Polysynthetic Conlang

The best topics from Languages & Linguistics, kept on a permanent basis.
User avatar
Soap
Smeric
Smeric
Posts: 1228
Joined: Sun Feb 16, 2003 2:57 pm
Location: Scattered disc
Contact:

Post by Soap »

The Navaho name for Albuquerque is "The place where the railroad trains make that noise" ... or something close to that, anyway ... an Albuquerque resident who learned some Navaho told me this.
Sunàqʷa the Sea Lamprey says:
Image

jburke

Post by jburke »

Mercator wrote:The Navaho name for Albuquerque is "The place where the railroad trains make that noise" ... or something close to that, anyway ... an Albuquerque resident who learned some Navaho told me this.


Cheyenne and Mohawk offer some equally descriptive place names.

It's amazing how widespread this kind of thing is in American languages, even among languages that have no genetic relation whatsoever.

Salmoneus

Post by Salmoneus »

I guess that naming objects by their actions allows you to bring in a lot more of culture's personality than a normal nouns-and-verbs-are-seperate-things language.

For a start, the descriptions they choose could demonstrate their priorities - is everything in terms of food, of religion, or maybe of society? A culture may base a lot of its descriptions around history/mythology, perhaps.*

Also, it can demonstrate the irony/pessimism/optimism present in a culture. I think it would be fun to have a fatalistic culture that uses names like the ones Jaaa suggested.... "car" could be "is-going-to-crash", and "hamster" could be "gets-squashed-easily".

*You know those cultures where the language changes incredibly quickly through borrowing because it is taboo to use a word that sounds like the name of a dead person? Maybe a culture could have the opposite: things are named in relation to the recently deceased - "orange" could be "johnsmith-liked-it", "bookcase" could be "johnsmith-habitually-tried-to-make-it-but-always-failed".












How fixed are these words? If you used a word based on an alternative description of the same thing, would people understand you? If so, it would be useful for poetry.

jburke

Post by jburke »

Salmoneus wrote:How fixed are these words? If you used a word based on an alternative description of the same thing, would people understand you? If so, it would be useful for poetry.


They're fixed in the sense that they're time stable; but a thing can have many names. The Blackfoot have (I'm told) five different descriptive names for the atlatl, some older and some newer, some used more often than others. You can give a new name to a thing on the spot, as long as the referent is clear.

User avatar
Aurora Rossa
Smeric
Smeric
Posts: 1138
Joined: Mon Aug 11, 2003 11:46 am
Location: The vendée of America
Contact:

Post by Aurora Rossa »

Can one name be used for more than one thing?
Image
"There was a particular car I soon came to think of as distinctly St. Louis-ish: a gigantic white S.U.V. with a W. bumper sticker on it for George W. Bush."

jburke

Post by jburke »

Eddy the Great wrote:Can one name be used for more than one thing?


Sure. Usually referents named by a single word are related in some way, though; see my example in the intro to the Noyahtukah grammar.

User avatar
Aurora Rossa
Smeric
Smeric
Posts: 1138
Joined: Mon Aug 11, 2003 11:46 am
Location: The vendée of America
Contact:

Post by Aurora Rossa »

Sure. Usually referents named by a single word are related in some way, though; see my example in the intro to the Noyahtukah grammar.


How might they be related? Function?
Image
"There was a particular car I soon came to think of as distinctly St. Louis-ish: a gigantic white S.U.V. with a W. bumper sticker on it for George W. Bush."

User avatar
Soap
Smeric
Smeric
Posts: 1228
Joined: Sun Feb 16, 2003 2:57 pm
Location: Scattered disc
Contact:

Post by Soap »

Sal wrote:Maybe a culture could have the opposite: things are named in relation to the recently deceased - "orange" could be "johnsmith-liked-it", "bookcase" could be "johnsmith-habitually-tried-to-make-it-but-always-failed".

