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PostPosted: Thu Jul 21, 2016 3:35 pm 
Avisaru
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Yup, another thread about these languages. Can you really blame us, though? Semitic langs have captivated us conlangers for years because of their extremely interesting morphology which appears utterly restricted to their family. On first glance, they appear to be wonderfully logical: take an abstracted root and "plug" into a matrix of infixes, suffixes, and prefixes. However, while searching for something completely different I came across this comment in 2015:

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Another thought - a lot of conlangers design triconsonantal or biconsonantal languages that really don't resemble Afro-Asiatic at all. I.e. these conlangs posit abstracted roots, à la K-T-B, as real things with an independent existence that vowels are actually "plugged into" - while in natural triconsonantal languages the "roots" are really just a product of the analysis of languages with very thoroughgoing processes of analogy. If I understand correctly.


And now I'm honestly confused. I cannot proclaim to be a master of Arabic or any other Semitic language, but from my perusal of their grammars what Porphyrogenitos is describing appears to be how they work: in what way is K-T-B not an "abstract" ideal root plugged into various derivational and inflectional paradigms? I'd love to try my hand at a tri-con conlang one day, but I want to do it right.

As far as I know, the Semitic systems derive from various sound changes such as syncope that were then straightened out with analogy (a tri-con lang I sketched once derived its equivalent to broken plurals this way--historically the plural marker was a simple suffix which moved the stress, causing now unstressed vowels to drop. I should probably dig through my stuff and find the notes for that...)

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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: http://www.incatena.org/viewtopic.php?p=1092290#p1092290

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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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Serafín wrote:
evidence for


Well put it this way. Is it easier to analyse the loanword thing as people creating new 'roots' or merely analogical extensions from existing words? I say the latter, you the former.

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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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The whole "does Semitic really have triconsonantal roots or is it all really just word-to-word relations" has been a burning question in theoretical (and, more recently, psycho-) linguistics for decades. you'd have to read a good deal of literature before you had enough background on various theories to make a cogent decision either way. From what I've read, there's some psycholinguistic and even neurolinguistic evidence that triconsonantal roots are "real" in some sense in the mind of Semitic speakers. But of course, whether you buy this depends on your theoretical leanings. I'm currently working in the vicinity of Distributed Morphology (though also at the same time Optimality Theory, even though DM and OT are supposed to be incompatible), so I think triconsonant roots are "real", at least in the linguistic sense of a being a useful (and maybe optimal?) way to model language.

zompist wrote:
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..

IME evidence for rules (or constraints) in morphology is similar to a lot of evidence for rules (or principles) in syntax: while perhaps the majority of spoken words/sentences can be explained by analogy or memorization, there are a lot of weird nooks and crannies where there's regularity you wouldn't expect if their weren't rules. And some of the strongest evidence for rules (you could even say evidence for the generative program in linguistics) are in minimal pairs between acceptable and unacceptable structures that aren't exactly common in speech. I'm thinking here of, say, things like islands, which you wouldn't expect to be a thing if language only used memorization and analogy.

Sorry if that was confusing; I'm exhausted. Maybe tomorrow I can put forth a clearer explanation.

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 24, 2016 5:55 am 
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zompist wrote:
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.

No, it couldn't. Psychology cannot know what is "in the mind", it can only describe the products of the mind. The mind is a black box - you prod it, things come out, and you make theories about what might be inside the box to produce these patterns. You can argue scientifically about which theory does best in the game of theory-testing, in the sense of explaining the results without special pleading. But no amount of external observation can tell you which, if any, of the elements of these models are "real" in a sense distinct from "is a helpful mnemonic".

And if we're only talking about whether roots are helpful mnemonics, surely that's settled already. Yes, people can and do use the concept of triconsonental roots to explain things.

But when, for example, Serafin and Frislander propose the exact same evidence to support the two different sides of the question of whether roots are "real", this should be ringing alarm bells (if any weren't already set off by the word 'real') that this is not an empirical, scientific question, but rather a metaphysical one.
[Key question: define 'real']

