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Re: Comparison of philosophical languages

From:Andrew Nowicki <andrew@...>
Date:Friday, January 17, 2003, 20:17
"H. S. Teoh" wrote:
HST> Furthermore, in order to cope with speakers
HST> of some languages that only have 3 consonants
HST> (p, b, g), you'd have to *majorly* cut down the
HST> phonological inventory. Probably to the point
HST> you can't do very much with it.

The same limitations apply to artlangs. If we use
this logic, no conlang should have more than 3
consonants because some speakers cannot pronounce
other consonants. Chinese ideograms are pronounced
differently by different speakers, so it is OK if
some speakers pronounce some Ygyde letters differently.
Many chinese speakers learn English language as
written language only because they cannot pronounce
English phonemes. I once met a russian scientist
who could read and write in English, but could not
speak the language. Apparently this skill was useful
to him.

HST> Frankly, compound words are the least of your
HST> worries. Generally, people don't have much
HST> trouble learning polysyllabic roots. Even in
HST> morpho-syllabic languages like the Chinese
HST> languages, where theoretically every syllable
HST> is a different "concept", as a native speaker
HST> I can testify that I don't think in terms of
HST> individual syllables but in combinations that
HST> correspond more closely to what I want to
HST> express. I may not even understand how the sum
HST> of each component in a compound adds up to the
HST> meaning I associate with it; but that doesn't
HST> stop me from learning the compound as a unit.
HST> The possibility of breakdown into individual
HST> syllables each with its own meaning is really
HST> only of philosophical value.

I disagree. The fluent speaker does not care about
the roots of compound words, but someone who learns
the foreign language benefits a lot from the
sophistication and simplicity of compound words.
When you learn a new language, you do not walk
around with dictionaries, but you try to guess
the meanings of new words. If you know that
"legal expert" means a lawyer, and you hear a new
word sounding like "medical expert," you may guess
that this means a physician. If you are learning
English language and hear the word physician for
the first time, you do not have the vaguest idea
if this means a physicist, a cuss word, or yet
something else.

AN> And women. On average, they see colors better than men.

HST> I'm not so sure about that. I think women just
HST> associate colors with emotions more strongly
HST> than men, and so they tend to notice things men
HST> are completely oblivious to.

I am sure. Approximately 5% of men and 0.5% of
women are color blind.

HST> One more thing that I notice here: it seems that
HST> many related words are distinguished only by vowel
HST> differences. Some of these differences may not
HST> be big enough for some people to notice. For
HST> example, using vowel prefixes alone to mark
HST> different grammatical functions is not good.
HST> It's too easy to confuse between y and i, and
HST> when you're speaking fast, between a and o.
HST> It's OK if words that differ only by vowel appear
HST> in very different contexts (eg. pear, pare, pair
HST> that somebody else has mentioned). But when they
HST> are very close or related in function (in this
HST> case, marking grammatical function of a noun),
HST> there should preferably be at least two degrees
HST> of difference (eg. change a consonant as well
HST> as vary the vowel, or maybe use totally different
HST> consonants altogether) so that it's less
HST> prone to ambiguity.

This could be done with accent. For example, stressed
first syllable would mean adjective, stressed
second syllable would mean noun, and stressed
last syllable would mean verb.

HST> Just think if, as a contrived example, English
HST> were to use "hond"  for "wrist", "hind" for "finger",
HST> and "hein" for "palm". It would be utter chaos
HST> trying to teach a child the difference between
HST> "hand", "hond", "hind", and "hein". And if you're
HST> speaking over a staticky phone line or in a crowd,
HST> be sure that the other person is going to have NO
HST> idea what exactly you're referring to. (And notice
HST> that when you try to pronounce these words out
HST> loud, you naturally try to exaggerate the
HST> differences between the vowels? > That's your
HST> brain saying, man, these words are so similar,
HST> I better sound them as differently as possible
HST> so that the listener will be less likely to
HST> confuse one with the other.)

Utter chaos? Probably not. Nonetheless you are right
about the pronunciation problems. I believe that all
children have tonal ability but they loose it if they
do not use it. It seems that tonal differences are
needed to make vowels more distinct. For example,
letters /a/, /e/, and /i/ should have high pitch and
letters /y/, /o/, and /u/ should have low pitch.


H. S. Teoh <hsteoh@...>
Padraic Brown <elemtilas@...>
Sally Caves <scaves@...>