I've done this in Xap, although words like these are a small subset of the total vocabulary, and it is all done with nouns rather than verbs. Examples are halapatu = Hala's communication device = cellphone; lilihuputi = Lilihu's toy = a certain type of foam bath toys; kutucaxi = Kutu's idea = pacifism.
If these were indefinite phrases rather than definites the two words would have to be separated by the linking particle la.


I like the idea of having alternative words for the same thing. Old English poetry used metaphors a lot, so for example they would rarely or never use the actual word for "sea", they would use metaphors like "the whales' road", etc., and they would use many different metaphors for the same thing.
Sunàqʷa the Sea Lamprey says:
Image

Neek
Avisaru
Avisaru
Posts: 355
Joined: Mon Sep 30, 2002 12:13 pm
Location: im itësin
Contact:

Post by Neek »

Eddy the Great wrote:What do you think would be a good way to express these words with verbal phrases?

cat


I enjoy Glenn's "hunts-small-squeaking-things" but I could also suggest "burries-excrement-in-sand" or "cleans-self-vainly," perhaps also "believes-she-is-ruling-us-all." This is a concept of polisynthetic languages I enjoy, is that you describe what you're talking about rather than just outright naming it. So you could indeed have many words for one thing, as aposed to English where 'cat' is just plain ol' cat (or worthless-shedding-shit-machine, if you want to be so vulgar).

dog


"accompanies-us-hunting," "enemy-of-the-(insert cat descriptor here)," "shows-loyalty," "begs-shamelessly," etc.

chair


I really like "breaks-when-I-sit-on-it," but you could also go "isn't-comfortable-despite-what-he-says," or perhaps "my-wife-chose-it," "painted-with-duck-motif," "beer-was-split-here" :D

road


An unusual one is 'goes-ever-on-and-on," but perhaps more realistically "scars-the-earth-in-all-places." :|

fan/air conditioner

"keeps-us-cold-while-poisoning-the-sky," or "blows-cold-air"

car/truck(should there be separate words?)


They should be--since there's the obvious divide between functions. If you're riding in one, a car can be "carries-us-noisily," a truck "carries-greatly-burning," and a muscle car "gets-me-the-girls" :mrgreen:

For city names, I'd suggest good descriptors which breath some history on it, it sounds Entish, but it's still good--the "they-fought-nine-nights" and "the-stars-light-our-battle," but also "we-make-peace" (the UN building), "shines-like-sky-but-they-steal-our-money" (Las Vegas), "nothing-ever-happens" (where I live), and so forth.

User avatar
Aurora Rossa
Smeric
Smeric
Posts: 1138
Joined: Mon Aug 11, 2003 11:46 am
Location: The vendée of America
Contact:

Post by Aurora Rossa »

I like your suggestions.

Do they prefer to keep the descriptive name one word? Can it be multiple words?
Image
"There was a particular car I soon came to think of as distinctly St. Louis-ish: a gigantic white S.U.V. with a W. bumper sticker on it for George W. Bush."

Neek
Avisaru
Avisaru
Posts: 355
Joined: Mon Sep 30, 2002 12:13 pm
Location: im itësin
Contact:

Post by Neek »

If by multiple words, you mean like the various ones I listed for cat? Pragmatically, the most concise description will be used most often, but that isn't enough to coin new words (as it were). I know a guy who forgot what the word "clothes pin" so he coined "spring-loaded laundry suspension device." :D I now use it in place of clothes pin.

For a better example, say you come across something new. Something so unusual that you can't relate to it with any word you already know. The only best way to name it (aside thingamajig, doohickey, and those words) is to describe it, and give people enough help to understand what you're saying. So the idea is you have nothing to fall back on, so you just a good descriptor. And if there's a better, more concise one, then voila, you now have a better word, but that doesn't mean the old coinage goes away. To bring up Edo Nyland, the biggest joke to ever hit historical linguistics, does a great job of this in his poppycockamany Basque-derivations (Latin, 'you-memorize-it' gave me a chuckle).

This sort of practice, I guess, would be more than well enough to for Sapir-Whorf's hypothesis, that grammar influences thought. The idea that everything is described moreso than named is a good hint at how the people think and see the world.

