A language without verbs.
I remember hearing one time that all languages have nouns and verbs. But that really made me think, could a language not have verbs? or nouns? So, when I was thinking, I realised that couldn't verbs be replaced with prepositions and context? I mean instead of saying "I eat an apple" why not say "Apple in my mouth" or instead of "Do you know what I mean?" why not say "My words sensible?" or instead of "The woman went down the street to buy a loaf of bread" why not say "Woman down street and loaf of bread in her hands now." or something like that. Sure, it would be a painfully difficult language to learn but why not? Also, could a natural language exist like this?
That is interesting. I know that Guugu Yimithirr does not have concepts for left and right but use compass points instead. Finnish does not have separate words for he and she but use the word hän for both men and women. Pirahã language has only two words for colours: light and dark. I think it is the only language in the world that does not have a word for "red". Swedish has a tendency to leave out verbs of motion: Jag ska till skola. = "I will to school." :)
Pirahã is a really interesting language. They also have no words for specific numbers, no tenses, and no conjunctions; it can not only be spoken and sung, but also whistled.
In the case of Swedish as you give here (and similar constructions, which are also available in English; "I shall to school" would be correct English, albeit archaic in usage), that's not absence though, merely ellipsis, since we're taking the verb "gå" as understood, hence presence of an auxiliary verb, referring to the implied main verb.
Several languages doesn't have distinction between "he" and "she", Indonesian too. English doesn't make the distinction between plural "he" and plural "she".
I also noticed that Indonesian skips the verbs when it's obvious (and when it's only descriptive) For instance, I am at school: I at school. But it's not possible with active action sentences.
Well, you can eliminate the use of the word class but it will always be implied. In all languages, sentence structure involves around the verb, not any other word class. Sure you can emphasise the subject or object or locative, but if the verb is entirely removed from the meaning of the sentence, it will have no meaning at all. Simple words like "yes" and "no" are verbs in their core.
So no, you can remove the verb from speech, but linguistically you can't remove the verb from the core of the sentence, and the language. That how human languages work.
Oo That's interesting.
I wonder what it would be like without nouns…
I thought what comparison without existence words…? =/
Yes, why not a verb "to own a cat", "to own a dog", "to own a pigeon", "to own an owl", "to own a phone", etc. That would be hell to learn xD
It certainly exists, among language that use particles and links them to create new words. Cat+particle meaning "to have".
I suppose you could speak with adjectives instead of nouns. Here's what happened when I tried speaking without nouns or verbs: "The woman went down the street to buy a loaf of bread" = "Female down long dirty and now brown fluffy nutritious in her grabbies." lol. Quite confusing, but entertaining to say the least :)
That's extremely ambiguous though. Female what? Long dirty what? Brown fluffy nutritious what?
A (full natural) language without (any) verbs is not possible in general.
Why? Because a verb describes in general an 'action'.
Action means here typical 'movement' (or more general some kind of a change)
And this world is typically full of movements.
So in a 'frozen' world where nothing changes you could maybe get away without verbs, but in our real world not really. As taking away the verbs would take away the action.
I agree with you; All words describing an action IS a verb.
So a language without verbs is only a list with names of things and adjective describing the things, but with no action. Impossible.
And how would you say He kisses her only with a descriptive language (because a language without verbs would be only descriptive and could not make any difference between past, present and future.
Another solution would be to have this structure:
His arms open (+particle meaning will be)
But in this case the particle meaning in the future + the adj "to be open", would be the verb.
These deeper language exploration posts are my favorite kind to find on Duolingo. :)
Without verbs (as you have shown) is possible although difficult, but one without nouns? I don't think that is likely.
Interesting that you say that, because my immediate reaction was the exact opposite. After all, there are already languages where, in certain instances, a singular verb is enough for a grammatically correct sentence. Expanding this, you could easily have a language without nouns by, for example, having different verbs depending on the object and/or subject. In other words, the verb for "a cow runs" would be different from "a human runs". If the words are wholly different to each other (instead of using affixes, for example), it's difficult to claim that the noun aspect was even a part of the word. Of course, the amount of verbs would be amazingly high, but that doesn't lessen the plausibility.
