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isolating is equivalent to inflected

From:Gary Shannon <fiziwig@...>
Date:Monday, December 5, 2005, 5:27
I'm sure this is old hat to people with actual
linguistic training, but it was like a major epiphany
to me this evening.

A few years back I was playing around with a way to
create a conlang by a two-step process whereby the
grammar was worked out entirely using English leixcon,
and then after all the grammatical issues were
resolved the whole thing would be re-lexed. I went for
a pure isolating version of English as my starting
point and created all kinds of particles and marker
words. I just happened across my notes from 1999 and I
noticed that my pure isolating English is, with only
cosmetic changes, equivalent to pure inflected
English. For example:

John gave the book to Mary -> John (he give did) (im
book) (to Mary). Where the parens are added to show
groupings of particle(s) plus (noun or verb) that
cannot be broken up. Now _group_ order is irrelevant
just as is word order in an inflected language: John
(im book) (to Mary) (he give did) or just as easily:
(to Mary) John (im book) (he give did).

So by fusing the group into a single word this purely
isolating language suddenly becomes purely inflecting:
John givedihe bookim Maryto. And isolating verbs can
be conjugated:

I go - gome
you go - goyu
he goes - gohe
we go - gowe
you go - goya
they go - godey

I went - godime
you went - godiyu


I am going - godume
we will be going - gogunduwe
they will be going - gogundudey

and so on.

The recipe then for changing a language from isolating
to inflected is: 1) group words with their associated
particles, 2) add parens to group the inseperable
units, and 3) slur each of those parenthetical units
into single words.

So did I.E. start out as purely isolating before
anyone wrote it down for the first time? Was the
arbitrary decision to write isolated nouns and verbs
and their following particles as a single unit the
reason why we call Latin inflecting, when it's really
isolating? not the inflected "virtus, virtutis",
"virtuti", "virtutim", etc., but the isolating "virt
us", "virt utis", "virt uti", "virt utim", etc. Where
"us", "utis", etc. began their existence as separate

And not "laudo", "laudas", "laudat", "laudamus",...
but the isolating "laud o", "laud as", "laud at",
"laud amus".... which in even more ancient times might
have been "o laud", "as laud", "at laud", "amus laud".

OK. Tell me I'm all wet on this one, but (to me, at
least) it's an interesting speculation that raises the
question: is the difference between an isolating
language and an inflected language little more than
how it was first written down?



Paul Bennett <paul-bennett@...>
David J. Peterson <dedalvs@...>
Tristan McLeay <conlang@...>
João Ricardo de Mendonça <somnicorvus@...>