Noun-noun Compounds

Here's a list of different types of noun-noun compounds. The original research was done by Ivan Derzhanski and then adapted by me for use in my Lojban reference grammar.  Unfortunately, the formatting of the on-line version is unreadable, and it's full of Lojban technical terms.  I've salvaged the content here.  All of these languages put the modifier first and the modified term (the "head") second.

After the English gloss of each compound, there's a list of non-English languages that use it.  If the compound is not used in English, there is a definition as well.  The abbreviations are explained below.  If you don't care about the Lojban, you can ignore it.

1. The head represents an action, and the modifier then represents the object of that action.

pinsi kilbra = pencil sharpener (Hun)
zgike nunctu = music instruction (Hun)
mirli nunkalte = deer hunting (Hun)
finpe nunkalte = fish hunting (Tur, Kor, Udm, Aba 'fishing')
smacu terkavbu = mousetrap (Tur, Kor, Hun, Udm, Aba)
zdani turni = house ruler (Kar 'host')
zerle'a nunte'a = thief fear (Skt 'fear of thieves')
cevni zekri = god crime (Skt 'offense against the gods')

2. The head represents a set, and the modifier the type of the elements contained in that set.

zdani lijgri = house row
selci lamgri = cell block
karda mulgri = card pack (Swe)
rokci derxi = stone heap (Swe)
tadni girzu = student group (Hun)
remna girzu = human-being group (Qab 'group of people')
cpumi'i lijgri = tractor column (Qab)
cevni jenmi = god army (Skt)
cevni prenu = god folk (Skt)

3. Conversely: the head is an element, and the modifier represents a set in which that element is contained. Implicitly, the meaning of the head is restricted from its usual general meaning to the specific meaning appropriate for elements in the given set. Note the opposition between "zdani linji" in the previous group, and "linji zdani" in this one, which shows why this kind of compound is called "asymmetrical".

carvi dirgo = raindrop (Tur, Kor, Hun, Udm, Aba)
linji zdani = row house

4. The modifier specifies an object and the head a component or detail of that object; the compound as a whole refers to the detail, specifying that it is a detail of that whole and not some other.

junla dadysli = clock pendulum (Hun)
purdi vorme = garden door (Qab)
purdi bitmu = garden wall (Que)
moklu skapi = mouth skin (Imb 'lips')
nazbi kevna = nose hole (Imb 'nostril')
karce xislu = automobile wheel (Chi)
jipci pimlu = chicken feather (Chi)
inji rebla = airplane tail (Chi)

5. Conversely: the modifier specifies a characteristic or important detail of the object described by the head; objects described by the compound as a whole are differentiated from other similar objects by this detail.

pixra cukta = picture book
kerfa silka = hair silk (Kar 'velvet')
plise tapla = apple cake (Tur)
dadysli junla = pendulum clock (Hun)

6. The head specifies a general class of object (a genus), and the modifier specifies a sub-class of that class (a species).,

ckunu tricu = pine tree (Hun, Tur, Hop)

7. The head specifies an object of possession, and the modifier may specify the possessor (the possession may be intrinsic or otherwise). In English, these compounds have an explicit possessive element in them: "lion's mane", "child's foot", "noble's cow".

cinfo kerfa = lion mane (Kor, Tur, Hun, Udm, Qab)
verba jamfu = child foot (Swe)
nixli tuple = girl leg (Swe)
cinfo jamfu = lion foot (Que)
danlu skapi = animal skin (Ewe)
ralju zdani = chief house (Ewe)
jmive munje = living world (Skt)
nobli bakni = noble cow (Skt)
nolraitru ralju = king chief (Skt 'emperor')

8. The head specifies a habitat, and the modifier specifies the inhabitant.

lanzu tumla = family land

9. The head specifies a causative agent, and the modifier specifies the effect of that cause.

kalselvi'i gapci = tear gas (Hun)
terbi'a jurme = disease germ (Tur)
fenki litki = crazy liquid (Hop 'whisky')
pinca litki = urine liquid (Hop 'beer')

10. Conversely: the head specifies an effect, and the modifier specifies its cause.

djacu barna = water mark (Chi)

11. The head specifies an instrument, and the modifier specifies the purpose of that instrument.

taxfu dadgreku = garment rack (Chi)
tergu'i ti'otci = lamp shade (Chi)
xirma zdani horse = house (Chi 'stall')
nuzba tanbo = news board (Chi 'bulletin board')

12. More vaguely: the head specifies an instrument, and the modifier specifies the object of the purpose for which that instrument is used.

cpina rokci = pepper stone (Que 'stone for grinding pepper')
jamfu djacu = foot water (Skt 'water for washing the feet')
grana mudri = post wood (Skt 'wood for making a post')
moklu djacu = mouth water (Hun 'water for washing the mouth')
lanme gerku = sheep dog (dog for working sheep)

13. The head specifies a product from some source, and the modifier specifies the source of the product.

moklu djacu = mouth water (Aba, Qab 'saliva')
ractu mapku = rabbit hat (Rus)
jipci sovda = chicken egg (Chi)
sikcurnu silka = silkworm silk (Chi)
mlatu kalci = cat feces (Chi)
bifce lakse = bee wax (Chi 'beeswax')
cribe rectu = bear meat (Tur, Kor, Hun, Udm, Aba)
solxrula grasu = sunflower oil (Tur, Kor, Hun, Udm, Aba)
bifce jisra = bee juice (Hop 'honey')
tatru litki = breast liquid (Hop 'milk')
kanla djacu = eye water (Kor 'tear')

