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Re: Edeinal: Language of the Edeinos

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  • Logan Kearsley
    ... [...] ... If every vowel quality has 288 variations that can all potentially be phonemic (or a subset of them is phonemic), that would kind of kill off the
    Message 1 of 36 , Apr 11, 2013
      On 11 April 2013 20:00, H. S. Teoh <hsteoh@...> wrote:
      > On Thu, Apr 11, 2013 at 03:40:25PM -0600, Jasyn Jones wrote:
      >> H. S. Teoh wrote:
      > Again, likely not every possible combination of L, M, H would be used;
      > but the above is a reasonably plausible system: level contours are
      > either high or low (having a 3-way distinction here may be stretching it
      > a bit), and both rising and falling contours have 2-way distinction
      > (low/mid rising or mid/high falling). I threw in the LHL and HLH
      > contours just for kicks. Even this simplified and quite-plausible tone
      > system already gives you 8 tones, which, if you combine with the
      > previous breathing/nasality/length combo, gives you a whopping 288
      > possible realizations of every vowel(!). Even if Edeinal only uses a
      > small subset of these 288 combinations, that's still a LOT of wiggle
      > room to do everything it needs and more. (And I haven't even started
      > getting into vowel modifications unique to alien physiology, that Logan
      > was suggesting.)
      > Moreover, most of these distinctions are opaque to English-speakers,
      > since in English we don't make such distinctions, and it's
      > understandable that we wouldn't "hear" them upon first contact with the
      > Edeinos. Hence, you have here a ready-made rationalization of why the
      > written form of Edeinal is missing out from all of these distinctions --
      > those poor Americans simply can't hear the difference!

      If every vowel quality has 288 variations that can all potentially be
      phonemic (or a subset of them is phonemic), that would kind of kill
      off the feasibility of my multi-channel analysis; it's not multiple
      channels, it's just that Edeinal has ridiculously huge number of
      symbols that it can use in one channel (Chinese tones on Language
      Growth Hormone or some such thing).

      In that case, though, I would wonder about why the extra tone-plus
      information was considered non-letter-ish, and why all of the
      alternations happen to keep the basic vowel quality the same and only
      vary other stuff, as opposed to allowing grammatical vowel alteration
      to operate on any arbitrary set of phonetic features.

      Maybe the truth is somewhere halfway between the different analyses.
      In any case, it is entirely possible that may alt-reality self may
      have his expert opinion quoted, and yet turn out to actually be subtly
      wrong in the final analysis.

      > One thing that apostrophes are used for, that isn't cliché, is to
      > represent the glottal stop /?/. I believe Hawaiian uses it that way. (My
      > Tatari Faran also does.) You could make glottal stops phonemic in
      > Edeinal, which would be very naturalistic. :) So a name like _Tal'Mar_
      > would be pronounced [tal?mar], whilst _TalMar_ would be [talmar]; the
      > distinction is likely opaque to your average English-speaker, though
      > quite obvious to someone with some linguistic training.

      That of course raises the question "Do they have glottises?" Not a
      particularly important question, though, as I'm sure it's not
      particularly complicated for any reasonable vocal apparatus to produce
      a momentary stoppage that a human would consider "close enough".

      > <anecdote> Some years ago a bunch of us from this list were hanging out
      > in an IRC chatroom, and got this idea of learning a few basic phrases
      > from each others' conlangs. Of course, we learned it imperfectly, but
      > one conlanger decided that rather than chalk it down as grammatically
      > incorrect, why not adopt the "wrong" phrase as correct, but in a
      > different dialect of the language? Much fun ensued as we "invented"
      > dialects for each others' conlangs. :-) </anecdote>

      That would be fun. We should do that again. It'd force me to maybe
      finally get some things about Celimine set in stone once and for all.

