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 Post subject: On succinctness
PostPosted: Sat Oct 29, 2011 11:21 am 
Sanci
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Recently it struck me that natural languages tend to be more succinct than conglangs, so I started thinking about how they manage it.

First, what exactly do I mean by 'succinctness'? Not just that the language produces shorter sentences, on average (that would be 'brevity'), but that the same meaning is conveyed in a shorter sentence, on average. Shorter how?
- Fewer words for the same meaning? No.
- Fewer characters for the same meaning? No.
- Fewer syllables for the same meaning? Maybe.
- Fewer phonemes for the same meaning? Close.
- Least time to speak/read the same content? Yes!

Since using a stopwatch to test how long it takes to read a sentence is annoying, counting the number of phonemes is a useful first approximation.

What strategies can make a conlang succinct?

#1: Increase the number of symbols
- Make a large number of phonetic distinctions (the Speedtalk/Ithkuil strategy).
- Allow a large number of consonant clusters and polyphthongs (and thus syllable types).
- Give every short, legal sound sequence a meaning.

Increasing the number of phonemes beyond a certain point actually slows down the language, as speakers are forced to lengthen or repeat each phoneme to make certain the listener heard it correctly. Similarly, if every legal one-syllable word has a meaning, speakers have to be able to distinguish between every legal syllable in every context. In short, you can only take this strategy so far.

#2: Morpheme length inversely proportional to frequency
This seems to be the biggest advantage of natural languages. It's a lot of work to design a conlang this way, because you generally have to use the language before you can figure out which morphemes tend to show up most frequently, and changing the length of a morpheme sometimes affects how often you use it, leading to a lengthy cycle of frequent changes to the vocabulary.

#3: Fusion replaces long multi-morpheme constructs with a single (hopefully shorter) morpheme, at the cost of increasing the number of morphemes occupying the symbol-space.
- Give common compound words a single-root synonym.
- Give common affix combinations a single-affix synonym.
- Give common root+affix combos a single-root synonym.
- Give common phrases a single compound-word synonym.
Note that when you replace a combo with a single morpheme, the frequencies of the components of the combo go down, meaning that the components may have to have their lengths increased to match their new, lower frequency.

#4a: Don't repeat yourself
- Use pronouns or other proforms, or definite members of general categories, whenever you need to repeat something.
- Avoid repeating something at all by merging shared components.
(Basic example: "John reads and Bill reads" vs "John reads and Bill does too" vs "John and Bill read".)
- Use as little agreement as possible, as this is essentially repeating the same information in two places. (E.g., marking adjectives with the number and case of their head nouns, like Esperanto.)
- Avoid obligatory markings, since this forces you to repeat information that could have been stated only once.

#4b: Omit anything you can infer from context
- Make as few things mandatory as possible, since that forces you to state unnecessary information
- No dummy arguments. Just "Raining." instead of "It's raining."
- No dummy verbs. Just "The cup red." instead of "The cup is red." (Yes, a bit glib here. I hope you understand what I mean.)
- No obligatory markings. E.g., allow tense, aspect, and number to be inferred from context.
- Allow gaps in relative clauses instead of relative pronouns.

#5: Homonyms (context changes the meaning)
- Roots with different meanings when used with verbal vs nominal affixes.
- Affixes with different meanings when used on verbal vs nominal roots.
- Verbs provide context for nouns. E.g., bat (animate) vs bat (inanimate).
- Nouns provide context for verbs. E.g., run (a race) vs run (a company).
I suspect this is one of the least exploited strategies in conlangs, especially engineered conlangs with their emphasis on one-word-equals-one-meaning. There are lots more ways to do this. E.g., Lojban has an interesting variant where the same syllable has a different meaning when used as a morpheme in a compound word or as a stand-alone word.

I've considered embedding several domain-specific mini-languages into my main language, each one reusing the same vocabulary. The idea is to create a system of homonyms by finding a collection of morphemes that usually appear together and rarely apart, and then finding several such collections that rarely overlap with each other. In the main language, there would be a way of switching contexts, e.g., a way to say "I'm about to talk about economics, so interpret everything that follows as belonging to the economics mini-language.", and a set of words whose meanings depend entirely on which context is in force. Possible mini-language topics include numeric expressions (e.g., numbers, mathematical operators, and a system of units of measurement), particular semantic domains, like kinship terms, tense/aspect and temporal/spatial relationships, or vocabulary to allow one to answer with more precision the question "How do you feel?", and jargon for each profession (e.g., a "battle-language" for soldiers, with specialized jargon such as 'flanking', 'enfilade fire', etc., and short expressions for important situations like "I'm low on ammunition!" or "Someone just took a shot at me!").

