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Multidimensional language

Language not restricted by being a single string of sounds or characters
  [vote for,

Languages on the whole are at least spoken one- dimensionally. They are single strings of phonemes which take a single time dimension to utter and only one phoneme is uttered at a time. The same applies to text on the whole, though not entirely - Maya glyphs, Tibetan script and some other written forms of language are two- dimensional.

This is quite restrictive. For instance, a word can have prefixes, suffixes, infixes and circumfixes, but all of these are along one dimension. The same applies to verb phrases - syntax is SVO, OSV and so on.

I suggest that languages be made multidimensional. In writing, even two dimensions could be useful. For instance, a word can have superfixes and subfixes as well as prefixes and suffixes, but still be a single word, thereby conveying a lot more meaning. A direct object can be placed below or above a word, or subject and object can be arranged vertically so that each sentence takes up the horizontal space of one word. Different categories of inflection can be placed in different places relative to a word, so for example tense could be expressed by suffixes, person by prefixes, aspect by superfixes and mood by subfixes. A sentence then becomes a possibly branching form like a crossword puzzle. When spoken, this can be expressed by different rows being pronounced in chorus with each other, but at different pitches.

The more dimensions are added, the pithier language becomes. Eventually, we would get to do things like express the entire story of our lives as a single "thunk" sound, or a multidimensional form of Byzantine complexity.

nineteenthly, May 08 2012

This is the Wikipedia summary of Empson... http://en.wikipedia...iguity_%28Empson%29
... but I don't agree with it. [pertinax, May 08 2012]

Befunge http://esolangs.org/wiki/Befunge
"Befunge is a two-dimensional esoteric programming language invented in 1993 by Chris Pressey with the goal of being as difficult to compile as possible." [Wrongfellow, May 08 2012]

a better snapshot of Empson http://ideasofimper...s-of-ambiguity.html
[pertinax, May 08 2012]

taking a stab at it Morse_20Chord
[FlyingToaster, May 14 2012]


       A word with superfixes and subfixes is essentially a pictogram, albeit a rather obscure one.   

       For more practical* methods of adding semantic dimensions, see Empson's classic "seven types of ambiguity".   

       *for small values of "practical"
pertinax, May 08 2012

       Beautiful link, [Wrongfellow].
pertinax, May 08 2012

       A diagram is a form of 2-dimensional language*, in the same way, a (physical) model is a 3-dimensional expression - and you can add an additional dimension to both by the use of animation - like in film, or a play.   

       Music might be a fair approximation - which you allude to - but isn't music a kind of a language already?   

       *esp where agreed diagrammatic conventions are used.   

       However, all this is a bit academic if a person can only percieve individual events in a linear fashion (i.e. one after the other) so there's always going to be some limiting factor in the number of dimensions that can be communicated at any one time.   

       In other words, if the UK was a language, how can I be in London and Bognor at the same time? Our existence (or at least the perception of it) is by definition linear, so shouldn't it make sense that our language is too? Say I were to write a simultaneous (but different) annotation in a 2nd dimension, how would you (without resorting to chameleon-eye surgery) read the both at the same time?   

       One thing that befunge is missing is parrallel processing - it may be laid out in 2 dimensions, but it's still 1 dimensional in its execution. (Or at least that's what a cursory glance suggests) Writing a program in Conway's Life, or some other emergent system might be described as more than one-dimensional - but it'd be tricky to get anything (reliably) accomplished in it.
zen_tom, May 08 2012

       [19thly], you should try talking to my wife sometime. I know it comes off as a cheap joke, but Jenny can easily keep three or four different topics going at once, some current, some continuations, some upcoming, including tangents. Her side of any conversation is like the verbal equivalent of a HB anno stream, but without the // // callbacks. But it's like that in an endearing way.   

       If speaking in three different timeframes and two spacial frames isn't multidimensional, I don't know what is.
Alterother, May 08 2012

       So, you've effectively invented hieroglyphs, [19thly]?   

