REAL WORLD LINGUISTICS 101
by Suzette Haden Elgin, Ph.D.
I want to pause in the lessons
at this point and let you work on a linguistics problem -- so that you
can start putting what you're learning about linguistics to use, and so
that I can find out whether I've been making myself clear. We're going
to do something very general and basic first, and see what happens. If
everyone finds this problem ridiculously easy, we'll move on
immediately to something harder; if not, I'll come back and explain
before we try anything else.
Suppose you're the Terran
linguist on an exploratory spaceship, and you've just landed on the
outskirts of a large town on Planet X. Planet X is a planet
astonishingly similar to Earth/Terra -- which is why the money has been
spent to send an exploratory expedition there -- and it has a sentient
humanoid population that Terrans are going to have to interact with.
Your job as ship's linguist is to learn the local language as quickly
as you can and write a basic grammar for it, so that communication can
begin. (We'll take it as a given here that you aren't carrying a
"universal translator" gizmo.) One of the ways to get started with that
task is to wander around among the local population, pointing at things
for which you can reasonably come up with a Terran-language (in this
case, English)! name, looking inquisitive until someone understands
what you're after, and then writing down the Planet-X-ian name that
you're given. Then -- once you have a large enough set of data to be of
some use -- you would start analyzing the set, identifying its
morphemes, and looking for rules. The linguistics problem in this
lesson will give you an idea of how that's done, except that I've
already done your "fieldwork" for you.
I'm going to give you a set of
words from the constructed science fiction language called
Láadan. The first A in that word has an accent over it, to
show that it carries high tone. Speakers of English would hear the
high-toned vowels as a bit higher in pitch, like hearing "night" in
"nightingale"; for any language with only one tone, it's that simple.
Some of the items in the data
are identified as a prefix or suffix. A prefix is a chunk like "un-" in
"unhappy"; a suffix is a chunk like "-ing" in "walking." A similar
chunk in the middle of a word is called an infix; all the "fixes" are
called affixes. The hyphen before and/or after an affix just means that
it can't "stand alone" as a word all by itself. If you want information
about the pronunciation of the language, you'll find that in the first
Láadan lesson, on this site; you don't have to have it to do
the problem, but many linguists (me, for example) find it easier to
solve problems if they have some idea how the data would sound. If the
size of the problem gives you trouble, you can choose a smaller set and
work only with that set; however, linguists will tell you that "the
mo!re data you have, the better" is a reliable principle.
Please look at the data below,
searching for patterns. Find all the morphemes for which the data
provides evidence. Send me your morpheme list; I'd also be interested
in knowing what the data tells you about the language. Finally, answer
the questions at the end of the problem.
The easiest way to send your
morpheme list (and the one that will require the least typing) is for
you to do a cut-and-paste operation: Select the whole list of data,
copy it, and drop it into your e-mail program as a message. Then all
you have to do is type in the morphemes beside the words, as in the
example below. No need to type in any morpheme twice;
if you've listed it beside one word and find it in another, you don't
have to list it again. If you'd rather do this some other way, that's
also fine; just try not to make it more complicated than it needs to
Example as it would look in the problem:
morpheme -- yudáan
Example as it would look when e-mailed to me:
morpheme -- yudáan -- yu/fruit,
That is, you're telling me that in the word
"yudáan," which means "morpheme," you have found two
morphemes: "yu," which means "fruit," and "dáan," which
If you should come up with any
proposed rules for Láadan phonology (the rules for combining
sounds into morphemes), or for its morphology (the rules for combining
morphemes into words), I'd be very interested in seeing them, and I
will comment on them. Here you go; I look forward to seeing your work.
LÁADAN LINGUISTICS PROBLEM ONE
- "agent" [do-er] suffix -- á
- animal breeder -- womilá
- animal husbandry -- ewomil
- beaver -- eduthemid
- beetle -- yum
- bee -- zhomid
- biology -- emid
- building -- math
- butterfly -- áalaá
- camel -- hibomid
- cat -- rul
- cow -- dithemid
- creature -- mid
- deer -- lemamid
- dog -- lanemid
- earthworm -- shéeba
- economics -- elosh
- elephant -- domid
- fawn -- háalemamid
- fish -- thili
- fowl/poultry -- lub
- friend -- lan
- frog -- ríibib (coined by Judith Penelope
and her students)
- gentle -- lem
- goat -- éezh
- hill -- hibo
- insect -- zhub
- insect, noxious -- lhezhub
- livestock -- womil
- "male" suffix -- -id
- money/credit -- losh
- moth -- óoloó (coined by Sharla
- mule -- wothemid
- nuisance -- uhud
- "offspring" prefix -- háa-
- old -- balin
- owl -- húumid
- pejorative affix -- -lh-
- pig -- muda
- rabbit -- shanemid
- "science-of" prefix -- e-
- sheep -- éesh
- snake -- ezha
- sound (audible) -- zho
- spider -- dathimemid
- squirrel -- eloshemid (coined by Sharla Hardy)
- stable -- midemath
- stag -- lemamidid
- strong -- do
- tick -- uhudemid
- turtle/tortoise -- balinemid
- use (verb) -- duth
- voice -- dith
- water -- ili
- wisdom -- woth
- What do you think would be the word for
- What would be the word for "acoustic science"?
- For "entomology"?
- For "cattle barn"?
- For "builder"?
- For "venomous and aggressive snake"?
- For "calf"?
- For "bull"?
- What do the words for "butterly" and "moth" have in
- What other pair of words in the data set is analogous
to "butterly" and "moth"?
As always, I'd welcome your comments, suggestions,
criticisms, questions, and other input, with a note telling me if you
prefer to stay anonymous; you can e-mail me directly at OCLS@madisoncounty.net.
Thank you for your help.
Copyright © 2002 by
Suzette Haden Elgin