Learner of Stuff
posts: 220 ,
So I'm conlanging again after a long period of not really feeling like it, and probably since I'm sensibilized to the topic of how different languages fill up semantic space differently I got to thinking about how to make an interesting, complex, and unrelexlike lexicon for a conlang. For that, i got to thinking about comparative linguistis and I got a few ideas. Now this is all apriori and theoretically, i know very little actual knowledge about comparative semantics and wanted to share them basically to make sure i'm thinking about this in a way that makes sense or if it's all kind of silly. For example, I think that since good lexicography is deconstruction of hard-to-notice patterns, one might think that either being very systematic or being very disordered would work to get oneself away from one's own grid of semantic distinctions, to be post-structuralist about it. I suppose at bottom i asked myself the question "self, how do we make a cool lexicon?" and myself answered a bunch of ideas which i mostly place before you now to make sure they make sense.
on the systematic angle, one can try creating, say, all the kinship terms through working out kinship systems, and then all the colour words out of a systematic construction of how a culture could deconstruct their colorspace into terms, maybe with some WALS for normality. Then consider the biomechanics of their lifestyle and check out how they'd divide the semantic space of the body: do they distinguish ankles from calves and so on. This is probably the best process and also the most grueling, although one still risks importing one's own linguistic idiosyncracies.
being disordered might mean something like introducing chaos: for example, assign to each of a certain list of lexical entries in a random integer between one and three and then going through it, splitting, say, "tree" in three because the die came out 3 for the word "three" in the previous lottery, so you decide they have no word for tree but instead go by the "evergreen|broadleaved|palm" trychotomy. that is to say, randomly splitting lexical entries in order to break or make new lines into the grid, into the semantic space division scheme.
myself, i haven't lexiconned in quite a while. But studying chinese has kind of given me the sensation that perhaps some languages have wider-worded than other languages? like, this may be my imagination, but it feels like chinese dictionary entries are all like "和: taiwan, and, union, together". like, sure, all of those, except taiwan, have a broad sense of inclusion or parallel existence or togetherness. I'm not sure this makes any sense, but some words or meanings of words feel very narrow: like "lightswitch", meaning "a particular kind of electrical switch, namely a wallmounted one that controls the lightning of a fixed area"* is narrow, but less narrow are what i call lightswitches; interruptores. el interruptor means the thing that turns the light on in the room, but also any other electrical switch that admits two states... ad extremis there's a word like "thing" is as wide as it gets: almost everything is a thing. "that thing" could mean anything.
[my lexicography could be wrong here, non-native and all, but i really feel as if a switch that controls lights on a car, for example, are not lightswitches>]
so keeping what kind of semantic breadth your language is going to have might be interesting. even varying the breadth along lexical classes or perhaps amongst semantic dimensions, like, maybe a lang is *very* specific regarding size <there's a lot of cases where there's a word for a big dog and another for a small dog or something like that> but it's terribly vague regarding substance <so a sheet of paper, a steppe, and the top of a table are all called the same>. Those are all off the top of my head, and all theoretical, i haven't given such a big amount of attention to lexicon by a longshot... which i now realize means meaning out on a lot of interesting complexity.
does this make any sense? anyway, thanks for reading this ranty mess. I didn't even know whether to put it in C&C or in L&L, since it's about linguistics moreso than directly conlanging, but it's all way too messy in my mind to redact it in the more serious tone which is expected in L&L.