Worthless slave

Thursday, June 17, 2010

One of the interesting dilemmas facing an auxlang like Latino sine Flexione, The Master Language (actually quite the good language in spite of the name) and any others based on a single source is what to do with all the specialized vocabulary that comes along with it. The theory behind these languages is that instead of taking vocabulary from a number of sources it's easier (or better for PR depending on the source) to just take it from one and modify it in a certain way to make it easy to learn and use. Some other languages that could make good sources for single-source auxlangs are Occitan (kind of midway between French and Spanish/Italian), Uzbek (similar to Turkish but with a stronger Persian influence and no vowel harmony), Afrikaans (already pretty simple, and with vocabulary somewhat in between German and English), and Maltese (Arabic base with a ton of Romance influence). Plus many more.

The big advantage of these single-source auxlangs is that the dictionary comes pretty much ready-made. Just take a word from the dictionary, modify it, and then you're done. As long as you have a Latin-(insert your mother tongue here) dictionary and a knowledge of the basic grammar you're good to go.

The main disadvantages are these two:

1) Semantic range. Since you're not a native speaker of the language it's not always easy to tell which word is most appropriate in a given situation. Perhaps you'll choose a word that should mean horse but actually refers to a horse of a certain age or gender, or a word for house but the word actually refers to a certain kind of house. Take for example the English words hut, mare, automobile, and stream. You wouldn't use hut for a large house, nor mare for a male horse, automobile is too long to use all the time so car is a better choice, and stream only refers to a certain size of river. This first disadvantage isn't too hard to surmount though; all you need is a detailed enough dictionary of the source language. If the dictionary tells you not only the meaning of the word but a few hints as to usage then you're more or less home free.

2) Weird words. Well, actually this is both an advantage and a disadvantage. Let's take a look at a few words from the Latin dictionary on my desk. Servolus (servolo in LsF) - n., young or worthless slave. Trifaucis (trifauce in LsF) - a., having three throats. Pellitus (LsF - pellito) - a., covered with skins. Pluteus (LsF - pluteo) - n., movable scree of wood or wickerwork used for protection in siege warfare. You can spend hours and hours finding these words in a dictionary if you feel like it.

What could make this a disadvantage is that first of all it can be rather intimidating to a student. Imagine taking a look at a language that is supposed to be easy to learn and then taking a look at the dictionary to find that there are nouns and adjectives for items and concepts you've never even thought of referencing before. It's also a disadvantage in making dictionaries for the language. Yes, with a language like Latino sine Flexione you can technically just look up any word you want on your own but ideally an online version of already-converted words is much more efficient, and creating the dictionary can be a pain when you have to either enter each and every one of these words, or have to weed out the less than useful vocabulary which requires a good sense of judgment. Maybe three-throated isn't that useful but a movable screen might be...

Luckily there is a fairly easy solution to this. First, find a dictionary in another IAL (Novial for example) with a few thousand entries and create a dictionary from that. After this new words can be added by users whenever they need them, and each of these can be added with an example of how it was used along with the date if possible. That means that if a user decides to write about a monster with three throats he can go ahead and use trifauce; nobody is stopping him, and once it is used in a real piece of writing there is now an example of how to use it. But until the need arises, it won't be in the dictionary and thus won't be there to scare off potential new users.

With a living source language (Occitan, Uzbek, etc.) this is also important in keeping weird slang from entering the language. Slang is fine, as long as it's brought it in a controlled way as need arises (new users looking for apt expressions in what they are writing), but native speakers shouldn't come along and just expect the slang they are used to using to be understood right away.

Personally I've always wanted to see someone try making an IAL using just Occitan, as even without any modification it's already quite legible:

L’èuro es la moneda comuna dels 27 estats de l’Union Europèa (UE) — e la moneda unica de 13 estats membres pel moment — que succedís a l’ECU (European Currency Unit, o « unitat de compte europèa ») que n'èra la moneda comuna. Es la moneda comuna de facto de certans estats e territòris, coma Kosovo.
The only time Occitan isn't legible to someone who knows Interlingua or Occidental is when the odd unrecognizable word comes up (not very common), or a verb is conjugated in an unfamiliar way. We can improve on the above text as well by simplifying the grammar somewhat and removing the accents:
La euro es la moneda comun del 27 estats de la Union Europea (UE) -- e la moneda unic de 13 estats membres pel moment -- que succedis a la ECU, o "unitat de compte europea" que ne era la moneda comun. El es la moneda comun de facto de certan estats e territoris, coma Kosovo.
Not too bad, and that was just off the top of my head.

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