Lang29 Grammar

1. Synthetic Grammar   2. Analytic Grammar  3. Minimal Grammar  4. Lang29 Grammar

Synthetic Grammar

Greek, Latin, Arabic and French - major IALs up until recent times - have grammars which employ affixes rather than fixed word order, i.e. they are synthetic rather than analytic. Synthetic grammar is more complex, and can be impenetrable, but it does have the ability to reduce speech and text-length - since affixed words effectively contain a phrase or clause within themselves.

The decline of these great languages as IALs is related to the spread of universal education and literacy. In days when education was highly selective, an ability to cope with classical languages and synthetic grammar was par for the course. The organised movement to reform English spelling accompanied the advent of mass education for much the same reason (LANGO Chapter 9).

Compactness is a benefit of synthetic grammar, but also a potential drawback; the abbreviation of a word into an affix - e.g. "I did jump ~ I jump did ~ I jumpdid ~ I jumped" - makes the grammar harder to analyse, and less accessible to non-linguists. Synthetic grammar is further complicated by clumsy attempts at spelling reform, which paint over the verbal origin of affixes. Orthographic revision can also obscure the etymology of stand-alone words, but it normally maintains their integrity as grammatical markers.

In other words, the principles of synthetic grammar and orthographic regularity can conflict. We demonstrated this in Chapter 18 of LANGO: "For example, "talked, edited, banned" are grammatically regular on the page, but in speech they tend to be "taukt or tokt, editid, band", likewise "banks, cats, dogs, foxes" usually become "banks, kats, dogz, foksiz"." English inflections being the irregular factor in this case, we proposed that they might be replaced, either by less phonetically mutable inflections or by the kind of rigid-word-order inflectionless constructions typical of pidgins and creoles.

Analytic Grammar

Analytic grammar facilitates the laboriously learnt second-language, painfully acquired in isolation or small groups, much more than the mother-tongue absorbed amid the varied life of a speech community; the analytic sentence parses itself for the benefit of the busy or discouraged student. Another important consideration is that those with a synthetic mother-tongue can easily understand analytic grammar, but not vice-versa. For such reasons alone, analytic grammar would probably be best for LangX, at least in its initial stages. Also, it would be difficult to inaugurate a consonantal script using synthetic grammar, and quite impossible if vowel inflections were used. However, the kind of consonantal script proposed on the Lang53 Orthography page - using shorthand or conventional forms - could doubtless be made to work with analytic grammar.

Analytic grammar is synthetic grammar at an earlier stage of development. It is more verbose, of course, but the parts of speech which constitute grammar are clearly shown. The analysis may then be synthesised, simply by turning auxiliary verbs, cases, prepositions, articles etc. into inflections. The reverse process - converting synthetic grammar into analytic - is more difficult because many affixes are no longer recognisable as words; even so, it has evidently happened in the past - in the 12th Century, for instance, English changed from Subject-Object-Verb (SOV) to Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) syntax and lost most of its inflections.

The subsequent success of the English language is not unconnected from the fact that SVO syntax far outstrips SOV in global population terms, though each is used by about 40% of all languages. Of the remaining languages, about 15% use VSO, and the remainder VOS, OVS and OSV. This evidence might suggest that LangX should employ SVO syntax.

Minimal Grammar

In English, the millennial dominance of word-order based analytic grammar has rendered superfluous all noun inflections except the possessive, as well as adjectival agreement etc.. In Chapter 14 of LANGO we showed how English-based Caribbean creoles have pushed the word order principle harder in order to achieve further economies.

Moreover, there is another factor at work, complementary to the word-order principle. This is the grammar of context itself: where a thing is immediately obvious there is no need to define the subject (article, noun etc.) in terms of relationship or action (verb, adverb) with or towards the object (preposition, adjective, noun etc.). In other words, there is no need for parts of speech, never mind grammar - whether analytic or synthetic.

This phenomenon is not exclusive to the creoles, of course. In the work-places, streets and homes of more or less any language community many people - particularly those who know one another and each one's circumstances well enough - tend to speak in ellipsis. The sentence - the complete statement or question - is there, but it is conveyed in one or two words or phrases; the rest of the words are understood.

The abbreviation also extends to the word classes themselves in some languages. Some do not have a noun, as such; instead of "tree" they might say "it trees"; and word order alone may determine whether the adjectival or adverbial sense is meant, e.g in creole:

(Obviously, the position of the adjective and adverb in the sentence would have to be strictly defined. Typical creole usage has the adjective before the noun and the adverb after the verb. This also seems to be the predominant order among languages worldwide.)

