Artifical Langauge: Easiest to learn?

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by ElectricFetus, May 22, 2011.

  1. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

    What features should a language have that is easiest to learn? Syllable timing? No conjoined consonants? No trithongs? any ideas?
    Last edited: May 22, 2011
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  3. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I held off jumping into this thread since we've had a long exchange of ideas on the other one you started on this topic.

    I doubt that there is any feature that would be guaranteed to make a language easy for everybody. What makes a language easiest for anybody is close similarity to the one he already knows. A highly inflected language is torture for a speaker of Chinese, or even English. A tonal language is daunting for people like us who almost unconsciously use tone to express emotion. A polysynthetic language is difficult for speakers of isolating languages.

    The best you can do is identify your target population of acolytes and play to the learning strengths and weaknesses they derive from fluency in their own languages. That's what the creators of Esperanto, Volapük and Interlingua did.

    That said, IMHO there are two things that would probably make your language easier, to a greater or lesser degree, for just about everybody.
    • Phonetics. Obviously you don't want to include phonemes that only occur in one or two major languages. But even common phonemes can be difficult for people who don't use them. The symbol R, for example, represents many different sounds, each of which can be confused with something else by a person unfamiliar with it. The flapped R, which is just barely a world standard, sounds like a D to Americans, while our unique R and the other variants of the gargled Germanic consonant are almost inaudible to some people and almost unpronounceable to others. If I were creating a language I would leave R out of it.

      Stick with the cardinal vowels, which IIRC you have done.

      Avoid complicated consonant clusters, especially at the beginning or end of a word. Spanish and Portuguese speakers--about 8% of the world's population--can't say speak and state. Many Africans can't say told and loops.

      As for diphthongs and triphthongs (phthongos is Greek for "sound"), while they are not as difficult to learn to pronounce as a word like squirrel, many people don't hear them accurately. WA WE YA YO YU are probably safe, although some people will change that W to a V. Same for AY and OY. In all cases the semivowel is distinct enough from the vowel to minimize confusion. This seems to imply that I should endorse the syllable written in English as WHY, but I don't feel comfortable with it. Even American Southerners mispronounce it as WAH--but of course they also pronounce I as AH.
    • Concision. Eliminate noise words like articles. Minimize the number of syllables in each word. Don't make inflections mandatory if the omission would not cause confusion. If your language can be spoken slowly and still provide a satisfactory information transfer rate it will be much easier to learn. It will be easier for students to recall words from their vocabulary and choose them properly, and it will be easier for them to understand the speech of others if it is not coming at machine-gun speed like Italian or Japanese.
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  5. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

    Ok here what I got so far (based on what help I got on the previous thread)

    Here are the vowels:

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    Here are the consonants:

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    See consonant map (exact sound in bold bordering, groups of common sounds in same color)

    I have 19 diphthongs (all possible diphthongs except two of the same vowel and "ou") so ei, ai, oi, ui, ie, ae, oe, ue, ia, ea, oa, ua, io, eo, ao, uo, iu, eu, au.

    I have 6 Trithongs (all combinations of I,A,U) so iau, iua, aui, aiu, uai, uia.

    All true words begin and end in consonants, and consonants never touch, thus the most basic true words are of cv''c syllable. This gives me 3000 possible single syllable words.

    syllables of cv'' or v''c (single syllable missing an Onset or Coda) are "Semi-words" and provide all the functions of common adjectives, inflections and articles fused in single class of phenoms that automatically compound with a true word. There (obviously) two sub-classes of semi-words with a combined 600 possible permutations, or 300 "Pre-Semi-Words" (cv''-) and 300 "Post-Semi-words" (-v''c).

    Here are some prototype translations:

    "I like [the/a] cat" -> Pip Miaus Zul -> I cat like

    "I hate my cat" -> Pip Pi-Miaus Vi-Zul -> I my-cat [No: invert meaning]-like

    "Where are my cats" -> Pi-Da-Miaus Lut -> my-many-cat where

    Worlds most common grammar order is SOV, so I choose that for my language, but any other grammar order can be made by placing "-ad" and "-ug" for subject nouns and object nouns:

    "I like my cats" -> Pip Zul Pi-Da-Miaus-ad -> I like my-many-cat[object noun]

    "Where are my cats" -> Lut Pi-Da-Miaus-ug -> where my-many-cat[subject noun]

    Miaus-ad Zul Top-ug -> cat-[subject noun] like he-[object noun] -> cat, like he.