The further discussion regarding "rules" vs "analogies" is probably also deeply flawed. Define rules, define analogies. So far as I know it's not possible to really explain how to follow a rule except through analogy, nor is it possible to explain analogy except through rules. [To apply a rule in a new situation is to recognise that a situation is analogous to others that the rule governs, and then to act in a way that analogy tells us is analogous to how we act in those analogous situations. Conversely, to act analogously is to discern a rule governing both situations. Or in concrete terms: if the plural of mouse is mice, maybe the plural of house should be hice. To introduce the plural 'hice' would be to extend the paradigm through analogy. Or it would be to apply the rare pluralisation rule to a word it used not to govern. But we can only apply that rule when we recognise that 'mouse' is analogous to 'house', and that changing 'house' to 'hice' is analogous to changing 'mouse' to 'mice'. Conversely, we could not recognise that 'mouse' and 'house' were analogous without knowing rules about which sounds are phonemic, and which sounds are pluralisation-relevent (i.e. we know the rules on ablaut don't depend on whether there's a preceding nasal), and then we can't recognise that mouse>mice and house>hice are analogous unless we recognise that they both follow the same rule.
So if there is any meaningful difference between the words 'rule' and 'analogy', I'd say that analogy is the process, and rule is the hypothetical (real or otherwise) entity underpinning (justifying and/or created by) the process.

I'd suggest reading Wittgenstein on the concept of a "rule", and also Wisdom has some interesting remarks on the concept of "analogy".

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 24, 2016 7:26 am 
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Salmoneus wrote:
zompist wrote:
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.

No, it couldn't. Psychology cannot know what is "in the mind", it can only describe the products of the mind. The mind is a black box - you prod it, things come out, and you make theories about what might be inside the box to produce these patterns.


Note the tenses in our two statements: yours is present, mine is future. I agree with you about the present. However, you don't know the future any more than I do. Anyway, we're not restricted to black-box guesses even now. Theories have to be compatible with what we know about neurons, brain lesions, neurotransmitters, etc. (For a good demonstration of how knowledge of brains affects philosophical questions, see Hardin's Color for Philosophers.)

Quote:
The further discussion regarding "rules" vs "analogies" is probably also deeply flawed. Define rules, define analogies. So far as I know it's not possible to really explain how to follow a rule except through analogy, nor is it possible to explain analogy except through rules. [To apply a rule in a new situation is to recognise that a situation is analogous to others that the rule governs, and then to act in a way that analogy tells us is analogous to how we act in those analogous situations. Conversely, to act analogously is to discern a rule governing both situations. Or in concrete terms: if the plural of mouse is mice, maybe the plural of house should be hice. To introduce the plural 'hice' would be to extend the paradigm through analogy. Or it would be to apply the rare pluralisation rule to a word it used not to govern. But we can only apply that rule when we recognise that 'mouse' is analogous to 'house', and that changing 'house' to 'hice' is analogous to changing 'mouse' to 'mice'. Conversely, we could not recognise that 'mouse' and 'house' were analogous without knowing rules about which sounds are phonemic, and which sounds are pluralisation-relevent (i.e. we know the rules on ablaut don't depend on whether there's a preceding nasal), and then we can't recognise that mouse>mice and house>hice are analogous unless we recognise that they both follow the same rule.
So if there is any meaningful difference between the words 'rule' and 'analogy', I'd say that analogy is the process, and rule is the hypothetical (real or otherwise) entity underpinning (justifying and/or created by) the process.


Analogy in linguistics is a specific type of rule. Mouse : mice :: house : hice is indeed an example. (It works for lice!) But it's not useful to call all rules analogy. E.g. "the default is to add -s" is not analogy. As a nonce term let's call this a generalized inflection.

My point is that memorization and analogy can take you very far, and that the parsimony beloved of (especially Chomskyan) linguists is no guarantee that we've found a user's internal rules. (You and I agree that our rules are always (so far) a guess, but Chomsky doesn't.)

Acquisition specialists like Michael Tomasello believe (based on exhaustive corpus analysis) that children in fact learn words construction by construction— e.g., they learn one verb at a time; they do not initially have rules that apply to all verbs. They only generalize such rules relatively late (~ 4 to 6 years old).

As another example, it's been shown that French gender is surprisingly predictable— rules based on word endings predict the right gender 85% of the time. And yet it's also been shown that native French speakers are not really very good at gender— they don't in fact know all the rules that exist.


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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 Charles Sanders Peirce (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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All wanky metaphysical and non-metaphysical objections aside, I don't think we were really talking about the ~~~reality~~~ of triconsonantal roots. As far as I can tell, that was standing in for a discussion on the most elegant analysis of how these languages work.

Quote:
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.


That is a totally fair takeaway. And the point of that post was specifically to give an insight into the morphology of Arabic and how it plays out so that people would get an idea of some of that complexity.

