1709: Inflection

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"Or maybe, because we're suddenly having so many conversations through written text, we'll start relying MORE on altered spelling to indicate meaning!" "Wat."
Title text: "Or maybe, because we're suddenly having so many conversations through written text, we'll start relying MORE on altered spelling to indicate meaning!" "Wat."


Pictographic languages are written using graphics in place of words, so are not usually suitable for "spelling" changes to show slight variance in meanings. Examples of pictographic languages include ancient Egyptian, Chinese (ancient and modern), and Japanese Kanji (which uses Chinese characters).

Early modern English (think Shakespeare or the KJV Bible) used more forms for the tenses than we do today, which can help illustrate the trend away from inflected forms. In contrast, verbs in English today are often conjugated with auxiliary verbs. Here a sample of a modern verb conjugation in English:

Verb: Walk
Voice-> Active Passive
Tense Singular (He/She/It) Plural (They) Singular (He/She/It) Plural (They)
Present walks walk is walked is walked
Present Progressive is walking are walking is being walked are being walked
Past walked walked was walked was walked
Past Perfect had walked had walked had been walked had been walked
Past Perfect Progressive had been walking had been walking had been being walked had been being walked
Future will walk will walk will be walked will be walked
Future Perfect will have walked will have walked will have been walked will have been walked
Future Perfect Progressive will have been walking will have been walking will have been being walked will have been being walked


[Megan and Cueball are walking together.]
Megan: Inflected languages change words to add meaning, like "-s" for plurals or "-ed" for past tense. Alphabets—where symbols stand for sound instead of words—work well for them, since you can show the changes through spelling.
Megan: Our language family is inflected, but the English branch has lost most of its inflection over the millennia. It's why we don't have all those Latin conjugations.
Cueball: Could that mean English writing is ripe to become more pictographic?
Megan: 👍 [Thumbs Up Sign] 👏 [Clapping Hands Sign] 😊 [Smiling Face With Blushing Cheeks and Smiling Eyes]

