[tlhIngan Hol] action based language

SuStel sustel at trimboli.name
Mon Nov 9 09:39:12 PST 2020

On 11/9/2020 11:17 AM, Will Martin wrote:
> It’s the thing that I noticed while beginning to use the language. 
> Viewing English from Klingon, I became aware of how intensely English 
> relies on nouns. It’s so common for us to use nouns as verbs, until 
> the language finally admits, “okay, okay, you can use it as a verb, too.”

Does that show that English relies on nouns or that it relies so much on 
verbs that it appropriates nouns to do verb jobs?

> Witness: phone, fax, telegraph, text, message, etc. These were nouns, 
> and we replaced the action of using the noun with the noun word, 
> treating it like a verb, until somebody decided the practice was 
> common enough to update the dictionaries. I’ll phone you. I’ll message 
> you. I’ll Skype you. Can you fax that? Don’t worry. I’ll MuseScore 
> that tune for the band and PDF the lyrics.
> This is all stuff you can’t do in Klingon.

More specifically, it's stuff /we're/ not allowed to do in Klingon, 
because we're not Klingons setting the usage patterns of the Klingon 
language. But we have evidence that Klingons may do this sort of thing 
in the noun-verb pairs that we do have. But only monosyllabic words have 
noun-verb pairs, so it's possible that the process tends to go the other 
way in Klingon: verbs sometimes become nouns over time. The language of 
the section on *-ghach* ("It is not known if all verbs can be used as 
nouns...") perhaps hits at this.

> Nouns get their grammatical function in a sentence based upon the 
> relationship to the verb, either positionally or by Type 5 suffix.

The roles granted by type 5 suffixes do not in any way come from a 
relationship to the verb. Type 5'd nouns just get stuck at the front of 
the sentence for lack of any other place to put them. They mix with the 
adverbials. They can also be time expressions that also have no 
relationship to the verb other than just being in the same sentence. The 
point that all complete Klingons sentences must have a verb is correct; 
the point that all syntactic nouns are subordinate to that verb is not.

They also come FIRST. That ought to count for something. In English, if 
you want to establish a context before diving into a sentence, you put 
it first and set it off with a comma: /In my room, I constructed the 
weapon./ If you put the context last, it's not set off by a comma, but 
it also has less importance in the sentence: /I constructed the weapon 
in my room./ In Klingon we don't have a choice; the locative always 
comes first: *pa'wIjDaq nuH vImutlhmoHpu'.*

> English uses relative pronouns, where Klingon uses a relative clause 
> indicated by the suffix on the verb changing the mechanism from a noun 
> to a verb, divorcing the relative pronoun from its identical question 
> word in English.

Eh? What? I don't understand what process you're describing here.

English relative pronouns are one of those areas where it's better to 
rethink your approach to your idea using the tools of Klingon. There is 
no single, formulaic translation of relative pronouns. /I know what word 
you said/ might be rendered with a relative clause in Klingon *(mu' 
Dajatlhpu'bogh vISov),* but /I know what you're doing/ wouldn't need to 
be *(Qu'lIj vISov).* It depends on the available vocabulary and what 
you're trying to say.

> Klingon has more nouns than verbs in the vocabulary because each noun 
> has a more narrow range of potential meaning than each verb, 
> especially since so many of these nouns are Proper Nouns. Nouns are 
> detail oriented, specifying the thing you are talking about, while 
> verbs give you the general action, narrowed by the wide range of 
> suffixes, with perhaps a few nouns tossed in, optionally, just to be 
> clear.

English loads a ton of meaning into the verb /be./ I'm doing the Welsh 
course on Duolingo, and I've discovered that Welsh places even more 
emphasis on its version of /be (bod):/ most sentences use it in some 
way. Even the many ways to say /yes/ in Welsh are just various forms of 
/bod./ Does that mean English and Welsh are verb-centric languages? (No. 
And in Welsh, most verbs are actually "verb-nouns," able to be used as 
either in the way English /singing /can be.)

I don't think the breadth of meaning for any given word or group of 
words is indicative of how "centric" a language is, either way.

