Theiling Online    Sitemap    Conlang Mailing List HQ   

Vocabulary concept mismatches

From:Herman Miller <hmiller@...>
Date:Friday, March 5, 2004, 1:48
One of the things that's really interesting about languages, but not
well documented in dictionaries, is the fact that the meanings of words
don't match precisely from one language to another. The most obvious
examples are cases where a single word in one language corresponds to
two or more words in another, like we've been discussing recently; example:

English    Japanese
water   <

Japanese distinguishes between cold water (mizu) and hot water (yu),
while English needs an adjective to make this distinction.

Some cases are slightly more complicated. Tirelat for example has two
words meaning "eye", but they can be translated more precisely as
"eyeball" and "iris". So here we have three English words corresponding
to two Tirelat words.

English       Tirelat
eyeball  ---   shim
   eye     <
  iris    ---  zhilma

One of my hopes in reconstructing and continuing development of Tirelat
is to put more consideration into the meanings of each word, and to
document them better. In the process, I also hope to learn more about
the Sangari and their world. So even a word as simple as "eye" could
have some interesting subtleties of meaning. For one thing, Sangari eyes
aren't eyeball-shaped; they're more like birds' eyes. So even the
definition "eyeball" is only a first approximation. But how much like a
Sangari eye does something have to be in order to be called an eye? In
English, the compound eyes of dragonflies are still called "eyes", and
so are the eyes of naked mole-rats that live underground and rely on
senses other than vision. The tuatara's pineal, a light-sensing organ,
is informally called a "third eye". Which of the sorts of things called
"eyes" in English are "shim" in Tirelat, and which of them are something

But if I actually sat down and started documenting each word to that
level of detail, I'd never have the time to finish a reasonably large
part of the vocabulary. So for most of the vocabulary, I'll have to
settle for brief definitions and a few example sentences. One of the
interesting features of the Tirelat words for "eye" is that you use the
word for "iris" when talking about the color of someone's eyes. So an
obvious choice for an example sentence is:

Zaara has green eyes. Vyziimiden sai Zaara izhilma.

vy-ziimi-de-n  sai    Zaara  i   -zhilma
3p-green-DN-PF NOM.PL (name) POSS-iris
DN=Direct observation, Non-past

Now there are some other interesting things about this sentence, such as
the fact that the Sangari say "Zara's eyes are green" rather than
literally translating "have". But then there probably ought to be whole
pages describing the equivalents of troublesome English words like "have".

That's not even getting into all the metaphorical uses of "eye", like
the eye of a needle or the eye of a storm. These really are different,
unrelated concepts, and should be listed specifically in the dictionary.
Maybe they speak of the "mouth" of a needle, or even the "nostril" of a
needle! Or maybe they just use a plain unpoetic "hole", or don't even
have anything like needles in their technology.


Mark J. Reed <markjreed@...>
H. S. Teoh <hsteoh@...>