In my quest to create a language for some fictional characters of mine, I came across nonconcatenative morphology like triconsonantal roots. If I wanted to employ this in my conlang, how many consonants must I have? I see Arabic and Hebrew, for example, have at least 25 consonants. Could I use fewer?
How large must my consonant inventory be in order for nonconcatenative morphology to work?
It's a matter of combinatorics; if all your roots have three consonants, then you can have n^3 different roots; with ten consonants that would be 1000. (This assumes that all combinations are valid/usable). With 25 consonants you'd be at 15,625. If you add more variation, ie add biconsonantal roots as well, you can increase the number a bit.
So I would start off by thinking about the inventory you need, and then work backwards from there. But don't forget that 'root' is not the same as 'word': it would be more like 'concept': once you add vowels in between the consonants, your total number of words will be a lot more than the number of roots.
1Case in point: the KTB root that is always used in introductory texts can be used to form the words for "book" and "write", along with a plethora of other assorted words– No NameNov 25, 2022 at 20:58
Whence came that KTB convention? I've always wondered. From Youtube to my Intro To Linguistics textbook, it's omnipresent.– QaziquzaNov 27, 2022 at 9:02
@Qaziquza not sure -- I do remember learning it when I started an Arabic course at Uni 30 years ago... Nov 27, 2022 at 14:52
It is possible to reduce the consonant inventory by allowing consonant clusters in the place of single consonants, like GR.B.N. Of course this has repercussions on the set of available forms, a null vowel between two places can now create ambiguities.– Sir Cornflakes ♦Nov 28, 2022 at 10:12
2@OliverMason, I assume the KTB example is used because it's a simple one showing how a root can be spun out into so many different, but related, things: so you go from a root generally meaning "to write", to "book", "to correspond", "to copy", "to dictate", "writer", "office", "record", "clerk", "desk", "library", "bookshop", "subscription", "reporter", and so on. Nov 29, 2022 at 20:33