Theiling Online    Sitemap    Conlang Mailing List HQ   

my proposals for a philosophical language

From:Joseph Fatula <fatula3@...>
Date:Tuesday, January 21, 2003, 6:22
The message below is a proposal regarding philosophical languages that I
made in a conversation with Andrew Nowicki, the proponent of Ygyde who we
have recently become familiar with.

In it, I examine some of the problems Ygyde currently faces, much of which
it shares in common with other philosophical languages.  I then propose the
sorts of changes that seem to solve these problems to some degree.  As many
of you know, I'm strictly an artlanger, and relish features that make
languages opaque in their workings.  (Though not to the point of absolute

First, I propose some sounds that are common to English, Spanish, Arabic,
and Cantonese (more or less), as these languages encompass a substantial
portion of the world's population.  (And because I found some phonologies
for them online.)

Then, I suggest a revision of the method of categorizing words.  The basic
roots are expanded in number and made more specific in meaning.

So take a look and tell me what you think.
1) Would such a language be easier for people to learn than some of the
other philosophical languages out there?

2) Does it make sense?

3) Are the sounds chosen easy for you to pronounce?


From: "Andrew Nowicki" <andrew@...>
Subject: Ygyde

> You are welcome to contribute any ideas to > the Ygyde language. I work mostly on the > dictionary while Patrick Hassel-Zein > works on the grammar. We are very open > minded.
Hey, that's great! I happen to think the whole concept of a philosophical language is pretty neat. A few months ago, I started work on a language comprised entirely of nouns, adjectives, but no verbs. Now, the purpose of that language was quite different than yours, but I discovered a few things. First, that the system of the language made compound words really useful. The majority of the language is made of compounds. Second, I found which compounds were the most useful. But most importantly, I found that the meaning of the word could not be _known_ from the roots, but could be _guessed_. After all, as anyone can see, noun-animal-long-loud could refer to a great many things. But once you know that that's a rattlesnake, it makes a lot of sense. Ygyde as it stands has a number of fundamental problems, as I see it. Since I'd like to see it improve to the point where it could easily be used for communication, I also propose some changes to resolve these problems. 1) Words that need to be distinct in sound are too close, due to their meanings being similar. For example, the names of the letters of the English alphabet are far too similar sounding. So in situations where clarity is required, we always pronounce them differently. Such as when I'm giving my name on the phone, "F as in Frank". Or on the radio, "alpha bravo charlie delta echo...". 2) The same roots are used far too often, again making words seem similar or repetitive. For example, the "noun" morphemes are extremely common. Much of the impression a word makes on the memory is through the first sounds of the word. If a third of the lexicon consists of words starting in the same sound, it becomes very hard to memorize. 3) The basic sounds being used are hard to differentiate, and even pronounce, for most people in the world. This means that the similarity problems are amplified enormously. So here's what I'd propose to solve these. --- SOUND PROBLEMS --- First, revise the basic phonology. I would recommend the following principles: - Use sounds that are maximally distinct from each other, i.e., spread the sounds out as far as possible. Imagine if you could only have three vowels, and you picked the ones in "put, putt, pot". A maximally distinct set would be more like "peat, poot, pot". - Use sounds that the majority of the world's people have in their own languages. I wouldn't recommend using ones that are found in _every_ language as your criterion, as that would limit you to, hmm... n, t, w, k, and s? No, actually, I think it'd be even worse than that. Anyway, if _most_ people can speak it, that's as good as we'll get. - Allow enough clustering of vowels and/or consonants that single and double syllable morphemes number in the thousands or tens of thousands. This way we'll have enough to make up the root words. Now, I'll pull out some of the books, look around the web, and do some phonology research. --- After a bit of poking around, I found some interesting charts of sounds. Below are all the sounds common to English, Spanish, Arabic, and Chinese (Cantonese). Between these four languages, we have a substantial portion of the people in the world. All who speak any of these languages have these sounds: p t k m n f s h w l y a i u That's 11 consonants and 3 vowels. Allowing CV syllables, that gives us 36 possible syllables. But with only these three vowels, we have a great deal of distinctiveness between them. So let's expand that to: a i u ai au That gives us 5 vowels, including diphthongs. Or 60 syllables. If we allow CVC syllables, that increases the number to 720. But it gets even better. Given the rules of these languages, we can allow some other diphthongs: a i u ai au ia iu ua ui Now we're at 11 consonants and 9 vowels & diphthongs. Yielding 1,089 CVC syllables. If we were to add even a single additional consonant, though, that would increase to 1,296. Looking at the charts, it seems Arabic is the only language that doesn't have a /ts/ or /tsh/ sound. But they have a /dzh/. So let's add one more sound, spelled |ch|, indicating the consonant at the beginning of "church" or "juice". p t k m n f s h ch w l y a i u ai au ia iu ua ui With this system, we could have words like: chat mum mai chuk yus tin su hach yap chin And these would all be relatively easy to pronounce by the majority of the people in the world. More importantly, none of the sounds would be readily confusable