Basically, I just like to think of Arabic derivation as working just like any other language - on the word-to-word level. Perhaps this is all semantics (hohohohoho), but this way the meaning of a derived word X is constructed by analogy with the meaning of the original word Y from which X is derived. The root is then part of the morphological process of transforming a word into another word by derivational modification. It has no meaning in and of itself other than what is taken from the word it is derived from.

Understanding roots like this makes analysis of Arabic's morphology much more elegant, since it allows us to understand (for example) tama7wara, which is derived from a noun which already has a derivational prefix applied and carries over that prefix, as the result of the normal extraction of a root from a base word. It also allows us to understand the incorporation of loanwords much more easily (since it doesn't require the creation of a root which then floats around in the intellectual ether in an undefined space, but allows us to see vocabulary as just that - vocabulary).

From a conlanging point of view, it also stops the weird cartesian ultra-regular approach where all words are straightforward combinations of a root and pattern and all roots have almost all patterns attested and vice versa.

Finally, from a pop-linguistic point of view, it runs counter to the prevailing weird romanticisation of Arabic which understands it as 'agglutinative' (not in the technical linguistic sense) and totally cartesian and logical in this way, when Arabic is really just like any other language.

That said, there is (as always) some messiness involved in that the m- formant (for example) does not always carry over into new derivations - m7ammad for example has a diminutive 7ammuud(e). Since this can't be straightforwardly explained by a process that, for example, deletes initial m in derivations (or something), some phonological theories struggle with this - if the root doesn't exist in some sense, then how does the brain distinguish between this initial derivational prefix m- and a 'root' m- (as in maaher, whose diminutive is mahhuur?) But this is on the morphological level and not on the semantic level where I'd stand by my point.

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 25, 2016 6:10 am 
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Xephyr wrote:
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.


Now this is obviously personal opinion but personally I think it's an error to assume that "triconsonantal" is a useful type. I feel that making a triconsonantal language is in itself equivalent to, if maybe not making a semitoclone, doing something very close to that. Consider what features are really contained in the notion of morphology like Arabic's: we have deleting ablaut, vowel shifts, infixes, and various pre- and suffixes that trigger the more fusional stuff. Now there are lots of ways to make a language that has all of these: PIE more or less fits the description! The problem, however, is that PIE doesn't look like Arabic, and people want something that looks like Arabic, so they keep making Arabics. I doubt whether it's possible to make a language that insists on being "triconsonantal" and yet is appreciably unlike Semitic.

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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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rotting bones wrote:
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.


Sure, I wasn't talking about you when I pointedly dismissed wanky metaphysics.

I don't know - perhaps they do, perhaps they don't. I don't know enough about Hebrew or Syriac to say.

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 02, 2016 8:17 pm 
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Yng wrote:
Basically, I just like to think of Arabic derivation as working just like any other language - on the word-to-word level. Perhaps this is all semantics (hohohohoho), but this way the meaning of a derived word X is constructed by analogy with the meaning of the original word Y from which X is derived. The root is then part of the morphological process of transforming a word into another word by derivational modification. It has no meaning in and of itself other than what is taken from the word it is derived from.

This works nicely for the preservation of elements that formally are part of the template. I'm thinking of some of the vowels in the base form of the verb, which are lexically determined. It also acts nicely with word derivation when the word matches no template - excess consonants have a tendency to be dropped, which is part of the process of nativising a loan word.


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PostPosted: Tue Aug 02, 2016 8:33 pm 
Avisaru
Avisaru

Joined: Sat Oct 16, 2010 8:28 pm
Posts: 364
Hallow XIII wrote:
Xephyr wrote:
Now this is obviously personal opinion but personally I think it's an error to assume that "triconsonantal" is a useful type. I feel that making a triconsonantal language is in itself equivalent to, if maybe not making a semitoclone, doing something very close to that. Consider what features are really contained in the notion of morphology like Arabic's: we have deleting ablaut, vowel shifts, infixes, and various pre- and suffixes that trigger the more fusional stuff. Now there are lots of ways to make a language that has all of these: PIE more or less fits the description!

It has been suggested that PIE is an Afroasiatic language. It's even got root extensions!

Austronesian is almost triconsonantal; the difference is that its sparse vowels are much more resistant to morphological change. When I first saw the morphological changes for indicating focus in Tagalog, I got the feeling I was actually looking at a Semitic-inspired conlang.


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