Monosyllabicity without tone

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roninbodhisattva
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Monosyllabicity without tone

Post by roninbodhisattva »

So I'm thinking of trying to do a monosyllabic language, but I'd like to avoid using (at least heavy) tone distinctions. Are there natlangs examples of this kind thing, monosyllabicity without phonemic tone? If so, what kind of features does the language use to avoid extensive homophony?

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Re: Monosyllabicity without tone

Post by Zhen Lin »

Complex syllable shapes, c.f. Old Chinese or Tibetan.
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Re: Monosyllabicity without tone

Post by roninbodhisattva »

Ah yes, that could be an option. I'm thinking of going something akin to (C(C))(G)V(G, C), where C is a consonant and G is a glide. Though the codas would probably be severely limited.

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Re: Monosyllabicity without tone

Post by Åge Kruger »

Pitch, stress, voice, take your pick.
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Re: Monosyllabicity without tone

Post by Soap »

Allegedly Sumerian and proto-Dravidian were both entirely monosyllabic for their roots, although they were both agglutinative languages and thus the actual words were often quite long. English and Hungarian have a clear majority of monosyllabic roots in the native vocabulary, though not loans (and exceptiojns like 'seven' and 'water' are likely to have been derived forms long long ago in PIE). And other examples like Old Chinese exist which do an even better job of being mono.
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Re: Monosyllabicity without tone

Post by Salmoneus »

Consonants. Vowels.

29 consonants x 20 vowels x 29 consonants = 18,000 possible words just from a (C)V(C) structure. That's a passable vocabulary. Make the structure just slightly more flexible, allow some polysyllable loan words or technical vocabulary, and make extensive use of adjectives and relative phrases rather than compound words, and it's a perfectly unexceptional language. It would probably still have quite a bit of homophony, but that's not a killer problem.
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Re: Monosyllabicity without tone

Post by roninbodhisattva »

Salmoneus wrote:29 consonants x 20 vowels x 29 consonants = 18,000 possible words just from a (C)V(C) structure.

Yeah, right now, I'm playing around with a system that has around...probably something like ~30 simple initials + maybe 15 or 20 more complex initials and probably about 70 rimes. Of course, that's only about 3500 words, before you apply cooccurrence restrictions. I'll probably end up expanding the number of final consonants allowed. I might actually just end up going with a sequisyllabic structure, or allow a small number of native polysyllables.

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Re: Monosyllabicity without tone

Post by Salmoneus »

So really your problem is not "monosyllabicity" but "not allowing many rimes".

Generally, languages that don't like polysyllables are more flexible in syllable structure and vice versa. [Obviously there are exceptions]
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Re: Monosyllabicity without tone

Post by Acid Badger »

I think Khmer is an example for what you're aiming for. Afaik most dialects have no tone, but a shitload of vowels and diphtongs, as well as initial consonant clusters.

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Re: Monosyllabicity without tone

Post by Count Iblis »

As someone else said, lots of consonants and vowels. You could have 4 places of articulation, for example, /p t k q/. Then you add the optional features of voice, labialization, palatalization, and prenasalization giving you 64 stops (remember it's possible to be both palatalized and labialized). Fricatives would have those same features, except prenasalization giving another 32 consonants. Nasals have the same distinctions except voice (though you certainly could have voiceless nasals too) and prenasalization giving 16 more consonants. Then throw in a couple glides and liquids and you're up to 116 consonants. Give yourself 7 vowels, /a e i I u U o/ and presto 94192 CVC monosyllables. Add it another 1624 for CV and VC syllables, and another 7 for V syllables and you have 95823 (C)V(C) syllables.

I don't know of any natlang with that systems, but the Caucasian langs aren't that far off (though they would have more consonant distinctions and fewer vowel distinctions).

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Re: Monosyllabicity without tone

Post by Bedelato »

Allow complex consonant clusters and have lots of vowels.
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Re: Monosyllabicity without tone

Post by cybrxkhan »

I think huge-ass consonant clusters and vowel combos are your best bet. I attempted making a relatively monosyllabic protolanguage a while back, with triple consonant clusters allowed in the onset and the coda, and the result was pleasingly monstrous.
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Re: Monosyllabicity without tone

Post by WechtleinUns »

Well, there's lots of ways you can do it. I think the problem is, you need to be more specific in what you want that just, "A monosyllabic language without tone". Otherwise, take your pick of how you want to do it.

In any case, could you be a little bit more specific on what you would like for the language? That would be a great help.

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Re: Monosyllabicity without tone

Post by Kvan »

Perhaps varied types of phonation as well.

Though phonations like creaky, faucalized and breathy sometimes come with a phonemic tone, you could merely have a set of vowels differentiated with phonation. I did that with my language.
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Re: Monosyllabicity without tone

Post by roninbodhisattva »

Kvan wrote:Perhaps varied types of phonation as well.

