Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Nouns in the Yellow City Trade Tongue: Extract from the Journal of Laxmi Guptra Dahl

From The Journal of Laxmi Guptra Dahl, p. 378:

"The Yellow City is a city of many languages but the visitor is immediately struck by the fact that all of the populace shift with great facility to their 'Trade Tongue' whenever they are speaking to one outside their immediate circle.

"I asked many scholars about the origin of this 'Trade Tongue' and was told that it had been created by of all things a dwarfish sorcerer, Chinzin, who was a member of the court of an ancient emperor of the city. (There is nowadays, of course, no emperor, and has not been for thousands of years.) This dwarf was tasked with creating a language which could be spoken by both human and slug-man mouths alike, in order that commands could be issued and trades carried out between the two species without the slug-man masters suffering the indignities of being unable to pronounce certain words - it being known that the slug-man mouth is much less dextrous than that of the human.

"It is for this reason that, despite it being in common use for thousands of years at least, the Yellow City Trade Tongue has apparently changed little in pronunciation or grammatical rules since the earliest of Chinzin's Grammars

"The most noticeable characteristic of the 'Trade Tongue' is that it is a language which disdains nouns and adjectives. It is said that the dwarfish languages with which Chinzin was familiar are composed entirely of verbs, so that if one were to refer to a tree, for example, one would express something akin, mutatis mutandis, to one speaking our language making the expression: 'growing, greening, talling'.

"Whether or not this be true, the 'Trade Tongue' functions largely on the basis of verbs. Chinzin's genius, if it can be described as such, was what to linguistic scholars in the Yellow City became known as the Great Gerund Moment. The 'Trade Tongue' is a language comprising entirely verbs, except when those verbs are transformed into nouns through the use of special 'gerund classifiers' as follows.

"Consider the word in the 'Trade Tongue' for 'fish'. It is omifamofö.

This can be broken down into constituent parts thusly:

omi (which is the infinitive of the verb, 'to swim'), famo (which is the infinitive of the verb, 'to breathe water'), and then a particular gerund classifier,  (which might be said to be the equivalent of our "-ing thing"). Hence, omifamofö, or 'swim breathe-water -ing thing'.

"To which the perceptive reader will ask two questions: namely, what is the origin of this strange 'gerund classifier' and the rules governing its use; and does this not result in nouns which are of extreme and unusable length?

"Chinzin developed not one gerund classifier but 14. This was in accordance with the prevailing epistemological philosophy of the time, which held that all things could be classified into 14 archetypes. Hence, 'nouns' in the Yellow City Trade Tongue take a separate gerund classifier according to what archetype they fit.

"Over time, of course, the vision of perfection from which Chinzin was drawing proved too restrictive for the messy and chaotic nature of living things, and over time gerund classifications have become somewhat arbitrary. Nonetheless, the Yellow City Trade Tongue can still be said to have 14 noun classes based on the following schema. The schema lists Chinzin's classification and the comments in parenthesis elaborate on the modern usage.

(a) things that belong to the Emperor (there is nowadays no "emperor" so this in general classifies things associated with the slug man caste) wi
(b) embalmed things (includes things that are artificially constructed or altered)
(c) those that are trained (includes children, agricultural animals, and so on) öha
(d) suckling pigs (this includes most mammals) ma
(e) mermaids (includes fish and other scaly things, and also hybrids)
(f) fabulous ones (includes abstract concepts or things known not to actually exist) bo
(g) stray dogs (includes things associated with low-status castes) iwo
(h) those that are included in the present classification (only used for the noun "thing" itself) ȍwȉ
(i) those that tremble as if they are mad (includes things which are amorphous and cannot be fixed, such as clouds) pi
(j) innumerable ones (includes things found in clumps or other large gatherings) p'o
(k) those drawn with a very fine camelhair brush (includes things artistically created) ahi
(l) others (a miscellaneous category - usually whatever is not currently classified or where the speaker does not know what class something belongs in) xhu
(m) those that have just broken a flower vase (includes things that change form or location) wu
(n) those that look like flies from a long way off (includes insects, and other tiny things)

"Hence the word for 'fish', omifamofö, takes the gerund classifier for mermaids, or . This may be contrasted with another word, for 'peas', or fuwafap'o (from fuwa, the infinitive for "to be green", fa for the infinitive for "to be edible", and p'o, the gerund classifier for things that are innumerable or found in clumps.

"At some point there may be required second-order agglutination as in: p'abahuwupixȁ, the word for a cup or bowl. Viz: p'aba (infinitive for 'to contain'), huwu (infinitive for 'to be liquid'), pi (gerund classifier for amorphous things, such as liquids), xȁ (gerund classifier for embalmed or constructed things). Similarly, rather than having adjectives, nouns are modified through the use of particles comprised of the stem of verbs. Thus, omifamoȕfö, or 'big fish' (formed by inserting the stem of the verb ȕmȕ, 'to be big', or ȕ, before the gerund classifier).

"The question remains: does this not result in unwieldy and lengthy nouns which make communication lengthy and difficult? The answer is that in ordinary circumstances, users of the Yellow City Trade Tongue are extremely aware of context, more so perhaps than any other peoples using any other oral form of communication. Thus, when from context the meaning is clear, it is quite natural and normal for a person to refer simply to a fish as a  (for example, when there is a fish nearby, or when the topic of fish has already been raised in the conversation). In another circumstance, he may use the word to refer to another thing which is classified with mermaids, such as a lizard, in abbreviation, where the context is clear. 

"Likewise, when sitting down for a meal, a person will not ask to be passed a p'abahuwupixȁ, but simply a pixȁ."

[With thanks to Borges and The Analytical Language of John Wilkins.]


  1. Can we have more vocab elements please?

  2. Neat! And the emperor bit, I will have to keep that in mind... I came up with a pretty elaborate "origin of the slugmen" history, and this "changes" things but my idea still works so I'm ok with it :)

    Is the vowel harmony rule modified by this?


    1. I have made some changes to the Trade Tongue to reflect some thoughts I had about slug man mouths... I might blog a bit more about it.

      Remember - create your own Yoon-Suin! ;) In my version the Yellow City has been around so long it has had pretty much every political system one could name in charge at some point or other.

    2. A big part of me wants to send you my version but you know, you have things to do :P