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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Food Tongue and Lagadonian Languages

A lagadonian language is a language where objects and properties can be names for themselves (Lewis 1986: 145). Brit (not 'Brit') is a name for Brit. Redness (not 'redness') is a name for redness. Lagadonian languages are dead languages, not quite in the sense in which Latin is a dead language, but in the sense that they cannot be spoken. Nonetheless we can give a syntax and a semantics for them in a non-Lagadonian meta-language.

Speaking of strange languages, Food Tongue is an actual non-Lagadonian languague, invented and spoken by some math campers (hat tip: Christopher Owen). Unfortunately, the semantics, syntax and lexicon for Food Tongue is kept secret. But I think the basic idea is this. The grammar is essentially English. Moreover, every Food Tongue word is an English food kind term. That is, every word in Food Tongue refers, in English, to kinds of food or ingredients used in cooking. For example, 'chocolate' refers to chocolate in English but in food tongue it is an adjective whose semantic value is the property of being good. 'Vanilla' refers to vanilla in English but in Food Tongue it is an adjective whose semantic value is the property of being bad. Proper names in English are translated into food kind terms that sound similar. 'Christopher', for example' might be translated into 'Crust topping'.

One problem with Food Tongue, as I understand it, is that its vocabulary is severely limited. But this problem could be avoided if Food Tongue were turned into a Lagadonian-style language. Let the vocabulary of Food Tongue* be, not English food kind terms, but rather concrete dishes, concrete ingredients that could be used in cooking, and so on. This apple, for example, might be a name of Manhattan, this piece of dark chocolate might be an adjective whose semantic value is the property of being good, and this cheese sandwich might refer to the property of instantiating. We cannot translate English sentences into Food Tongue*, but we can translate English sentences into spatial arrangements. 'Manhattan is good' translates into the arrangement consisting of this apple, this piece of dark chocolate and this cheese sandwich. Imagine what one can do with Food Tongue* at weddings, anniversaries, and the like. If you are the best man, you can bake a cake instead of giving a toast.

Reference:
Lewis, David. 1986. On the Plurality of Worlds. Cambridge: Blackwell

18 comments:

Aidan said...

It may solve the limited vocabulary problem for people with real jobs. But think of the poor graduate students of the world, who have nothing but Ramen noodles to express themselves with.

Brit Brogaard said...

Yes, that would indeed be a problem. There would be a lot of homonyms in Grad-Student-Food-Tongue*.

oxeador said...

I am not a food-tongue speaker, but I have picked up bits and pieces after being surrounded by them. Let me add a clarification. Food Tongue semantics, sintax, and lexicon are not exactly kept secret. Anybody is welcome to learn the language. However, the language can only be explained using Food Tongue (and gestures and visual aids), but not written or oral English or any other language. In the same way, when the language was created, only Food Tongue was allowed to agree on every new term's meaning, which made the beginning quite interesting, and is why the whole idea is not just silly, but an meaningful experiment.

Zarel said...

Apple tongue Food-Tongue.

Food tongue's grammar is not English, and probably resembles Chinese more than anything else. After all, the words are food items, which do not decline or conjugate very well.

(This might be a violation of Food Tongue rules, but since they're open to interpretation, I think it is not.)

Brit said...

Interesting suggestion.

Unfortunately most of the data on food tongue are not available to the public. So hard to evaluate your claim.

Zarel said...

Okay, well, I can give examples, with the same disclaimer as above.

Here are two words that are the same in Food Tongue, but different in English.

- Apple sauce Food-tongue.
- Cake sauce Food-tongue.

Of course, if you want a less cheating example:

- Apple tofu cherry stew avocado.
- Corn plantain carrot grass stew.

But if you want better proof, here are two words that are different in Food Tongue, but the same in English:

- Apple tofu cauliflower quiche grass chocolate.
- Pizza cauliflower grass chocolate.

Not to mention the way some grammatical constructs work:

- Cauliflower cheese apple grass chocolate.

And there's even linguistic evolution:

- Apple granola dough.
- Apple chocolate dough.

(Again, I do not believe this violates the spirit of the Food Tongue rules.)

Brit said...

I am beginning to see what you mean. But it would be nice if you could give us a link to a manual, or something. How does it work? -- I mean, what are the compositional rules, and where do I find the lexical entries?