I'm now left wondering if the same could be done vice versa.
It would be impossible to implement a different verb for the infinite amount of nouns that could exist, unless you do it systematically, which is basically just using nouns.
It would be possible to make it with a particle, but it's the same than a verb, the particle would be the verb.
For instance, I can create a language where the verb is only a particle. Let's say my verb "to eat" is the suffix -ra
I applera = I eat an apple.
But here -ra, whatever the form is has, IS a verb.
Many languages, such as Japanese and Spanish, very frequently leave out the subject. Something with a complicated conjugation system, or even without, would be understandable without nouns.
Think that is possible to have speaking like was just saying above.
There are two classes of languages, whose having inflexions in verbs, and those that doesn't use prefix, suffix, infix, etc, to change the verbs according to the person. The languages that have an unambiguous verb conjugation often drop the pronoun, because it's not usefull to bring information.
For instance, highly inflected language like Spanish or Italian can skip it.
But languages like French or English, with some ambiguous conjugation ("are" is the same for several persons) can't.
Japanese doesn't conjugate for person at all, but it drops the subject - and most other nouns known from context - a lot. English or French, which do conjugate for person, could definitely work without nouns.
Dropping pronouns is completely different from dropping all nouns. The number of pronouns is very low compared to nouns, of which there are theoretically infinite. No language could be completely free of nouns. Context can't cover everything.
If a language were to conjugate for person and conjugate for object, which some languages, like Basque, do already do, then it's definitely possible, eg.:
- e- = first-person subject verb prefix
- teke = eat
- -(a)l = third-person object verb suffix
- Etekel ≈ "I'm eating it." ("It" being obvious from context.)
Disclaimer: The above is not Basque, it's just random sounds I put together to illustrate the possibility.
Can talk without need how was say above, and can probably understand how am talk now anyway. Not hard. Very unlikely for speak not to have, but not impossible at all, even with this kind of speak.
(In fact, you could probably have a language with only three verbs, lots of adverbs, and nothing else, but that's something else entirely.)
"Can talk without needing how was saying above, and can probably understand how am talking now anyway. Not hard. Very unlikely for speaking not to have, but not impossible at all, even with this kind of speaking."
There are still nouns in this.
Just remove the gerunds, then, and it still works: "Can talk without need how was say above, and can probably understand how am talk now anyway. Not hard. Very unlikely for speak not to have, but not impossible at all, even with this kind of speak."
The main problem with dropping all nouns is that talking about not immediately relevant object is impossible. How would say, for example, 'I ate fish yesterday.', if there is no fish nearby to indicate? Or abstract nouns like 'increase', 'death', and 'invincibility'? Demonstratives wouldn't be able to work for those.
...but increase(as in an instance of increasing), death, and invincibility are all nouns. It doesn't matter what the root is.
"To die (it)scares(I)" 'To die' is a noun in this sentence.
And for another abstract noun, and one that is not related to any verbs or adjectives: How would you say: 'I am a nihilist.'
OK, but I find it hard to believe that that would be possible with all nouns, such as things like place names and proper nouns.
Referring back to what you said a few posts ago (because I just noticed it) about 'there always being context'. That's not true. What if I really did just want to say that out of the blue? If the language can't accommodate that, it's not a very good language. Almost never is a long ways from never.
'speak' in 'this kind of speak' and 'for speak not to have' is still acting as a noun, albeit not grammatical English.
How many times do you say sentences like "I ate fish yesterday" out of the blue? There's almost always some sort of context.
"Increase" and "die" are verbs; "invincible" is an adjective.
"There was an increase in sales" could be rendered in a single verb as "(They)buy(them)(more)".
"I'm afraid of death" could be rendered as "To die (it)scares(I)".
Et cetera. English has limitations to this kind of thing that don't need to be present in a language like this.
No. Without verbs it's not possible, or you would be unable to describe an action. The example given doesn't cover everything in a language, they only use descriptive cases, not where a real action is needed.