      >> > it just beggars my imagination to think that there's no one who has
      >> > figured out how tones work in this language.
      >> Yet. As of Month 9. Though that would no doubt change, if slowly.
      > A more plausible scenario, that doesn't jeopardize the simplicity of use
      > in a game setting, is to recognize that even in tonal languages on
      > Earth, there is quite a wide latitude in how a specific tone is actually
      > pronounced. For example, in my L1, there are 7 tones, which is more than
      > enough to scare a native English speaker to death (and confuse the heck
      > out of him), but on top of that, there are what you call "tone sandhi"
      > rules, that is, a particular tone that comes immediately before another
      > particular tone will shift to a different tone for euphonic purposes.
      > However -- and this is the key point -- the native speaker *still* hears
      > (or rather, perceives) the original, unmodified tone!
      > I suggested the word "toneme" (by analogy with phoneme) to describe this
      > phenomenon -- it's as if each word has a fixed toneme (or logical tone),
      > but this toneme can be realized in multiple ways (actual tones) in
      > speech, depending on the surrounding context.
      > In the Edeinal's case, you could say that some possible tones have been
      > identified, but due to complex tone sandhi rules, nobody has been able
      > to figure out how to *reliably* discern which toneme is being said, and
      > often will mistake one tone for another, which may completely change the
      > meaning, so the whole thing still remains opaque.

      Oo, that is brilliant. And it would fit nicely in with the
      multi-channel analysis as well. I can just imagine distinguished
      alt-reality strategic linguists H. S. Teoh and L. R. Kearsley having
      heated debates about the true nature of Edeinal suprasegmentals. :)

      >> For now, I'm working on other pieces of the (huge, huge, oh-my-god is
      >> it huge) project.
      > Yeah, no kidding!
      > And *I* thought I was being ambitious, having invented an entire
      > universe (complete with its own version of the Big Bang origin theory
      > and "physics" that looks nothing even remotely resembling real-world
      > physics) in which the Ebisédian homeworld exists, and outlining a
      > history of the Ebisédi which includes travel to other universes... ;-)
      > (Turns out I had trouble even working a single story to completion, much
      > less fill in all the details of an entire universe, or outlining several
      > other universes for that matter. Ahhh, the youthful dreams of attaining
      > the unattainable and conquering beyond the conquerable!)

      I wonder, have you ever come across the webcomic Unicorn Jelly (and sequels)?
      It's all about life in a wildly different universe in which humans get
      deposited in the distant past by some catastrophic natural cosmic
      event. Eventually, with the help of the native life forms, they
      develop the technology to intentionally travel between universes, and
      create new ones, and go in search of their original home... but are
      doomed to never find it because whenever they get close, they just
      can't imagine that life could possibly evolve in such a radically
      alien cosmos. :)

      On 11 April 2013 20:47, H. S. Teoh <hsteoh@...> wrote:
      > On Thu, Apr 11, 2013 at 05:53:40PM -0600, Logan Kearsley wrote:
      > [...]
      >> It certainly helps to have a good excuse for handwaving a whole lot of
      >> stuff away (for the time being, at least). It's easier to get a little
      >> bit of details right than to get a lot of detail right, and as far as
      >> I can tell there is nothing that would inherently lead to problems
      >> inventing a greater degree of detail later on.
      >> This could actually turn into a really cool experiment in "using a
      >> language into existence", if a large enough corpus of low-detail,
      >> ambiguous Eidenal is produced first, and then those bits with their
      >> English glosses have additional consistent information (in the form of
      >> diacritics, explanatory notes, re-transcriptions or whatever) added to
      >> them later as the in-world linguists decipher more (and the
      >> extra-world you invents more).
      > Isn't that how some of us build our own conlangs? I remember in the old
      > days some of us use to play by this little fancy that we are just field
      > linguists recording what our informant, who is a native speaker of our
      > conlang, tells us. Sometimes what he tells us isn't entirely accurate,
      > and we don't find out until later, which is why we have to go back and
      > revise our grammar sketches every now and then. :-) Or, we only have
      > sporadic contact with him, but each time, our understanding of the
      > language deepens and more details are worked out.

      It is. I've been trying to take a more direct approach to it by
      developing a two-person language with my wife (which I have talked
      about here from time to time, called Mev Pailom), but it goes ever so
      much more slowly than I would've liked. But as you note farther down,
      most of us lack the benefit of a community of gamers to use the
      language for us.

