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zompist bboard • View topic - Just how exactly do Semitic tri-consonantal roots work?

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 21, 2016 3:35 pm 
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 21, 2016 3:54 pm 
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It took me years to understand how Semitic roots operate well enough to make (a very unoriginal) tricon root system that I could call "good enough." The best books I read on the subject were Ehret's reconstruction of Proto-Afro-Asiatic and Lipinski's book on the Semitic languages (albeit some of his conclusions are quite contrary to modern scholarship: he insists on original pharyngealization for emphatics, for example--but most of these instances are quite beside the point for developing a tricon root system).

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 21, 2016 4:25 pm 
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does this help:

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 22, 2016 12:46 pm 
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For what it's worth, in my experience studying Hebrew and Syriac I have never gotten the impression that underlying triconsonantal roots or templatic conjugations aren't "real" or "how it actually works" the way my Arabic-studying comrades often assert. And as for that comment from 2015, to me it reads like somebody arguing from diachronics that a synchronic interpretation cannot exist, which IMO is nonsense.

Also, I have seen at least one triconsonantal conlang from someone who wants to "show how it's done" which turned out to just be an uninteresting and uncannily-derivative semiticlone which didn't exploit the concept beyond what is attested in the one family. That's the same kind of empiricism-gone-mad approach to conlanging which might as well also insist that, because Khoesan languages are isolating, therefore a "correct" click conlang must also be isolating.

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 23, 2016 5:37 am 
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I think neologisms in Hebrew show that, at least for Hebrew, most consonantal roots really are perfectly abstract morphemes. "Synchronize," for example, yields all kinds of real verb forms created from the abstracted root SNXR, running from sinxranti to mesunxran; the same can be said of "telephone" (ṬLPN) > ṭilpanti and "Grindr" (GRNDR) > grindarta.


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 23, 2016 11:56 am 
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Well the point about them not being real is that words are derived from other words, not just from roots with a given meaning plugged into templates with another given meaning - that is, the plural of maktab 'library', which is makaatib is clearly derived from the singular, for example. Also that that derivation is as complex as in any other language.

I agree that they have a synchronic morphological existence, but roots are extracted from words - they don't exist independently of them.

My post I linked to above explains more what I mean, but if people are interested I will explain again.

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 23, 2016 12:06 pm 
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The incorporation of loans into the system provides evidence against their existence as well c.f. in Arabic film in the plural is aflam, and that thing with "telephone" in Hebrew.

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 23, 2016 12:20 pm 
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evidence for

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 23, 2016 5:33 pm 
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PostPosted: Sat Jul 23, 2016 6:47 pm 
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This does not appear to be a meaningful discussion.
I'd suggest you might want to be more careful in distinguishing linguistic questions from metaphysical ones. Questions like whether a word or a root or a paradigm has "independent existence", or whether they "really exist" or "are real" or are "real things", as distinct from explanatory devices, are all metaphysical questions, not linguistic ones. At the very least this means that they can only be resolved through explicitly metaphysical deliberation, not through the medium of linguistics. I would also personally argue that these questions are, in the literal sense of the word (and like many metaphysical questions), meaningless.

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 23, 2016 8:50 pm 
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Hmm, I agree with Sal's conclusion but not his reasoning. :P Worrying about whether triconsonantal roots are real is like worrying whether phonemes are real. They're not real like sound waves; on the other hand they're not unreal like phlogiston. They are certainly explanatory devices, so the question is whether they're good explanations, or whether better ones are possible.

One can ask if the mind does have "phonemes" at some level of analysis (or "triconsonantal roots")... of course the answer is "we don't know", but in theory psychology could answer this some day. FWIW I think linguists sometimes do forget that a rule they've found— i.e. an explanatory device— may in fact not be present in an individual's grammar. It's not uncommon at all for linguists to understand something about language that speakers do not! I can often predict a Spanish word from knowing the Latin or French word— this is an effective and useful rule that pretty obviously most native speakers do not have.

Also, analogy and rote memorization, are really powerful processes that can explain things as well as many rules do, and explain the exceptions better. Yet looking for rules is not wrong.

Anyway, I liked Yng's comment, but my (possibly wrong) takeaway is not that Arabic roots don't exist, but that they are far messier (more irregular, more suffused with random semantic drift) than a simplistic conlanger would assume.


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 23, 2016 11:30 pm 
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I'll readily admit that I was going significantly out on a limb when I made that comment and really shouldn't have been making assertions about a topic I'm no expert on. Or, at least, I was going too far to suggest that triconsonantal roots have no "independent existence" - whatever that admittedly means.

Considering the topic was "Features found only in conlangs", the comment I ought to have written was: I have on multiple occasions seen "triconsonantal root languages" in which the conlanger creates elaborate tables of transfixes, seemingly expressing every possible permutation of a concept, which can be applied to any triconsonantal root, without any gaps or irregularities - which, to my knowledge, are much like the Esperanto table of correlatives, in that few if any languages have systems of such perfect regularity. I.e. they ignore the diachronic aspect of the root system and pull forth from nowhere this perfect table of roots and derivatives, forgetting that any natural system will have many exceptions, gaps, and alternative forms.

Though I suppose if one isn't aiming for a naturalistic language the point is moot.


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 24, 2016 1:43 am 
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 24, 2016 5:55 am 
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 24, 2016 7:26 am 
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 24, 2016 8:38 am 
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Since every distinct manner of denying metaphysical entities becomes a unique position in the field of metaphysics, it is impossible to avoid metaphysics by denying the reality of metaphysical entities in any way. In this context, I think the best advice was given by (1.135): "Do not block the way of inquiry." If there is an explanatory project working under the assumption that Semitic roots are real, let Semitic roots be real with respect to that project. If there is an explanatory project working under the assumption that Semitic roots are unreal, let Semitic roots be unreal with respect to that project. If there is a free-floating opinion on the reality of Semitic roots that is not associated with any explanatory power, just say, "Do not block the way of inquiry."

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 25, 2016 4:39 am 
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 25, 2016 6:10 am 
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 25, 2016 10:55 am 
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My post wasn't intended as an attack on anybody. I don't know enough about Semitic languages to have a trustworthy opinion on whether the reality or the unreality of triconsonantal roots explains their linguistic features more elegantly. Based on what I've seen so far, the idea that, at least in Arabic, they are a high-level explanatory construct* is more in line with my common sense, so I have a question: On average, do Arabic roots behave in a less uniformly triconsonantal manner than Hebrew or Syriac roots? I know nothing about Hebrew or Syriac. I remember reading that triconsonantal behavior is more pronounced in (Classical?) Arabic than in other Semitic languages, but I'm not sure that observation applies to the context of uniformity.

*As opposed to a description of how the language itself works. There are too many exceptions and too many of these point towards the same explanation for what caused them.

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 25, 2016 1:27 pm 
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What about Skourene? I think it is a pretty good non-Semitic triconsonantal root language.

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 25, 2016 1:41 pm 
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 02, 2016 8:17 pm 
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 02, 2016 8:33 pm 
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