Without nouns, it's not possible either, or you won't be able to describe something as a dog or a banana without an action.
In Nahuatl you conjugate nouns for person. I could see a language which just outright replaces nouns with verbs,
I don't understand what you mean "you conjugate nouns for person"; Do you have an example?
While you do indeed add a prefix to indicate the possessor, I said that nouns are conjugated for person, like a verb.
No. It has nothing to do grammatically with "conjugations", it's inflexion; It's only that it reminds you the way that verbs are inflected; Every grammatical class can be inflected, but in Indo-European languages, we have the habit to consider it's a verb thing...
So it's not different from having "my" "your" etc, as an independant form, it's the same. There is the same thing in Indonesian I'm learning right now.
I don't see how "a language could replace nouns with verbs".
Nitlacatl = I am a man Titlacatl = you are a man
Notice how there prefixes attached to the root "tlaca." These indicate the person, like the conjugations of a verb.
why not a verb "to own a cat It's not possible. All things you use to mean a thing, an object, without action, becomes a noun. So it would be a language where you can't say or describe only a table" but you are forced to use it with an action. It's not possible.
And all words you use to describe an action becomes a verb. A noun can becomes a verb and a verb a noun, but the grammatical nature is given by the role it has, an action describing role, or an item describing role.
I think it'd be comparatively easy to imagine expressing all ideas we think of as verbal as adjectives instead. I suppose they would look to us like participles: "The being-eaten apple — in my mouth." "The was-buying woman now bread-owning woman." Of course they could convey what we call tense, aspect, etc just as Slavic participles, for example, do. I suppose some of the more critical commenters in this thread would say, "oh, but those are just verbs then." But think from the perspective of somebody who spoke this language. They would be asking: "How do English speakers communicate with so precious few adjectives"?
As far as eliminating nouns, make them verbs. I think Ojibwe, for example, has many more verbs than Indo-European languages. The days of the week are only verbs, for example: "It's Tuesdaying." For your sentences: "The thing that Is is eating the thing that apples" (of course such a language would hardly need to explicitly render "the thing that") "The thing that womans went down the thing that streets to buy a thing that bread-loafs."
But there is no reason to assume that a language that did not have a word for 'eat' would have a word for 'being-eaten'.
Verbs usually communicate an action that results in some form of change of state. Thus, one could represent then as pairs of nouns with one of the pair marked to represent the change of state together with some other noun marked as the causer of the change:
Mary eats an apple.
Mary-AGENT apple, apple-in-Mary.
I throw the ball.
I-AGENT ball-with-me, ball-in-air.
The dog chases the cat.
Dog-AGENT cat-near-dog-in-one-place, cat-near-dog-in-another-place
I tell him to sell the car.
I-AGENT he, he-with-my-words such that he-AGENT car-his money-someone-else's, car-someone-else's money-his.
Well, if we're really going to do this properly, these hypothetical people wouldn't think anything of the sort - they'd think "How English speakers such communicating people?" :-)
Lojban doesn't have nouns as roots, it has verbs like "to be an apple" and then it forms the noun adding something similar to "the", then "the to be an apple=the apple"
Japanese adjectives decline similarly. Something can have been red, be red, not be red, and so forth. :)
If the language can describe "apple" alone, they do have name. Don't confuse the form, that can be very different from a language to another one, and grammatical function.
To be a verb, or a name, is a grammatical function; So I really doubt Lobjan has no nouns. If it can describe an apple alone, without an action, it do have nouns. The form doesn't matter.
Of course, that's why I said "it doesn't have nouns as roots" Nouns are derived from nouns that mean "to be X"
You confuse the grammatical function (verb) and the form. "It's tuesdaying" only has the form of a verb, because the "ing", but it has 0 role of verb, it's not a verb, it doesn't describe an action. If a non-English speaker sees it, he would never think like you do, that it has something to do with a verb.
If you use the passive "being eaten" is still a verb. Participle are also verbs, but with the passive mode instead of the active mode.