    Miaus-ug Zul Top-ad -> cat-[object noun] like he-[subject noun] -> cat like him

    "Machine-guns speeds" come about when the language is primarily syllable and mora timed (Italian and Japanese consecutively) and heard by a speaker of a language that uses primarily tone or stress for timing like English. Like wise to a Japanese or Italian speaker they have difficulty hearing our words apart. I have not gone that far with my languages design's but I think I'm going to avoid tone and stress and as such the language will be syllable timed.
    Dr_Toad likes this.
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  7. Cifo Day destroys the night, Registered Senior Member

    • Easily pronounced sounds (eg, no click sounds (as in Xhosa), tones (as in Chinese), etc).
    • Simple alternating consonant-vowel combinations (like Spanish).
    • Sounds common to most languages.
    • One-to-one phonetic pronunciation. One sound, one letter. One letter, one sound.
    • No triphthongs, but maybe diphthongs are okay.
    • Prefixes and suffixes allowed, but no infixes (Arabic has infixes

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    • No declension of nouns or verbs, not even for plurals (the Chinese say "one cow", "two cow", "three cow").
    • No "counting" nouns (eg, use "three cabbages" instead of "three heads of cabbages" ... Chinese uses these kinds of nouns much more than English does)
    • Universal numbers (eg, not like "three diamonds" which in Japanese is "mitsu bishi" where "mitsu" means three only when counting pointy objects ("diamond" here means the card suit shape and not the gem), and it cannot be used as, say, "mitsu cabbages" to say "three cabbages"

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    • Indicate verb tense using other words (eg, "did", "will").
    • Simple pronouns (gender and number can be indicated by prefix/suffix or word (eg, "you all", "yous"). Vietnamese uses 27 pronouns which indicate gender, number, age, social status

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  8. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member


    • Well personally I have no problem with the clicks sounds, but as can be seen in my lists of sounds I use only continental consonants and cardinal vowels.

      if I was to us mora (vc or cv) then it becomes difficult to know when words end and begin for example "la-ma-no" could be "la mano" or "lama no" the solutions would be to have syllables with coda, so "la-man-o" is "la mano" and "lam-a-no" is "Lama no" but even that takes some practice to differentiate so I made it such that all complete words begin and end in consonants, sure it not a pretty as having coda-less syllables but its easier to hear.

      Did that, though I also consider keep sounds different enough from each other, for example "p" and "b" are common but for some with native languages that only have one of those two hearing the difference between them is very heard. Same with "d" and "t", "t" and "k", "r" and "l". So I went with sounds close to the most commons but more differentiated from each other.

      dido, and there are no tones or stress to be written.

      Got Trithongs, just 6 using the farthest cardinal vowels from each other (u,i,a) I figure they should be pronounceable even to an arab (whose language only uses those furtherest cardinal vowels)

      Already have something akin to pre/suffix that with the semi-words.

      Did that. Inflection, articles and adjectives are all one as "semi-words". So as can be seen in my examples above to say more then one cat is "many cat" or "da-miaus", one cat (singular) is simply "miaus", two cats is "med miaus", twenty three cats is "med vad miaus", etc

      yeah don't think I have that, group means group, no pod of whales, no gaggle of geese, no murder of crows, etc.

      something like that, there are post-semi-words for "now","soon","later","did",etc. So "I went" is "I go-did" or "Pip per-ez"

      yeah I don't have that many pronouns, just I/me, you, we/us, that/it, she/her, he/him, people, so that is only seven.
    Last edited: May 26, 2011
  9. Syzygys As a mother, I am telling you Valued Senior Member

    What about easiest to learn for an infant?
  10. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

    Infant brains are such that they will learn any language intuitively, it does not matter if the language was designed for adults or not. Though a language with fixed rules without exceptions would be quicker to learn for example many toddlers think mouse plural is "mouses": they have not learn the exception for mouse purel is mice. My language has no such exceptions.

    A problem with a language with few consonants like mine is that an infant learning just this language would have much difficultly learning a natural language because of the many more consonants many of which sounding similar. Like Japanese have a sound between R and L, and thus their brains can't interpret the difference to between R and L in a natural language.

