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Re: pointing

On Sun, 12 Nov 1995, Logical Language Group wrote:

> What do you mean by a "simple" way of saying that you point to something?
> Are you complaining because we use a lujvo?  The reason is obvious - there
> are so many meanings for the word "point".

In this letter I will show you that pointing is a simple concept, and can
be linguistically handled as such.  I propose that the belief that "point"
has so many meanings is due, among other things, to English bias.

>  For example you used a
> different formulation:
> I point to the chair
> My hand points to the chair
> My finger points to the chair.
> The sign points to the chair.
> All these really are somewhat different from each other in that the
> subject fills a slightly different semantic role.

Common concepts should have simple expressions assigned to them. It is
common to point with your finger, so their should be a simple expression
for this.  It is common to point with the hand, so their should be a
simple expression for this.  If you want to draw a major distinction
between "pointing with the finger" and "pointing with the hand" (rather
than what English does, which is to conceptually group these two actions)
that's fine, but there should be a way of simply stating this sort of

Of course, if you make such a large distinction between "types of
indication" then if someone points with their elbow (say that their hands
are full) or gestures with their chin (say that their arms are angrily
crossed) or even with a movement of their head, it will be very difficult
to convey these actions in Lojban as it stands, because a semantically
separate way of indicating each of these would have to be created.
"elbow-pointing" and "chin-pointing" and "finger-pointing" would all be
lujvo (I suppose), but if you think about Lojban's ability to elide
unneccessary information, it seems counter to the spirit of the language
to specify the method of pointing unless it has any importance.  When I
point to something, I hope that the person I'm talking to is paying more
attention to the indicated object, not to how I gestured!

I think part of the problem is that you are misinterpretting the meaning
of "point" in English.  From a practical standpoint, it means "indicate"
or "draw attention to".

So, to take the examples you have given, above:
> I point to the chair
> My hand points to the chair
> My finger points to the chair.
> The sign points to the chair.

... it doesn't matter what is physically happening (e.g. HOW the
indication is accomplished) as long as indication does occur.  Thus:

I indicate the chair
I indicate the chair with my hand.
I indicate the chair with my finger.
The sign indicates the chair (with an arrow).

These sentences share a concept, if not the details, which is not a
problem because "indicate" (nor "point") does not imply the method of
indication.  To "lojbanize" this:

x1 indicates x2 by means x3

> When you point to the chair, you may be an agent, using some tool - you
> are not necessarily a sign.

If you point, and if someone is seeing you point, then you are a visual
symbol of the indication... in other words, you are visually giving
information in the same way as a sign!  Your "agent" distinction ignores
the reality of visual communication.

> Your finger specifically indicates a direction by being oriented in that
> direction.  Your hand is probably not so specifically oriented in that
> direction by shape, though it may be due to relative position with respect to
> your body.

With respect to pointing with fingers and hands... well, I think most
people who use these gestures do not create the amount of confusion in
others that you seem to think they do.  That is, I think you are
describing a problem which does not exist. In the millenia of the
evolution of human communication, don't you think "pointing with the hand"
would have been discarded if it was really so unclear?

> The sign my specifically indicate a direction with an arrow or
> the like, or it may instead indicate direction by relative direction from
> the reader (as by a sign located at the entrance to a corridor).

As for a sign which only indicates relative direction... it would be
false to say, for that sign:

"The sign indicates the destination-location (with an arrow)."

but would be true to say:

"The sign indicates (the location of) the path to the destination (with an

or even

"The sign indicates the direction-of-travel (with an arrow)."

> With something this semantically complex, it is natural in Lojban to use
> several different words for the concept.

If you restrict your thinking to English, it may seem semantically
complex, but conceptually, "pointing/indicating" is simple (and a basic
concept in human conversation).

> If we tried to use one gismu,
> it would have a bunch of places, most of which would be irrelevant or
> undefined for many kinds of signs.

As I've shown, only one gismu meaning "indicate" would be sufficient,
with place structure "x1 indicates x2 by means x3".

Peter Schuerman                                    plschuerman@ucdavis.edu
                        Co-editor, SPECTRA Online
          for back issues: http://www.well.com/user/phandaal/