Friday, January 22, 2010

Rhotic rumble: IAL smackdown. Compared to Mandarin.

D: I'm comparing phonological and grammatical features of 4 IALs to Mandarin Chinese.
Lojban, Esp-o, Ceqli and LangX. Only Lojban makes no pretenses about being designed initially as a global IAL.


D: Huh. The Wiki goes into more detail than I need right now on phonology.

Unaspirated Aspirated Nasal Voiceless
fricative Voiced
Labial b p m f
Alveolar d t n l
Velar g k h
Palatal j q x
Dental sibilant z c s
Retroflex zh ch sh r
In Mandarin Chinese there are 35 final sounds:

6 simple finals: a, e, i, o, u, ü
13 compound finals: ai, ao, ei, ia, iao, ie, iou, ou, ua, uai, üe, uei, uo
16 nasal finals: 8 front nasals: an, en, ian, in, uan, üan, uen, ün
8 back nasals: ang, eng, iang, ing, iong, ong, uang, ueng
Additional syllables in Mandarin Chinese:

7 special cases: er, hm, hng, m, n, ng, ~r

D: but the rules for syllable construction are both restrictive by format, and arbitrary by quirk.

a, ai, an, ang, ao
ba, bai, ban, bang, bao, bei, ben, beng, bi, bian, biao, bie, bin, bing, bo, bu
ca, cai, can, cang, cao, ce, cei, cen, ceng, cha, chai, chan, chang, chao, che, chen, cheng, chi, chong, chou, chu, chua, chuai, chuan, chuang, chui, chun, chuo, ci, cong, cou, cu, cuan, cui, cun, cuo
da, dai, dan, dang, dao, de, dei, den, deng, di, dian, diao, die, ding, diu, dong, dou, du, duan, dui, dun, duo
e, ê, ei, en, er
fa, fan, fang, fei, fen, feng, fo, fou, fu
ga, gai, gan, gang, gao, ge, gei, gen, geng, gong, gou, gu, gua, guai, guan, guang, gui, gun, guo
ha, hai, han, hang, hao, he, hei, hen, heng, hm, hng, hong, hou, hu, hua, huai, huan, huang, hui, hun, huo
ji, jia, jian, jiang, jiao, jie, jin, jing, jiong, jiu, ju, juan, jue, jun
ka, kai, kan, kang, kao, ke, kei, ken, keng, kong, kou, ku, kua, kuai, kuan, kuang, kui, kun, kuo
la, lai, lan, lang, lao, le, lei, leng, li, lia, lian, liang, liao, lie, lin, ling, liu, long, lou, lu, luo, luan, lun, lü, lüe
m, ma, mai, man, mang, mao, mei, men, meng, mi, mian, miao, mie, min, ming, miu, mo, mou, mu
n, na, nai, nan, nang, nao, ne, nei, nen, neng, ng, ni, nian, niang, niao, nie, nin, ning, niu, nong, nou, nu, nuo, nuan, nü, nüe
o, ou
pa, pai, pan, pang, pao, pei, pen, peng, pi, pian, piao, pie, pin, ping, po, pou, pu
qi, qia, qian, qiang, qiao, qie, qin, qing, qiong, qiu, qu, quan, que, qun
ran, rang, rao, re, ren, reng, ri, rong, rou, ru, rua, ruan, rui, run, ruo
sa, sai, san, sang, sao, se, sei, sen, seng, sha, shai, shan, shang, shao, she, shei, shen, sheng, shi, shou, shu, shua, shuai, shuan, shuang, shui, shun, shuo, si, song, sou, su, suan, sui, sun, suo
ta, tai, tan, tang, tao, te, teng, ti, tian, tiao, tie, ting, tong, tou, tu, tuan, tui, tun, tuo
wa, wai, wan, wang, wei, wen, weng, wo, wu
xi, xia, xian, xiang, xiao, xie, xin, xing, xiong, xiu, xu, xuan, xue, xun
ya, yan, yang, yao, ye, yi, yin, ying, yong, you, yu, yuan, yue, yun
za, zai, zan, zang, zao, ze, zei, zen, zeng, zha, zhai, zhan, zhang, zhao, zhe, zhei, zhen, zheng, zhi, zhong, zhou, zhu, zhua, zhuai, zhuan, zhuang, zhui, zhun, zhuo, zi, zong, zou, zu, zuan, zui, zun, zuo

D: don't try posting all monosyllables in English- there a lot more.