Dan said...

Well, I'm also not a trained speaker, but I stumbled across this via Google and can provide some potentially useful links.

(When the language was originally created, there was a "food tongue pilaf" that was a direct English translation because the speakers thought they'd never see each other again, but it is out-of-date and I don't have an electronic copy.)

The best source is probably this online introduction that introduces the vocabulary. Browsing the Wiki there can probably provide lots of examples of the language in use, if you can sort through it all...

(As someone who has watched the language get created and grow from the outside, it's very funny to see it being discussed outside its original community!)

Brit said...

Thanks, Dan. This is really helpful. It'd be great if someone would post the translation (even if out-of-date)

Zarel said...

Posting a translation is exactly what's against official Food Tongue rules, unfortunately.

Brit said...

That's too bad. It would have been great. Too hard to figure it out without it (Quine's gavagai argument comes to mind here)

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Term Papers said...

The grammar is essentially English. Moreover, every Food Tongue word is an English food kind term.

Zarel said...

To be exact, every Foodtongue word is a food. It's just spoken in English because that's the easiest way to speak it.

I've thought about it some more, and I don't think providing translations here goes against the spirit of the rule against English <-> FT translation.

Here are my earlier examples, with translations:

Here are two words that are the same in Food Tongue, but different in English.

- Apple sauce Food-tongue.
- Cake sauce Food-tongue.

- I know Food-tongue.
- He knows Food-tongue.

Of course, if you want a less cheating example:

- Apple tofu cherry stew avocado.
- Corn plantain carrot grass stew.

- I have a very large computer.
- Four plus one is five.

But if you want better proof, here are two words that are different in Food Tongue, but the same in English:

- Apple tofu cauliflower quiche grass chocolate.
- Pizza cauliflower grass chocolate.

- I have a name that is awesome.
- That name is awesome.

Not to mention the way some grammatical constructs work:

- Cauliflower cheese apple grass chocolate.

- My name is pretty cool.

And there's even linguistic evolution:

- Apple granola dough.
- Apple chocolate dough.

- I did it well.
- I did it well.

(Adjectives and adverbs were separate, but it was determined that context was enough of a clue about which was being used, so they were later merged.)

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Foodtongue is that Foodtongue is a language for which "to do" and "to make" is the same word, but "to have [done]" and "to have [a possession]" is not the same word, making its grammar far more similar to Spanish or Chinese than to English.

Brit Brogaard said...

Thank you so much, Zarel! This is really interesting.

Zarel said...

Hmm, I want to illustrate the "do/make" vs "have" thing more clearly:

English: to do [an activity]
Spanish: hacer [una actividad]
Chinese: zuo [yijian shi]
Foodtongue: dough [candy]

English: to make [an object]
Spanish: hacer [un objeto]
Chinese: zuo [yige dongxi]
Foodtongue: dough [eggs]

English: to have [an object]
Spanish: tener [un objeto]
Chinese: you [yige dongxi]
Foodtongue: tofu [eggs]

English: to have [done]
Spanish: haber [hacido]
Chinese: [zuo] guo
Foodtongue: [dough] yellowpepper

Once you've seen that, it's pretty hard to say that Foodtongue resembles English more than any other language.

The reason it resembles Chinese in areas such as word order is because of practical considerations - Chinese is an ideographic language, so agglutination is [nearly] impossible (how would you add affixes?). Foodtongue is an like ideographic language in the sense that the individual words, foods, can be considered "ideograms", which also makes agglutination [nearly] impossible.

Since agglutination is extremely common in Indo-European languages, languages such as English usually end up bearing little resemblance to Foodtongue. However, Foodtongue doesn't resemble Chinese any more than any other language with no agglutination - my point here is that Foodtongue grammar really is as unique as any other language.

(Footnote: I say "[nearly] impossible" because some dialects of Chinese such as Mandarin use "-r" as a suffix to make a diminuitive. As far as I know, this is literally the only exception.)

Brit Brogaard said...

This is highly illuminating. "yellowpepper" is also a past tense marker, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Thank you times a million. I don't know how to say that in foodtongue, so in Englishmuffintongue it must remain.

From know on I will use the wiki and figure out stuff the hard way. Thanks...I will just make a guess with this, so: chocolate chip cookie! (chocolate, papaya)