Sunday, August 15, 2010
The basic method in English is to invert Subject & Verb.
Example: "You are going to Tokyo by Air France tomorrow with Jane."
becomes: "Are you going to Tokyo by Air France tomorrow with Jane?"
Often (& confusingly for learners) it is necessary to use a completely different form of the verb before inverting.
Example: the question form of "He went home" would be "Did he go home?"
All methods use the question mark as punctuation.
Usually there is a rising intonation to denote interrogation.
Emphasis may be necessary to indicate which part of a sentence is actually in question.
That emphasis is lost in writing.
French also uses the same subject/verb inversion as English.
But they have an alternative method, putting "Est-ce que" (Is it that...) before the factual sentence.
I strongly want to keep Subject-Verb-Object as an invariable word order, to help avoid confusion.
So I propose a variant on the French "Est-ce que" as a basic question form.
To the otherwise unmodified sentence, add "izit" at the beginning.
No other change & no question mark.
izit he went home.
Where English uses vocal emphasis to pick on specific words to question, but cannot show that in writing, we could usefully place the "izit" directly in front of that specific word.
So the following questions are all slightly different:
izit You are going to Tokyo by Air France tomorrow with Jane.
You are going to izit Tokyo by Air France tomorrow with Jane.
You are going to Tokyo by izit Air France tomorrow with Jane.
You are going to Tokyo by Air France izit tomorrow with Jane.
You are going to Tokyo by Air France tomorrow with izit Jane.
Putting izit right at the start would be the general, unemphasised, question form.
More particular questions (why/who/which/when/how...) will be covered later.
Saturday, August 14, 2010
The second person singular (thou/thee) is now outdated in English but still very common in other languages.
Third person singular distinguishes between masculine, feminine & neutral, whereas the plural does not.
"We" is ambiguous - it includes "I", but does it include or exclude "You"?
"It" & "You" manage perfectly without specific object forms.
French & German complicate things even more.
I think a super-simple language can get by with only four pronouns, for example:
|I - Me|
|Thou - Thee - You|
|He - Him - She - Her - It - They - Them|
|We - Us|
Genetives, datives, reflexives etc can be handled by affixes, to be dealt with separately.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Every letter in every word is pronounced.
There are some logical results, which can be mentioned for clarification, but are not arbitrary rules.
Double consonnants (tt/nn/ss...) don't make sense & don't exist.
Double vowels make sense, some producing a double-length vowel sound which is commonly recognized in other languages.
Sounds like English
bear - not beer
Others (oo/aa) are logically OK but don't match any English sounds.
Adjacent but different vowels in one word are each pronounced with thier usual sound.
They are added together & don't produce any new diphthong sound.
As in English
Vienna - not pie/field
boa - not boat/boar
archaic - not air/pain
Adjacent vowels in adjacent words are just pronounced quite separately.
Nothing is inserted to "ease" such pronunciation, neither a separating letter (English "a man" but "an ant") nor a modified pronunciation (English "the man" & "the end" has different pronunciations of "the" with implied "thiy" before a vowel).
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Esperanto, in particular, has a vaste range of word prefixes & suffixes, which allow logical generation of adjectives, adverbs, comparatives, collectives, diminutives - you name it.
Worth a visit:
This is intellectually satisfying & permits efficient expression of a great wealth of ideas.
It also often allows word order to be adjusted for artistic or emphatic reasons.
But it takes a lot of learning.
And means affixed words have to be mentally broken up into root & affix before they are recognized & analysed.
Not quite as confusing as some German words, like "Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz".
But I want to stay a long way away from that sort of thing!
If I was ("were" sounds pompous) trying to design a powerful, beautiful, poetic language, I would go the Esperanto way.
In fact, I may steal some of those ideas...
But here I am looking, above all, for easy learning.
So I want all words to be invariable - no exceptions, not even accusative forms like "him" & "her".
This forces the use of word order as an essential part of grammar.
The first word-order basic rule is:
This is usual in many languages, including English, where "Johns hits Jane" leaves no doubt as to who does what to whom.
The second rule is, when describing something, to start with what is being described, then describe it in diminishing order of significance:
This is usual in, say, French, but quite opposite to English.
Where English would talk about a "Fairly Light Blue Wooden Box", then we should logically prefer a "Box Wooden Blue Light Fairly".
Any describing or qualifying word, comes after what it describes.
The same logic should apply to adverbs:
Where English says "He Runs Quite Quickly", then we would more logically have "He Runs Quickly Quite".
But I don't want any special adverb forms, like quickly, well, etc.
Nobody has a problem with "A Fast Car Goes Fast".
So why not "A Quick Car goes Quick", "The Good Boy Reads Good" etc?
I don't think they lose anything in meaning or clarity.
So, no special adverb forms.
The same descriptive word can describe an object and an action.
It just has to come immediately after what it is describing.