Anyway, does anyone know any other ways to make your language succinct? Even if they're only narrowly applicable tricks or tips (like using gaps instead of relative pronouns). Also, feel free to post specific examples of succinctness, either in your conlang or some natlang, or give examples of verbosity, where you wish there were a way to state things more compactly in your conlang.


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 Post subject: Re: On succinctness
PostPosted: Sat Oct 29, 2011 12:17 pm 
Sanci
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The best strategy to achieve a higher level of succintness is to speak and write your conlang as much as possible. Not only does it weed out unnecessary "features" and constructions but also helps you to develop a spoken language (as opposite to formal language). A language made up on a piece of paper and never used might be littered with questionable features and constructions that are not that useable after all.

Keep in mind that natural languages have had ages to develop and that has helped to make them more succint. Also they have a world in which they're designed/developed to work in. A conculture might clear up a lot of rubble.

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 Post subject: Re: On succinctness
PostPosted: Sat Oct 29, 2011 12:18 pm 
Avisaru
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Maybe it might be better if you give some conlanging examples. Might be easier to point at something then and go "That's what's holding the thing back."

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 Post subject: Re: On succinctness
PostPosted: Sat Oct 29, 2011 12:40 pm 
Smeric
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Eh, I dunno. I think your sample of natlangs might be a bit biased because it just so happens that some of the most succinct natlangs are also some of the most widely spoken (English is the champion of Europe, Spanish isnt that far behind, and in Asia we have Chinese.) But yes, there are a lot of conlangers who seem to resist using homonyms and allowing ambiguity in their languages. I'm not like that, though ... if anything I go too far to the other extreme and have almost Mandarin-level homophony problems.

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 Post subject: Re: On succinctness
PostPosted: Sat Oct 29, 2011 1:04 pm 
Sanci
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Actually, I think those languages might be the most succinct precisely because they're the most widely spoken. Or possibly the reverse. In either case, it isn't just a chance bias.


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 Post subject: Re: On succinctness
PostPosted: Sat Oct 29, 2011 1:59 pm 
Sumerul
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:| English and Chinese are succinct because they're both pretty isolating and don't mark very much morphologically at all, not because they're widely spoken...


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 Post subject: Re: On succinctness
PostPosted: Sat Oct 29, 2011 2:06 pm 
Avisaru
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Also, it has been shown that information density and speaking rate have an inverse relationship. That is, languages with lower information density are spoken at a higher rate (measured in syllables per minute), thus compensating for being less "succinct".

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 Post subject: Re: On succinctness
PostPosted: Sat Oct 29, 2011 2:20 pm 
Smeric
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I don't think succinctness is really an important feature, just something that happens to be a characteristic of certain languages. Inuktitut tends to have very long words for common expressions and it does just fine.


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 Post subject: Re: On succinctness
PostPosted: Sat Oct 29, 2011 2:33 pm 
Sanci
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Posts: 35
Astraios wrote:
English and Chinese are succinct because they're both pretty isolating and don't mark very much morphologically at all, not because they're widely spoken...

Those are some ways English and Chinese have achieved succinctness, not reasons they've become succinct in the first place.

Has anyone ever read anything about correlations between language features and how widely spoken the languages are? I feel like I'm about to get into an argument based primarily on lack of evidence, which I'd like to avoid if possible.

Ollock wrote:
Also, it has been shown that information density and speaking rate have an inverse relationship. That is, languages with lower information density are spoken at a higher rate (measured in syllables per minute), thus compensating for being less "succinct".

Languages with a high number of allowed syllables (and thus a high "information density", if you can call it that), have been shown to be spoken more slowly (in syllables per minute) than languages with a low number of allowed syllables (e.g., strict CV languages). This is not really relevant to the sort of succinctness I'm interested in, namely conveying the same meaning in less time.

Theta wrote:
I don't think succinctness is really an important feature, just something that happens to be a characteristic of certain languages. Inuktitut tends to have very long words for common expressions and it does just fine.