      > [...]
      >> For a little more background on where I'm coming from describing
      >> things that way in particular:
      >> English uses both the phonetic content of words and the relative order
      >> of words to encode information; these are two concurrent, independent
      >> channels that provide different bits of the complete linguistic
      >> information stream entering one's brain, and phonemic material tends
      >> towards encoding lexical information while sequencing tends towards
      >> encoding grammatical information (though it's not a perfect division).
      >> Russian, in contrast, puts much less information into word order, and
      >> makes up for it by putting more information (encoded by much more
      >> extensive inflectional affixes) into the phonemic material channel.
      >> Both English and Russian also make use of
      >> prosody/stress/tone-of-voice/etc. to simultaneously convey additional
      >> grammatical or pragmatic information, but not to the same extent that
      >> other languages do.
      > My favorite example of Russian prosody/tone-of-voice is how one asks
      > questions vs. state a fact: none of the words change, neither the word
      > order (for the most part), just the overall tone contour of the entire
      > clause follows the indicative pattern or the question pattern.

      I feel it should be noted that Russian *does* also have a special
      syntactic form for questions, and English *can* also make use of
      prosody alone. But Russian does lean much more towards using prosody,
      and English does lean much more towards using special syntax.

      I now find myself somewhat annoyed that I know that I know how to use
      the "-li" vs. prosodic interrogatives Russian, but I have no idea how
      to *explain* it. Sometimes, one just feels better than the other. And
      I suppose my non-native intuitions about that are probably slightly
      different from native intuitions anyway.

      And that reminds me about how I had such a difficult time in my
      semantics class this afternoon trying to explain the proper colloquial
      usage of "rebjata" and why it is not quite the same as "dudes" or
      "guys"; I probably made a complete hash of it, and really wished our
      actual Russian student were around to help me out, but sadly she is
      gone and won't be back from Russia again until the fall.
      And it's not like there's a serious shortage of Russians to ask around
      here, but none of them were in class with me....

      > That's a really interesting way of looking at it. It's like Russian
      > intonation carrying the information about whether a sentence is a
      > statement or a question, e.g.:
      > Это - он?
      > [EtV ón] (rising pitch on [on])
      > Is that he?
      > Это - он.
      > [EtV òn] (mid-high pitch on [tV]; falling pitch on [on])
      > Except in the case of Edeinal, this is far more pervasive, and carries a
      > lot more information than merely whether something is a question or
      > statement.


      > Another conlinguistics idea w.r.t. Edeinal that just occurred to me:
      > nasal vowels in natlangs (on earth) often arise from historical nasal
      > consonants that dropped out, for example, final /n/ in French. What if
      > Edeinal historically had an /n/ affix that indicated, say, the object of
      > a verb, but which has since been lost to sound change? So we might say
      > that in proto-Edeinal, _tu_ is nominative "you", and *_tun_ is
      > accusative "you", but in present-day Edeinal, the /n/ has dropped out,
      > leaving its trace as a nasalization of /u/. So /tu/ means "you (nom.)",
      > and /tũ/ means "you (acc.)".

      Taking advantage of Alien Vocal Tract here, I would wonder if it makes
      sense to posit a single consonant reasonably glossed as 'n'; maybe the
      Edeinos have more distinct nasal consonants than we do, or maybe they
      don't consider nasalization to be a feature that applies to consonants
      at all because they can make such extensive use of nasal tones
      independently of and parallel to oral articulation; in which case, one
      would expect the nasal feature to be a primitive "toneme" or some such
      all by itself, without need to derive it from assimilation with a
      since-dropped consonant.

      > Furthermore, since _tu_ is glossed as meaning either "you" or "him", one
      > may conceivably rationalize it this way: proto-Edeinal had an aspirated
      > /k_h/ sound that has since been lost, having first fricativised into
      > /x/, then ultimately eroded into a rough breathing of the preceding
      > vowel. So then we may postulate that proto-Edeinal had the distinct
      > pronouns /tu/ and */tuk_h/, with their respective accusative forms
      > */tun/ and
      > */tuk_hn/. These then underwent the sound changes:
      > k_h -> x -> h
      > n -> [+nasal]
      > With the result:
      > tu ("you", nom.) -> tu (no change)
      > *tun ("you", acc.) -> tũ (nasalized)
      > *tuk_h ("he", nom.) -> *tux -> tu (+ rough breathing on /u/)
      > *tuk_hn ("him", acc.) -> *tuxn -> *tũx -> tũ (+ rough breathing on /u/)
      > which all sound like "tu" to English ears, but are obviously distinct to
      > the Edeinos themselves.
      > The seemingly prevalent trend of monosyllabic roots in Jasyn's lexicon
      > seems to corroborate with lost segments in a proto-language that
      > resulted in the shift of much semantic information into features like
      > nasality, tones, length, etc.. (These are all attested processes in
      > natlangs, after all.)