Summary of 2 rules on word order:
Monday, August 9, 2010
English is not too bad, except for:
Never sure how to pronounce 0 (nought, zero, nil, nothing, ow...).
Irregular numbers from eleven to nineteen.
Specific names for twenty/thirty/.../ninety.
Hyphen between the tens & units.
Adding "and" after the hundreds (six thousand, six hundred and sixty-six).
Ambiguity about what "billion" means. (How can anybody tolerate ambiguous numbers?)
French is worse, including:
Seventies are expressed as "sixty-ten", "sixty-eleven" etc.
Eighties as "four-twenties", "four-twenty-one" etc.
Nineties as "four-twenty-ten" etc.
German includes major glitches like:
Putting the units before the tens, "Six hundred six & sixty" etc.
Obviously, a new & easy-to learn language has to have absolute regularity & simplicity for all its numbers.
The base numbers should be monosyllabic & very distinct, for instance:
nil - won - tuw - tri - for - fiv - six - set - okt - nin - ten
Next groups up could be:
hunda - mila - miliona - ?
All numbers should be pronounced from left to right, with no joining up, no hyphens (that's questionable), no plurals & no "and".
Going against my mantra of simplicity above all, I suggest breaking up big numbers with a comma after thousands, millions etc.
I would use the same comma in the alphabetical & numerical representations.
It would introduce a clarifying pause in the spoken versions, as well as the obviously-necessary break in the written numbers.
11: ten won
12: ten tuw
20: tuw ten
21: tuw ten won
36: tri ten six
99: nin ten nin
101: hunda won
160: hunda six ten
199: hunda nin ten nin
200: tuw hunda
206: tuw hunda six
266: tuw hunda six ten six
999: nin hunda nin ten nin
1,001: mila, won
1,234: mila, tuw hunda tri ten for
2,000: tuw mila
20,000: tuw ten mila
20,001: tuw ten mila, won
23,456: tuw ten tri mila, for hunda fiv ten six
234,567: tuw hunda tri ten for mila, fiv hunda six ten set
1,000,001: miliona, won
2,345,678: tuw miliona, tri hunda for ten fiv mila, six hunda set ten okt
I will cover very big & very small numbers, & ordinals, separately.
Friday, August 6, 2010
Firstly, an alphabet.
Pictograms, as used in Chinese & Japanese, have some advantages, can be recognised & read more quickly by trained users, take up less space, etc.
They have 3 overwhelming disadvantages though:
They offer no clue to pronunciation.
You need to learn several thousand.
They can't be used on popular western keyboards.
I think that rules them out for an easy-to-learn language.
Syllabic representation, such as Japanese Hiragana & Katakana deal with the pronunciation problem, but require learning over 50 symbols, unfamiliar to 95% of the world's population.
And need a special keyboard.
So a conventional western alphabet seems the simplest solution.
But selected so that each symbol represents one & only one sound. (unlike: calorie/celery, gin/gun, icicle, bet/beet…)
And each sound is represented by one & only one symbol. (unlike: cake, space, beet/beat, physics/fizz …)
And no sound is represented by a combination of letters which does not logically produce that sound. (qu, th, ch, sh, ph…)
For simplicity & keyboard-friendliness, I would avoid accents and also symbols which are only found in a limited number of languages.
Actually, that is one of the problems with Esperanto, invented before keyboards…
So, I end up with the following 24 letters (& corresponding sounds from English in brackets):
a(bat) – b(bat) – d(dot) – e(bet) – f(fit) – g(got) – h(hit) – i(hit) – j(job) – k(kit) – l(lit) – m(mat) – n(not) – o(dot) – p(pat) – r(rat) – s(sat) – t(tap) – u(pull not gull) – v(vat) – w(wit) – x(axe) – y(yob not many) – z(zap).
Eliminating (from a qwerty keyboard): c & q
I have lost these extremely common sounds:
u(cup) – e(err) – th(thin) – th(this) – ch(chat)
Which is a pity, but trying to get them back would introduce complications I don't want.
Pursuing radical simplicity, I propose to do without capital letters.
Current users of western alphabets will find that excessive.
My doubts started when I came across Japanese Hiragana & Katakana.
2 completely different sets of symbols, to represent the same set of sounds.
And you need to learn both to cope with any text including traditional & imported words.
I thought that was obviously an extravagance.
Then I looked at western capital & lower-case letters & realized that there too were 2 sets of almost-entirely different symbols representing the same sounds.
If capital letters had been just bigger copies of small-case, that would have been OK.
So, to speed up learning by non-westerners (though I admit that almost everybody recognises these letters now) I want to do without capitals.
I am encouraged by the fact that more & more kids, these days, have stopped using capitals, because they are too lazy to do the keyboard shifting which it requires.
I admit it makes blocks of text less easy to split into sentences.
I could still change my mind on this one.
