Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Languages with minimal vocabulary

Hiklaa! (Pronounced: Hai-klah) Toki! (Pronounced: Toe-key) 

    These words are greetings in E-minimal language and Toki Pona respectively, there is a third language I will introduce called Tika, but I cannot find a greeting in that language. E-minimal, Toki Pona and Tika are examples of minimalist vocabulary languages. Each language only has a few hundred words with must be compounded with other words to make a sentence. 

    Lets start with E-minimal: 

LEGEND
255 Default Nouns + below

aa = ah
i = eye
a = aye
e = ee
o = oh
u = oo  

VERBS
suffix-transitive 

(with short e) 
EM Past 
EN Present 
EL Future 
ER- a question?

prefix-intransitive
- N That which Acts
- L That Acted on
- M Adjective 
- J Adverb
- Z Plural 
- EV Possessive (ehv)

pro- = preposition
di- = conjunction
te- = mated principle
pi- = the study of
-po = the opposite of
-to = an increment of
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E-minimal is a small language with 255 nouns ( I won't list them all here ), and what is written above, the language is ambiguous but has enough of a vocabulary to get your point across.

 Minimal  languages are very small and use many words over again and again or compound words and/or root words to make new words and express new concepts. Although it might seem impossible to speak efficiently with such a limited vocabulary, it really isn't all that difficult. What it does is force the speaker to forgo the vast majority of words and simply focus on the most basic form of communication. For example, instead of saying "he is insubordinate" the same could be said in the most basic form of communication: "he no listen me" 

 While this might sound strange to your English ears, "Ti naa spa ni!" Literally: "He no listen me" actually gets the message across with little problem.

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Next we have Toki Pona, while E-minimal has a larger vocabulary than Toki Pona, there is more information about Toki Pona available and it offers a learning course! 


There are fourteen letters in the Toki Pona alphabet: nine consonants (j k l m n p s t w), and five vowels (a e i o u).

letter      pronounced as in

k            kill
l             let
m           met
n            net
p            pit
s            sink
t             too
w            wet
j             yet

Okay, one of the first principles you'll need to learn about Toki Pona is that there is no form of the verb to be like there is in English. For example:

mi pona. = I (am) good.

sina suli. = you (are) big/important.

Simply state mi or sina, then complete the sentence with a verb or adjective. These are the absolute simplest type of sentences in Toki Pona, but already you've come across something that you're probably not accustomed to: All those beloved words like is, was, and will be are gone. Say goodbye! Although this might seem strange to you, it's actually simpler, if you think about it. There are other languages that don't have a form of to be, so don't think this lack of to be is completely strange. It'll just take some practice to get used to the idea.

e - introduces direct object    li - separates a 3rd person subject from its verb


 Phrases such as mi moku could have two potential meanings: I'm eating or I am food. You have to rely on context heavily in these situations. However, there is one way to specify that you want to say I'm eating versus I am food. Observe:
   mi moku e kili. = I eat fruit.
   ona li lukin e pipi. = He's watching the bug.
Whatever is getting action done on itself is the "direct object," and in Toki Pona, we separate the verb and the direct object with e so that there is no confusion. [ while that sounds easy, it is harder to do in practice ]


For sentences that don't use mi or sina as the subject, there is one small catch that you'll have to learn. It's not very complex; it'll just take some practice to remember to use it. Look at how li is used:
   telo li pona. = Water (is) good.
   suno li suli. = (The) sun (is) big.
   moku li pona. = Eating/food (is) good.
li is a grammatical word that separates the subject from its "verb". Remember: It's only used when the subject is not mi or sina. Although li might seem worthless right now, as you continue to learn Toki Pona you will see that some sentences could be very confusing if li weren't there.


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Lastly we come to Tika:

 Phonemes Pronunciation # 1 Pronunciation # 2
 a /a/ which is pronounced like the a in father  /ə/ which is pronounced like the a in about
 i /i/ which is pronounced like the i in machine /e/ which is pronounced like the e in net
 k /k/ which is pronounced like the k in kangaroo /g/ which is pronounced like the g in goal
 l /l/ which is pronounced like the l in lime /ɾ/ which is pronounced like the tt in American English kitty; any pronunciation of the letter r is acceptable
 n /n/ which is pronounced like the n in name /m/ which is pronounced like the m in money
 p /p/ which is pronounced like the p in plant /b/ which is pronounced like the b in banana
 t /t/ which is pronounced like the t in tiger /d/ which is pronounced like the d in doughnut
 u /u/ which is pronounced like the oo in food /o/ which is pronounced like the o in gold



Tika is an extraordinarily easy language. It only has 8 phonemes (5 consonants and 3 vowels), and 100 words which can be compounded to make even more words. The language is SVO meaning that the order is the subject, the verb, then the direct object, which is exactly like English. The only difference is that, in all cases, the indirect object comes after the direct object. The proper way to say "I gave you the ball" in Tika, would be,  "I gave the ball to you". Just like in English, the adjectives precedes the nouns (example: red cat, not cat red). Vowels can be pronounced as diphthongs or separately. Capital letters are never used. Any punctuation besides the period (.), is never used in Tika. Tika follows the Chinese way of forming questions. For example, take the sentence "You see me". If you wanted to make this into a question, you would say "Do you see me?", well in Tika, the way to turn it into a question is by asking "you see not see me?".

Because the phonology is so small, there are alternate ways to pronounce some of the phonemes. Choose the pronunciation that feels most natural to you.


Lord's Prayer

nuita puku patinu pila ni kiali. nuita puku kia puna tua tupi titula. nuita puku pili tupi natiu nupi tua. nuita puku pili tupi pili pila kapi piti. lilu kapi piti ni puanita ku kiali. nuita puku pili nuita puku luka tipu kunali kita ku nuita puku pili tupi lana nuita puku nala kuali nuita puku lana nala pua tipi pikua. nuita puku pili tupi kapi nuita puku pua tipu pua tupi kapu pua nuita puku puna ku kapi nuita puku pua nala. pila.

Literal translation:

Our parent is truly in the sky. We do goodness towards your name. We want your nation to move toward. We want your desires to truly give view. It'll give view in Earth and in the sky. We want our daytime eating stuff and we want you to accept our evil like we accept the evil of other people. We want you to hold us from the time of your opinions of our purity and keep us away from evil. Truly!

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There you have it folks, 3 complete minimal languages you can actually use! If you want to learn more about these languages check out the following sites:
E-minimal, Toki Pona, Tika.