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I was thinking of having all "base" words in the budding conlang I'm working on start and end with a consonant (and be 1-4 syllables), with 1 vowel between each consonant. So like banakan or man or bud. Then compound words are simply the joining together of those base words, creating consonant clusters: manbanakan or budman.

In the case that two of the same consonants appear at the join point, then an s or z is inserted (depending on if the previous consonant is voiced or not):

  • gap
  • pul
  • gapspul

In the case where two s's are together, insert an l:

  • gas
  • sul
  • gaslsul

But for most words, it's going to be the first case like manbanakan.

The question I have is based on this fact, all of my words are written separately by default (like an analytic language like Chinese). So say man means mind and bud means awakened state. Then budman means "awakened mind". But bud man means "awakened mind" too, it's just that when you create a word for it, it's like in Sanskrit, it becomes more of a unit in your mind (budman), while the separate words is less of a unit and more of a "descriptive phrase" (bud man).

The problem is, when speaking, how can you tell the difference between budman and bud man? Is it possible to somehow tell the difference when speaking?

My other option is to have a "joiner" syllable, like ya, to make it unambiguous:

  • bud man (descriptive phrase)
  • budyaman (one word unit)

But that adds two characters/glyphs, and an extra syllable, which I'd like to avoid if at all possible, to keep it closer to the brevity of a language like Sanskrit.

Imagine having 3 or 4 words joined together into a single unit:

  • bud man banakan (descriptive phrase)
  • budmanbanakan (no separator, as unit)
  • budyamanyabanakan (ya separator, as unit)

One subjective call (comments please) is, how can I decide on which is better:

  • budmanbanakan (no separator, as unit)
  • or budyamanyabanakan (ya separator, as unit)

The main question though is, if I went with the "no separator, as unit" version like budmanbanakan, how do I understand that as a unit when speaking, as opposed to saying bud man banakan?

When speaking, it's not like I put pauses between each word I say (for example, when speaking English), the words sort of blend together. I can't think of any English words which fit this pattern, maybe "doorbell" or "doorstep", vs. "door bell", etc.. Can you tell the difference?

Maybe I add stress on the last syllable, budmanbanakán, vs. having each word get its own stress like búd mán banakán, but even then I can't quite tell the difference.

So maybe adding the -ya- separator isn't that big a deal in the end, given my desire to create lots of compound words. I can't decide yet.

Maybe German or other languages can offer some insight here, when they create compound words, do they run into this problem? I know for Sanskrit at least, they have sandhi, meaning the join point often changes. I don't want to do that, I want to have no changes at the join point. But not sure how I can get away with that yet, when speaking.

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  • You could just leave it ambiguous. Languages are not usually very precise anyway, so that doesn't seem to be a problem. It would also provide a nice way for future diachronic language changes. Commented May 3 at 7:11

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If you need to make noun compounds distinct from groups of nouns together, there are a few different ways natural languages do it.

Phonological changes

Most phonological effects only happen within words, not between words. If vowel harmony happens between the two halves of a compound, for example, that clearly demonstrates that it's a compound.

Morphological changes

In many languages, nouns have some sort of morphology on them: case marking, for example. In a compound, this morphology might only be applied once, while in a group of nouns, it could be applied to every word. Alternately, you have explicit morphology for making a compound, like a morpheme that goes between the components.

Prosodic changes

Prosody tends to be different within a word than between words. You might say each word has exactly one ictus (accent location), for example, so a compound has one but a group of nouns has more.

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  • Which way is better do you think, to have -ya- or not to have it?
    – Lance
    Commented May 4 at 23:26

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