tlhIngan-Hol Archive: Tue Feb 26 10:24:30 2002

Back to archive top level

To this year's listing

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next]

Re: agentive -wI'

> ja'
> >You don't custom make nominalized verbs with {-wI'}, unless you are being
> >humorous or poetic. For the most part, you use {-wI'} to build that which is
> >intended to become a common element of vocabulary, not a custom made phrase.
> To be more accurate, *you* use {-wI'} that way.  I don't see any reason to
> enforce that usage, or to call differing usage wrong.  I understand the
> points you make.  I merely disagree with them.

I'm glad to see that we are at least now directly facing each other's point 
instead of the common practice of escallating arguments between people who 
aren't hearing one another. Thank you. This feels so much more better.

> Perhaps there's a difference in mental models at work here.  You tend to
> explain your analysis of sentences as an explicit process where each
> element gets parsed and its meaning incorporated into the idea being built.

I have done that in the past, though that is not relevant in this particular 
argument. I can see why you see it that way, but I'll explain better below.

> I generally don't experience any need to slice things up that finely,
> instead getting a more holistic impression of what I hear or read.  As I
> said in an earlier note, constructions such as {QomnISlaw'wI'} *work* when
> I encounter them, without any undue concentration required.

It's not a matter of concentration. It is a matter of the fundamental 
difference between word building and sentence building. Verbs with {-wI'} are 
not just verbs with {-wI'}. Verbs with {-wI'} are nouns. They essentially 
become new words. That's why there are 85 of them in the dictionary.

Words are not built and thrown away the way sentences are. The worst parts of 
modern English do build and throw away words, especially in the marketing 
industry, but in most languages, and I believe Klingon fits this description, 
words are slowly and carefully crafted to last for a long time. If it is not 
likely to acquire lasting, frequent use, it likely will not become a word.

If a sentence becomes common enough, it becomes a word. {nuqneH} and {nuqjatlh} 
are examples. These are not words that would have been created if they were not 
so common in use. If what would be a word is not likely to become part of the 
common usage, it shouldn't be a word.

Clauses are custom built to fit this moment's expression and then tossed away, 
perhaps never to be used again. This is commonplace and appropriate.

The whole art of language is the ability to develop the fewest elements capable 
of expressing the widest range of expression through grammatical combination. 

Why bother with grammar at all? Why build sentences? We could just have a word 
to mean everything a sentence means. We'd have a huge vocabulary and no 
grammar. It would require extraordinary memorization, and likely the result 
would be a natural limit of expressive possibilities.

Look at the difference between written English and written Chinese. Learning a 
separate symbol for each word makes writing Chinese much more difficult than 
spelling words with a smaller number of memorized letters. You could take 
another order of magnitude and make a single character or word carry the 
meaning of a whole sentence and just have a lot more words with little or no 

But that's not how it works. We minimize vocabulary in order to minimize the 
memorization required to understand language, and we expand the uses of each of 
these words through grammatical combination. When grammatical combination 
doesn't work, we then expand the vocabulary to fill the voids.

The interaction between grammar and vocabulary is a dance working toward a 
balance between efficiency of vocabulary and expressive range of grammar.

You can argue that adding {-wI'} to a word is a grammatical function and not a 
means to expand the vocabulary, and THAT is where the crux of our disagreement 
lies. I say that {-wI'} is a tool for word building and you say that it is a 
grammatical construction for building what would be a phrase into a single word.

As evidence to my point, I have 85 words in the vocabulary using {-wI'}.

Of course, there are also 40 vocabulary entries with {-moH} and five with {-
meH}, five with {-ghach}, four with {-laH} and probably some with some other 
suffixes as well. The {-moH} examples clearly are there to help you look things 
up in the English side of the dictionary. The crux of our disagreement is on 
whether or not the {-wI'} examples are merely there to help English-Klingon 
lookup, or whether they really are considered to be nouns in their own right.

While Okrand has stated that the {-moH} examples are there just to help with 
lookup, he has never addressed the issue of whether the {-wI'} words are there 
to aid in lookup, or whether they are there the way that waiter, butler, 
builder, contracter, etc. are in an English dictionary.

I think from looking at the specific examples and their definitions, it really 
is the case that these are words in their own right. {rachwI'} was built as a 
word because a word was needed and the person did this function, so it made 
sense to name the noun after the verb using {-wI'}. I don't think that nurses 
have a lot of different names for them for all the different verbs they do.

