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157556Re: Semantic Content of Grammatical Gender?

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  • Fredrik Ekman
    Feb 1, 2009
      Daniel Bowman wrote:

      > About 5 years ago, I started experimenting with grammatical gender in my
      > conlang, Angosey. I decided that it would be neat to have a particle
      > that could change the entire meaning of a noun. For example, one
      > particle would designate the noun as a physical object, another as an
      > emotion, situation, etc.

      Funny. I recently wrote an article about one of the earliest known pure
      artlangs; Percy Greg's Martial language. (The entire article is in the
      first issue of Rick Harrison's Invented Languages, and the mag just
      happens to lie right in front of me as I write this.)

      Greg basically has the same kind of function in his language that you
      describe. Here is an example (c and k seem to be equivalent):

      dâcâ weapon/hammer
      dâco stroke/striking [as given]
      dâca anvil
      dâcoo blow/beating [as received]
      dâky (not used)
      dâke a thing beaten

      Dak or dâc is the root meaning "to strike" (it can also be used as a verb,
      and probably as an adjective).

      > I'm running into the same problem with Angosey. When I coin a new word,
      > I have to decide what category a certain meaning should belong to, and
      > it's getting to the point where distinguishing via semantics is akin to
      > splitting hairs.

      Unfortunately, I think that what you are striving for (and what Greg seems
      to have strived for as well) is entirely impossible, for the very reason
      that language by its very nature has to be a set of relatively arbitrary
      symbols. As soon as you take that arbitrariness away, you also take away
      the possibility for that language to function as a living language. It
      cannot evolve; it cannot express immaterial concepts; it cannot, in fact,
      do much of anything beyond working as a mental exercise.

      > My mind wanders further, into Sapir-Whorf territory. If I learn a
      > language (or create a language) with strict semantic categories, does it
      > affect how I see the world?

      As I stated above, I do not think that such a language is impossible, and
      it mirrors my belief that a stric interpretation of S-W is also
      impossible. The reality that surrounds us shapes our thoughts. Our
      thoughts shape language. Of course, language can (and does) to some extent
      help to shape our thoughts in return, but if a language does not conform
      to reality, then the language will have to change. That is why Newspeak is
      never going to happen.

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