Though phonations like creaky, faucalized and breathy sometimes come with a phonemic tone, you could merely have a set of vowels differentiated with phonation. I did that with my language.

I was actually thinking about phonation types too, but had the same qualms. Though I'd rather have allophonic/phonetic tone than phonemic.

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Re: Monosyllabicity without tone

Post by Soap »

In the early days of the ZBB there was a thread called "One Beat Rhymes" in which we all had to write poems using only monosyllabic words. Or maybe it was just a one syllable thread generally and some of us put up poems. I did Lepanto, which was a good choice because it's unusually close to monosyllabic even in its original form. I lost it but I could rewrite it again.
White founts fall in the court yard of the sun;
And the King of the East smiles as they run.
Mirth fills the air from the face that all men feared;
It stirs the wild black breath; the black breath of his beard.
(1st stanza, off the top of my head)

My point being, it's not necessary to come up with a crowded phonology to make a monosyllabic language, English comes pretty close if you look at native words only and break up certain compounds. .
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Re: Monosyllabicity without tone

Post by Salmoneus »

It's a forest darkness!

Lepanto is close to monosyllabic in places because the poem is all about the rhythm, and it uses monosyllables to set out a percussive beat at times. But at other points its very polysyllabic - particularly toward the end as its frustrated enthusiasm is being held captive by its meter. Chesterton also frequently uses the trick within a stanza of a build-up of percussive words and then a sudden slow-down at the end of the stanza - and sometimes vice-versa. The best example is probably:

The last and lingering troubadour to whom the bird has sung,
That once went singing southward when all the world was young.
In that enormous silence, tiny and unafraid,
Comes up along a winding road the noise of the Crusade.
[Longer words almost bring us to a standstill - making us feel the 'enormous silence' before the marching soldiers appear in the distance and get louder and louder as they tramp toward us:]
Strong gongs groaning as the guns boom far,
Don John of Austria is going to the war,
[Long vowels, sonorant consonants, a trisyllable: gradually building up pace]
Stiff flags straining in the night-blasts cold
In the gloom black-purple, in the glint old-gold,
Torchlight crimson on the copper kettle-drums,
Then the tuckets, then the trumpets, then the cannon, and he comes.
[Shorter vowels and sharper consonants and an increase in unstressed syllables, as it rises to a climax]
Don John laughing in the brave beard curled,
Spurning of his stirrups like the thrones of all the world,
Holding his head up for a flag of all the free.
[Hammering of stresses as we get to the shouty-bit to slow us down, and then more awkward, triumphant lines, before]
Love-light of Spain—hurrah!
Death-light of Africa!
Don John of Austria
Is riding to the sea.
[The polysyllables are essential to the sense of triumphant largesse here. We see the same again in the final triumph, the "Vivat Hispania! Domino Gloria!" bit.

The same technique is obvious in the next stanza too, where staccato lines of Mahound rising up and starting to demonstrate his power lead up to the rather more polysyllabic summoning of:

Black Azrael and Ariel and Ammon on the wing.
Giants and the Genii,
Multiplex of wing and eye,
Whose strong obedience broke the sky
When Solomon was king.

[And that pause is then of course followed by rapid acceleration and return to monosyllables:
"They rush in red and purple from the red clouds of the morn,
From the temples where the yellow gods shut up their eyes in scorn" etc]

-------


Sorry, got a bit carried away. It's one of my favourite poems, and every couple of months the fragments of it in my head force me to read it another couple of times. Perhaps the poem with the most impressive mastery of tempo, I think.
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But the river tripped on her by and by, lapping
as though her heart was brook: Why, why, why! Weh, O weh
I'se so silly to be flowing but I no canna stay!

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Re: Monosyllabicity without tone

Post by TzirTzi »

What a wonderful poem indeed! You've persuaded me to read it in its entirely, after I finish this post :)

As to the OT, this is something I've considered doing on and off for a few years - in fact, the second conlang I ever designed (before I really knew any linguistics beyond what you can infer *from reading Latin/Greek grammars) was just such a language. Off the top of my head, it had a phonology something like:

Consonants: /p t tS k b d dZ g m n N f s x h r l w j/ (19)
Vowels: /i: I y: Y e: E A A: O: Q u: U ai Qi au/ (15)

Onsets (79):
C (19)
S+L (8x2=16)
S+G (8x2=16)
F+L (4x2=8)
F+G (4x2=8)
F+N (4x3=12)

Codas (58):
C (excepting G) (17)
/s/+/p, t, k/ (3)
homorganic N+S (8)
L+S (2x8=16)
L+N (2x3=6)
L+F (2x4=8)

That's completely boring (and, I realise now, rather unnaturalistic in having so few cooccurence restrictions, but there you go - I didn't know that then) but still gives 68730 possible syllables. Put in cooccurrence restrictions and you still easily have enough possible syllables to work with methinks.
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