      All of that argues against my multi-channel hypothesis. But, as I
      noted above, it's possible that the truth is somewhere in between, and
      there does tend to be leakage between the kind of information encoded
      in different channels anyway. Displaced contrasts like this may mark
      some of the grey area where things could in the process of reanalysis
      back and forth between phonemic and suprasegmental / parallel-channel.
      Or, it could be that some subset of all of the features that Edeinos
      can apply to vowels beyond what untrained Americans notice are
      phonemic features like Chinese tones, while others are
      separate-channel suprasegmentals, and this kind of displaced contrast
      could interfere with both.

      (This whole conversation could probably be re-worked into a dialog
      format and included as part of the story at some point- the collected
      letters of L. R. Kearsley and H. S. Teoh concerning the Edeinal
      Deciphering Project or some such.)

    • H. S. Teoh
      ... Welcome back! ... [...] It s funny, while you were busy honing Edeinal, one of my non-serious half-joke alien conlang sketches came to life and decided
      Message 36 of 36 , Aug 21, 2013
        On Wed, Aug 21, 2013 at 11:33:39AM -0600, Jasyn Jones wrote:
        > Hello the List! Been a while, but I am still honing Edeinal and the
        > world/culture it comes from. Your help was invaluable.

        Welcome back!

        > I just had one little piece to add (mainly because one of the earlier
        > respondents said they'd be interested in sounds the edeinos can make,
        > but humans can't).
        > On Apr 10, 2013, at 5:47 AM, Jasyn Jones <jasynj@...> wrote:
        > > Unique Edeinos Sounds
        > [...]
        > > Other unique sounds are used in their verbal communications. These
        > > include:
        > >
        > > Clack: An edeinos can snap its teeth together, creating a sharp
        > > snapping sound (with the echoey undertone of the nasal cavity). This
        > > is represented in speech by an apostrophe, such as in the name
        > > Tal’Mar.
        > >
        > > Whuff: An exhalation of air through the nose, like a human snort,
        > > though lower pitched and louder.
        > One more unique sound.
        > There are a few edeinal words that are written with double T's, like
        > Jakatt and Jakutta. These are pronounced, oddly enough, as two T's, one
        > after another.
        > The way they're produced is kind of odd, however. Edeinos have a very
        > long snout, and a tongue to match. The double-T is made by snapping the
        > middle of the tongue against the roof of the snout, then the front of
        > the tongue against the front of the snout. (Of course, this means the
        > first "T" is somewhat softer than the second, sort of like a sharp "D".)

        It's funny, while you were busy honing Edeinal, one of my non-serious
        half-joke alien conlang sketches came to life and decided that it wanted
        full conlang status (as opposed to just remaining as a jokelang). Its
        setting is still somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as the native speakers are
        stereotypical green aliens having a spherical body, a single eye on an
        eyestalk that grow from their equivalent of the tailbone, two arms with
        claws in place of hands, and webbed feet. They ride in your
        stereotypical saucer-shaped spaceships manufactured by FTL Tech Inc.,
        who first popularized the concept of personal iFTLVs (interstellar
        faster-than-light vehicles) after being inspired by reports that on a
        certain distant planet, the concept of personal computers caused a major
        technological revolution.

        Having only one eye, their language has many pejoratives based on
        many-eyed creatures being regarded as monstrous, and their tender
        eyestalk gives rise to threats being of the form "I'll grab your eye!".

        Their oral cavity is larger than a human's, and their tongue is
        therefore longer and more flexible; one of the sounds they make is a
        kind of trill where the *middle* part of their tongue vibrates --
        something impossible for the human tongue. The voiceless version of this
        trill is phonemic. Fortunately, the human voiceless uvular trill /R_0/
        has phonological characteristics very similar to this sound, and serves
        as a pretty good human approximation thereof, so this sound is, by
        convention, transcribed as /xR_0/. It appears, appropriately enough, in
        the word _ehrlu_ /ExR_0lU/ "tongue". This sound contrasts with /r/,
        which is a *voiced* alveolar trill.

