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
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.
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.
> Ebubo (http://www.medianet.pl/~andrew/l/ebubo.htm),
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?
> 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.
> 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.
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
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.)
ASCII stupid question, get a stupid ANSI.