A warrior is a {SuvwI'}. He is not:


He could be DESCRIBED by a relative clause using any of these verbs, but his 
NAME is {SuvwI'}. You don't see any of the words in that list in the 
vocabulary, and there's a reason for that.

{-wI'} is a tool for word building, not phrase or clause building, and words 
are not casually built. That is frustrating for a lot of people here who are 
always seeking ways of building new words, but that's not how this language 

For all my history of working with the language, I've consistently worked to 
first explore all we can do with the current vocabulary and only expand it when 
that fails. This present argument is just an extention of that consistent 
effort. I don't want Klingon to become marketing English where we whip up a new 
word every time we want to get someone's attention that we probably don't 
deserve to attract.

A Klingon speaks up when he has something to say, and when he does so, he 
speaks plainly in clear, short sentences using proper grammar and the common 
vocabulary. He doesn't build flowery, new words when they are not needed.

> >...The issue is what
> >verbs and suffixes combine with {-wI'} to clearly express the meaning
> >assignment of a noun for common vocabulary.
> Nope, I don't buy it.  I won't treat {-wI'} as a special suffix useful only
> for things one might expect to find in a dictionary.

Well, that is the crux of our difference. I regret that I can't convince you 
otherwise, but I accept it.
> >So, are you saying that you have no problem with {QomnISlaw'wI'}? You really
> >think Okrand should include that in his next vocabulary list?
> There's a disconnect in the chain of argument here.  Since I don't share
> your belief that {-wI'} is meant to create "common elements of vocabulary",
> I don't accept the implication that understanding a nominalized verb makes
> it appropriate for writing in an official vocabulary list.
> >Or are you saying that you should be able to cram any Relative Clause into 
> >word with {-wI'} so long as there is no explicit head noun?
> i don't see it that way.  Sure, almost any {-wI'} usage can be emulated
> well with a relative clause, but they aren't the same thing.

Our difference is in what we mean when we aree that they aren't the same thing. 
For me, the pivotal element is that {-wI'} is for building common words, so 
loading them with specialized shades of meaning through complex or unusual 
combinations of verb suffixes is not generally recommended, though the whole 
point of relative clauses is to use every available tool to express a specific 
idea that may or may not ever need to be expressed again.

It's not just that nominalized verbs and relative clauses are different. It's 
that they are different for a reason. Behind the difference in function is a 
difference in the reason for creating these two very different elements of the 
> > Or maybe you
> >additionally require that the head noun of a Relative Clause needs to be the
> >subject of the verb and unstated in order for the Relative Clause to be
> >expressed as a nominalized verb using {-wI'}.
> No, I'm firmly on the "no verb prefix" side of that debate.

I'm glad we agree on THAT much.

> >I think this whole trend of building new, incidental, unnecessary words to
> >replace Relative Clauses is misguided.
> Temporary coinages aren't a problem in my view.

I see them much like nominalized verbs with {-ghach}. It is not so much that I 
want them banned as it is that I think they can be easily overused. Since 
English speakers do so love nouns as to do anything in their power to expand 
the number of nouns they can build out of verbs through whatever means 
possible, I don't want to see people encouraged to use {-wI'} where {-bogh} 
would make a much better expression. Even moreso, I want people to get away 
from "to be" expressions where they are not needed. I'd rather see {jIjatlh} 
than {jatlhwI' jIH}. I don't want the latter banned, but I do think it is an 
expression of lesser native quality.

The more focus one is able to shed English's fixation on nouns and instead 
recast ideas in terms of verbs, the better, clearer Klingon one generally 
speaks. I fight off the noun-centric fads that crop up on this list cyclically, 
and I see this as just the newest fad. It is a weed, not a flower and I feel 
compelled to rip it out by the roots, though it grows quite stubbornly.
> >Your name has become part of the common vocabulary. I have no problem with 
> It looks like your test for acceptability is "common vocabulary".  So if
> {QomnISlaw'wI'} caught on and became a commonly used noun, would you
> likewise drop your complaint about *it*?

Actually, yes. I would. If there were a common noun that would be best 
described with that word, I'd have no problem with it. That's my whole point. 
Well spoken Klingon doesn't need more ephemeral nouns.

> -- ghunchu'wI' 'utlh


Back to archive top level