Isolating language

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Macnerd
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Isolating language

Postby Macnerd » 2019-02-05, 15:51

Since isolating languages use no inflection & no helper words like modal verbs, how would an isolating language express a modal verb such as "I may dwell"?

In the Arby's phrase "grass-fed beef", "grass" is a noun, "fed" is the past participle of the verb "feed". Participles can act as adjectives. Nouns can act as adjectives as in "apartment building". They are called attributive nouns. So, the phrase "grass-fed" is acting like an adjective & modifying the noun "beef". Since an isolating language uses no inflections & helper words, how would it express the Arby's phrase?

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Re: Isolating language

Postby linguoboy » 2019-02-05, 16:15

Macnerd wrote:Since isolating languages use no inflection & no helper words like modal verbs, how would an isolating language express a modal verb such as "I may dwell"?

Where do you get the idea that isolating languages don't have modal verbs?

Macnerd wrote:In the Arby's phrase "grass-fed beef", "grass" is a noun, "fed" is the past participle of the verb "feed". Participles can act as adjectives. Nouns can act as adjectives as in "apartment building". They are called attributive nouns. So, the phrase "grass-fed" is acting like an adjective & modifying the noun "beef". Since an isolating language uses no inflections & helper words, how would it express the Arby's phrase?

Let's look at Chinese:

草飼牛肉
grass feed ox meat

Because of how Chinese grammar works, verbs are often unmarked for voice. Thus 飼 can be interpreted as either "feed" or "be fed", depending on the context.
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Re: Isolating language

Postby Macnerd » 2019-02-05, 21:26

I was mistaken. I thought that isolating languages have no modal verbs. I did some research. Chinese & Vietnamese are both isolating languages & they both have modal verbs.

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Re: Isolating language

Postby Ser » 2019-02-05, 21:52

Yeah. Believe it or not, Mandarin simply attaches the verb as a modifier before the noun.

For example, the word for "running water" simply makes a compound of 流 liu2 'to flow' and 水 shui3 'water': 流水 liu2shui3. Nothing marks 流 liu2 as some sort of participle.


Similarly, the term for "minor" (a person under a certain legal age), 未成年人 wei4cheng2nian2ren2, is a compound of four morphemes:
- 未 wei4 'not yet', used mostly as a bound morpheme, i.e. it mostly appears attached to other morphemes
- 成 cheng2 meaning 'become', another bound morpheme, which could be thought of as an abbreviation of 成為 cheng2wei2 'to become'
- 年 nian2 'year'
- 人 ren2 'person'

In other words, a "not-yet-become-yeared-person", except that nothing marks "become" and "year" as modifiers.

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Re: Isolating language

Postby Macnerd » 2019-02-06, 19:37

Interesting! An infinitive is used instead of a participle!

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Re: Isolating language

Postby linguoboy » 2019-02-06, 20:25

Macnerd wrote:Interesting! An infinitive is used instead of a participle!

Or maybe these categories simply aren't meaningful in a language where verbs aren't conjugated at all.
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Re: Isolating language

Postby Linguaphile » 2019-02-07, 4:43

Some examples from Hmong Dawb (White Hmong):

Macnerd wrote:how would an isolating language express a modal verb such as "I may dwell"?

tej zaum kuv yuav nyob
might I will dwell/live

Macnerd wrote:"grass-fed beef"

cov nyuj pub nyom
plural cow feed grass


Ser wrote:the word for "running water"

khiav dej
move water

also:
ntws dej
flow water

Ser wrote:the term for "minor" (a person under a certain legal age)

me nyuam tsis nto hnub nyoog 18 xyoo
child no reach day/sun age 18 year (or whatever age the "certain legal age" in question may be)

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Re: Isolating language

Postby Macnerd » 2019-02-11, 15:37

Interesting!

I've learned something. I thought that isolating languages had no modal verbs. I was mistaken. But they are wordy. It takes more words in an isolating language to express something than in an analytic or synthetic language. Like the example you gave, "me nyuam tsis nto hnub nyoog 18 xyoo" for the single word "minor".

Languages fascinate me. I've spent hours on YouTube & Google learning about grammar, syntax, types of languages, parts of speech, etc. I'd love to create a conlang.

The word "ntws" is all consonants. How is a word that's all consonants pronounced?

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Re: Isolating language

Postby linguoboy » 2019-02-11, 15:52

Macnerd wrote:I've learned something. I thought that isolating languages had no modal verbs. I was mistaken. But they are wordy. It takes more words in an isolating language to express something than in an analytic or synthetic language. Like the example you gave, "me nyuam tsis nto hnub nyoog 18 xyoo" for the single word "minor".

Not necessarily. It really depends on the language and its history. Compare:

Chinese: 未成年人 wèichéngniánrén
German: Minderjähriger

These words are almost identical in length despite the fact that Chinese is highly isolating and German is fusional. Russian is more highly inflecting than German and the Russian equivalent is несовершенноле́тний. Thai is more isolating than Chinese and the Standard Thai word for "minor", ผู้เยาว์ pûu-yao, is no longer than English.

