On Wed, Sep 22, 2010 at 6:18 PM, Eugene Oh <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> It isn't that straightforward. Grammatical inflection is not marked, but to
> a native speaker "àirén" doesn't simply decompose into "love + person", but
> rather "loved (passive participle) + person", vs. "aixin" which decomposes
> into "loving (active participle) + heart" = "compassion, kindliness".
> As for the other "airen" of a different tone (presumably the first, i.e.
> āirén), it wouldn't mean "hurt person", but would depend on which strand of
> etymology you go by, because there is no such stock word/phrase. Assuming
> Classical Chinese origin, it would mean "grieving person, bereaved".*
> Assuming an origin in e.g. Southern Min, it would mean "person with many
> regrets".
> My point is, written Chinese has had influences from so many languages of
> the different regions of China that it is difficult to impute standard
> meanings to its morphemes or words based on Modern Standard Mandarin alone,
> because written MSM is still heavily influenced, especially among the more
> historically/classically trained, by the classical language, which is
> something quite opaque to people who have not gone through an education in
> the Chinese-language medium, whether in mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong or
> Singapore (I'm not sure about Malaysia).

Oh, of course it's more complex than that.  And of course we can't
impute standard meanings to its morphemes based on MSM alone (hell,
since morphemes only mean in context, we can't impute meaning to
morphemes at *all* other than contingently, but that's another

But if we're going to make a Future World Mandarin, we're going to see
a lot of reinterpretation of morphemes.  A native Chinese speaker
trained in Chinese literature, history, and culture is likely to
realize that the ai in airen is pp, while the ai in aixin is an active
participle, but Joe Smith who learned Future World Mandarin for his
job isn't.  He's going to just assume "ai" is a morpheme carrying the
vague notion of love.

And I'm pretty sure the average Mandarin speaker doesn't break down
"airen" into anything but "airen."  Maybe in school, when they learn
the characters to write it, they suddenly realize "oh, that's the word
'love' there."  But compounds in Mandarin are no doubt learned as
lexical units, just as we English speakers don't think of "sidewalk"
as composed of two morphemes unless compelled to do so by annoying
linguistics professors in intro to linguistics.  (And even then, an
argument could be made that "sidewalk" isn't two morphemes at all, but
was historically)

If I were to create a Future World Mandarin, I'd have to hack out the
phonology.  But every set of changes I imagine leads to a much more
ambiguous language.  I'd love to get rid of the aspirated stops
replacing them with fricatives, but doing so makes a stew of the
language, esp. if I snip away tone.  I'd also love to get rid of the
retroflex consonants, as much as I enjoy them in actual Mandarin.  But
I have no idea what a retroflex consonant might realistically change
into.  Voiced palatals?  So "zh" becomes /Z/?  A lot of Americans
pronounce it that way already, but that's more a function of the
orthography of pinyin, I think.  And then x- and sh- would collapse.
It would be easy to reintroduce final consonants.  Let "si" and "zi"
becomes "z" and "dz", then let Ce syllables drop the schwa on final
syllables.  Or maybe tone 3 will lengthen that schwa into an /E/ and
all other ones will drop out.  And then there's what to do with the
other vowels.

It'd be against the whole creole feel of the thing, but wouldn't it be
fun to introduce verb conjugations?

I read    -- otushu
you read -- nitushu
he, she reads -- tatushu
we read -- ontushu
you pl read -- nintushu
they read -- tantushu

Or maybe -men wouldn't collapse like that.   I don't know, I'm just noodling.

I have stretched ropes from steeple to steeple; garlands from window
to window; golden chains from star to star, and I dance.  --Arthur