tlhIngan-Hol Archive: Wed Mar 09 04:40:58 1994

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Re: Noun-Noun Construction


>Okrand did _*<NOT  DEFINE>*_ any word in TKD. You can't use one language to
>DEFINE the words of another. It simply doesn't work that way. All you can do
>is list whatever word in xenotongue and give that word's most accurate
>English *synonym*. Sometimes it takes several English words to carry across
>the general jist of a certain word. The German word "lustig" has no real
>English equivalent; it is best to describe it as close to "happy, merry,
>funny, etc." Similarly, English words cannot be defined by the words of any
>other language. It is silly to think that languages work like that-- as silly
>as it is to think that X number of words in an English sentence must
>correspond to X number of words in the same sentence in another language.

This is, of course, preposterous.  Of course Okrand defined the
words in TKD.  Every last one of them.  It absolutely works that
way.  It especially works that way in a constructed language like
this, where someone sat down one day, and thought up a mapping
between sounds and meanings.  For any given word in TKD, whatever
Okrand tells us it means, that's its definition.

Of course, none of this in any way invalidates Guido's main point.  This
is semantic quibbling over the precise meaning of the word "define".
While Okrand absolutely defined the tlhIngan Hol vocabulary, at is
also absolutely true that he did not, in general, define it
completely, thoroughly, or in great detail.  In general, he *did*
just give us a synonym or two, and felt that that was close enough--
and generally, it is.  Sometimes it isn't.  Just because something
isn't a COMPLETE definition doesn't mean it isn't a definition, and
just because Okrand didn't take the time and space to spell out
extremely precise definitions doesn't mean it isn't possible to do
so.  To claim that it is impossible to use one language to define
words in another is tantamount to claiming it is impossible to
define words in a language in that same language, i.e. it is
impossible to define English words in English (for if one could do
this, then one could certainly take the English definition and
translate it to language X, and, voila, you've used X to define
words in English).  And if we cannot use a language to define its
own words, then we have rendered the word "define" hopelessly
useless, for there is no context in which it might ever be sensibly
used.  This is just too strict a definition of definition.

Yep, it's true that there are words in some languages with no direct
equivalent in others.  To use Guido's example, I'm sure "lustig" has
no direct English equivalent.  So what?  Guido gets us off to a
start on a definition:  ...close to "happy, merry, funny, etc." Now,
one can easily claim that this isn't yet a definition, being still
too vague.  But it's a start-- I already know more about what the
word means than I did before I read his post.  Moreover, I'm
confident that, were he to write more on the subject, he could
provide a pretty good definition.  Maybe it would take a paragraph
to explain.  Maybe a whole page.  No matter.  Eventually he would be
able to convey the concept, using English.

But I stray.  In tlhIngan Hol the only definitions that exist are
the ones Okrand gives us.  If those entries in TDK aren't
definitions, then Klingon doesn't *have* definitions.

But certainly some of them are *lousy* definitions, where he didn't
really express well what he had in mind, and so we have to guess at
his intent.  So, when Guido says that, just because it gives "be
fatal" for HeghmoH, that doesn't mean that we should assume they
have the exact same grammatical characteristics, he is absolutely
correct.  There are obvious reasons to be suspicious of the
precision of this definition.  On the other hand, when he gives, oh,
"galaxy" for qIb, I'd say that's a pretty clear, unambiguous, and
perfectly fine definition.


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