Depends on your definition of 'important', I suppose. I'm interested in this feature, and ways to achieve it. That's pretty much the only justification a conlanger needs, right? :)


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 Post subject: Re: On succinctness
PostPosted: Sat Oct 29, 2011 2:35 pm 
Avisaru
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JeremyHussell wrote:
Ollock wrote:
Also, it has been shown that information density and speaking rate have an inverse relationship. That is, languages with lower information density are spoken at a higher rate (measured in syllables per minute), thus compensating for being less "succinct".

Languages with a high number of allowed syllables (and thus a high "information density", if you can call it that), have been shown to be spoken more slowly (in syllables per minute) than languages with a low number of allowed syllables (e.g., strict CV languages). This is not really relevant to the sort of succinctness I'm interested in, namely conveying the same meaning in less time.


I thought it was based on a morpheme-to-syllable ratio. I may have to find that article again.

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 Post subject: Re: On succinctness
PostPosted: Sat Oct 29, 2011 2:40 pm 
Sumerul
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JeremyHussell wrote:
Those are some ways English and Chinese have achieved succinctness, not reasons they've become succinct in the first place.
Correct. They are succinct by having becoming isolating. But what I said was that they didn't become isolating or succinct by being widely spoken.


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 Post subject: Re: On succinctness
PostPosted: Sat Oct 29, 2011 2:59 pm 
Smeric
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You're arguing against features that are naturally found in many languages. :/

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 Post subject: Re: On succinctness
PostPosted: Sat Oct 29, 2011 3:00 pm 
Smeric
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JeremyHussell wrote:
Theta wrote:
I don't think succinctness is really an important feature, just something that happens to be a characteristic of certain languages. Inuktitut tends to have very long words for common expressions and it does just fine.

Depends on your definition of 'important', I suppose. I'm interested in this feature, and ways to achieve it. That's pretty much the only justification a conlanger needs, right? :)


Well maybe 'necessary' would be a better word. I think that if someone finds their conlang to be not as succinct as some of the languages they know, it's not really a *problem*.


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 Post subject: Re: On succinctness
PostPosted: Sat Oct 29, 2011 4:33 pm 
Sumerul
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JeremyHussell wrote:
Recently it struck me that natural languages tend to be more succinct than conglangs

Kryldow ciŗk.
I don't believe so.

(Although even Arve is more concise than English here: that'd translate to En ziggs külga ast, but that's pronounced [ˈr̥ɛç ˈkʰyə̯kɪç], and can even be reduced to [ˈr̥ɛç ˈkʰyə̯cʰ]. Arve is usually about twice as long as English.)

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 Post subject: Re: On succinctness
PostPosted: Sat Oct 29, 2011 4:48 pm 
Sanci
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Posts: 35
Theta wrote:
JeremyHussell wrote:
Theta wrote:
I don't think succinctness is really an important feature, just something that happens to be a characteristic of certain languages. Inuktitut tends to have very long words for common expressions and it does just fine.

Depends on your definition of 'important', I suppose. I'm interested in this feature, and ways to achieve it. That's pretty much the only justification a conlanger needs, right? :)

Well maybe 'necessary' would be a better word. I think that if someone finds their conlang to be not as succinct as some of the languages they know, it's not really a *problem*.

Depends on what their goals are for their conlang. For a naturalistic lang, well, if natural languages tend to be succinct, then a naturalistic conlang should be too, yes? For those creating logical languages, there's a certain attraction to the efficiency of a succinct language... etc. There are usually other goals for a language's design too, of course. Those other goals just aren't the subject of this thread.


Last edited by JeremyHussell on Sat Oct 29, 2011 4:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: On succinctness
PostPosted: Sat Oct 29, 2011 4:49 pm 
Sanci
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☭☭☭☭☭ wrote:
Kryldow ciŗk.
I don't believe so.

Could I get an interlinear gloss there? And maybe the name of the language?


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 Post subject: Re: On succinctness
PostPosted: Sat Oct 29, 2011 4:57 pm 
Sumerul
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JeremyHussell wrote:
if natural languages tend to be succinct
Which is dependent on what you compare them to...