"Minor" is a legal concept of relatively recent origin, so it's not surprising that the Hmong term is rather awkward given their very recent acquaintance with modern legal administration.

Macnerd wrote:The word "ntws" is all consonants. How is a word that's all consonants pronounced?

In Hmong orthography <w> is a vowel and final <s> is tone mark. You can't simply assume these letters are consonants simply because they represent consonants in English. As we say in Welsh, that would be yn ddwl.
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Re: Isolating language

Postby Linguaphile » 2019-02-11, 21:12

Macnerd wrote:The word "ntws" is all consonants. How is a word that's all consonants pronounced?


It's pronounced /ⁿdɨ˩/
Just as Linguoboy explained, it's not all consonants. In Hmong RPA orthography the letter w represents ɨ and the s represents a low tone.
By the way, the equivalent word in the Njua variant of Hmong is ndlwg instead of ntws. It is pronounced /ⁿdˡɨ˨˩/. The word for "nose" is ntswg /ᶯɖʐɨ˨˩/. "To spend money" is tshwb /ʈʂʰɨ˥/. And niece or nephew is ntxwv /ⁿdzʱɨ˧˦/ :mrgreen:

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Re: Isolating language

Postby Macnerd » 2019-02-14, 17:36

I'm sorry that I have so many questions.

How does an isolating language create new words? How would the English word "selfish" be created in an isolating language? Or "darkness" or "friendship"?

How does an isolating language do phrases or dependent clauses?

For example, the phrase "faster than you" in the sentence "He is faster than you.".

Or the dependent clause, "where I grew up" in the sentence, "That is the house where I grew up.".

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Re: Isolating language

Postby linguoboy » 2019-02-14, 17:57

Macnerd wrote:How does an isolating language create new words? How would the English word "selfish" be created in an isolating language? Or "darkness" or "friendship"?

Remember that "isolating" is a continuum. No purely isolating language exists. All the isolating languages I'm familiar with allow compounding of some sort.

Examples from Chinese:
自私 "selfish" ("self" + "private")
黑暗 "darkness" ("black" + "dark")
友誼 "friendship" ("friend" + "friendship")

Macnerd wrote:For example, the phrase "faster than you" in the sentence "He is faster than you.".

With a coverb. Standard Chinese uses 比 "compared to":

他比你跑得快。"He runs faster than you." ("He compared-to you runs ADV fast".)

Macnerd wrote:Or the dependent clause, "where I grew up" in the sentence, "That is the house where I grew up.".

I think we already answered this when we talked about modifying nouns. You just put the clause before the nouns, i.e. "that is I grew up house".

If you're curious about these questions, I strongly encourage you to read a descriptive grammar of an isolating language. Descriptions of Standard Chinese are easy to find, but you might have an easier time with a language written in Latin script like Hmong, Vietnamese, or Haitian Creole.
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Re: Isolating language

Postby Linguaphile » 2019-02-15, 1:56

I'll add Hmong Njua examples so that you can see how another language does it too.

Macnerd wrote:How would the English word "selfish" be created in an isolating language?

qa dlub (bad-characteristic :?: black :?:)
cuaj khaum (household-possessions :?: caught :?:)

I'm not sure about the etymology of either of those, so I may have the meanings of the individual parts wrong. Most of the above words have homophones (and potential tone sandhi opening up even more possible meanings) so the meanings I indicated are just guesswork on my part. I am pretty sure qa dlub is a metaphor of some sort. Anyway, in both cases, the meaning of the word pair is different from the meaning of its individual parts, and is understood to mean "selfish" when the two parts are used together.
A selfish person can also be described as muab hlub "loves to take" (lit. "take-love", where "take" [taking] is what is loved)

Macnerd wrote:Or "darkness"

kev tsaus ntuj (way dark sky)
kev muaj ntxoov ntxoo (way have shadow)

Macnerd wrote:or "friendship"?

kev ua phoojywg (way do friend) [phoojywg is a loanword from Chinese 朋友]
kev moog ua ke (way go do together)

As you probably can surmise from the above four words, kev ("way") is used for a wide variety of verb-derived and adjective-derived nouns.

Macnerd wrote: the phrase "faster than you"
sai dlua koj (fast surpass you)
Macnerd wrote: in the sentence "He is faster than you.".
Nws yog sai dlua koj (he is fast surpass you)

linguoboy wrote:友誼 "friendship" ("friend" + "friendship")
:hmm:
So can 誼 mean "friendship" on its own then?
How is the meaning of 誼 different from the meaning of 友誼?

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Re: Isolating language

Postby Ser » 2019-02-15, 6:40

Linguaphile wrote:
linguoboy wrote:友誼 "friendship" ("friend" + "friendship")
:hmm:
So can 誼 mean "friendship" on its own then?
How is the meaning of 誼 different from the meaning of 友誼?

誼 yi4 is a bound morpheme that can't appear on its own. It is only found as the second morpheme of various synonyms meaning "friendship" or a nuanced synonym of it: 友誼 you3yi4, 聯誼 lian2yi4, 情誼 qing2yi4, 交誼 jiao1yi4, 厚誼 hou4yi4, 年誼 nian2yi4...


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