    All irreverent because this is a A) fictional and B) auxiliary language.
  11. Cifo Day destroys the night, Registered Senior Member

  12. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

  13. sniffy Banned Banned

    Binary code?
  14. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    You've got the word wrong. It's spelled and pronounced TRIPHTHONG. TRIFF-thong, rhymes with DIFF-thong.
    A triphthong is a vowel sandwiched between two semivowels. So iau and uai are triphthongs, but the rest are two syllables. Unless you're going with the phonetics of Mandarin, in which YUE is a true triphthong because the Y and U are both semivowels, but it's a real tongue-twister.
    But it is also due to the need to maintain an adequate information transfer bandwidth in languages that require more syllables to express a thought. It takes more syllables to express an idea in Italian or Japanese than in French or English, which require more syllables than Chinese.

    I don't understand what you mean by "syllable or mora timed."
    Yes, and I can pronounce both Mandarin R and Czech Ř, but most foreigners have trouble with both of them.
    I think you'll have trouble with the S/Z differentiation, and possibly with T/D. If your R is a flap (nobody trills an R except in special circumstances such as doubling) it may be confused with D. Are your T and D dental or alveolar?
    Don't fall into the trap of one word for both singular and plural "you." Every language community struggles to come up with a replacement for the missing member of the pair.
    But their speech organs are not fully formed so they have trouble with phonetics. That's why the first sound every baby makes is MAMA; it's the only one he can make. The simpler the phonetics, the quicker they will learn.
    I assumed that the next number after nineteen was tenteen.
    I think you mean the Koreans, who transliterate one of their most common surnames as both Lee and Rhee. The Japanese R is the world-standard flap, as in British English and Spanish.
  15. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

    Wow, your a dick! You could merely say its spell X way and not rub it in. So and can't spell I would have figured everyone noticed that years ago!

    Link to claim? So far I can't find such a definition for triphthongs.

    I been looking everywhere for proof that the number of syllables per morpheme dictates "information transfer bandwidth" or how ever you want to call how much one can communicate per unit of time. Now mind you it makes sense the fewer syllables per word the more words can be said per unit of time and I'm inclined to believe it, but if I could get some kind of study proving it I would feel sure its true.

    Look it up "syllable timed languages" and "Isochrony", fuck there are nearly 200,000 hits, there even a YouTube video explaining the concept!

    The "s" I'm using is not an English "s" which is Fricative Aveolar Voiceless and of course is very similar to a "z" which is a Fricative Aveolar Voiced. "s" is just the character i'm using, my languages "s" sound is a Fricative Retroflex Voiceless, which sounds like a pompous "sh" sound. My "z" is a normal "z" (Fricative Aveolar Voiced) and thus my "s" and "z" are more different from each other than a normal "s" and "z".

    My R is trilled, and many languages use trilled r consistently.

    Can you not see the charts?

    Separate word for "you all" if that is what you mean?

    This statement did not contradict anything I said. If your going on about the every language using "m" again cited fact proves otherwise.

    No I mean the japanese:
    And yes Koreans have alveolar flap, but are less known then the japanese and better at learning the difference between r and l, as they may have one symbol for the sounds they use r in onsets and l in other cases:
    Last edited: May 26, 2011
  16. nietzschefan Thread Killer Valued Senior Member

    Cave Man.
  17. Syzygys As a mother, I am telling you Valued Senior Member

    I bet you some languages are easier to learn for kids than others. So whichever wins can be a good candidate for the OP....

    But also to be considered: Easiest to learn is not the same as most expressive or most practical. So there are more than just one things to keep in mind.

    Oh yes, artifical languages are stupid. Simplifying an already existing language makes way more sense...
  18. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    No offense intended, and I doubt that anyone here is going to think less of you for misspelling a word like "triphthong." No harm in teaching it to everybody.
    I said that in my previous post and it didn't seem to work. I figured giving you the rhyme with "diphthong" might help.
    In the computer age there's no reason to settle for poor spelling. If your browser doesn't automatically spell-check what you type, compose your posts in your word processor and then copy and paste them. Word processors have superior ergonomics anyway, and probably give you a net increase in speed on a long post. Sure, a spell checker will choke on a ten-dollar word like "triphthong" with two letters missing, and there are lots of misspellings that are actually the correct spelling for some other word. But on the balance it will improve the quality of your composition to the average level on an internet forum where few people even bother to line-edit their writing, and you'll learn to spell better in the bargain.
    The top of the list of definitions in is "a monosyllabic speech-sound sequence perceived as being made up of three differing vowel qualities." A monosyllable, by definition, has only one full vowel. The other "vowel qualities" have to be semivowels. AIU is two syllables (if that's one of yours, your original post is invisible now). As I mentioned, Mandarin actually has the syllable YWE, with one semivowel on top of another, but it's awfully hard for a non-native speaker to master.
    I've never seen anyone look into this so I've just done my own (informal) empirical research. Based upon a comparsion of several paragraphs, I estimate that the average information content of ten syllables in English or French can be carried by seven syllables in Mandarin. My count for Spanish is not so precise, but it's at least thirteen and probably closer to fifteen.