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 Post subject: Re: On succinctness
PostPosted: Sat Oct 29, 2011 8:30 pm 
Smeric
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Going to take this as a *test* for my hybrid conlang. I don't know if for conlangs directly derived from natlangs succintness should be harder or easier (since, on the one hand, you have the natlang's advantages; on the other hand, you're restricted by its disadvantages). I'll try to find it out.

JeremyHussell wrote:
What strategies can make a conlang succinct?

#1: Increase the number of symbols
- Make a large number of phonetic distinctions (the Speedtalk/Ithkuil strategy).
- Allow a large number of consonant clusters and polyphthongs (and thus syllable types).
- Give every short, legal sound sequence a meaning.


It uses digraphs (bh, dh, gh, ph, th, ch), has a non-restrictive but defined phonology, and many short grammar words (al, el, ae, ul, sa, se, so, me, be, dar, ...). Sometimes I use certain strategies to make words monosyllabic. I think there are a lot of short words.

JeremyHussell wrote:
#2: Morpheme length inversely proportional to frequency
This seems to be the biggest advantage of natural languages. It's a lot of work to design a conlang this way, because you generally have to use the language before you can figure out which morphemes tend to show up most frequently, and changing the length of a morpheme sometimes affects how often you use it, leading to a lengthy cycle of frequent changes to the vocabulary.


I think this is one big advantage for my Latin-Sindarin hybrid. If I replace common words or structures by others made by myself, I try to let them be as long as the others were.

JeremyHussell wrote:
#4a: Don't repeat yourself
- Use pronouns or other proforms, or definite members of general categories, whenever you need to repeat something.
- Avoid repeating something at all by merging shared components.
(Basic example: "John reads and Bill reads" vs "John reads and Bill does too" vs "John and Bill read".)
- Use as little agreement as possible, as this is essentially repeating the same information in two places. (E.g., marking adjectives with the number and case of their head nouns, like Esperanto.)
- Avoid obligatory markings, since this forces you to repeat information that could have been stated only once.


I use agreement. However, it doesn't get to add more than one syllable. Plural is marked by vowel umlaut and person in verbs with the help of a consonantal ending. My own native tongue, Spanish, makes this more verbose.

JeremyHussell wrote:
#4b: Omit anything you can infer from context
- Make as few things mandatory as possible, since that forces you to state unnecessary information
- No dummy arguments. Just "Raining." instead of "It's raining."
- No dummy verbs. Just "The cup red." instead of "The cup is red." (Yes, a bit glib here. I hope you understand what I mean.)
- No obligatory markings. E.g., allow tense, aspect, and number to be inferred from context.
- Allow gaps in relative clauses instead of relative pronouns.

Tense is mandatory, but it doesn't really get to add more than one syllable. But hey, I usually omit copulas, and subject pronouns (curiously, I can still distinguish between "the cup is red" and "the red cup", and not with word order; at least for most nouns).

JeremyHussell wrote:
#5: Homonyms (context changes the meaning)
- Roots with different meanings when used with verbal vs nominal affixes.
- Affixes with different meanings when used on verbal vs nominal roots.
- Verbs provide context for nouns. E.g., bat (animate) vs bat (inanimate).
- Nouns provide context for verbs. E.g., run (a race) vs run (a company).
I suspect this is one of the least exploited strategies in conlangs, especially engineered conlangs with their emphasis on one-word-equals-one-meaning. There are lots more ways to do this. E.g., Lojban has an interesting variant where the same syllable has a different meaning when used as a morpheme in a compound word or as a stand-alone word.

Since these mechanisms in my hybrid mimic a natlang, we have another advantage here.

JeremyHussell wrote:
Anyway, does anyone know any other ways to make your language succinct? Even if they're only narrowly applicable tricks or tips (like using gaps instead of relative pronouns). Also, feel free to post specific examples of succinctness, either in your conlang or some natlang, or give examples of verbosity, where you wish there were a way to state things more compactly in your conlang.


I think #2 sums it all up. Basically, as you say, all natural languages tend to maximize their information content the space, they tend to be efficient. How is this achieved? By its constant usage in a natural community, with its natural development. So the best thing we can do for a conlang is have it as close as possible as something that you can imagine being spoken daily, in the everyday life of some people.

Also, for the record, in both my main conlangs (but I'm cheating, they're not a priori):

Ne creis nais. (can be shortened to Creis nais. with the same meaning)
neg believe-1S-PRES NEG.
I don't think so.