with others. --- ROOT WORD PROBLEMS --- As mentioned before, the roots of Ygyde are too common, and the compounds too similar. For example, all the body part words sound somewhat similar, which is a problem when trying to refer to parts of the body. And some roots are used so frequently that they make their compounds look similar to one another. So to solve this problem, I suggest two things. One, that the roots be restructured on a more horizontal hierarchy than a vertical one. What I mean is this: That words in a specific field, such as parts of the body, be made from different roots, and that things of similar function or form be made from similar roots across fields. For example, in the current Ygyde system, the words for wrist and arm might be something like "noun-bodypart-middle-joint" and "noun-bodypart-middle-long". These are far too similar. Doctors speaking this language would be constantly repeating themselves and overarticulating words to compensate. I propose a twofold change. One, that the number of basic roots be enlarged. Two, that the naming system be restructured. That way, the words for wrist and arm might be "hand-joint" and "top-appendage", with prefixed roots modifying the root like an adjective would. I would put part of speech roots at the end, making words look less similar due to their initial parts. And we ought to make the most common part of speech (nouns) the unmarked one, so that if a word has no part of speech marker, it is a noun by default. fan hand su joint, pivoting like the wrist, neck, shoulder laut hinge, pivoting like the elbow, knee chuk appendage, arm/leg li upper pa lower tian head, chief yak center, main body nal outer kis inner mai finger nun foot Also remember that a term can have different meanings, so long as they are in different fields. Consider the English word "head". You can speak of the head of an animal, of a bed, of a table, of an organization, and it's always clear. "Head" means the top and most important part, specifically that of the body, but generally that of the specified thing. Each of the words here has a specific meaning that can be more generally applied. tian head tiansu neck (head-joint) lisu shoulder (upper-joint) lichuk arm (upper-appendage) kis lichuk upper arm (inner-upper-appendage) lilaut elbow (upper-hinge) nal lichuk lower arm (outer-upper-appendage) fansu wrist (hand-joint) fan hand mai finger yak torso yaksu waist (torso-joint) pasu hip (lower-joint) pachuk leg (lower-appendage) kis pachuk upper leg (inner-lower-appendage) palaut knee (lower-hinge) nal pachuk lower leg (outer-lower-appendage) nunsu ankle (foot-joint) nun foot pamai toe (lower-finger) Keeping in mind the principle of having specific meanings for words that can be used generally, we could add the following: tif hair, anything shaped like hair - long, thin, flexible, plentiful lin leaf, anything shaped like a leaf - flat, somewhat small, thin, plentiful han land chun horse tak sheep fai bird mau house hantif grass (land-hair) chuntif horsehair (horse-hair) taktif wool (sheep-hair) failin feather (bird-leaf) maulin roof-shingle (house-leaf) Now, the single syllable roots we're defining are for words commonly used. Less common roots would have two syllables. But with 1,679,616 possible two-root compounds, using only one-syllable roots, I'd say we've got plenty for most any word we'll need. After all, who cares if a rarely used technical term is a real mouthful, so long as the words needed most often are simple and short. Let's try making some more roots, and listing all the ones so far. chun horse chuk appendage, arm/leg fai bird fan hand han land hak six hip seven ich one is ten kan tree kin five kis inner kuat four laut hinge, pivoting like the elbow, knee li upper lin leaf, anything shaped like a leaf - flat, somewhat small, thin, plentiful mai finger mau house mit stream ni two nal outer nuan nine nun foot pa lower su joint, pivoting like the wrist, neck, shoulder tak sheep tas three tian head, chief tif hair, anything shaped like hair - long, thin, flexible, plentiful tus substance ul something strong, large, great wan hill wuk eight yak center, main body And some compounds: taktus mutton kantus wood mittus water ulmit river Now for a bit of grammar. As you've noticed, adjectives would obviously go before their nouns. Nouns used as adjectives in compounds go this way, so would everything else. Numbers, being adjectives of a sort, would come first. A nice feature, something like in Russian, would be to allow numbers to go after nouns, meaning around that many or more. That would allow a simple, yet efficient way of expressing plurals in varied and easy to use forms. People whose languages don't have plurals would find this simple, as it is never required, and is always transparently derived from a number. So we could have the following: - tak sheep - ich tak one sheep - ni tak two sheep - tas tak three sheep - tak ni a few sheep, two or more - tak is many sheep, probably at least ten --- Some last comments --- So if you're reading over all this and thinking that we'll use up all the one-syllable roots too quickly, don't despair. As any of these can be used in a more general fashion, many words won't need a one-syllable root, as they can easily be derived from two. - wantak goat - ulwan mountain - hantus soil - mitchuk tributary - ultus strength Anyway, this whole long list is just what I think might make a more widely accepted language made on a philosophical basis. If a fisherman is talking about different kinds of fish, they can't be called by similar names. When counting, the numbers must sound different. The more different, the better. Colors shouldn't sound like each other when possible. To sum up: Words that sound alike cannot be distinguished. And that's my two cents. Joe Fatula


H. S. Teoh <hsteoh@...>
Christophe Grandsire <christophe.grandsire@...>
Andrew Nowicki <andrew@...>
Muke Tever <mktvr@...>
Eamon Graham <robertg@...>