User avatar
Aurora Rossa
Smeric
Smeric
Posts: 1138
Joined: Mon Aug 11, 2003 11:46 am
Location: The vendée of America
Contact:

Post by Aurora Rossa »

I have to wonder if using verbs this way would make sentences really long. Then again, how much longer could a descriptive name for antidisestablishmentarianism be than the English word?
Image
"There was a particular car I soon came to think of as distinctly St. Louis-ish: a gigantic white S.U.V. with a W. bumper sticker on it for George W. Bush."

User avatar
Soap
Smeric
Smeric
Posts: 1228
Joined: Sun Feb 16, 2003 2:57 pm
Location: Scattered disc
Contact:

Post by Soap »

It depends if you allow homophones in the verbs that make up the larger words. If "ati" can be allowed to be used for memorize, L and N could be the head markers, and there you go. Or just do it Edo's way and only use the first few letters of the word.

User avatar
Aurora Rossa
Smeric
Smeric
Posts: 1138
Joined: Mon Aug 11, 2003 11:46 am
Location: The vendée of America
Contact:

Post by Aurora Rossa »

Basque has head-marking?
Image
"There was a particular car I soon came to think of as distinctly St. Louis-ish: a gigantic white S.U.V. with a W. bumper sticker on it for George W. Bush."

User avatar
Soap
Smeric
Smeric
Posts: 1228
Joined: Sun Feb 16, 2003 2:57 pm
Location: Scattered disc
Contact:

Post by Soap »

No, I was just giving an example of how words could be compressed, and I know of at least one polysynthetic language family (Eskimo-Aleut) that does use compression to shorten out the length of its derived words. An example is the word "uitsatai", meaning allegedly "those by which he keeps gazing". Another example is "nalunaerassuarmetaut", not exactly short, but Eskimo is spoken pretty quickly ... it means telegraph, and that breaks down as "that by which one habitually makes something not be ignored in a hurry" (coined before telephones existed).


and lets not forget Lojban ... it was evidently designed by people who admired polysynthetism, and in some ways could be classified as polysynthetic, although in a very alien way.
Last edited by Soap on Tue Dec 16, 2003 7:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Sunàqʷa the Sea Lamprey says:
Image

User avatar
pharazon
Lebom
Lebom
Posts: 192
Joined: Thu Sep 04, 2003 1:51 am
Location: Ann Arbor
Contact:

Post by pharazon »

Eddy the Great wrote:Basque has head-marking?


Yeah:
saldu d-izki-e-t
sell(perf) it(abs)-ROOT-them(dat)-I(erg)
I've sold it to them

Edit: I guess this turned out to be irrelevant, but it does have it.

User avatar
Soap
Smeric
Smeric
Posts: 1228
Joined: Sun Feb 16, 2003 2:57 pm
Location: Scattered disc
Contact:

Post by Soap »

Actually I didnt know Basque could do that, so you taught me that. Also I forgot to mention that uitsatai is the East Greenlandic word for "eyes". So in other words, they put a lot more meaning than necessary into their words, but they compress it using complicated sound rules, so the actual words arent uncomfortably long. Sorry I dont have the actual rules on hand, so I cant say what the components of those words are.
Sunàqʷa the Sea Lamprey says:
Image

User avatar
Aurora Rossa
Smeric
Smeric
Posts: 1138
Joined: Mon Aug 11, 2003 11:46 am
Location: The vendée of America
Contact:

Post by Aurora Rossa »

So sound compression rules help, but speaking quickly is your best bet.

Basque seems to mark a nearby word. I had an idea for a language based on head marking a word devoted simply to head marking.
Image
"There was a particular car I soon came to think of as distinctly St. Louis-ish: a gigantic white S.U.V. with a W. bumper sticker on it for George W. Bush."

