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Re: THEORY: irregular conlangs

From:Sally Caves <scaves@...>
Date:Friday, October 1, 1999, 17:25
Daniel Andreasson wrote:
> > Hejsan allihopa. (Hello.) > > In Sociolinguistics class today we had a discussion > about irregular forms in languages. You know, strong > verbs and adjectives, etc. "Go, went, gone". > "Good, better, best". Obviously it is the most > frequent verbs and adjectives that are irregular.
Not necessarily, Daniel. "Boy" is a pretty frequent word in modern English and it's also pretty regular. Frequency doesn't make irregularity. Frequency prevents "irregular" words (which were "regular" at one time in Old English and obedient to good rules then) from succumbing by analogy to new rules today.
> The question is why. We got the explanation that > because they are so frequent, you can produce it > faster if it is a lexeme rather than a conjugation. > > That is, "went" is a whole other word than "go". > You need the word "went" and then you pick it out > from your brain immediately. If the past form of > 'go' would have been 'goed', you would have had to > first think of 'go' and then put the suffix '-ed' > to it. Therefore 'went' is faster and more > economic.
Isn't it simply that we were corrected when we were children? I know a lot of children who put the "-ed" on go ("goed") and they just get corrected. By their parents, by contact with other kids... It doesn't strike me that "goed" would be any harder to retrieve than "went" if it were part of our lexicon. IMHO this seems reasonable. (Although I
> guess I should have to ask my Psycholinguistics > teacher first.) > > It seems to me that there should be some correlation > between frequency and irregularity. There should be > a border somewhere, where a word isn't so frequent > anymore that it becomes irregular.
It's the other way around. "Irregular" words will succumb by analogy to the regularities of other words. Which is why we have "help helped helped" today instead of help, holp, holpen." Which was perfectly good Old and Middle English.
> Anyway. My two questions. What do you guys think > of this? And do you do this in your conlangs? > AFAIK, in most languages the copula verb is > irregular, but most conlangs seem to be very regular.
Maybe they are... I try to make Teonaht as naturalistic as possible. In most Indo-European languages the "to be" forms derive from several different verbs as they do in OE (beon/wesan). OE also derives the past tense for _gan_ "go" from _wendan_ as you note above. I have a special subset of Nenddeylyt nouns that take different endings in their plurals. I also have a set of irregular stative verbs. This keeps T. complex (but not as complex as a real language), and more naturalistic to my mind.
> Am I right or wrong? I know many of you (as I once) > want an extremely logical language, one that you > have to invent because there aren't any logical > natlangs. But those of you who persue a natlangy > touch of your conlang, how far do you go in your > irregularities?
I would like to go further. I would like to invent more idioms, variant spellings, allow more irregularities to develop in my verb forms, and to come up with some really wild combinations of prepositional prefix and verb that produce meanings that you absolutely can't derive from their combination... such as happens ALL THE TIME in natural languages. The Germanic and Celtic languages are very rich in this regard. Swifan in OE means to "move," but onswifan means "to intervene." _Wendan_ in OE means to turn but _awendan_ means to translate. _beir_ in Irish comes from the old trusty IE to mean "bear," "carry," but add any kind of prepositional prefix to it and you get all sorts of "illogical" semantic changes. I think the trend in conlanging, and I might be wrong, is away from "logical" towards "natural." Am I right? When I conducted the "Lunatic Survey" a year ago, I got the sense, too, that the exotic was in more demand than the logical. Sally ============================================================ SALLY CAVES (bragpage) (T. homepage) (all else) ===================================================================== Niffodyr tweluenrem lis teuim an. "The gods have retractible claws." from _The Gospel of Bastet_ ============================================================