    The giveaway is the difficulty in translating song lyrics. Spanish renditions of English songs have extra syllables requiring extra notes, or else they just don't bother trying for a faithful translation.

    Of course the "speed" of spoken English varies among accents and dialects. British English is spoken noticeably faster than American English. This runs counter to my hypothesis, since Standard British elides many vowels, resulting in fewer syllables per unit of information than Standard American.
    The concepts of syllable-timing and mora-timing are straightforward, but I don't understand how either of those concepts relates to the ease or difficulty of determining where one word ends and the next begins. Sorry, my corporate server blocks streaming video. What little time I have for this job at home, I must reserve for my rants on the religion and politics boards, which would be inappropriate here.
    I see. Pretty much equivalent to Mandarin SH, which they push back in the mouth to distinguish it from X, which is a palatal fricative. CH, ZH, SH, R (in Pinyin) are retroflex and Q, J, X (no palatal analog of R) are the contrasting palatal sounds.
    Good idea, but I wonder how many people can articulate a retroflex consonant. They may just make an English SH, which should be okay.
    Yeah but how many of the people whom you will be able to engage in this project speak those languages?
    Indeed. In many Indo-European languages the second person plural has been hijacked as a "formal" alternative to the "familiar" second person singular: Russian vy, Swedish ni, French vous, Yiddish ihr, etc. Actually we did the same thing but then we completely abandoned "thou." Now anglophones are making up words like y'all, youse and you-uns.
    Sorry, I misunderstood. The (Guangdong/"Cantonese") Chinese do the same thing from the opposite end of the spectrum, having an L but no R.
  19. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

    All I just read is a Dick being more of a Dick. Even my document maker (open office) does know how to spell that word.

    No I need a linked to said claim! So far this is what I found:
    "A combination of three vowels in a single syllable" -
    Note that vowels, not semivowels, and that makes a single syllable.
    "A triphthong is a sequence of three vowels making up one syllable. Some examples in Spanish would be: a – pre – ciáis, co – piéis, buey." -
    Aah but this is interesting, it says it needs to be atonic vowel, open vowel and than atonic vowel to be a triphong, so than IAU, UAI work but not the rest, but this may be a particular of Spanish. So then maybe I should consider IAU, IAI, UAI, UAU, UEU, IOI, instead.

    That pretty lame for empirical evidence! Certainly someone has got to have done a study in a controlled setting experimentally. More so in personal observations like yours others agree and others disagree:

    I'm not to knowledgeable in that either, in English or Spanish you got to memorize a common syllable patterns for words, and even then we may screw up (is it "onto" or "on to", is it "atypical or "a typical"?) so you have to understand the whole phrase to divided up the syllables into the correct words "A typical day" verse "very atypical". I figure a means to automatically knowing when words begin and end would ease learning to speak and hear the language, at present all words in my language begin and end in consonants.

    I can, and I'm a only native english speaker, but I also allow for a wide range of mispronunciations/allophones that covers "sh" and "s".

    Lets see, Spanish is the 2nd most common language in the world (1st mandarin, 3rd english) and it uses the Trill R. Heck Scottish English uses the Trill R.

    Well I got a semi-word for class (all) so "you all" would literal be "ze-mep" or "mep-ez" depends on if I'm going to using pre or post semiwords. Not sure if I'm going to have noun/adj/verb modifiers in front (pre) or in back (post-semi-words). In front is not like English, but in back is more common (Spanish, English, Esperanto, etc) at least for inflections, but semiwords are more like adjectives. At present "zez" is the true word for "all", so I could go either way with the semi-word for "all".

