"Nouniness" LO24151

From: AM de Lange (amdelange@gold.up.ac.za)
Date: 03/10/00

Replying to LO24120 --

Dear Organlearners,

Eric Hatch <hocinc@earthlink.net> writes:

>One of the delights of English is that nouns turn into
>adejectives when placed immediately in front of nouns.
>That is how we tell the difference between a "glass eye"
>and an "eye glass."
>But the further away one of these "created" adjectives is
>from the noun it's intended to modify, the less we see it
>as an adjective, and the more we see it like a noun in its
>own right. Whole strings of nouns in a row create amazing
>(and sometimes uproarious) confusion.

Greetings Eric.

Your last sentence reminds me of a name of a farm some 200km west of
Pretoria officially registered with the Surveyor General. That was 30
years ago when I was still researching soils. I doubt whether the name is
still allowed today because what spread sheet in today's world of
computers will allow for the monstrosity

It is written in my mother tongue Afrikaans and consists of the
The literal English translation is word for word:
except for the word "morsdood" which I have translated into "stark
dead". Its literal equivalent would be "messy dead".

Afrikaans is the youngest language in the world -- youngest in all major
facets (speech evolution, ortography, grammer, vocabulary). Although its
basis came through the colonists from Low Franconian (which itself later
became High Dutch) and Low Saxon (which was a major parent of Old
English), it was modified and streamlined in the mouths of people from
many races (Europe -- Germanic and Romanic, Africa -- Xhoisan and Banthu,
Asia -- Malay and Indian). On top of this Germanic substrate Afrikaans
has, just like English, the thick layer of words coming from Latin and
Greek origin together with their modifiers.

Those who want to denigrate Afrikaans often refer to it as a pidgin
language or the language of the apartheid oppressors. But those who study
the evolution of languages find in it some most exciting developments. One
of them is that a "rich noun" may be created by stringing ANY number of
nouns together. Thus your examples "glass eye" and "eye glass" will become
"glasoog" and "oogglas". But here the nouns "glas" in "glasoog" and "oog"
in "oogglas" do NOT funtion as adjectives, although the ORDER in which
they stand are critically important.

I know this seems to be illogical and even crazy to speakers of other
languages. But there is some powerful logic in it. It can be illustrated
best with the chemical FORMULAE for compounds, but not their chemical
NAMES. For example, the chemical formula for water is H2O. Here both the H
(hydrogen) and the O (oxygen) are elements. The O is written behind the H
because it is more electronegative (= electron attractive). Now try to
think of elements as nouns. In "oogglas" the mind has to focus on the last
noun as the "attractor" which is then "complexified" by the noun(s) before

Here are some simple three noun words:
"snoerwurmeier" = ribbon-worm-egg
"somerstofbloes" = summer-material-blouse
"steenbokooi" = stone-buck-ewe
"stemveevanger" = voting-cattle-catcher (political term!)
"vetstertskaap" = fat-tail-sheep
"vishoekoog" = fish-hook-eye
Some simple four noun word would be like
"snoerwurmmotvlerk" = ribbon-worm-moth-wing
"somerstofbloespatroon" = summer-material-blouse-pattern

The reason why "complex nouns" had to be created, is the diversity in
South Africa with respect to its climate, geology, plants, animals and
peoples. For example, the peninsula in which Cape Town is situated has
more species of plants (so-called fynbos biome) than the whole of Europe!
Astounding, is it not? In one day's walk one can encounter as many things
of which the names would fit a pocket size dictionary. Thus Afrikaans had
to develop a "chemistry" to name such things without carrying a bulky
dictionary along.

So much now for "nouniness".

What about streamlining the "becoming" of liveness?

Here we have a peculiar the development that the conjunction of verbs are
streamlined to a point beyond the comprehension for speakers of other
languages. In Afrikaans we need to use and often do use only three tenses
-- simpel past, simple present and simple future. (That is why it is so
difficult for me to write in English, German, Dutch or Spanish, or for
speakers of those languages to learn Afrikaans.) Afrikaans do have all the
other elborate tenses, but they are only used by "teachers and preachers".
The reason is that becoming itself can change so fast that elaborate
tenses cannot keep track of the rhythm.

Here is how it is done. To create a reference point of time somewhere
in the past, the word "toe" (English:"then, at", German: "zu") is
used. I will now write in English about something which happened
in the past, but by using the Afrikaans rule of "then" and present
    THEN I run to the river, dive into it, swim to the kid and save
In the English way I should have written
    (Then) I ran to the river, dived into it, swam to the kid and
saved him.
Now I will add something which happened previously in the past.
    THEN the kid fell into the river. I run, dive, swim and save him.
English thinking people perceive two sentences, one in the past
tense and one in the present tense. But Afrikaans thinking people
perceive two sentences, one in the past perfect and one in the
simple past tense! In the English way I should have written
    The kid had fallen into the river. I ran to the river, dived into
    swam to the kid and saved him.
Creating future tense into this text concerning the past is straight
forward. Here is an example:
    THEN I run to the river, dive into it, swim to the kid and save
    People will thank me for my bravery.
In the English way I should have written
    (Then) I ran to the river, dived into it, swam to the kid and
    him. People would thank me for my bravery.