The end result is that you can pronounce any word you see printed & you can write any word you hear.
As I said here, I think there is room for a radically simple universal second language, whose main characteristic would be that you could learn all of it (except vocabulary) in half a day.
This post aims to cover verbs in such a language.
The heading picture, from http://conjd.cactus2000.de/index.en.php, shows a conjugation table for one German verb, not even a difficult one.
How long before you could use that at normal talking speed?
For a bit more detail, you could try this. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_verbs
I think we can do better than that – or at least do something simpler & quicker to learn & be able to use.
Say our new language has a verb 'hit'.
You can guess what it means.
This one invariable word - & I want to stress that absolutely ALL words should be invariable – will be the infinitive.
It will also be the present tense, for any & every subject.
I didn't mention the invariable word order: subject-verb-object.
To make a past tense, just add the invariable word 'did' after the infinitive.
I hit did.
She hit did.
Note that, in general, all qualifying words should come after what they qualify, unlike in English.
To make a future tense, add the invariable word 'wil' after the infinitive.
I hit wil.
You hit wil.
I hit wud.
You hit get.
Combinations of passive & others are possible & obvious.
He hit get did.
You hit get wil.
Most languages have lots of additional tenses & moods.
Subjunctives, imperfects, continuous…
See the Wikipedia German link above.
They certainly add possibilities for subtlety & refinement.
I think a basic language can & should manage without.
In the interest of simplicity, above all.
So, in summary:
To learn any verb, you just learn one word, which stays invariable.
For every verb:
Future – add 'wil'.
Past – add 'did'.
Conditional – add 'wud'.
Passive – add 'get'.
You know everything about every verb.
After 30 years' immersion in French, I manage OK, but it is still instantly obvious to everybody that I am a foreigner.
At various times, I have attempted to learn a bit of Latin, German, Italian, Japanese, Esperanto and, most recently, Alsatian.
In none of those have I achieved more than about 5% competence.
Every time I study a language, I am struck by two things:
1. The way every language is weighed down by its own pointless complications & irregularities.
2. The surprising absence, from each language, of some elements which other languages seem to consider essential.
A quick example of both is plural forms.
English, like most other languages, has a plural form of most nouns.
Sometimes simple (cat/cats), sometimes less simple (potato/potatoes, lady/ladies, half/halves, oasis/oases) but often irregular (child/children, man/men, foot/feet, mouse/mice…).
It would be a lot easier if at least they were all regular.
Yet Japanese manages perfectly well without plural forms at all.
And so does English, when it wants to (sheep/sheep, fish/fish etc).
Did you ever have the slightest problem in transmitting or receiving any information about any quantity of fish or sheep, from none to millions?
Plural forms are a waste of everybody's time & effort.
Easily enough absorbed in early childhood, they are persistent stumbling blocks for adult learners.
Then there is Gender & Agreement.
The only way I managed to start actually talking in French at all was to deliberately ignore gender & put up with the mockery.
Otherwise I would have needed to stop & check every other word in a dictionary before using it.
And French only has 2 genders, where German & Alsatian have three...
Only by a lifetime's immersion could I possibly master the table of German genders & agreements well enough to use it faultlessly at talking speed.
You need to consider 16 possibilities every time:
Masculine/Feminine/Neutral/Plural x Nominative/Accusative/Dative/Genitive.
And to think it is pretty much pointless…
English manages OK without genders & agreement at all.
Another little example is pronouns which, even in English, mostly adopt accusative forms:
I/he/she/we/you/they hit me/him/her/you/them.
Having "you" as both nominative & accusative never caused anybody a problem, so why complicate all the others?
Fundamentally, languages are being used for two, often conflicting, missions.
1. Transmitting historical, cultural & regional values & information.
2. Communicating as widely as possible.
The cultural part requires that all the peculiarities, of as many local languages & dialects as possible, should be maintained & learned by local youngsters.
The communicating part would be better handled by a single, universal, language.
Seen from here & now, that seems most likely to be English.
Seen from elsewhere, it could well be Spanish or Chinese.
If any existing language becomes "universal", it will cause significant & justified jealousy & resentment among native-speakers of all the other languages, who will be at a disadvantage.
Indeed, the jealousy & resentment are more than likely to prevent any existing language ever becoming universal.
Which is where Esperanto comes in.
Where all other languages evolved & accumulated.
It has to be hundreds of times faster to learn than any other language.
A wonderful effort.
But it has not developed any significant usage yet & seems unlikely to do so now.
1. Came too early, before there was globalization to make it necessary & internet to make it popular?
2. Still unnecessarily complicated?
3. Just not promoted well enough?
I think there is room for a radically simpler language.
Which would aim to become a universal second language due to its utter simplicity.
One where anybody could learn absolutely all the grammar, with absolutely no irregularities, in half a day.
Leaving half a day to learn some basic vocabulary.
So in one day, we could all communicate…