The Existence of the Queen

Language Hat relays an interesting conundrum from Language Log: the following sentence from Alice:

Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.

The author and his commentators have been analyzing the sentence in terms of grammar; I thought I’d give it a go in symbolic logic. I’m probably totally off base, but it’s an interesting exercise, and since Lewis Caroll was a mathematician, I think I may have something here.


I(x) === to imagine x
B(x) === to be x
A(x) === for x to appear to others

Then, break the sentence down:

“never imagine yourself…” => ~I…
“not to be otherwise than …” => ~~B…
“what it might appear to others …” => A(…) | ~A(…)
“that what you were or might have been …” => Bx | ~Bx
“was not otherwise than …” => ~~…
“what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.” => A(~Bx)

So the full formulation for the sentence is as follows:

~I(~~Bx) . A(Bx | ~Bx) | ~A(Bx | ~Bx) . ~~A(~Bx)

We can drop the middle term, since it is always true, and the double negatives, which gives us:

~I(Bx) . A(~Bx)

In other words, “Never imagine yourself to be what you do not appear to others to be”.

I suspect this is way too simplistic and just plain wrong :-) It’ll probably bug me for the next couple of days.

Language Ability

Via Language Log comes the whimsical story of an NPR correspondent, who, travelling through China, came across a church where the congregation was waiting for their itinerant pastor. When the preacher didn’t show, the foreign guest — all foreigners must be Christians, after all — was invited to preach the sermon.

As Geoffrey Pullum says, this is pretty much the ultimate test of foreign language ability. Could you speak for several minutes in a foreign language in the non-trivial domain of religion?

Mesaĝo en Botelo

Mi ĵus eksendis mesaĝon al iu en Hungario, ŝin vidinte je la koresponda servo. Lastfoje, ke mi provis korespondi esperante, iuj min respondis, sed ni ne fondis daŭran ligecon. Nun eble malsamu.