Conlanging, in plain English.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

All, every, each

I have decided on a simple scheme for non-numeric quantifiers in Mirexu.

It is not the degrees of quantification that I was concerned with. Whether there will be more degrees than "all, none, some" ... "enough"? "a lot"? "few"? ... I can leave till later. The distinction that I needed to figure out how to capture was distributionality. In English, it is the difference between "all" and "each" or "every".

In researching the problem, I came across mention of natural languages which use a single word for both "all" and "every". When it is applied to plural or mass nouns, it means "all", and when applied to a noun in the singular, it means "every". I was prepared to lose some of the distinctions that English makes, but upon reflection, this distinguishes just as much as English does along the distributionality axis (see below, however, about "each" and "every"). After all, in English, we don't use "all" with singular countable nouns (though we do use "all of" with them, but this means "the whole of", a meaning which I can easily capture via "every part of"), and we don't use "every" with a mass noun like "water" (unless making it a count noun via a discretizing noun like "drop (of)"), and cannot use it with a noun in the plural ("every shoes" is just wrong in English). It seems, in fact, like English's distinction between "all" and "every" is rather redundant!

So Mirexu jur, or a word like it (I still have to figure out what part of speech these should be!), will mean both "all" and "every". And, in a turn rather strange-sounding to English ears, Mirexu nus, meaning "some", will work as we expect in the plural, but when modifying a singular noun, will have a meaning closest to the English "each of some of", and not at all like the singular English construction "some man".

(Now what could be the distributive of "none"? Or is that inherently distributive? Heh.)

And as for the difference between "each" and "every"? It turns out that this is a difference of definiteness. Definiteness is very important to English, but not to Mirexu. Mirexu "each" and "every" are the same word.