    From my experience mandarin speaking Chinese don't have a problem with speaking or hearing English phonemes, not even "d" and "g". Can't speak for the cantonese, though.
    Last edited: May 28, 2011
  20. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Hmm. I see that MSWord for Mac doesn't recognize the word, but Safari (the default Macintosh browser) does. Contrary to my own advice I usually compose my posts in the browser window, since screens rarely vanish into the ether on my Mac so I seldom lose my work. Unfortunately the IE browser on my Windows box at the office doesn't have a spell checker and frequently loses my work, and I haven't yet adapted to that Stone Age Microsoft technology.
    The difference between a vowel and a semivowel is length. Two vowels make two syllables.
    It's difficult to turn an E or O into a semivowel in any language, and impossible to do it to an A. The mouth is just too wide open to move into the next position quickly enough so you can't quite compact those two syllables into one. Spanish speakers do indeed compress two syllables like le ha and no hay into one syllable (their primary way of overcoming the high syllable-to-information content ratio), making E-A a diphthong and O-A-I into a triphthong, but they do it by turning the E into an I and the O into a U.

    It's interesting to note that in the odd Chinese triphthong YWE, the U is really a Ü, making a quicker and easier transition from the Y because the tongue does not have to move as far.
    We clearly mark that distinction in two different ways. First, the "to" takes a secondary accent when it's a separate word, but not when it's the second syllable in a single word. Second, T at the beginning of a word in English is aspirated, but not when it falls in the middle of a word. So it's easy to hear the difference, even though people who haven't studied phonetics do it unconsciously.
    Again, the T in "typical" is aspirated whereas the T in "atypical" is not. Furthermore, the A in "atypical" is always pronounced as cardinal E, even in quick vernacular speech, whereas the indefinite article is a schwa unless the word is stressed for emphasis, in which case it will be a longer syllable than the A in "atypical." Finally, the A in "atypical" takes at least a secondary accent, and in some idiolects or contexts even a primary accent.
    If you can record those phrases and then play back only the three syllables in question, I believe you'll find that even out of context they are easily differentiated because of the three different distinguishing features I identified above. Of course I don't mean to imply that ambiguities of this nature don't occur in our language, but my point is that they are much less common than they seem to be at first glance, without first analyzing the unconscious distinctions provided by non-phonemic phonetic characteristics.
    No argument there. Chinese does it by the ham-fisted technique of making all words monosyllables. In Mandarin the only ambiguities are due to N being allowed to occur at either the beginning or end of a syllable, and also attaching a semivowel to the correct vowel if a syllable ending with no consonant precedes one that starts with no consonant. Speakers overcome this by using a non-phonemic glottal stop to parse words whenever necessary.

    Ambiguity is more common in romanized writing, in which we Westerners can't stop ourselves from writing compounds as one word. Is the city name Xian one syllable, shyän (with the SH palatalized) or two syllables, shi an? The convention has arisen to put an apostrophe between the I and the A to indicate two syllables.
    Some lists count the hundreds of millions of Indians who learn English in school and use it to overcome the regional language problem, putting English in second place.
    But why have a broken paradigm? Why not simply have a pronoun for you-plural? It's your language, you get to make the rules.

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    Or you can take the Chinese route and make all the plural pronouns compounds of the singular: wo-men, ni-men, ta-men.
    Mandarin has a sound that approximates an R and is transcribed in Pinyin as R (Wade-Giles uses J). It's more or less a retroflex ZH. It can be a consonant at the beginning of a syllable, but it also serves as a vowel by extending it, just as they do with Z. In that case both the vowel-R and the vowel-Z are transcribed as I in Pinyin and by various clumsy means in Wade-Giles. Yale romanization simply writes vowel-R as R and vowel-Z as Z.
    Last edited: May 28, 2011
  21. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

    There are not accents or stress in my language.

    Again things my language will not have.

    maybe, then again maybe your full of shit.

    No Chinese has polysyllables, its a gross misconception that its all monosyllabic.

    According to Zhou, monosyllabic words account for just 12 percent of the contemporary Chinese lexicon (1987b:13). DeFrancis reckons about 5 percent of the two hundred thousand words in a modern dictionary are monosyllabic (1984a:187). These figures apply to the lexicon as a whole. For running text, DeFrancis estimates Chinese ''as only 30 percent monosyllabic as against 50 percent for English material written in a style comparable to that of the Chinese" (1943:235). Zheng gives a higher figure of 40 percent monosyllabicity for Chinese texts (1957:50), while I find English text nearly 60 percent monosyllabic. Clearly, the notion that Chinese, absolutely or even relative to other languages, is made up of monosyllabic words is untenable. -

    At best the confusion comes from thinking words and morpheme are the same thing. Sure many words in Chinese are single syllables as in English, and they can compound syllables to make compound words, words with definitions derived from the morphemes of each syllable, but also they can compound syllables to make words with novel definitions not based on the morphemes of each syllable, thus creating polysyllables. For example "jia-li-fu-ni-ya" (let you guess what that is). Worse not all monosyllables in Chinese survived the definition of being a word and may need to be in conjunction with another word or phrase to have valid meaning.

