Saturday, September 18, 2010

how many root words is enough?

From the base of 15,000 to 20,000 root words - once can combine roots and suffixes to form over 150,000 words in Esperanto.

There is an extensive set of suffixes that can be added to word roots to allow various shades of meaning or newly derived forms; compound words are also used. (Source: "Esperanto,"

Lojban's 1300 root words can be easily combined to form a vocabulary of millions of words.

Finally, a look at an 'extreme language' - Toki Pona, with very few roots.
I suspect 'simple' translates to 'extremely limited', 'ambiguous' or 'extremely wordy for clarification'. But to capture Tao thought, that's fine.

The entire language has only 123 words

OK - regarding Esperanto, in what world is 'only 15,000 roots to make 150,000 words' a boast?
Honestly, I sometimes wonder what Esperantists are smoking.
I oversimplify, since a compound word will contain multiple roots/stems/words, but that means that a root is used on average to make only 10 words.
I suppose one can claim that this results in precision - the disambiguation claim of Lojban, ironically enough, though Lobjan has only 1/10 the the roots to work with.

Esperanto- suffixes to allow various shades of meaning.

D: ok, why suffixes? Let's look at English as the de facto world standard. The power on the throne. The folks you need to suck up to...

Well English uses both prefixes and suffixes. Given that suffixes have a certain ordering, one can argue infixes in the middle also.
In English, the prefixes vary the word meaning in nuance, but do not change the grammatical category. For example, view, review, preview.
Whereas suffixes often change the part of grammar. For example, heavy, heaviness.
So the unexamined assumption by Espo that suffixes are the only way to go is mistaken.

For compounded nouns and whatnot, I figure a middle infix is the way to go. Something derived from a simple preposition system.
Again, my example: spaceman.
Do we mean an astronaut? (Literally, a sailor of the stars, or thereabouts.)
Or... do we man an alien extraterrestial.
A man to space. From space?
Here we see the rich potential for using middle-position infixes for compounded lexical items.
How about a human being designed to be suited to orbital existence? A man FOR space.

"Thus the acquirement of this rich, mellifluous, universally-comprehensible language, is not a matter of years of laborious study, but the mere light amusement of a few days. " (Zamenhof)

D; Oh, the bitter tears as I laugh at that! I grind to a halt mid-intro-book after months of study. Like I said, a language by a linguist, for linguists.
That is a variant of a joke about the RPG Rolemaster - a game by an accountant, for accountants...

So far, Espo requires:
1) a linguistic background that does not have a rigid word order and
2) is heavily infixing - but particularly with suffixes.
So we are talking about a narrow margin of language speakers.
Leaving... polyglot linguists as the only likely consumers of this language.
Exactly what we see in the comment section.
This is a language doomed to be stillborn.

BTW, Barker, talking about a 'thriving online community' is a polite way of saying an Esperantist is unlikely to find any other speakers in their physical region.
That is NOT a pitch for Espo being widely adopted.
It is a condemnation for the poor early adopters.
But they've had the problem of being early adopters for... a frickin' CENTURY.

D: back to the (low-balled) ONLY 15,000 root word boast - boast? That's a boast?!

I'll reread the most common 1000 English words. And I'll point out which concepts are re-used constantly. THESE are the words that should be emphasized in any initial small group of root words to learn.
This initial step would have addressed some issues of Z's for Espo.

I reiterate my test. The same # of basic-literacy speakers as Espo in 20 years, or bust.
How? 1/10th the interested parties. But 10x easier to learn.

The year is 2010. In 20 years, it'll be 2030. Growing up with an aux-lang for kids to be native speakers means the children will be around 15 for 2045.
The UN's 100th anniversary.
So I have ten years to nail down the basic design with beta tests and open source help.
And then 10 years to recruit learners for the finished product.
NOT beta-testers.
NOT the Espo approach of treating the entire first generation of early adopters as beta-testers!

D: update. Still chipping away at SPE by Chomsky. Gawd so hard...
I should have found a Cole's notes version.
My head hurts.


Matthew said...

Esperanto was born with 900 root words. A quick google search came up with estimates of 6000 and 9000 roots. Still too high-- but 15,000 seems to be one of the larger estimates.

I've dinked around with toki pona-- 125 is probably a bit low, I'm starting to think that 500 is the sweet spot-- few enough to learn in a short time, not so small that one constantly is bumping their head against the root word ceiling.

For both toki pona and esperanto there is the issue of how to count things like names of people, place, species, chemicals, all of which there must be millions. Esperanto borrows words and doesn't worry about it, toki pona transliterates the words and then tries to ignore that words like that require memorization.

In the category of fake and rare languages, eo is interesting in that it has an online community at all, not so much that it will displace English or any other extremely common language.

I don't think you are using infix in the way most people do. Infixes are putting things right in the middle of a root, which is extremely rare in English, like that's in-f'ing-credible, or that's de-f'ing-licious. A series of prefixes or a series of suffixes doesn't make the 2nd to last suffix or the 2nd prefix an infix. Na'vi on the otherhand does have infixes, including infixes within infixes.

dino snider said...

An infix is an affix inserted inside a stem (an existing word). It contrasts with adfix, a rare term for an affix attached to the outside of a stem, such as a prefix or suffix.

D - yup you're right. I was not using it right. I really gotta sit down and learn a glossary of terms...