jan Kipo’s Lecture on Semantic Primes (stuff you can’t describe with other words, but can use to describe other things)
A semantic prime language implies you can build any word if you know the ‘atom’s of semantic meaning.
If you have a toki pona pair, the semantic meaning of a pair is not obvious.
- good hunter <> someone who hunts ‘good’
- good hunter <> someone who good people
- good hunter = talented hunter
- together animal =?= cow (together with each other), or domestic animal (together with humans)
Even if you know that the 2nd tp word is the modifier is. At best, you have a set of possibilities. Important to remember if you are using a word pair and expect someone to understand you.
[hmm, I guess if you have three words, you have one more modifier, but more total possibilities]
Making a semantic prime based language means you have to list all the characteristics of a word in that word, which is too long. So we end up with extremely short conventions, i.e. idioms. These word combinations aren’t self evident and require memorization or at least a long story that goes with each word pair to explain why those semantic primes could mean something in particular.
One word can be used to describe one thing, even if we add or remove a lot of characteristics. Eg. Remove a leg from a dog, and it is still a dog, even if you had originally thought dog was a word that meant a four legged animal.
Semantic prime languages have a lot of dead space– combinations of semantic primes that have no obvious use what so every. This commonly happens to valuable short words (phrases)
One theory (NSM) says you can reduce English or other natural language to semantic primes, somewhere between 14-67 primes. Technique– paraphrase in simpler and simpler terms until you are down to the semantic primes. Technique can be used to explain why some words translate poorly– words in natural languages are made up of different semantic primes (in this case, a list of propositions answering, what does this mean?). Technique works well for emotions, the semantic meaning of declensions and conjugations. Doesn’t work so well for particular objects, kinship, colors.
A successful conlang will have a ‘core’, i.e. a central part of language that can be learned quickly and you could say just about anything. Deals with the barrier posed by grammars that introduce too little vocab, or too much vocab in the initial language definition.
Factoid: toki pona only took about a week to write the base vocabulary.
Rule of thumb. Beginner should be able to talk about most things with 12 sentences patterns -200 words, otherwise it is just to hard to attract any attention from the language learning community.