       Is that what you really intended?
UnaBubba, May 09 2012

       I mentioned the similarity with Mayan glyphs. This is less similar to Egyptian and other Eastern Mediterranean hieroglyphs and in two-dimensional form it would be more like the Yukaghir phraseograms, but this has more than two dimensions and is vocal as well as visual.
nineteenthly, May 09 2012

       //When spoken, this can be expressed by different rows being pronounced in chorus with each other, but at different pitches.//   

       This would require either collaborative speaking, or the learning of advanced throat singing.
MaxwellBuchanan, May 09 2012

       different pitch? There's only 7 notes; that's only 7 variations on each word   

       I really don't think there's a way to verbally speak what you're describing   

       and some languages are already tonal.
EdwinBakery, May 09 2012

       Reminds me of my early attempts at math-modified language.
RayfordSteele, May 09 2012

       The problem you're grappling with is one of "serialisation". Basically any 'fixed' work in any number of dimensions can be reversibly converted into a linear form.   

       However, if one considers a non-fixed work (or one in which only a very small portion can feasibly or is necessary to be explored) then it may be reasonably considered multi-dimensional. This is the case with conversations of all kinds.
Loris, May 09 2012

       There are two ways this can be expressed physically, either as in tonal language, which provides a wider array of words, or tone or gesture which provide emphasis and connatative data. Both are already done.   

       Any other approach requires additional speakers, which is no improvement over each speaker just saying something in a normal language, and the human ear won't be able to process it anyway.
MechE, May 09 2012

       Read "The Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang. The protagonist is a linguist attempting to communicate with aliens whose language turns out something like you describe [nineteenthly]. I'll be damned if Chiang didn't have me thinking like an Alien by the end of the story. I can't recommend it enough. I believe that [The Alterother] is a fan too.
AusCan531, May 09 2012

       Indeed I am. I wish he'd stop writing technical manuals and go full pro.   

       Some authors just don't know when to give up on real life.
Alterother, May 09 2012

       Tonality is not particularly different from simply having different levels of voicing or simply different vowels. The issue with this is speaking it, but not writing it, and if time is not an issue in production, this could be an audio recording, perhaps not even using voice.   

       [Loris], whereas it can be done more slowly, it needn't be, except of course what i've just described would take longer to compose.
nineteenthly, May 09 2012

       //There's only 7 notes// Piano makers could save a lot of money by not including the 81 silent keys in that case!
pocmloc, May 09 2012

       // Piano makers could save a lot of money by not including the 81 silent keys in that case!// differentiating meanings by octaves wouldn't work, because of the differences in male/female and child/adult voice ranges. Also, differentiating between semitones would make it difficult for those that are 'tone deaf'
erenjay, May 09 2012

       Also, there's no such thing as 'semitones' or 'notes', except as a mostly arbitrary human convention. To even mention them in this context is a bit like stating that it is impossible to create an accurate sculpture of a human head because there are only 12 different inches.
spidermother, May 10 2012

       Only seven notes? That sounds a bit like cultural bias.   

       Chinese music uses an entirely different tonal scale to Western music.
UnaBubba, May 10 2012

       Turing proved that a sequential instruction set is sufficient for any task. A one-dimensional language, augmented by the option of speaking the letters forward, then backward, then forward, then backward, etc. would no doubt solve the problem.
sqeaketh the wheel, May 11 2012

       //Turing proved that a sequential instruction set is sufficient for any task.//   

       He did no such thing.
Actually, he proved the opposite - that there are tasks which can't be solved by any such system.[1]

       He did however prove that a very simple system (with limited internal state and linear storage) is in theory capable of solving all problems computable by more complex systems.   

       [1] His proof of this is to determine whether an arbitrary program will finish computation, known as "the halting problem".
Loris, May 11 2012

       So, could you use this result to prove that some people will never stop talking?
sqeaketh the wheel, May 12 2012

       //Only seven notes? That sounds a bit like cultural bias.//   

       "There are not more than five musical notes [...]" - Sun Tzu
pertinax, May 12 2012

       The Spice Girls, a great many notes, but no actual music.
not_morrison_rm, May 14 2012

       Looks like someone's been reading "Embassytown" by China Mieville...
prufrax, May 14 2012


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