Theiling Online    Sitemap    Conlang Mailing List HQ   

Re: Comparison of philosophical languages

From:H. S. Teoh <hsteoh@...>
Date:Friday, January 17, 2003, 16:26
On Fri, Jan 17, 2003 at 12:57:21AM +0100, Andrew Nowicki wrote:
> "H. S. Teoh" wrote: > HST> Unfortunately, these three things are not absolute > HST> measures. A Mandarin speaker finds any language > HST> with any inflection at all troublesome to learn, > HST> but speakers of European languages have no trouble > HST> with simple inflectional systems. OTOH, speakers > HST> of most European langs finds tones impossible to > HST> manage, yet they are second nature to Mandarin > HST> speakers. > > Ygyde has neither inflections nor tones, so it passes > this test.
OK, bad example. My point was that a feature that is regarded as "easy" in one language may be extremely difficult to another language. If you want to be truly universal, you'd have to cater to the lowest common denominator. And you might find yourself so constricted it's almost impossible to build a sane language out of it.
> HST> Another flaw: the difference between the vowels /y/ > HST> and /i/ are difficult to learn for people whose native > HST> language does not differentiate between them. (E.g. a > HST> Mandarin speaker probably can't tell the difference.) > HST> And a Korean speaker would find /f/ and /p/ impossible > HST> to distinguish. (I'm not making this up just to be mean; > HST> I have personally seen Korean friends struggle for > HST> *years* trying to pronounce "fork" and "pork" correctly. > HST> And sometimes they still can't tell the difference by ear.) > > HST> Basically, if you want the language to be easy to > HST> learn for *everyone*, you'd have to reduce the > HST> phonological inventory drastically. Of course, if > HST> you target a more narrow audience (such as speakers > HST> of European langs), then you might be able to get > HST> away with the existing system. > > Good points. The problem is that Ygyde needs large number > of letters to make large number of root words. At present > Ygyde has 6 vowels and 15 consonants. This is enough > to make 6X15X2=180 root words. I need all the 180 root > words and I wish could get a few more. If I reduce the > number of letters, I will have to find some other way > to make more root words.
I don't know if it's a good idea to make 1 root word = 1 syllable. Experience shows that natlangs generally have a lot of redundancy in order to cope with distortions over the transmission medium. (E.g., speaking over low baud phone lines, or in a noisy crowd where you can't quite hear the difference between similar vowels, or even just with speakers from different backgrounds who make pronunciation mistakes.) If you pack too much meaning into too small a space, you lose this "error-checking", and the resulting language may become difficult to learn just because you have to be extra careful to pronounce every single syllable precisely. (And people might feel it's not worth the effort to do that, too, which detracts from the purpose of being an IAL.) Furthermore, in order to cope with speakers of some languages that only have 3 consonants (p, b, g), you'd have to *majorly* cut down the phonological inventory. Probably to the point you can't do very much with it. You could introduce polysyllabic roots, of course. But if your phonology is that severely limited, you might find that your words tend to become very long--and speakers of natlangs with rich phonetic inventories would have trouble learning the language, because they are used to short roots.
> Ebubo (, the precursor of > Ygyde has fewer letters but its rules to make compound words are no > good. It sounds funny, but maybe there should be several ways to > pronounce Ygyde letters. One for Indo-Europeans, another for tonal > speakers, etc. Can you think of a better solution?
Frankly, compound words are the least of your worries. Generally, people don't have much trouble learning polysyllabic roots. Even in morpho- syllabic languages like the Chinese languages, where theoretically every syllable is a different "concept", as a native speaker I can testify that I don't think in terms of individual syllables but in combinations that correspond more closely to what I want to express. I may not even understand how the sum of each component in a compound adds up to the meaning I associate with it; but that doesn't stop me from learning the compound as a unit. The possibility of breakdown into individual syllables each with its own meaning is really only of philosophical value. And about pronunciations: while it's a good idea to have alternative pronunciations (back to the redundancy thing again), you can't push that too far. Saying that, e.g., a,e,i can be pronounced as e1,e2,e3 (different tones, for the tonal speakers) doesn't help, because non-tonal speakers would be completely unable to hear the difference between the vowels.
> HST> Yet another flaw: the color naming system is too > HST> fine-grained to be useful, except perhaps to graphics > HST> artists and painters. > > And women. On average, they see colors better than men.
I'm not so sure about that. I think women just associate colors with emotions more strongly than men, and so they tend to notice things men are completely oblivious to. [snip]
> My color vision is somewhat impaired, but I can easily > see the difference between umi, uno, ule, ugy, uka, > ufu, and ugo. On the other hand, ufa looks almost black > to me, and I cannot tell the difference between uwi > and uso. Too many colors is not a serious flaw. Ebubo > has fewer colors.
I know it's not a serious flaw in itself. But it becomes a frustration when somebody points out a color and says, "umi", whereas to me it looks like "uno". Preferably there should be a single word we can both agree on that encompass both umi and uno. [snip]
> Patrick Hassel-Zein invented the grammar. Basics are > posted at: > Examples are at: > The first file explains the word order.
Interesting. One more thing that I notice here: it seems that many related words are distinguished only by vowel differences. Some of these differences may not be big enough for some people to notice. For example, using vowel prefixes alone to mark different grammatical functions is not good. It's too easy to confuse between y and i, and when you're speaking fast, between a and o. It's OK if words that differ only by vowel appear in very different contexts (eg. pear, pare, pair that somebody else has mentioned). But when they are very close or related in function (in this case, marking grammatical function of a noun), there should preferably be at least two degrees of difference (eg. change a consonant as well as vary the vowel, or maybe use totally different consonants altogether) so that it's less prone to ambiguity. Also, "o ilo" and "o ila" is difficult to distinguish for people used to pronouncing /a/ as /A/. Again, these two phrases can occur in very similar contexts; so ideally they should be differentiated by more than one feature. I think you might be falling for the common beginner's trap of trying to make words with similar functions sound similar. If you look at natlangs, you'll discover that actually the *opposite* is true: words like pair, pear, and pare sound very similar (same, even), but they are completely different things that very rarely (if at all) appear in similar contexts. Yet for closely related words like "I", "you", "he", you see that they are very different from each other. You may argue that this makes the language inconsistent and therefore harder to learn; but people don't just make their native tongue complex for no reason. I posit that large divergences between groups of similar words are *necessary* so that they are less easily confused. It's OK for words with dissimilar meanings to sound similar, because they very rarely appear in the same context, so it's not too much trouble to clarify them when ambiguities arise. As further illustrations, think about the terminology used in almost any subject--such as anatomy, mathematics, etc.. You'll see that many similar concepts have widely divergent words to describe them; this is because they are likely to appear together in the same conversation, and so there needs to be a prominent distinction between them to avoid confusion. For example, you have "hand", "wrist", "finger", "palm", in English. They describe very similar parts of your body, so why not use similar sounding words? It's such a bother to have to learn 4 totally unrelated words just to know how to refer to different parts of your hand. But I posit that it's precisely because they are similar, yet different, that you want to describe them with prominently different words. Just think if, as a contrived example, English were to use "hond" for "wrist", "hind" for "finger", and "hein" for "palm". It would be utter chaos trying to teach a child the difference between "hand", "hond", "hind", and "hein". And if you're speaking over a staticky phone line or in a crowd, be sure that the other person is going to have NO idea what exactly you're referring to. (And notice that when you try to pronounce these words out loud, you naturally try to exaggerate the differences between the vowels? That's your brain saying, man, these words are so similar, I better sound them as differently as possible so that the listener will be less likely to confuse one with the other.) T -- ASCII stupid question, get a stupid ANSI.