OK, so we see what the initial problems with almost every IAL will be be.
1) phonemes - particularly voiced/voiceless consonant pairs
2) syllable format - the initial/end rules are brutal.

Grammar: Subject Verb Object - the same as English.
Heavy use of optional word particles to denote nuance. Infixes are basically absent.

So immediately, any Latinate or European-derived language is in trouble.
Including "Euroclones lite" - tastes great, but still Euro.

Consonants Vowels & diphthongs
Letter English IPA Letter English IPA
b b [b] a ah [a, ɑ]
c ts [t͡s] e eh [e, ɛ]
ĉ ch [t͡ʃ] i ee [i]
d d [d] o oh [o, ɔ]
f f [f] u oo [u]
g hard g
(as in go) [ɡ]
ĝ j [d͡ʒ] aj bye [ai̯, ɑi̯]
h h [h] aŭ bough [au̯, ɑu̯]
ĥ loch [x] ej bay [ei̯, ɛi̯]
j y [j] eŭ * [eu̯, ɛu̯]
ĵ zh [ʒ] oj boy [oi̯, ɔi̯]
k k [k] uj buoy** [ui̯]
l l [l] (as one syllable)
m m [m] * Something similar to eŭ can be heard in exaggerated mimicry – as
delivered by such American comedians as Carol Burnett – of the
pronunciation in British RP of the word "oh"
** where pronounced roughly as written, and not homophonous with "boy"
Ŭ is a consonant in names and a few interjections, such as ŭa! (waa!)
n n [n]
p p [p]
r r (rolled) [r]
s s [s]
ŝ sh [ʃ]
t t [t]
v v [v]
z z [z]

D: Huh. Mandarin is one of the few groups that won't stumble on the Ts- sound.

But 'tis not the phonemes, but phonotactics that prove problematic.
Mandarin, when it allows a consonant in final position, only regularly allow -N and -NG.

Since Esp-o basically allow mirror image syllable formats, as well as adjacent CVC- syllables, Mandarin speakers are in trouble.
Oddly, all the Esp-o sites that talk about Mandarin speakers claim they take to Esp-o like a duck to water...
Ditto the mono/polysyllable divide.
In RESP training, the word that kicked the Chinese guy's ass was "inevitability". Simple syllable structures, but highly polysyllabic, with a staccato delivery.


A syllable in Esperanto is generally of the form (s/ŝ)(C)(C)V(C)(C). That is, it may have an onset, of up to three consonants

Any consonant except h may close a syllable, though coda ĝ and ĵ are rare in monomorphemes (they contrast in aĝ’ 'age' vs. aĵ’ 'thing'). Within a morpheme, there may be a maximum of four sequential consonants, as for example in instruas "teaches", dekstren "to the right". Long clusters generally include a sibilant such as s or one of the liquids l or r.
Geminate consonants generally only occur in polymorphemic words, such as mal-longa "short"

'Nuff said. I still cannot say anything in Esp-o derived from science.
D: if we are only talking about a childhood language, when the mind is still plastic and flexible, no problem.
For that matter, we could teach Xoo with a staggering number of phonemes and a Cantonese tone system while we're at it.
But if an IAL must be learned by adults, and ones from diverse linguistic backgrounds that are not professional linguists and/or accomplished polygots.... we have a problem.

I'm done now.

1. 2. Diphthongs
Lojban has 16 diphthongs (a kind of sound which consists of a vowel plus a glide, always constituting a single syllable). The combinations , , and , for instance, are all realized as the corresponding falling diphthongs. To force these sounds to be pronounced separately as monophthongs, a comma can be put between them. Triphthongs do not exist in Lojban.

