Semantic languages

Person   Monday, September 27, 2004, 23:49 GMT
Can anyone tell me what it means to be a semantic language? What is the difference between a semantic language and another language? From what I have heard it sounds like semantic languages are a lot harder to learn than other languages but I really have no idea...
Easterner   Tuesday, September 28, 2004, 00:16 GMT
I think there is a confusion of terms here. Semantics is the study of meanings of words and sentences, as opposed to syntax, which is the cllective name for the strings of language elements. So no language could be non-semantic, becuse it would simply be unintelligible. Even unusual phenomena such as "twin languages" (secret languages used by some twin children between themselves) have agreed meanings, and are therefore intelligible to the speakers, though they may seem a meaningless gibberish to outsiders. On the other hand, the term "semantic language" is used in cybernetics and psycholinguistics, and as I know it stands for meaning as it is present in a natural or artificial intelligence ("pure meaning", as it were), which is then conveyed and transmitted through the medium of a natural or artificial language (including sign languages or computer languages as well).
Easterner   Tuesday, September 28, 2004, 00:18 GMT
"Collective" and "because", sorry for the typos.
Person   Tuesday, September 28, 2004, 02:05 GMT
Yes definately a confusion of terms, I believe the word I was looking for was semitic not semantic. Sorry for the confusion.
Easterner   Tuesday, September 28, 2004, 07:02 GMT
Examples of Semitic languages are Arabic, Ivrit (Modern Hebrew) and Amharic (in Ethiopia). I have some experience with Old Testament Hebrew, and I wouldn't say that it was more difficult than other languages, but peculiar it was nevertheless. What all Semitic languages have in common is word roots generally consisting of three consonants, with the vowels varying depending on the functions of words in a sentence. This is why most Semitic scripts do not use vowel letters, or they use them in some texts only (e.g. sacred texts such as the Qur'aan, where you have to use the "established" pronunciation). There is no need for vowel letters because with some practice you can infer which form of a given word root is to be used in a given context. Example from Ancient (Biblical) Hebrew: "mashal" = "ruled" (perfect form), "moshel" = "ruling" or "one who rules" (i.e. a ruler), this latter is a present participle form, but can also be used as a noun. The imperfect (also future) form is "yemashel" (the "e" is really a schwa which cannot be adequately represented here). The word root is "mshl". Another one from Arabic: "kitab" = "book", "kutubun" = "books", the word root being "ktb". So this is very logical if you get used to it.
Tremmert   Tuesday, September 28, 2004, 13:52 GMT
As far as I know Semitic languages are all written from right to left, although some non-Semitic languages are also written this way.

Purely an opinion, but the Semitic scripts I've seen (Arabic and Hebrew) look far prettier than the Latin alphabet :-)
Easterner   Wednesday, September 29, 2004, 07:41 GMT
I have to make a correction: I mentioned vowel "letters", but where vowels are marked at all, this is done with diacritic marks rather than letters: mostly dots or groups of dots.


Yes, I think there is a peculiar beauty to all Semitic scripts whih is lacking from Latin script (maybe Gothic letters are the only exception, but they are more complicated than Semitic letters).