If I say "the apples are eaten", it's as much a verb as "I eat the apples". Because both describe an action. The only difference is who make the action, and who or what the action is directed to; The difference is in the subject here, not in the verb.
You can imagine a language with only the passive mode, why not (some reality would be a little difficult to describe though with such a language), but not a language without verbs.
A natural language doesn't really have a way of being completely verbless. People are lazy. They want a shortcut for everything.
Why use an "at me is" construct when you can use a verb? Or vice versa? Why use "to be" when it can be derived from context? Why mention the subject or conjugate at all when it can be derived contextually?
This pops up in every language, in one aspect or another. Like, English doesn't change verb form a lot, but the pronoun must be always present. On the other hand, in Spanish the verb is conjugated, but the pronoun is often left out, because it can be inferred from the conjugation.
"At me is" exists in some languages, you can use it when it's a description, there is no move. But if you mean to "go" the word you would use to mean "to go", or another active move or action, is automatically a verb; That's the grammatical definition of "verb".
I don't know whether such a natural language exists, but you might be interested in the story by Borges called Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius where he describes an invented language with no nouns. The translation of 'the moon rose over the river' corresponds to 'upward, behind the onstreaming, it mooned'.
He simply turned verbs or adjective into nouns. Everything that is used to describe a real thing is a noun. For instance "the onstreaming" to mean "the river" becomes a noun.
I think it is very difficult. Because we can not know tense of sentences.
Actually many languages don't use tenses. In Chinese "wo3 shi4" means I am, I was, I will be, I have been, etc. We use words like today, yesterday, now for context
You are wrong. It's tenses.
Tenses can be marked by the inflexion of the words, or by a single particle or word. Some languages uses a word meaning "yesterday" instead of a word inflexion, but it's the same.
Actually, linguists found only one language in the world that has not tenses, (no inflexions and no words to mean future/yesterday/now), it's a language spoken by very few people, and even this feature has been debated by linguists, some disagree.
Actually, Chinese does in fact not have tenses. It only has aspect, although they are used almost identically to tenses in other languages.
Linguists claim that there is only one language in the world that have no tenses, and it's really debated. It's a language from a tribe in a jungle. And it's very intriguing, because without tenses, you can't plan future or past. The language has influence on the though and the conception one's get of the reality and the world.
If you can say the future and the past, there are tenses. Tenses doesn't have to be worn by a verb (like you said), it can be shown by a word, like "tomorrow", "today", etc... It's tenses. It's the same thing than for an inflected language.
Indonesian, I'm learning now, uses:
Yesterday, I eat apple -> past tense. (past particle also exists)
Today, I eat apple -> present tense.
I eat apple -> ambiguous, known from the context.
That link doesn't work for me - is it the same as the article linked by garpike above?
I came here in search of any other language similar to the one I made, which happens to have only nouns. Each sentence is basically a giant compound word describing a noun.
"I jogged to the store" sorta becomes the following, assuming each word is in its noun form: "jog myself past, destination store" The main subject here is the act of jogging, a jog; the speaker is asserting that a jog does indeed exist. The description word after jog is myself, saying that this jog is associated with myself, more specifically where myself is associated with the past, saying that this jog existed, it was done by me, a past version of me. It also says there is a destination associated with the jog, specifically a destination regarding the store.
"It's cloudy" becomes "cloud" "It's not cloudy" becomes "absence cloud"
I'm sure a verb-only language could be done in a comparable way
Alternatively, it would be interesting if there was a language without nouns.
So, you wouldn't describe fruits, items, animals without an action? It's not possible neither.
Everything describing a thing without an action IS a noun.
But how could you make the difference between "There is an apple in my mouth" and "I eat the apple that is in my mouth"?
What I'm thinking is that all nouns would have to a section added to the verb and will need to rely on cases. A noun on it's own would need to joined with the word 'to be'. E.g. "(exists)+(apple)+(locative case)+(genitive case)+(mouth)" "(I eat)+(apple)+(locative case)+(genetive case)+(mouth)".
