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#5437 - 08/19/00 07:03 AM What are words?
paulb Offline

Registered: 03/17/00
Posts: 460
Loc: Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
I thought people might be interested in an excerpt from a report in The Age (Melbourne) of a recent Melbourne conference on The Status of Word co-organised by Prof Alexandra Aikhenvald, a Russian language conservation expert, who said that languages such as Eskimo and some South American languages are useful when studying the concept of ‘word’.

"They are interesting because in English you have to say a whole sentence. In Eskimo you just say one word or one sequence of suffixes. Instead of saying ‘I go to the shop four times a day’, you say ‘shop go four I’.

"You put everything together and you pronounce it all in one breath. So what do you do, how many words are there and what are words?

"This is what we need to know, how we decide in order to be able to understand this language properly; what makes them different and still whether we can describe them using the same terms."

#5438 - 08/19/00 12:25 PM Re: What are words?
TEd Remington Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 07/17/00
Posts: 3467
Loc: Marion NC
>Instead of saying ‘I go to the shop four times a day’, you say ‘shop go four I’.

Now, how do I know from the second phrase that it means four times a day and not four times a month or even four times a year? And how do I know that it doesn't mean I go to four different shops?

Words are merely conventions that we have more or less agreed upon as representing a concept. "I" means myself and not you, because we have all agreed. If the statement ‘shop go four I’ is really a word, then it's because we've agreed to that status. I have to consider the phrase to be a shorthand sentence, rather than a single word.

German is famous for taking large concepts and distilling them into a single word, though I'll admit there probably isn't anything like turning a whole sentence into one word.


#5439 - 08/20/00 02:00 PM Re: What are words?
Jazzoctopus Offline
old hand

Registered: 07/03/00
Posts: 1094
Loc: Cincinnati & Loveland, Ohio, U...
The really long German words aren't really full concepts. They don't contain verbs and other parts of speech. They're really just a noun that has it's noun-adjectives put into it. My favorite really long German word is Lieblingsgeschwindikeitsbegrenzungshildpost. It means, roughly, favorite speed limit sign post. Each of these words can stand alone as a noun, but since they are being used to describe the ultimate noun (post) they are put into the word.


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