Science fiction writer - Fith and Mandarin

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Nick Tchan
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Science fiction writer - Fith and Mandarin

Post by Nick Tchan » Fri 29 Apr 2016, 06:52

Hi,

I’m a budding science fiction writer and I’m working on a short story/novella. Bibliography’s mostly in short story venues such as Writers of the Future, Lightspeed, etc.

As a bit of background, I only speak English and I wasn’t taught any sort of grammar when I was at school. I have no background in linguistics or conlangs.

In the middle of time wasting on the internet, I recently came across Jeffery Henning's concepts for Fith. While I don't really grasp everything that's been done and how it truly works, it appears absolutely fascinating and something I'd like to explore further.

I tried emailing Mr Henning's about Fith, but the email address appears to be defunct.

*EDIT* what I'd like to know is whether I've correctly understood Fith and how mistakes might carry across from Fith to Mandarin.

Basic premise of the story is that there are children that are really aliens, but which appear to be orphaned Chinese children. (The focus on the stories is on a relationship between husband and wife, but this is in the background).

To outsiders, the children communicate in Mandarin. I thought that these children would natively speak a stack-like language (i.e. basically Fith). My very rudimentary understanding of Fith language is that it ends a stack/sentence with a word indicating that it is finished (and you can then start to parse the stack for meaning; any time before this is finished, the meaning of the sentence is still open).

I also understanding that standard Mandarin uses the word "le" 了 in a number of ways and one of those uses is to indicate a change of state (and it’s often mistakenly used to indicate the past tense). So I'm thinking that our children who have first learned Fith would tend to make the mistake of ending a sentence in了 to indicate that a state change has occurred, regardless of whether there has been a state change in the sentence (for example, there is no state change in the sentences “I haven't finished” or “by the time I get home, I will have walked 10000 steps”).

Regards, Nick Tchan
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Re: Science fiction writer - Fith and Mandarin

Post by Salmoneus » Mon 02 May 2016, 12:13

Congratulations on getting stories published. Not easy!

Sorry nobody's replied to you. I'm afraid I don't know Mandarin myself, so I can't really comment, although coincidentally some people were just having a conversation about "le" somewhere on these boards (can't find it right now), which might be useful to you (or you might PM the mandarin-knowing protagonists).
From what you've said, I'm not sure why people would confuse a change of state marker with an end-of sentence marker, although I suppose it's not impossible. More likely would probably be that they would use whatever Mandarin uses as a tag.

['Tags' are little words or phrases inserted at the end of things people say that serve to regulate the flow of conversation, and that sometimes have other (eg modal) implications. So in English we might end sentences with "no?" or "kay" or "yeah" or "right", or "like" or "innit" or "dude" or "blood" or "bruv" or "truth" or "donchaknow?", etc, depending on dialect and context. They can be overlooked by language-learners because they're commonly perceived as slang or sentence fragments, and often not described in grammars and guidebooks - plus, they can vary a lot with dialect and can be highly loaded in terms of identifying in- and out-groups]
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Re: Science fiction writer - Fith and Mandarin

Post by Lao Kou » Mon 02 May 2016, 13:43

Nick Tchan wrote:I also understanding that standard Mandarin uses the word "le" 了 in a number of ways and one of those uses is to indicate a change of state (and it’s often mistakenly used to indicate the past tense). So I'm thinking that our children who have first learned Fith would tend to make the mistake of ending a sentence in了 to indicate that a state change has occurred, regardless of whether there has been a state change in the sentence (for example, there is no state change in the sentences “I haven't finished” or “by the time I get home, I will have walked 10000 steps”).
The reason 了 gets interpreted as past tense by neophytes is because it also marks a completed action, and a lot of action that occurred in the past is often over and done with. I believe modern Mandarin 了 is a conflation of different functions in earlier Chinese, so you can even get two "stacked" as in 免不了了 (mianbuliao le - it has become unavoidable). Plus a change of state and a moment of completion can occur simultaneously, so I bet the average person on the street might occasionally have trouble distinguishing.

脸红了 (lian hong le - face red le) - Your face is/has turned red. -- well, it wasn't before, but now it is (embarrassment or you just did five shots of vodka) -- change of state; but it's presumably reached a level of completion unless you're having an embolism -- so one, the other, or both?

