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One thing that makes it hard to imagine how agglutinative languages could work is how they can handle when the suffix is also included in the base verb/noun word forms.

So say we are translating "I went to the store" to an agglutinative language. According to ChatGPT, we have:

  • Turkish: "Mağazaya yürüdüm."
    • "Mağazaya" means "to the store." mağaza is "store".
    • "Yürüdüm" means "I walked." yürümek is "to walk", so it appears "yuru" is the base.
  • Finnish: "Kävelin kauppaan."
    • "Kävelin" is the first person past tense form of "kävellä," which means "to walk."
    • "Kauppaan" means "to the store."

So say that instead of mağazaya, where ya indicates "to", that "to" was "za", then we would have "mağazaza". But then say we had a word "mağa", which means "tree", and then we say "to the tree", we say "mağaza". But that means store.... How do you deal with this situation?

It seems to me you would have to build an optimization function to take every affix in your lexicon, and every root or base noun or verb, and figure out how everything relates to everything else. An enormous undertaking, an optimization / fine-tuning function so to speak.

But how can you solve this without having to do that brute force sort of approach?

I start by creating suffixes:

  • da, ma, pa, pi, mi, si, do, mo, vo, and 30+ more

And then I create root verbs.

  • dara, dada, dapa, disi, etc..

Now I combine them.

  • darada, dadada, dapapa, dadapa, disisi....

Now, given I don't limit my verbs to just 2 syllables, I might have also these roots:

  • darada, dadada....

Well I can't have those as roots, because it will conflict with the dara+da and dada+da I already have!

I don't see a way to solve this problem, so you don't run into this ambiguity. Can you please shed some light on how to look at this problem, and potentially how to solve it when creating an agglutinative language? Thank you.

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Well, some ambiguity is unavoidable. This is specifically morphological ambiguity, where there are two or more distinct ways of breaking a word down into pieces. The famous example in English is "unlockable", which could either be parsed as (unlock)-able, able to be unlocked, or un-(lockable), unable to be locked.

In English, and other languages in general, people just live with it. If some particular ambiguity gets bad enough to become a problem, one or more of those words will fall out of use and get replaced by others. But language is a system that can handle quite a lot of ambiguity without breaking down.

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  • Good to know. Can you add/elaborate on how a conlang can go about avoiding tons of ambiguities in creating an agglutinative language? See my SO post for context.
    – Lance
    Mar 16 at 19:17
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    Another example for accidental ambiguity which involves different morphemes is does, which is either the 3rd sg of do (do + e + s) or the plural of doe (doe + s); but in practice this doesn't really pose a problem in English. Similarly, there won't be a problem in your example, as it's obvious what is meant: "I go to the tree" or "I go store"; only one of them is a correct sentence. Mar 18 at 10:46

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