reserve it for the punctuation words. In fact, I think we should eliminate optional, but significant, pauses; there should be just two sorts of pauses: mandatory ones, and linguistic noise.

We pause for non-linguistic reasons: (a) because we’re not certain which word to use next, or (b) because we’re out of breath, or (c) for some effect (e.g., timing in a joke, phrasing in a song). Let me address each of these in turn:

(a) Beginners in the language are likely to hesitate (i.e., pause inadvertently). You may say that becoming fluent will eliminate most such hesitations, and you’re probably right; but we’re all going to hesitate sometimes; and do we want to make it harder for beginners to make themselves understood?

(b) Some people have emphysema, or speech impediments; they’re particularly likely to pause where they don’t mean to. Is Loglan to be closed to them?

(c) In many jokes, you pause in the middle of a statement, to allow the audience to begin anticipating what comes next, then say something they didn’t anticipate. To give a crude example: Le sadji—bunbo. As things currently stand, this can only mean “The wise one—is a fool”; you can’t say “The wise —fool”. Or the meter of a poem or song may require a pause at a particular point...where (currently) it may end a phrase and changes the meaning of the sentence.

All of these point to a need to strip pauses of their power to replace punctuation words. The only pauses with grammatical significance should be the mandatory pauses, i.e., the ones where it’s an error to omit them; all other pauses should be grammatical noise.

You may protest that this change is unnecessary, that, in each of the examples, a knowing listener will allow for the speaker’s difficulty or intent and will edit out the inappropriate pauses. NOW WAIT A MINUTE! In Loglan, we’re supposed to be able to speak nonsense clearly; and we’re not supposed to figure out what a speaker did say based on what we think da ought to have said. We must not allow for weak speakers by weakening central tenets of the language: we accommodate them by changing the grammar or vocabulary so that the speaker can be weak but still clear. We’ve done it before...witness the unpacking of primitives during the Great Morphological Revolution.

Here’s a list of what I consider to be the mandatory places for pauses:

(1) Within Linnaeans.

(2) After name words (members of the DJAN lexeme).

(3) Before name words except after la and hoi; and even then, if the name word starts with a vowel.

(4) Before predicates that start with a vowel.

(5) Before the little words a e i o u and all their derivatives.

(6) Within strong quotes, i.e., the indicated pauses in lie X, ..., X are mandatory.

(7) At the end of sentences.

Of these, (1) is a very special case; in cases (2) through (4), the pauses don’t have to be indicated in writing; and in cases (5) through (7), the pauses do have to be written. Note that pauses (and commas) aren’t necessary within weak quotations, within parenthetical utterances, or at the end of name phrases (except as required by case (2)). As long as you supply all the mandatory pauses, the grammar shouldn’t care if you supply extra pauses. In fact, Oe, l[o]po, [futpazda], le, ra, purda, ga, dreti 'Pausing-after — every — word — should — be — correct.'

The punctuation words are bulkier than the pause that the grammar currently lets us use; a pause can be more elegant than a gu. But since any speaker will pause inadvertently sometimes—and some speakers are particularly prone to inadvertent pauses—let’s minimize (or eliminate) the cases where a misplaced pause can change the meaning of a sentence.

This change has one last virtue: not only can it make Loglan easier to speak, it can make the language easier to understand. By pausing after every word, the speaker can make da’s speech easier to understand in some circumstances: in a noisy environment; when the listener is a beginner, or is trying to copy down the speech; or if the listener is a first-generation computer program for understanding spoken Loglan and da still has trouble with connected speech.

Copyright © 1991 by The Loglan Institute. All rights reserved.