Sunday, January 24, 2010

abundance of English syllables is illusory. Epithet design.

D: at first glance, English has a truly staggering number of possible syllables.
Take the largest single-syllable word.
Even allowing for phonemes, this would still be CCCVCCC.
I suppose we could, in theory, also include a diphthonged vowel.
The S/SH- initial and -S final positions really bump up the total number.

But there are some limits that detract from this theoretical number of syllables.

With a -er ending (either schwa or omitted vowel), we get words like "rubber".
BUT. The tendency to reduce a P/B pair mid-word in such cases to the same sound means we don't
effectively have access to both members of voiced/voiceless consonant pairs.
The unworkable aspects of the concept soon become apparent if you consider the phenomenon of flapping in North American English. In the right environment, this flapping can change either /t/ or /d/ into the allophone [ɾ] for many affected speakers. Here, one allophone is clearly assigned to two phonemes.

However, with rare exceptions, these sounds are not contrastive before plosives such as /p, t, k/ within the same morpheme. Although all three phones appear before plosives, for example in limp, lint, link, only one of these may appear before each of the plosives. That is, the /m, n, ŋ/ distinction is neutralized before each of the plosives /p, t, k/:
Only /m/ occurs before /p/,
only /n/ before /t/, and
only /ŋ/ before /k/.

Restricted phonemes

A restricted phoneme is a phoneme that can only occur in a certain environment: There are restrictions as to where it can occur. English has several restricted phonemes:
/ŋ/, as in sing, occurs only at the end of a syllable, never at the beginning (in many other languages, such as Swahili or Thai, /ŋ/ can appear word-initially).
/h/ occurs only before vowels and at the beginning of a syllable, never at the end (a few languages, such as Arabic, or Romanian allow /h/ syllable-finally).
In many American dialects with the cot-caught merger, /ɔ/ occurs only before /r/, /l/, and in the diphthong /ɔɪ/.
In non-rhotic dialects, /r/ can only occur before a vowel, never at the end of a word or before a consonant.
Under most interpretations, /w/ and /j/ occur only before a vowel, never at the end of a syllable. However, many phonologists interpret a word like boy as either /bɔɪ/ or /bɔj/.

D: co-articulation dispatches some other theoretically permissible combinations.

IN-credible. But IM-possible.
Trying to say INpossible takes some work.
So, in effect, we are denied the possibility of two separate prefixes in- and -im-.

D: and what you see - the letters- may not be what you get.
Think. Thi -ng -k. Try to say thi - n -k. Takes work, huh?
Shared manner or place, likely. Guess Chomsky-ites would say shared aspect.
D: English plural -s, -z and -ez would be another example.
Since we find that cats and dogs do in fact have nothing in common (sounded -s and -z respectively), we could not treat these as 2 separate suffix endings.

Don't get me wrong; English has an impressive number of monosyllable words.
Just not as many as we might initially assume.

If we were to sit down and plan out a series of phonemes that allow very easy, fast, accurate and lazy speech, we would find the number of acceptable combinations would be even less.

A partially taxonomic scheme has 2 benefits:
1) it lowers the number of elements to memorize, and
2) it makes planning efficient use of syllables easier.
One of Esp-o claims is that learning a mere 1000 base/stems allows basic conversation.
Well, by re-using even more basic elements with slight variations outlined, we can lower this requirement.
This is only one consideration of what would make an aux-lang easy - the primary consideration, particularly one catering to adult-second-language learners.
If this can be reduced to 250-500, then that would prove a real help in rapidly learning enough vocabulary to being conversing.
Slight variations are arguably another element that must be learned, though I think of it more like noun-compounding.
E..g the heavy recycling of AEIOU's association with spacetime's 0,1,2,3 and 4 (time) dimensions.
Overlapping with in/centre, in, out/near, out/far concepts. The core of geometry, spatial prepositions (and temporal ones derived from them) as well as a potential core pronoun system.
Know 1? Then slight variants to denote once, first, and so forth. OK that is not profound.

The more I study common English words, the more I find:
1) a few very basic math-space-time (arithmetic, geometry) concepts re-used repeatedly, and
2) a few more advanced 'human' concepts such as social prestige, building, economic/political/social/legal, institution, hierarchal position et al re-used incessantly.
Esp-o "biblioteko" - a solitary word that must be learned, even though 'book -place - building' concepts already existed indicates "Z" never methodically applied this insight.

Men, gentlemen and rogues.
"Ladies and gentlemen." "Men and women" .... "Rogues and sluts"?
A respect for social position is ubiquitous in natural languages.
A simple neutral default indicator for 'social prestige', with +/- option pairs is darn handy.
Odd that I am including ways to insult people.
Heavy? "Stocky, big boned?" "One fat f**k!"
Ditto, disturbingly, all manner of bias. Gender, colour, religion, ethnic group, nationality.
Add a 1984-style "double plus" phoneme pair (maybe L/R and W/Y? or thereabouts) and we have a way to make some mean comments. The kind that start fights.

Romeo, the hate I bear thee can afford
No better term than this,--thou art a villain.
A language that could not capture Shakespeare has no business posing as a language.
The modern person understands that villain is meant to be a deadly insult.

c.1300, "base or low-born rustic," from Anglo-Fr. and O.Fr. villain, from M.L. villanus "farmhand," from L. villa "country house" (see villa).
"The most important phases of the sense development of this word may be summed up as follows: 'inhabitant of a farm; peasant; churl, boor; clown; miser; knave, scoundrel.' Today both Fr. vilain and Eng. villain are used only in a pejorative sense." [Klein]
Meaning "character in a novel, play, etc. whose evil motives or actions help drive the plot" is from 1822.

D: they just don't understand WHY.

Much of Shakespeare is lost on modern audiences. Even those in drama/theatre.

I don't personally care for it much. It is also very difficult for ESL speakers.
My Parisian French GF could speak English well enough. I took her to see "Much Ado about Nothing".
She was totally lost.

"Vulgar" is ultimately also an elitist reference to commoners.

Decimese: concept: common, average. Plus/minus. Prestige indicator. It that respect for the hard-working Joe 6pack blue collar?
Or contempt for the unwashed masses?

Decimese would need to express such epithets robustly.

A polite language a nice idea. But rowdy humour, off-colour jokes and nasty put-downs are part of communication.
They must be incorporated. Besides, folks would need to invent them otherwise anyway.

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