    Because I might want to use my limited number of permutations for other words. I don't know I got 3000 true words and 600 semi-words before I need to start compounding words.
  22. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

    So been many years, still tinkering with this. A lot has changed, the phonemes are all the same though. Word structure is now one or more mora syllables, followed by a vowel classifier, with optional added vowel classifiers and finally suffixed adjectives. The morra string are set up such as to be based on base words, so for example the world "send" is "gii" the word "carry" is "gagii" the word "transport" is "tagagii" the word transporting is "tagagiiz" the infinitive "to transport" is "tagagiei" and finally "to transport always" is "tagagieir"

    Lets take a English phrase like "we are going now to the store" notice all these articles and tense defining adjectives and suffix, in my lang in basic form this would be "tau dosu'u si'i dia" or "We store go progressive-now" but the adjective for progressive now "dia" can be suffixed and the twin vowels can be glided/stressed so an advance speaker would say "tau dosuu siid" if you need to have emphasis on a specific store, what the "the" does, then it would be "tau dosu'u dua si'i dia" or in advanced "tau dosuud siid". There are 30 adjectives that can be suffixed, 10 per noun, verb and adjective. So for example the adjectives dia, da'a and dua (pregressive-now, major-est, specific) would suffix words ending in classifier vowels of i,a,u respectively: dia, da'a, dua = ...i-d, ...a-d, ...u-d.

    Grammer order is SOV, but any grammar order is possible with added classifier vowel suffixes. So a nonsensical statement like "the box, to her, transported maybe by she" can be translated directly as "dotouau soueu tagagiiui mia gia souiu" or in advance form as "dotoau soeu tagagiuigm soiu" meaning "box-(Object noun) her-(Tertiary Noun) transport-(bitransitive verb)-maybe-past her-(Subject Noun). Of course in SOVT order none of those added classifier vowels are needed: "sou dotou tagagiigm sou" "she box transport(ed maybe) her"

    Final example "he hurt himself" is "ziu huiai" or "ziu huai"
  23. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    More a matter of syntax than misconception. Yes, jiaotache means "bicycle," but every native speaker of Chinese knows that jiao means "foot" or "feet," ta means "to move in a regular pattern," and che means "vehicle." In other words, a bicycle is a vehicle that is moved by the rider's revolving feet.
    Well sure. Chinese phonetics are very stringent. Every word can begin with only one consonant, which is optional. This can be followed by a semivowel, but not in all cases. It can contain only one vowel, although S, SH and a few other consonants (that are not stops) can also serve as vowels. It can end with N, NG, R, a semivowel, or none of the above.
    He's obviously counting homonyms, since the phonetic map I described above cannot possibly be used to build 10,000 unique monosyllables.

    I just pulled out my "Fenn Five Thousand" and chose several pages at random. It seems that for every monosyllablic word (the only kind in Chinese), there are (very roughly) about 20 homonyms. This would imply that there are about 250 unique monosyllables in Mandarin.

    This explains why monosyllabic words are not the backbone of the language. Nonetheless, each of the 20 homonyms for each monosyllable has its own specific meaning. Combining it with one or two other monosyllables (obviously there's no rule against adding three, four or more, especially with the awkward translations that crept into the dictionaries during Mao's era) yields a potential total of 250x250x250 unique 3-syllable words--quite a bit more than my poor little dictionary.

    Because of the nature of the language, most reasonably well-educated Chinese speakers know the basic meaning of the majority of the individual syllables, especially if they're literate and can see them rather than only hearing them.
    I have never seen these studies, but with my modest command of the language I see no reason to disagree.
    Sure. Many words have been handed down for millennia, and their referents in the Iron Age no longer exist except in history books.
    My favorite is Muo xi ge for "Mexico." Since the first explorers were from Guang Dong, many foreign names have been transcribed into Cantonese phonetics and we're stuck with the Mandarin pronunciation of the words.
    The people who publish the dictionaries cannot tolerate that lapse, so one way or another, they manage to dredge up at least one meaning for every monosyllable, no matter how outlandish.

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