User avatar
pharazon
Lebom
Lebom
Posts: 192
Joined: Thu Sep 04, 2003 1:51 am
Location: Ann Arbor
Contact:

Post by pharazon »

Eddy the Great wrote:Basque seems to mark a nearby word. I had an idea for a language based on head marking a word devoted simply to head marking.


That's the auxiliary; almost all Basque verbs inflect periphrastically like that, with the main verb only changing for aspect. There are a very few older synthetic forms, e.g. genekarretzan "we brought them".

Neek
Avisaru
Avisaru
Posts: 355
Joined: Mon Sep 30, 2002 12:13 pm
Location: im itësin
Contact:

Post by Neek »

What do you mean? Like each syntactical position is irrevelant to meaning, but, say in the 2nd, regardless what is put in that syntactical position, is headmarked? or something else?

User avatar
Soap
Smeric
Smeric
Posts: 1228
Joined: Sun Feb 16, 2003 2:57 pm
Location: Scattered disc
Contact:

Post by Soap »

Nikolai wrote:What do you mean? Like each syntactical position is irrevelant to meaning, but, say in the 2nd, regardless what is put in that syntactical position, is headmarked? or something else?
Lots of Australian langs do that. I dont think Basque does it, but it does exist in Australia.
Sunàqʷa the Sea Lamprey says:
Image

Neek
Avisaru
Avisaru
Posts: 355
Joined: Mon Sep 30, 2002 12:13 pm
Location: im itësin
Contact:

Post by Neek »

I would think a poly-lang, written with logographs, would just use the constituing elements of its name. Consider Classical Nahuatl (something of a polylang) wrote 'Quetzacoatl' as a feathered snake, despite that he wasn't (and later personified as one by the Spaniards, who couldn't understand that's just how it's written.)

[Edit] Did Eddy's post on how polylang's would be written in logographic scripts just disappear?

User avatar
Aurora Rossa
Smeric
Smeric
Posts: 1138
Joined: Mon Aug 11, 2003 11:46 am
Location: The vendée of America
Contact:

Post by Aurora Rossa »

I remember hearing something about Navaho not allowing certain things to subjects or objects or something. I had an interesting idea along those lines: a Terp (the name of one) cannot be the object of a sentence since that could be seen as viewing them as passive.
Image
"There was a particular car I soon came to think of as distinctly St. Louis-ish: a gigantic white S.U.V. with a W. bumper sticker on it for George W. Bush."

User avatar
Soap
Smeric
Smeric
Posts: 1228
Joined: Sun Feb 16, 2003 2:57 pm
Location: Scattered disc
Contact:

Post by Soap »

If you had a polysynthetic conlang that defined some words as sentences with a specific subject, you could make a language that is much more powerful at forcing people to think in a certain way. So if the word for "marriage" means something like "a man couples with a woman" then it would both exclude gays and put the man in a dominant position. I use this system, but only for a poetic effect ... the everyday words mostly aren't built that way.
Sunàqʷa the Sea Lamprey says:
Image

User avatar
vohpenonomae
N'guny
N'guny
Posts: 91
Joined: Sat Nov 02, 2002 4:23 am

Post by vohpenonomae »

Mercator wrote:If you had a polysynthetic conlang that defined some words as sentences with a specific subject, you could make a language that is much more powerful at forcing people to think in a certain way. So if the word for "marriage" means something like "a man couples with a woman" then it would both exclude gays and put the man in a dominant position. I use this system, but only for a poetic effect ... the everyday words mostly aren't built that way.


Probably well over half of Mohawk nouns are done that way; it gives the language an incredible natural poetry. But you could never force thinking on militant Mohawks that way--they'd just make up a new word; they do it all the time; the language is very open-ended that way.

But, interestingly, traditional Iroquoian culture seems to have been more tolerant of homosexuality among young men than other Indian cultures. You were still expected to get married and have children, but you could carry on a relationship with another man well into adulthood. It certainly wasn't encouraged, but was tolerated within certain limits.
"On that island lies the flesh and bone of the Great Charging Bear, for as long as the grass grows and water runs," he said. "Where his spirit dwells, no one can say."

Post Reply