        Grammar-wise, their language is structured in a rather peculiar way.
        While sharing a lot of similarities with human languages, it also has
        some unique features. One of the most fundamental structures is the
        possessive, which is constructed as a head noun followed by one of a set
        of possessive personal pronominal suffixes. For example:

        ipf - eye
        ipfen - my eye
        ipftek - your eye
        ipfet - his eye
        ipfut - their eye
        ipfah - their (distal) eye; or eyes in general.

        This is relatively tame as far as human natlangs go, of course. Where it
        goes crazy is when the verbalizing/instrumental suffix -mi comes into
        play. This suffix seems to behave like an instrumental marker sometimes,
        but also like a verbalizer; it turns a possessive noun into a verb
        characteristic of that noun, with the possessive turning into a personal

        ipfen - my eye
        ipfemi (= ipf + en + mi) - I see.
        ipftek - your eye
        ipftekmi - you see.

        apfat - mouth
        apfattek - your mouth
        apfattekmi - you eat.

        ehrlu - tongue
        ehrlunen - my tongue
        ehrlunemi - I speak.

        But this is only the beginning of the weirdness. While it kinda makes
        sense that a verbalized body part would be associated with the action
        performed by that body part, you also have constructions like:

        voluŋ - spaceship
        voluŋgen - my spaceship
        voluŋgemi - I fly (by spaceship)

        which leads to the question: what if I want to say "I fly *your*
        spaceship"? The answer is that the instrumental character of -mi becomes
        more obvious, in that the subject of the clause detaches into a separate

        voluŋtekmi gruŋgen
        voluŋ-tek-mi gruŋ-en
        spaceship-2SG.POSS-INSTR hands-1SG.POSS
        I fly your spaceship (lit. with-your-spaceship my-hands).

        Here, another peculiarity of the language is manifested: there are no
        standalone personal pronouns! It's impossible to refer to "you" or "I"
        directly; one can only say "your body" or "my body" as a circumlocution.
        The pronominal affixes are always possessive, and a stand-in noun like
        "body" is required by the grammar. "Body" is the default periphrasis; it
        may be substituted with other body parts depending on context. In the
        above example, the act of flying a spaceship is done with the hands, so
        the chosen periphrasis is _gruŋgen_ "my hands".

        It seems really odd that _voluŋtekmi_ by itself would mean "you fly by
        spaceship", whereas _voluŋtekmi gruŋgen_ means "*I* fly your spaceship".
        Note the change of person on the verb simply by the presence of another
        NP in the clause. So far, the only way I've managed to rationalize this
        is that clauses like _voluŋtekmi_ are actually *abbreviations* of a
        hypothetical full form:

        *voluŋtekmi gruŋtek
        *voluŋ-tek-mi gruŋ-tek
        spaceship-2SG.POSS-INSTR hands-2SG.POSS
        You fly your spaceship (lit. with-your-spaceship your-hands).

        in which the subject _gruŋtek_ is elided because it is coreferent with
        the possessive affix in _voluŋtekmi_.

        None of this, however, explains "where the verb is". Is the -mi NP
        actually a verb in disguise? Or is this some kind of weird verbless
        language which uses instrumental NPs as verb substitutes? So far, I'm
        still holding out hope that "true" verbs (not based on -mi NPs) exist in
        this language, but that hope is gradually dimming when I encounter
        constructions like:

        gruŋgemi tseŋteku ahshapftu
        gruŋ-en-mi tseŋ-tek-u ahshapf-tu
        hands-1SG.POSS-INSTR glass_dome-2SG.POSS-PAT outside-DAT
        I open your glass dome (lit. with-my-hands your-glass-dome to-outside)

        The instrumental/verbalized NP _gruŋgemi_ is typically translated as "I
        handle (something)". Here, though, the dative NP _ahshapftu_ "to the
        outside" seems to be acting as an adverbial modifying (what may be
        construed to be) the verb "to handle", narrowing its scope of meaning
        from a generic "to handle", to a more specific "to open". A similar
        construction using a different dative NP provides the antonymic meaning:

        gruŋgemi tseŋteku vershtu
        gruŋ-en-mi tseŋ-tek-u versht-tu
        hands-1SG.POSS-INSTR glass_dome-2SG.POSS-PAT inside-DAT
        I close your glass dome (lit. with-my-hands your-glass-dome to-inside)

        This suggests that the verbal meaning of the clause is actually not
        borne by any single NP / verbalised NP, but rather distributed across
        the NPs in the clause. Further evidence for this comes in the difference
        in nuance between the following two clauses:

        voluŋtekmi gruŋgen.
        voluŋ-tek-mi gruŋ-en
        spaceship-2SG.POSS-INSTR hands-1SG.POSS
        I fly your spaceship.