D: oddly not a problem for Mandarin, which uses diphthongs heavily.
Having said that, this will just SLAY a whole lotta linguistic backgrounds.

Phoneme Grapheme Sounds like
open a (ɑ) a like the "a" in father, NOT like in hat.
front mid ɛ (e) e like the "e" in bet, NOT like in beep
front close i i like the "i" in machine, NOT like in igloo
back mid o (ɔ) o like the "o" in open, NOT like opera
back close u u like the "oo" in moon, NOT like in cup
central mid ə y like the "a" in sofa, NOT as in yellow
voiceless labial f (ɸ) f like the "f" in fat
voiced labial v (β) v like the "v" in vast
voiceless velar x x Like the "ch" in the Scottish loch, or like the German Bach, or like the "j" in Spanish José, or like the "Kh" in Arabic Khaled.
unvoiced glottal / unvoiced dental h (θ) '
voiceless alveolar s s
voiced alveolar z z
voiceless coronal ʃ (ʂ) c like the "sh" in shoe
voiced coronal ʒ (ʐ) j like the "s" in vision
voiceless bilabial p p
voiced bilabial b b
voiceless dental / voiceless alveolar t t
voiced dental / voiced alveolar d d
voiceless velar k k
voiced velar ɡ g
glottal ʔ .
labial glide w u-
palatal glide j i-
voiced lateral l (l)̩ l
voiced bilabial m (m)̩ m
voiced dental / voiced velar n (n̩, ŋ, ŋ̩) n
rhotic r, ɹ, ɾ, ʀ, r ̩, ɹ̩, ɾ̩, ʀ̩ r

brivla (bridi valsi) "part of speech: content word"

D: briv-la. It seems like a pretty simple word to an English speaker.
Not so for a Mandarin speaker.
BR - consonant cluster. Nope.
BRIV- ending in V. Nope.

So Lojban gets part marks for phonology selection. Then loses some for somewhat difficult syllable rules.

I just picked the first contributor.

There are five vowels, two semivowels, and 14 consonants.


A (father); E (pet); I (sheet); O (coat); U (shoot)


P (pen); B (bet); K (kangaroo); G (go); T (ten); D (den); C (cheat, or alternately shell); S (sit); F (find); H (loch, red); M (mine); N (not); L (long)


Y (yard); W (water)

D: Hmm, we immediately get into trouble with the PB distinction. I'm sure it is widely acceptable.
One could argue that aspiration could be used, but this will be opaque to non-Mandarin speakers.

Perhaps we fare better in the syllable rules.

Hello: Canti. (peace)
Good Bye: Canti
Thank you: Asante (thanks)
You're welcome: No yau asante (no need thanks)
I'm sorry: Skusa
Don't worry: Aca / No susi (no worry)
Excuse me: Mafan

D: this fares pretty well but not perfectly. The consonant-Y-vowel format will be tricky (mine is optional).
And S+K is gonna be tricky too.
So not perfect, though fairly good.
Surprisingly poor in light of how few phonemes there are, though.


B as in Boy
C as in CHin
D as in DuD
F as in FluFF
G as in Good
H as in Hat
J as in John, Gem
K as in KinK
P as in PiP
S as in So
T as in ToT
V as in Victory
X as in SHoe
Z as in Zoo

The other 12 are considered vowels in Ceqli

Five Full Vowels:

A as in fAther
E as in bEt*
I as in machIne
O as in bOAt
U as in bOOt

And two semivowels:

W as in We, coW
Y as in You, boY

And five sounds, nasals and liquids, that are usually thought of
as consonants, but are considered vowels in Ceqli:

L as in LuLL
M as in MiM
N as in NooN
Q as in siNG
R as in RoaR (Midwestern American or Mandarin preferred, but any 'r' sound will do.)

W and Y make these diphthongs:

ay - as in frY
aw - as in cow
ey - as in bAthe
oy - as in bOY
ya - as in YArd
ye- as in YEllow
yo - as in YOre
yu - as in YOU
wa - as in WAter
we - as in WEt
wi - as in WE

D: A perfect score!!!
Not surprising, since it is largely based on Mandarin that way.
This is not a criticism. So is Decimese.