> The earlier vocabulary in Klingon was weighted heavily toward verbs. 
> Most of the more recent vocabulary has been nouns. I made my 
> observation back before all these language programs that Okrand has 
> been asked to provide words for asked for new words, almost 
> exclusively nouns.

More specifically, the earlier vocabulary in Klingon was weighted 
heavily toward monosyllables, and we know that almost all verbs are 
monosyllables. One might propose that the older, core words of Klingon 
are the monosyllables, and that the newer words are mostly complex nouns 
that came about through centuries of combinations of those 
monosyllables, but that since "verbs are monosyllabic" remains a general 
rule, the process doesn't work for creating verbs. This proposal would 
suggest that nouns are far more productive in Klingon than verbs. (I'm 
not making this proposal; I'm just showing that there are possible 
explanations other than "Klingon is verb-centric" for the preponderance 
of multisyllabic nouns outside the originally known core of words.)

> Check out statistics, for those of you who like doing this. Starting 
> at most recent new words and sifting back to the original vocabulary, 
> look at how Okrand keeps coming up with new nouns to flesh out the 
> vocabulary, and how rarely he sees need to come up with new verbs.

This just speaks more to the fact that there are far more things in the 
world than actions to perform on or by them. A fork has words for the 
/points, slots, tines, root, back, neck,/ and /handle,/ but you 
generally only /use/ a fork or, by combining with a preposition, /eat 
with/ one. Most technologies have an abundance of nouns for different 
parts of things. Most arts have an abundance of nouns for different 
components of things. Most industries have an abundance of nouns for 
everything. Sometimes there are jargony verbs, but often these are 
derived from the nouns.

Klingon is not immune to this. Think of all the body parts we have words 
for. As a counterpoint, consider that the words for fingers and toes are 
verbs, and that the owners of these limbs actively use them. It's just a 
different balance.

> In order to very quickly build a vocabulary that could express a wide 
> range of meaning, Okrand started with mostly verbs,

I'd like to see a formal count before accepting this claim (including 
only root words). I doubt it.

> In English, nouns are first. Verbs glue the nouns together, assisted 
> by a wide, floral variety of helper words that are critical in 
> determining the meaning of the sentence. Witness the example in a 
> message years ago where we move the word “only” around among the words 
> in the sentence “I hit the baby in the head.”

You can do the same thing in Klingon.

*ghu nach vIqIp. */I hit the baby's head.
/*ghu neH nach vIqIp.*/I hit the head of only the baby (no one else's head).
/*ghu nach neH vIqIp.*/I hit only the baby's head (no other part of the 
/*ghu nach vIqIp neH.*/I only hit the baby's head (I don't do anything 
more significant).
/*ghu nach vIqIp jIH neH.*/Only I hit the baby's head./

I don't see how this illustrates how verbs are central and other words 
are "floral."

> Word order in English is like American salads: Tossed. Helper words 
> can stitch together almost any order of nouns and verbs you like in 
> English.

Overstated. English word order is flexible, but not completely so. 
English has almost no case system by which you can identify noun roles. 
Preposition objects need to come in certain places (and I'm not 
referring to the bogus rule about not ending a sentence with a 
preposition). Certain word orders are only allowed in poetic or archaic 
registers. (I can say /I am going to the store,/ but only in a poem or 
historical roleplay can I say /To the store go I./) English has a LOT of 
hidden rules that native speakers simply aren't aware of unless they've 
studied them.

> Klingon has much more strict rules for word order, based on the 
> positions of nouns and chuvmey relative to the verb at the core of 
> each clause.

Klingon does have a more strict order of syntax, but it also has its 
flexibilities. Nouns and adverbials get tossed into the pre-object soup 
of sentences. Words and suffixes can often be dropped at the discretion 
of the speaker, and there's even an entire register in which even more 
words and affixes can be dropped. Different cohorts will reorder words 
sometimes. We sometimes argue about the order of words in noun-noun 
constructions and can't the benefit or indeed the difference of one 
order over another.


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