妈妈来了 (Mom come le) could run a variety of ways depending on context:
1) Mom's coming/on the way -- I just got off the phone with her -- she wasn't planning on coming, but a) I invited her to dinner because we actually like her, or b) I told her about a family problem and she's coming over to be a buttinski (and probably bitch you, my spouse, out) (change of state)
2) Mom's here -- There's a knock at the door or a tell-tale doorbell ring -- she has arrived -- change of state? (she wasn't here and now she is), completion? (her act of coming has come to fruition at our doorstep)
3) Mom came by -- she was here and now isn't, this could have been an hour ago or yesterday -- completed (this is where it gets confuddled with the past)

other interpretations are probably available... just to give you a feel

While there is no change in state with "I haven't finished", it would be marked with a negative in Chinese to indicate that it didn't happen of hasn't happened (yet?).

For "By the time I get home, I will have walked 10000 steps", you could definitely use 了; By the time I get home 了 (depending on how you word it, put it in - leave it out depends on your take of events), I will have walked 了 10000 steps (definite completion).

and 了 often occurs at the end of phrases (though not necessarily, (and someone recently pointed to a link that explores this more deeply)), so one could see where budding Fith-speakers might make some second-language learner mistakes with it.

But I thought Fith worked differently (I may be remembering this for another lang -- it's been quite a while). I thought Fith was like (grossly simplified):

wa2 - I; gu2 - like; ho2 - boiled; pi2 - pig's snot

and

wa3 - man; gu3 - French; ho3 - play; pi3 - concertina

plus some final *2* or *3* marker would yield

Wa gu ho pi *2*. = I liked boiled pig's snot.

vs.

Wa gu ho pi *3* = The Frenchman plays the concertina.

I would think Fith learners would learn in fairly short order that 了 doesn't work quite that way after they're in a playground brawl for saying "Your mother sucks elephant dong." ("Hey! I meant particle *6*, not *8*!)

If Fith doesn't work this way then:

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Never mind.
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Nick Tchan
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Re: Science fiction writer - Fith and Mandarin

Post by Nick Tchan » Thu 05 May 2016, 03:33

Hi Salmoneus,

Firstly, my apologies for not replying sooner and thank you very much for your time and effort in replying.

I think my main problem is that I don’t understand Fith very well and I haven’t yet had time to try and understand it. Since I’m intending this to be short story length, I’m not 100% sure that it’s worth putting in the effort.

My understanding is that there are a number of conjunctions Fith that act like a programming instruction upon the mental “stack” of words that the Fith-speaker has been constructing.

My idea was that “le” could be over-generalized as analogous to the most common stack command. However, I suspect I might be severely over-complicating things from both the perspective of the story and from my extremely limited linguistic knowledge (I may now become obsessed with obtaining at least a layman’s knowledge of linguistics and a few tourist phrases in another language; it’s all incredibly fascinating and confusing).

I think that therefore the very helpful Lao Kou very roughly has it right; whatever is at the end of the phrase can modify the meaning of what comes before. Perhaps I can take it as simply as he/she suggested and leave the details somewhat hazy; it’s a marker of alien-ness that they have such an incredible working memory that they can manipulate all this information in the mental stack.

As for how that would translate into learning Mandarin, my understanding is that children of any background display predictable patterns in how they learn their native tongue. I’ll probably research some age appropriate language patterns for my young kids and then break them.

Regards,

Nick
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Re: Science fiction writer - Fith and Mandarin

Post by Nick Tchan » Thu 05 May 2016, 03:41

Lao Kou wrote: But I thought Fith worked differently (I may be remembering this for another lang -- it's been quite a while). I thought Fith was like (grossly simplified):

wa2 - I; gu2 - like; ho2 - boiled; pi2 - pig's snot

and

wa3 - man; gu3 - French; ho3 - play; pi3 - concertina

plus some final *2* or *3* marker would yield

Wa gu ho pi *2*. = I liked boiled pig's snot.

vs.

Wa gu ho pi *3* = The Frenchman plays the concertina.
Hi Lao Kou,

Thank you very much for your concise and helpful reply. I really appreciate it. As far as I understand it, you’ve pretty much summarized Fith concisely. My take on Fith is that you always end with a word that's pretty much saying "we're ready to start 'processing' the stack and we're going to do it this way."

Most of the time, what comes out of the stack is pretty straight forward and they'd use the same word to start "processing" and words come out of the stack in a first in, last out order. Every now and then, the speaker can use a different processing word to do some really complicated mental gymnastics with what comes out of the mental stack and how items would be treated.

So, most of the time, you'd be saying the right thing by ending a 'mental stack' with this word. That's where I think they'd use "le" in equivalent Mandarin. However, depending on how you want to express yourself, you can do all kinds of things with the words in the stack, completely changing the meaning as you've noted.

Nick

Regards,

Nick
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