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Preamble.

This is in reference, for example, to these two questions:

To be quite honest, they were both intended to ask the same question. I indicated as much when I posed the second one, giving my reasons for "re-asking" it.

Given the disagreement whether constructed languages would be considered on-topic here — and given that I am interested in a wide-spread writing system which I would consider to be only ambiguously a constructed language (despite the fact that it has no form other than the written form!) — I had hoped to get clarification of whether it would be on topic by asking a question about languages generally.

The best short piece of terminology for this seemed at the time to be "natural language", in view of the description of how ASL (a partially designed langauge) came to be regarded as "natural", according to Wikipedia. However, a number of the responses and commentators seemed to get stuck on the entirely reasonable interpretation of "natural" as being the antonym of "artificial" or "constructed", which seems to me to refer to the historical origin of a language rather than any linguistic feature of the language. So I asked the second question, using alternative terminology (which seemed both reasonable, and which I clarified in my question), in order to try and re-start the discussion and keep it clear of the confusion produced by the first, which had garnered answers pertinent only to the original phrasing.

I was afterwards (impatiently) directed by Alek Strom to revise the original question to better suit my intent, which I did; and later still Rebecca Chernoff went a step further and simply reverted the revisions that I had been directed to make to the original question, noting that I should never have edited it to change its scope so much, which had been my original feeling.

This is clearly a point on which this SE site can use clarification.

Question.

In cases such as these, when someone asks a question which people misinterpret (for completely understandable reasons) and give good answers to (which one may regard as being quite literally correct), but which fails to answer the intended question, is it better to revise the original question to clarify the intent, or simply ask a new question?

  • Note: I'll be using answers to this to guide what to do with the second question. If I recieve no advice in the next day or so, I'll change the "second" question to the pre-reversion content of the "first" question. – Niel de Beaudrap Sep 21 '11 at 15:54
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Do neither (perhaps add clarification at the end of your original question; don't change the body of the question substantively after you receive answers). Ask the answerers to your original question, via comments on their answers, to elaborate points you are interested in.

I have to say that after your asking two questions and this meta question, I still don't know what you want to hear. I suspect that you are looking for something which doesn't exist -- a rigorous, technical, consensus definition of a natural language. If you want to ask questions about some writing system, why don't you just ask directly whether those questions are on topic?

  • I think the same and I think the problem is that "natural language" might not be considered part of linguistics terminology. – hippietrail Sep 21 '11 at 21:27
  • Aaron: I didn't really expect there to be a final formal consensus, although that would have been one possible answer. Even if there were no definition, at least some necessary-but-not-sufficient conditions, or sufficient-but-not-all-necessary conditions which would at least apply to the case of ASL, were more what I was expecting. My second formulation of the question also admitted the possibility that it was a topic of contention (and therefore discussion) which people could give references to. I'd be surprised if even that were not the case. – Niel de Beaudrap Sep 22 '11 at 9:58
  • As to why I didn't ask my (ultimate) question directly: I figured that this is a question I'm interested in anyway --- why not draw it out by seeing what interesting questions I can ask along the way which might give me more perspective? Doesn't hurt to support the beta! – Niel de Beaudrap Sep 22 '11 at 11:40

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