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I am building a conlang that is heavily based on the Haskell programming language, and I was thinking about how sentences work. Let me call this conlang Jeksa for the moment.

Jeksa models every sentence as an action to modify the real world — Haskell's RealWorld, aka the state of the IO monad.

Then I found that every sentence is a command, at least under this model. In addition to usual imperatives, declarative sentences are commands to let them know, and interrogative sentences are commands to let them tell. To demonstrate:

[Usual sentence] One plus one equals two.
[In this model] You gotta know that one plus one equals two.

[Usual sentence] Does one plus one equal three?
[In this model] You gotta tell me whether one plus one equals three.

[Usual sentence] Who told you that BS?
[In this model] You gotta tell me who told you that BS.

To paraphrase, declarative sentences are attempts of modifying the listener's knowledge, and interrogative sentences are requests to fetch the listener's knowledge.

However, I've never seen a natural language that actually goes well with this model. Is there any?

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    "You gotta" means "You have got to" and that is not a command. You can make any sentence into a command but it wouldn't be a language if every sentence in it were a command.
    – Lambie
    Jan 2, 2023 at 16:29
  • This kind of rewriting is a bit reminiscent of Ross’ 1970 performative hypothesis, in which all sentences are assumed to have a declarative (not imperative) deep structure.
    – Keelan
    Jan 2, 2023 at 16:54

1 Answer 1

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You need some kind of a test to show that a sentence in a particular language is a command, which is a communicative function. You can't just rely on e.g. defining an imperative verb form and defining a "command" as a sentence with an imperative verb form. The neutral essence of the concept of "commanding", or "ordering", is communicating a desire that some proposition be true, and furthermore that you have enforcement authority to enact consequences against the addressee. The consideration of "enforcement authority" tells you that "Do you have the time?" is not a command, even though it is an indirect request to another party to tell you the time. Your examples lack the "enforcement authority" aspect of commands.

Requests can be very difficult to identify on linguistic grounds, for example "I bought lettuce at the store" is a command, in some social contexts (it's up to you to imagine the scenario, and then to explain how this sentence could / should be interpreted as a request). The listener simply has to ask "Why in the world would you ever say such a sentence to me; what am I supposed to do about it?".

"Command" is not a linguistic thing, it is a social thing. If there is a society where all interactions between people are necessarily orders with an attached threat, then the language will not need any explicit markers of "command" status, and a child would never be able to learn the function of the markers, instead they would just conclude that the marker is a bit of obligatory noise added to every sentence. It's only when commands are distinguished from non-commands that it makes sense to say that a given sentence in a language is a command rather than just a sentence.

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