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Syntactic and morphological sugar in engelangs

From:Jim Henry <jimhenry1973@...>
Date:Wednesday, March 28, 2007, 22:41
In the context of programming languages, "syntactic sugar"
is used to describe features of a language that don't add
to its functionality but make it easier to use.

I reckon one might use the term in an analogous sense
with respect to conlangs, especially engelangs where
parsimony is a goal in tension with a goal of usability or
concision; and similarly "morphological sugar" to
describe affixes or mutations that serve the same purpose
as some simpler syntactic device, but more concisely.
They don't add to the language's expressive power
in a strict sense but they make it easier to use
or more concise.

I've thought about this some in connection with
recent developments in gjâ-zym-byn, as I've added
one suffix and am contemplating adding another
to substitute for frequently used disyllabic postpositions.
One recently added, {-žar}, "becoming", is roughly
synonymous with Esperanto "-iĝ"; for a long time
I got along without a suffix like this, thinking that
the state transition postposition {jâ-o} serves the same
purpose just as well.  Lately though I've become
dissatisfied with the verbosity of certain expressions,
and although {-žar} only saves one syllable over
{jâ-o} it somehow seems significantly more elegant
in certain contexts (transforming a phrase of three words
into a single word).  I find in my journal writing that I
frequently substitute a {-za} ("pertaining to <root>")
adjective for a postpositional phrase with {mĭ-i}
("about, on the topic of <object>") when it's a matter
of an apposition describing another noun, rather than
a complement to a verb (then {-za}-modifiers are
not [easily] substitutable for {mĭ-i} postpositional phrases).

râm mĭ-i twâ-cu
cat  topic-at sentence-system
a book about cats

twâ-cu  râm-za
sentence-system  cat-ADJ
a cat-pertaining book

But somehow it doesn't seem to fit gzb's ethos as well
to transform

râm mĭ-i zym-zô
cat  topic-at think-V.ACT
I think about cat(s)


zym-zô  râm-za
think-V.ACT  cat-ADJ
I think cat-pertainingly

I'm considering adding another adjectivizing suffix,
whose form is as yet uncertain, as morphological sugar
for the postposition {kujm-o} ("for the purpose of").
Part of me wants to go ahead and make a provisional
suffix, try using it for a while, and see how it works;
but I think it might be better to analyze the broader
problem first and see if there might be other suffixes
I should add at the same time, with attention to their
interaction with each other, etc.

Jim Henry


Philip Newton <philip.newton@...>