Triphthongs are possible though rare:
yay as in YIkes!
waw as in WOW!
wey as in WAY
yey as in YAY
yoy as in YOIks!

OK a coupla of these will be tricky.

dan - in, inside from French "dans"
dom - house from Russian/Latin — also English "domestic"
go - I or me (note that it's a GW, as are the following pronouns)
zi - you from German "Sie"
da - he, she, or it (above I stated that "da" introduces a verb phrase. All pronouns do.) from Logan "da"
gozi - we (inclusive) this is an example of compounded GW's.
goda - we (exclusive)

D: once again, great marks!

Just about perfect.

D: so there we have it.
Model T Ford.
60's muscle car.
Modern sedan.
Niice peppy compact!

So what is Decimese?
<: A hybrid. <:

The trick is to use the LangX trick. Just like Esp-o wished to freeze developments, even "improvements" until after accepted as the standard, LangX is waiting for saturation.
LangX begins with a small phoneme selection and simple syllables.
Over generations, it would methodically increase in complexity.
I've noted my muted criticism of their implementation details.
Their linear progression would leave many have-nots behind.
Also, I understand why the initial lang13 offering has no tone.
There is NO reason why later progression would not also include tone.
Every bit as much as it should include more sounds and acceptable syllable forms.
With a different approach, they could evolve their way into SpeedTalk.

Anyway, LangX uses the trick of increasing categories intergenerationally.
My Decimese at the intermediate stage, or for some linguistic backgrounds, can embed word particles into the main word in the form of more complex syllables.
CV CVC .... CCVVC. Or cv CVC... CcVv(nasal).
I already explored using tone to do just this with an English-derived pidgin in VERSE.
I don't suppose there is any reason I could not more ambitiously bootstrap my way from Decimese to "Speedtalk".
But the level of planning required to not paint myself into a corner is staggering.
And LOL after two years I am only now nailing down basic phonotactics and grammar format LOL.
As well as core vocabulary.

I read an article on China today. They warned that free flow of info on the net could "hurt bilateral relations". The world would have found it hard to believe the chutzpah of this just a mere decade ago.
When Esp-o was being written a century ago, China was an ancient empire that had been soundly beaten by firearms.
Of course, Esp-o did not emphasize ease of learning for Mandarin speakers.

Every day, Esp-o will drift farther away from viability as China rises ascendant.
Even widely palatable pidgins will fail to meet the demanding limitations of Mandarin.
Whether China supplants the USA or the entire English-speaking world is not necessary to make my point.
They're playing in the big league with the big boys now. Nobody seriously thinks that will change.
Looking to the future, I see what Ceqli sees. A lowest-common-denominator between English and Mandarin.
I just wish to capture Sapir's "spirit of the age" more explicitly. And provide a novel, robust meta-vocabulary for all common terms to boot. Much like a taxonomic system that way.
It is no coincidence that the last 3 influential books I've read have been:
1) The Blank Slate
2) Honour: a History
3) The God Delusion.
Reason and superstition. I associate every natural language, and pidgin/interlang IALs with the latter.
Not based in math, in science, in reason.
We replaced alchemy with chemistry. Astrology with astronomy. Vitalism with biology.
But one aspect of human existence - a central one -maybe the central one- remains unexamined.
Lojban and a handful of others can lay claim to carrying the flag for Sapir.
A language that has the format of Mandarin in the form of a subset of acceptable English phonotactics, and that possesses both the message of Sapir as well as a format to express it well is fit to inherit the mantle of "world language".
There it is.

1 comment:

Dino Snider said...

"Empire of Debt" explains how China avoided the modern empire 'tribute system' of currency rates. China pegged their currency to the US dollar, which is viewed as "cheating" since it breaks this system.

Hmm. If getting from Lang13 to Lang53 is the problem... don't?
Teach kids a language adults cannot learn. Then there is no need to address "operating system backwards compatibility", to use a computer term.
Do it for the kids. Ditto a new writing system!