It sounds really weird, but it's an interesting idea though.
A particle added to a verb is indeed a verb. Everything that expresses an action is a verb. The particle you use to say "eat" is a verb, even if it's not independant. To keep the example I've already gave.
Let's say that there's a languages without independent verb, the action is expressed through a particle. Let's say that the action "to eat" is expressed by the suffix -ra.
So "I applera". would mean "I eat an apple". It's a verb, even if it's not an independant word. There are language, for instance Indonesian, where you add a suffix to express the "my", "his" etc, even when the possessive pronouns are not independant, they do exist, we can't say it's not pronouns, as they express the owner, they are simply not independant. For instance Bapak = father. Bapakku = my father.
The fact to be linked as a suffix for instance, or to be an infix that modifies the noun (let's imagine than instead of a suffix, it put some letters inside the noun, modifiying the noun's shape), it's the same. Only the form is different. The (grammar) role is kept.
The so called "verbless" languages all expresses actions through something that supports the action, a noun modification, etc...
In Indonesian, I noticed you can skip verbs when the action is obvious. Saying "I at school" would mean "I'm at school". But not I work at school, or any other actions that can be made in a place. For your apple example, the more obvious action for an apple in a mouth is "to eat", but what if you were to spit what you have in your mouth? What will you say? It's not always the more obvious action that is made. The flexibility of the language with verbs make you able to describe even silly actions that are not obvious considering the context (I fly, etc...), it's the creativity of the language. A language with only obvious things expressed through context would make impossible poetry and litterature.
For indonesian: Skipping obvious action can be made only when the sentence is descriptive (I am at school: no action, only description)
If you were to say "I run", it's impossible, or you have a language unable to describe the simple action of running, without complement.
I think you might have missed my point, I'm not talking about a 'verbless language', I'm imagining what a 'nounless language' / a language without independent nouns would look like. I'm not arguing that it will work without any problems, I'm just talking hypothetically.
By the way, I speak Indonesian. You can also say 'saya berada di sekolah' (which includes a verb) and 'saya sedang di sekolah' (with the emphasis on being at school at the present time).
Never mind Jesse, I think we have a very small communication problem, not really important.
Everything can be made in artificial languages. The problem is: will that language will describe reality in a satisfory way? Could you write novels or poetry? (especially that, in an artificial language, there is no cultural side to mean what is implied or not)
If you have no indenpendant nouns, there is no way to say simply "an apple" without an action linked to it. Anyway, the concept of "noun" would exist in your language. Having it in a linked form or in an independant form is the same thing.
You missed my point too: I didn't say there were no independant pronouns like "saya", I said that having as a suffix or as an independant form is the same thing. it changes nothing, it's only a matter of form.
By my last comment, I didn't mean there are actually no independant pronouns in Indonesian. :/
I don't know of an entire language without verbs, but there are certainly languages that feature grammatically correct sentences with little to no verb action.
Arabic (in most cases) does not use the verb "to be" in the present tense, so technically this language has plenty of nonverbal sentences. "My speech clear?" would be grammatically correct if translated word for word into Arabic.
Irish does all sorts of things with prepositions+to be to express concepts that are actually separate verbs in most other languages. Examples: I have a pizza = a pizza is at me; I like pizza = pizza is good with me. I have also seen incidences where a verb exists but it is dropped completely in favor of prepositions: instead of "I went out quickly," I'd see "Out with me quickly." There wouldn't be any verb in the sentence and that's OK. I don't think I ever appreciated prepositions so much before Irish :-P
For some side anecdotes, Wolof has verbs but they are conjugated in a way that focuses on whether the action is completed or not, not at what point in time the action happened as with Romance languages. In addition, it's the pronouns that are conjugated, not the verbs (which I find awesome and way more efficient than conjugating verbs). Many Native American languages do all sorts of crazy things with verbs that I'd never heard of before, including some where the "verb" is just an affix attached to the noun, not a separate word. There may not be a (natural) language that has no verbs, but there certainly are many ways to express what we call a verb!