One of the main defects of Esperanto was that it formalised words into classes or parts of speech. Even in English there are hundreds of words which may be used without variance in two or more classes: "under, head, right, love, dog etc.".

As for noun case suffixes, we English-speakers may pride ourselves that word-order has rendered most of them unnecessary, and jib at the accusative ending and adjectival agreement in Esperanto - perhaps oblivious to the fact that creole users might regard our genitive or possessive inflection in a similar way. Thus a creole speaker might say:

It might sound strange to us, but the context determines whether the meaning is possessive or descriptive. Is the genitive inflection essential? If not, we should consider losing it in the initial stages of LangX. In any case, analytic grammar would demand a preposition - if absolutely necessary - (as in French etc., but used only as required) rather than an inflection. Other languages also omit the genitive, e.g. Welsh:

The creoles also tend to drop the plural inflection, e.g.:

So does Chinese; also English - for items regarded as game rather than as individuals, e.g. "sheep, deer, cod, grouse, Portuguese, Swiss etc." However, most languages employ a plural inflection (often [-s]). It's not difficult to see why. The plural is a useful device. For example, 10 kg of stone, wood or oil is very different from 10 kg of stones, woods or oils. The numeral quantifies; the plural diversifies.

The analytic approach would employ auxiliary markers, such as Chinese "xie" ["some"] and the French singular and plural definite articles "le" or "la", and "les" (gender in the linguistic sense being banned in LangX, of course).

Some languages are more advanced than others in terms of economical expression or succinct syntax. Chinese grammar is exemplary in this regard, not least in its approach to word formation.

The creole approach to negation is likewise economical:

Old English used the same construction, with the prefix "ne-" for "no", exactly as in Scottish English, Russian and other languages. English uses "never" in a similar way.

Creoles tend to drop the copula between subject and predicate:

This too is common - e.g. Russian "he engineer" - and might be adopted at least in the initial stages of LangX.

Creoles also tend to use serial verbs:

The infinitive is understood. English often does the same, e.g. "Let my people go!; I heard you call; I watched her paint a picture; he felt a hand touch him" - cf. Shakespeare's old-fashioned "Tranio! I saw her coral lips to move." Another one for Lang29? 

As for recursion, creoles tend to use discrete one-clause sentences and anaphora, rather than embedded clauses headed by correlatives. We used the following example in LANGO:

The complex construction can, of course, be used outside the immediate context. It could be commentary on a video. However the simplest form of recursion is perfectly functional, and might well be the better alternative for Lang29.

Creoles use few tenses or verb inflections. Chinese is the same. As always, context is the key. In Lang29, at least, there would certainly be a case for keeping all verb stems invariant, i.e. without inflections, and relying upon auxiliaries to change the tense.

Prosody is rather a non-issue in creoles. They are fast-growing IALs largely because they are easy. Naturally, the prevailing prosody of a culture may be syllable-timed, or stress-timed in a particular fashion, and speakers moderate their intonation accordingly in order to be better understood, but they do not seek to place an extra burden on the listener.

The interrogative might also be mentioned in this preliminary sketch. One extra word added at the start of the sentence - such as Esperanto's [tSu:] - is probably quite sufficient to turn a statement into a question.

Finally, from all these considerations we might arrive at a conclusion re the relationship between the different levels or degrees of grammar. It might be expressed as follows:

As we have seen, synthetic grammar is the most technically advanced, but isn't compatible with a minimal grammar which doesn't require parts of speech to be defined.

In any case, LangX will be be an auxiliary language for a very long time, i.e. generations or centuries. There will be no need, in the forseeable future, for it to compete with the advanced grammar of certain mother-tongues. Analytic grammar will be quite sufficient.

Lang29 Grammar

These provisional (and still very incomplete) conclusions re the right grammar for Lang29 might be summarised:

  1. analytic grammar  -  strict word order  -  SVO syntax

  2. no case inflections, i.e. no genitive or plural noun inflections

  3. no verb declension or inflection, including imperative/infinitive

  4. all tenses/moods/voices shown by auxiliaries

  5. no word class inflections: noun, verb stem, adjective and adverb are identical

  6. adjective(s) always precede noun; adverb(s) always follow verb

  7. maximum succinctness in grammar and word-formation

  8. form of negation and omission of copula

  9. use of anaphora rather than correlatives for recursion

  10. no rules re prosody: users of an IAL should strive only to be heard

  11. single head-word for interrogative

Go to Introduction

Go to LangX - IAL Hierarchy

Go to Lang25 - Inaugural IAL

Go to LangX Background

Go to Lang53 Orthography

Go to LangX Vocabulary


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