        At first glance, it may appear that the role of "verb" is being filled
        solely by the verbalized NP _voluŋtekmi_; however, the following dispels
        any such notion:

        voluŋtekmi bufen.
        voluŋ-tek-mi buf-en
        spaceship-2SG.POSS-INSTR body-1SG.POSS
        I ride your spaceship.

        The change from _gruŋgen_ "my hands" to _bufen_ "my body" (possibly
        simply "I", since _bufen_ is the usual periphrasis for "I") caused the
        verb to shift from "fly" to "ride", showing that part of the verbal
        meaning is being carried by the subject NP as well!

        Here are some examples of the verbal meaning being distributed across 3
        NPs in a clause:

        voluŋgetmi gruŋgen aiherltu
        voluŋ-et-mi gruŋ-en aiherl-tu
        spaceship-3SG.POSS-INSTR hands-1SG.POSS distant_skies-DAT
        I fly his spaceship away (to the distant skies).

        voluŋgetmi bufen aiherltu
        voluŋ-et-mi buf-en aiherl-tu
        spaceship-3SG.POSS-INSTR body-1SG.POSS distant_skies-DAT
        I ride his spaceship away.

        voluŋgetmi gruŋgen aiherlat
        voluŋ-et-mi gruŋ-en aiherl-at
        spaceship-3SG.POSS-INSTR hands-1SG.POSS distant_skies-ABL
        I arrive on his spaceship (I was the pilot).

        voluŋgetmi bufen aiherlat
        voluŋ-et-mi buf-en aiherl-at
        spaceship-3SG.POSS-INSTR body-1SG.POSS distant_skies-ABL
        I arrive on his spaceship (I was a passenger).

        Notice how the combination of _voluŋ...mi_ (spaceship-...-INSTR) +
        _aiherltu_ (to the distant skies) carries the meaning of "fly away",
        whereas the combination of _voluŋ...mi_ + _aiherlat_ (from the distant
        skies) carries the meaning of "arrive (by spaceship)". The subject NP,
        depending on which periphrasis was used for the standalone pronoun,
        varies the meaning from "fly (as a passenger)" to "fly (as a pilot)".

        Thus far, I'm still unsure how this strange grammar can be rationalized
        in human natlang terms.

        In any case, the pronominal possessive affixes seem to play a very deep
        role in the language. They are retained even when an explicit possessor
        is specified:

        voluŋ - spaceship
        cheŋ - male person
        voluŋget - his spaceship
        voluŋgetcheŋ - the male person's spaceship (lit.

        It's ungrammatical to omit the 3rd person singular possessive affix -et:

        *voluŋcheŋ - [ungrammatical]

        Furthermore, plurality is marked on this possessive affix, *not* on the
        possessor noun:

        The male persons' spaceship.

        Well, I'll end with a cutesy little phrase that I learned from my

        sheŋt cheŋ he vaht fraht
        seven male and eight female
        ['SENt 'tSʰEN xE 'vAxt 'frAxt]
        A group of people (lit. 7 men and 8 women).

        This phrase, surprisingly English-like in construction, is a colloquial
        phrase that refers generically to some unspecified group of people. It
        does not literally mean 7 males and 8 females; rather, it has the effect
        of "some number of males and some number of females" in a generic sense.
        The numbers 7 and 8 were chosen solely for rhyme. :) It's used in
        contexts like "oh, yesterday a bunch of people showed up at my place",
        "I saw a group of people walk by", "he got beaten up by a group of
        people", etc..


        People who are more than casually interested in computers should have at
        least some idea of what the underlying hardware is like. Otherwise the
        programs they write will be pretty weird. -- D. Knuth
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