U-gridhin heg. or U-gridhin.
NEG-believe-1S-PRES(+len.) thus(+len.)
I don't think so.


Last edited by Thry on Sat Oct 29, 2011 8:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: On succinctness
PostPosted: Sat Oct 29, 2011 8:33 pm 
Avisaru
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JeremyHussell wrote:
if natural languages tend to be succinct, then a naturalistic conlang should be too, yes?

If.

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 Post subject: Re: On succinctness
PostPosted: Sat Oct 29, 2011 9:30 pm 
Sanci
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Yeah, I mean, cool but meh. Like others have said: if natlangs are succint...

And honestly, those suggestions often feel like trying to swat a fly with a hammer. "No dummy pronouns" really? Venetian has double-reletivizers and dummy pronouns, and it was once a lingua franca. "No agreement" <.< So, there goes all romance languages, and Swahili is doubly-dead. If instead, you just abide by #2, dummy pronouns, agreement, etc are not a problem.

Now, of course homonyms is a generally under-utilized feature, and "merging shared components" (which I'm sure has a technical term, but I can't remember it just now) is generally omitted in any grammar, though that's because it's usually obvious enough.

Of course, if you're going for the tersest possible language, you forgot some stuff. Like "add tonemes" and "Use word-order rather than case marking to express syntactic roles."

Personally, though, I think most well-made languages come out fine automatically. One big problem with determining metrics though, is the speakers: only after listening to an L1 in any given language could I speak it relatively quickly, and there are no L1s in conlangs (well, there are a few, but not in yours!) Even with rudimentary practice on certain phrases, a conlang speaker could easily double their rate of speech and still sound natural.

Hmmm, and I should point out that "Allow a large number of consonant clusters and polyphthongs" doesn't always work. Japanese isn't the fastest language out there, but it can be quite quick nonetheless, because its syllables are so lightweight so as to be more quickly pronounceable than your average English syllable.

Besides,
Sídzelen caena ci Tayéin.
I've learned a little Tayéin.
pretty much comparable, and I didn't even put work into it.

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 Post subject: Re: On succinctness
PostPosted: Sun Oct 30, 2011 1:29 am 
Sumerul
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JeremyHussell wrote:
☭☭☭☭☭ wrote:
Kryldow ciŗk.
I don't believe so.

Could I get an interlinear gloss there? And maybe the name of the language?

Kannow

k-r-yl-d-ow ciŗ-k
NEG-SENS.PRES-believe-C6.P.SG-1S.A that-C6.DEF

(noun class 6 is always used for implied VPs)

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 Post subject: Re: On succinctness
PostPosted: Sun Oct 30, 2011 5:19 am 
Sumerul
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MisterBernie wrote:
If.
Best line evarr.


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 Post subject: Re: On succinctness
PostPosted: Sun Oct 30, 2011 9:39 am 
Sanci
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Astraios wrote:
MisterBernie wrote:
If.
Best line evarr.
Yes, yes, very laconic... literally. And completely appropriate for this thread.
Wikipedia wrote:
One famous example comes from the time of the invasion of Philip II of Macedon. With key Greek city-states in submission, he turned his attention to Sparta and sent a message: "If I win this war, you will be slaves forever." In another version, Philip proclaims: "You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city." According to both accounts, the Spartan ephors sent back a one word reply: "If." Subsequently, both Philip and Alexander would avoid Sparta entirely.


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 Post subject: Re: On succinctness
PostPosted: Sun Oct 30, 2011 9:47 am 
Sanci
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Lojban is remarkably succinct in some narrow areas of logic, but not as good at common real-world situations:

e'o mi'o klama
request.to.listener 1st+2nd come/go
"Let's go."

na nei
NEG this.sentence
"This sentence is false."


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 Post subject: Re: On succinctness
PostPosted: Sun Oct 30, 2011 11:17 am 
Sumerul
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JeremyHussell wrote:
Yes, yes, very laconic... literally.
I know that, thank you very much.



While English is succinct in, for example, "I watched TV", Lakota isn't: Wičhítenaškaŋškaŋ kiŋ awáŋyaŋg maŋké. Yet while Lakota is succinct in Ȟ'uŋúŋt'e and At'át'a, English isn't at all: "You and I are exhausted from working" and "She relaxed so as to flop on top of him to be cuddled".

Now what are you going to do?


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