Syntax is the linguistic study of how words combine to form sentences.[1]

There are many broad theories of how syntax arises, rooted in philosophical questions. What is the structure of human language? How do humans acquire language so quickly, and why do they make some kinds of mistakes but not others? And how do these theories apply to conlangs like Toaq, anyway?

Note: You can learn Toaq without ever caring about the stuff in this article, just like you can learn English without being a linguist. But Toaq's author (and its tinkerers) like to play in the space where conlanging and Chomskyan linguistics meet. Okay, on with the show!

Generative grammar and loglangs

One theory of syntax is called generativism. It posits that the human brain has an innate faculty for grammar, which places certain restrictions on the parameters of human languages. We can imagine a universal grammar "generated" by this innate faculty. There have been decades of efforts to describe this universal grammar, and show that human languages all over the world adhere to it in some sense. For example, human languages tend to have noun phrases and verb phrases that, on some level, work the same way everywhere.

This theory is not without criticism: there's little neurological evidence for an innate "language device". However, generativism has also been very successful in explaining natural language syntax and semantics at many levels. If we can describe Toaq's syntax in these same terms, we can be certain that it is a human language, rather than merely a way to "speak out loud" an unnatural mathematical or logical structure.

Hoemaı has been working to describe Toaq's syntax with the same linguistic tools as are used to describe natural langauges, and Toaq is evolving with this goal in mind. This current description of Toaq syntax is influenced by X-bar theory and the Minimalist program — sub-theories of generativism with certain ideas about syntactic structure.[2]

Toaq being a loglang means that we can unambiguously parse sentences into syntax trees. Kuna is a piece of software that performs this transformation. There is similar software for Lojban called camxes, but while its output is deterministic, the resulting tree is (from a linguist's perspective) quite ad-hoc and not useful for semantic interpretation.

See also


  1. To linguists, "syntax" is a subset of "grammar", and grammar also includes things like the study of valid word forms.
  2. The forefront of linguistic knowledge has progressed a bit beyond these theories, but they are still very adequate frameworks to serve as points of reference. (As conlangers, we can "cheat" a little and design Toaq so as to not bump into the flaws of the older, more fleshed-out systems.)