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It's also misleading to describe Chinese as a 'pictographic' language. The reason is that very few of the Chinese characters, as I recall from when I was studying it fewer than 100, are actually pictograms, that is to say an attempt to draw a picture of the thing in question. Some of these are 口 (kou, 'mouth'), 言 (yan, 'word', a picture of a mouth with sounds coming out of it), 日('ri', the Sun), 月 ('yue', the Moon), and some others. Then there is a somewhat larger group of characters best described as 'ideographs', that try to convey the meaning of the word symbolically, such as 中 ('zhong', middle), or which try to convey an idea using two or more other characters that may or may not themselves be pictograms. Examples of the latter would be 好 ('hao', good, with the character for 'mother' on the left and that for 'child' on the right), and 明 ('ming', bright, combining the characters for Sun and Moon above). But the vast majority of Chinese characters consist of a phonetic component, a part that is another character in its own right that conveys the sound (or conveyed it in ancient Chinese although the pronunciation may have shifted) and a part that gives a general notion of the meaning (called the radical). An example would be 钥 ('yue', key, composed of the character for the Moon (above) having the pronunciation 'yue', and the radical on the right which by itself means 'metal', so a metal thing that is pronounced 'yue'.
I'm not sure how to handle this. The description above is more complicated than should appear in the main article, but the main article as written is somewhat misleading as to the role of pictograms in Chinese. Billjefferys (talk) 17:50, 21 July 2016 (UTC)
Wow. You managed to write an entire dissertation on how Chinese isn't a pictographic language while managing to ignore the existence of Traditional Chinese and other previous reforms that simplified and standardised the brush strokes of the preceding writing form at the cost of losing the original resemblance to the object (eg 车/ 車). And you completely misunderstood how radicals affect pronunciation as shown from how your examples are contradictory. 20:48, 21 July 2016 (UTC)
Please show how the radical in 钥 "affects the pronunciation". Here's a hint: The radical on the left is 金 ('jin', metal), and the phonetic part on the right is 月 ('yue', 4th tone, Moon). The character 钥 ('yue', 4th tone, key) is pronounced identically to 月. How has the presence of the radical affected the pronunciation if the two characters are pronounced identically? (And BTW this is a general rule, sometimes the tone changes, but it's not "because of the radical" since the same radical is used in different words, in some of which the tone may change and in others of which it does not.
No, Chinese is not a pictographic language. The relatively few real pictograms have indeed been simplified through the fact that the brush was traditionally used to write the characters that were originally more or less realistic pictures of the objects (as archaeology has shown). And sure, the simplification has continued as in the example of 车/ 車 ('che' vehicle) that you give. But this has nothing to do with whether the language is pictographic. Again for example, by no stretch of the imagination can 钥 be considered a picture of a key.
By concentrating on the fact that Chinese is written with a large set of characters, you miss the point. Most of these characters do not qualify as pictograms or even ideograms by any reasonable definition. They are just not constructed as attempts express in a picture the thing or concept being described (as emojis do attempt to do). The best you can say is that some Chinese characters (relatively few) are pictographic or ideographic, but that the vast majority use an entirely different principle of construction. Billjefferys (talk) 03:12, 22 July 2016 (UTC)
Even calling characters like 口 pictographic is a stretch. Their origins are pictographic, but so are the origins of Latin alphabet letters. The most famous one is "A" that comes from the pictograph of the head of an ox. If Chinese had been pictographic, it would accept several mouth-shaped drawings as the morpheme "mouth", but in reality, the Chinese character 口 is not a drawing, it is a character, as symbolic and abstract as the letter "A". Chinese is a logographic language (even if logo- is misleading, it's more morpheme-writing than word-writing), no matter what the origins of the characters are. Lingu (talk) 11:19, 22 July 2016 (UTC)
I agree fully with Lingu's comment. In fact I was going to say something about the pictographic origins of Latin alphabet letters like the famous 'A'. Lingu is correct to point out that it's the origins of the standard characters that is pictographic, namely they are based on pictures that were written long ago but have been stylized and conventionalized as well as modified over thousands of years.
Some useful article from Wikipedia describe this in more detail. There is a piece from the Chinese Language article that briefly describes it, as well as the Chinese Characters article.
Even the Egyptian hieroglyphic writing system is a whole lot more complex than implied by calling Egyptian hieroglyphics a "pictographic language", which is a misleading term, as this article shows. In addition to its pictographic elements, it has a lot of phonetic and other components.
I think this paragraph needs extensive rewriting. The term "pictographic language" should be eliminated entirely and replace with something more accurate, such as "the writing system has significant pictographic origins". After all, it is the writing system, and not the language, that is related to pictographs and ideographs. And even many of the common emojis are more ideographic in nature than pictographic! Billjefferys (talk) 13:19, 22 July 2016 (UTC)
Just wants to point out: the character 钥 is a simplified form; in traditional Chinese it is written 鑰, composed with the radical 金 and the sound 龠 (that is also pronounced "yue", and means a kind of musical instrument). To argue about how a Chinese character is formed, one should first identify whether this character is a simplified form or not. Simplified forms undergoes one more reform than traditional forms, so it is inaccurate to use them as examples on this.
And, as a matter of fact, traditionally how a Chinese characters formed are classified in six categories; "pictogram" and "ideogram" are both the classification among them. The Wikipedia article Chinese character classification gives a pretty good description of this. -- 16:25, 28 July 2016 (UTC)

Does anyone know what the emoticon part is trying to say? 16:59, 20 July 2016 (UTC)--

A loose translation would be "Yes". 18:19, 20 July 2016 (UTC)
👍=Correct 👏=Bravo/Congratulations 😊=I'm glad you get it -- 18:54, 20 July 2016 (UTC)
Seems pretty unambiguous to me: "Hitchhikers will bitch-slap you and laugh." 02:37, 24 July 2016 (UTC)
Wat. 12:03, 28 July 2016 (UTC)