To create a reference point of time in the future the word "so" (English:
"so, such", German: "bald")

See how the sentence according to the Afrikaans convention becomes shorter
while according to the English convention it becomes longer. The economy
of it all is that the time indicator "toe" (then) is used only once at the
beginning of a paragraph or even a whole chapter! The sad thing is that in
the cities where people have to speak in Afrikaans or English, they
predominantly follow the English convention when speaking in Afrikaans.
Thus it takes them about as many words to say something as what would be
needed in English.

But in the desert regions (Kalahari, Namaqualand, Bushmanland,
Richtersveld, etc.) English is little used as well as the Afrikaans from
the cities. Here these innovations in Afrikaans are still flourishing. A
desert dweller will tell you a story in less than half the words which the
city dweller will need. He will make use of other time pointers for the
past and the future and not only use "toe" and "so".

Furthermore, he will tell that story doubly as picturesque as the city
dweller because of using creative innovations such as "stringing nouns".
He will convert nouns into verbs and verbs into nouns as well as adverbs
into adjectives and vice versa so fast and fluently that you will listen
open mouth at the language jewels coming forth. Many of the words created
on the spur of the moment will not be found in even an extensive
dictionary, yet you will understand them immediately because they have
been made by patterns deep in the grammer of Afrikaans -- "deep grammer"?

>I hope no reader loses sleep over this. The point is that in
>English proximity, word order, and word endings ALL contribute
>to the meaning. No wonder pidgin comes easily while eloquence
>is a lifetime's endeavor.

I have lost many a hour of sleep over this! It all has to do with
articulating my tacit knowledge and not articulating my formal knowledge
once again. When I articulate my tacit knowledge which itself has emerged
from experience, I can do it in my mothertongue Afrikaans or English. When
I do it in Afrikaans, the formal Afrikaans grammer emerges automatically
by way of the "deep grammer". When I do it by using English words, the
grammer, again by way of the "deep grammer", is a mess according to formal
Englsih grammer. What I then have to do after the articulation, is to
clear up this mess. This is not easy.

The dear lady (Lynette Rosseau, Teacher in English, now living in Cape
Town) who used to help me in correcting my English, eventually became very
good at spotting these passages where I had to articulate my tacit
knowledge after I had drawn her attention to this phenomenon. She often
became excited how even she, very good in English, had to seek far and
wide for a way to bend common grammer in an acceptable manner so that the
sentence would tell exactly what I meant it to tell. We sometimes
struggled for a dozen or more minutes on one single sentence. She was most
excited herself to learn how often such passages occurred among the work
of her own secondary school pupils (Afrikaans mother tongue), something
which she never was made aware of in her own formal post graduate training
as a linguist and teacher.

Her excitement grew into sheer astonishment when she observed the same
phenomon in her last couple of years in teaching English to black students
who had a Banthu language as mother tongue.

I love to read the contributions by our non-English members who have Dutch
(Leo and Jan), German (Winfried), Portugese (Bruno), or Slavic (Alexander)
as their mothertonue because in their contributions I recognise the same
frustrations as mine when they begin to delve in their tacit knowledge.
The principal language for aticulating tacit knowledge is the
mothertongue. This principle was known as far back the fourteenth Century
to John Wycliff in Englsnad and the Brothers os Compassion in Deventer,

When I articulate my formal knowledge in Afrikaans, the grammer is
correct. When I do it in English, the grammer is close to my formal
knowledge of English grammer, except for my inability to spot mistakes.
Yet I immediately recognise as mistakes when an English speaking person
points them out to me. My most frequent mistakes are in concord --
Afrikaans has no concord because
        "I, you, he, she, it, we, they DO",
-- all subjects get the same verb without any modifications.

Eric, some people (not necessarily you) easily refer to a pidgen use of
English. I expect that a "new english" will emerge sooner or later as a
result of communication on Internet. I expect that some of the peculiar
innovations of Afrikaans will surface again in this "new english". The sad
thing about the emergence of Afrikaans was that nothing of it was
documented!!! There were many excellent English, Dutch and German
linguists working in South Africa, trained in the best institutions of the
western world. The only thing which they documented about this emergence
was that it was an immergence of High Dutch -- a pidgen use we might now
say. For me who study bifurcations in its broadest sense ("deep
creativity"), the lack of documentation on bifurcations in language is
very frustrating.

With care and best wishes


At de Lange <amdelange@gold.up.ac.za> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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