This comic was posted 3 days after the "World Emoji Day" (July 17) created by Emojipedia founder Jeremy Burge in 2014. The date July 17 appears in the calendar emoji used by Apple, but other tech companies use different dates in their version of this emoji. -- 17:30, 20 July 2016 (UTC)

"Emojish" could be a good replacement for English which suffers from highly nonphonemic orthography and is a pain in the 🍑💨 to wright corecttly. 😊 -- 17:57, 20 July 2016 (UTC)

I lost it at the end of the title text. My friend and I say wat to each other all the time. 18:13, 20 July 2016 (UTC)

When I saw the emoji, I realized that I understand them without having a spoken or written language equivalence. We are so conditioned to say "what is it trying to say?" and expecting a language equivalent. But that does not have to be the case. It made me wonder if very early humans using pictographs for communication automatically had language equivalents, or could they think by mentally visualizing the pictograph without translating everything to words. If so, could we train ourselves to imagine emoji instead of words. They clearly communicate something that need not be verbal. Rtanenbaum (talk) 18:59, 20 July 2016 (UTC)

I count 52 Spanish forms of "andar": ando andas anda andamos andáis andan andaba andabas andábamos andabais andaban anduve anduviste anduvo anduvimos anduvisteis anduvieron andaría andarías andaríamos andaríais andarían andaré andarás andará andaremos andaréis andarán anduviera anduviese anduvieras anduvieses anduviéramos anduviésemos anduvierais anduvieseis anduvieran anduviesen ande andes andemos andéis anden anduviere anduvieres anduviéremos anduviereis anduvieren andar andando andado andad. 20:13, 20 July 2016 (UTC)

First person singualar "I" is a strange mix. It uses a verb not listed in that chart "am", uses the plural form "have" for present tense, and the singular form "was" for past tense. Tahg (talk) 01:32, 21 July 2016 (UTC)

It also uses "were" for subjunctive ("If I were you..." // "If I were walking to the park right now instead of being on the computer...") 13:19, 21 July 2016 (UTC)

Why didn't Randall not use MOAR as a substitute for MORE? 😞😞😞 --Björn -- Windowsfreak (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

The article says that Japanese Kanji (which uses Chinese characters) is uninflected. This is based on a confusion. Japanese itself is highly inflected, with grammatical markers that are usually expressed using either Katakana or Hirigana syllabaries. The Kanji themselves are used for many words but are embedded in sentences that use both Kanji and one or both of the syllabaries. Both nouns and verbs are inflected. There is no such language as "Japanese Kanji" so this is just wrong. I will delete the corresponding clause in the main article. Billjefferys (talk) 12:35, 21 July 2016 (UTC)

The chart lists active and passive forms, many using the helper word "have." However, most writing advice, software, or lessons guide writers into only using active voice and to avoid using the perfect or progressive. Does this mean Modern writing stylists are actively trying to remove the inflections from English while ironically decrying the increase in emoji or LOLspeak that Randall says is the natural result of that removal? 21:44, 25 July 2016 (UTC)Fred

Any good reason inflections and pictographs can't occur together? Te ❤️o. Si me ❤️abis, 😁abo. Promethean (talk) 05:03, 3 September 2017 (UTC)

I hate to disagree with Randall on anything ever, but the English inflections came from German. A quick look at Old English verb conjugation shows that it's quite similar to modern German. Latin didn't really start to affect English until the Norman Invasion, after which the church wrote Latin and the government wrote French. Since English wasn't written for over a century, most endings were dropped but none were added. --Jim ocoee (talk) 08:12, 30 June 2021 (UTC)

English inflection didn't "come from" German, which didn't exist when English split from the other Germanic languages. It was present from proto-Germanic, the ancestor language of Old Norse, Old English, Old Gothic, etc. I believe you meant that English didn't get its inflections from Latin, which is quite true, but Randall and this article never said that it did.Nitpicking (talk) 13:54, 6 February 2022 (UTC)