14. Conversely: the head specifies the source of a product, and the modifier specifies the product.

silna jinto = salt well (Chi)
kolme terkakpa = coal mine (Chi)
ctile jinto = oil well (Chi)

15. The head specifies an object, and the modifier specifies the material from which the object is made. This case is especially interesting, because the referent of the head may normally be made from just one kind of material, which is then overridden in the compound.

rokci cinfo = stone lion
snime nanmu = snow man (Hun)
kliti cipni = clay bird
blaci kanla = glass eye (Hun)
blaci kanla = glass eye (Que 'spectacles')
solji sicni = gold coin (Tur)
solji junla = gold watch (Tur, Kor, Hun)
solji djine = gold ring (Udm, Aba, Que)
rokci zdani = stone house (Imb)
mudri zdani = wood house (Ewe 'wooden house')
rokci bitmu = stone wall (Ewe)
solji carce = gold chariot (Skt)
mudri xarci = wood weapon (Skt 'wooden weapon')
cmaro'i dargu = pebble road (Chi)
sudysrasu = cutci straw shoe (Chi)

16. The head specifies a typical object used to measure a quantity and the modifier specifies something measured. The compound as a whole refers to a given quantity of the thing being measured. English does not have compounds of this form, as a rule.

tumla spisa = land piece (Tur 'piece of land')
tcati kabri = tea cup (Kor, Aba 'cup of tea')
nanba spisa = bread piece (Kor 'piece of bread')
bukpu spisa = cloth piece (Udm, Aba 'piece of cloth')
djacu calkyguzme = water calabash (Ewe 'calabash of water')

17. The head specifies an object with certain implicit properties, and the modifier overrides one of those implicit properties.

kensa bloti = spaceship
bakni verba = cattle child (Ewe 'calf')

18. The modifier specifies a whole, and the head specifies a part which normally is associated with a different whole. The compound then refers to a part of the modifier which stands in the same relationship to the whole modifier as the head stands to its typical whole.

kosta degji coat finger (Hun = coat sleeve)
denci genja tooth root (Imb)
tricu stedu tree head (Imb = treetop)

19. The head specifies the producer of a certain product, and the modifier specifies the product. In this way, the compound as a whole distinguishes its referents from other referents of the head which do not produce the product.

silka curnu silkworm (Tur, Hun, Aba)

20. The head specifies an object, and the modifier specifies another object which has a characteristic property. The compound as a whole refers to those referents of the head which possess the property.

sonci manti = soldier ant
ninmu bakni = woman cattle (Imb 'cow')
mamta degji = mother finger (Imb 'thumb')
cifnu degji = baby finger (Imb 'pinky')
pacraistu zdani = hell house (Skt)
fagri dapma = fire curse (Skt 'curse destructive as fire')

21. As a particular case (when the property is that of resemblance): the modifier specifies an object which the referent of the compound resembles.

grutrceraso jbama = cherry bomb
solji kerfa = gold hair (Hun 'golden hair')
kanla djacu e= ye water (Kar 'spring')
bakni rokci = bull stone (Mon 'boulder')

22. The modifier specifies a place, and the head an object characteristically located in or at that place.

ckana boxfo = bed sheet (Chi)
mrostu mojysu'a = tomb monument (Chi 'tombstone')
jubme tergusni = table lamp (Chi)
foldi smacu = field mouse (Chi)
briju ci'ajbu = office desk (Chi)
rirxe xirma = river horse (Chi 'hippopotamus')
xamsi gerku = sea dog (Chi 'seal')
cagyce'u zdani = village house (Skt)

23. Specifically: the head is a place where the modifier is sold or made available to the public.

cidja barja = food bar (Chi 'restaurant')
cukta barja = book bar (Chi 'library')

24. The modifier specifies the locus of application of the head.

kanla velmikce = eye medicine (Chi)
jgalu grasu = nail oil (Chi 'nail polish')
denci pesxu = tooth paste (Chi)

25. The head specifies an implement used in the activity denoted by the modifier.

me.la.pinpan. bolci = Ping-Pong ball (Chi)

26. The head specifies a protective device against the undesirable features of the referent of the modifier.

carvi mapku = rain cap (Chi)
carvi taxfu = rain garment (Chi 'raincoat')
vindu firgai = poison mask (Chi 'gas mask')

27. The head specifies a container characteristically used to hold the referent of the modifier.

cukta vasru = book vessel (Chi 'satchel')
vanju kabri = wine cup (Chi)
spatrkoka lanka = coca basket (Que)
djacu calkyzme = water calabash (Ewe)
rismi dakli = rice bag (Ewe, Chi)
tcati kabri = tea cup (Chi)
ladru botpi = milk bottle (Chi)
rismi patxu = rice pot (Chi)
festi lante = trash can (Chi)
bifce zdani = bee house (Kor 'beehive')
cladakyxa'i = zdani sword house (Kor 'sheath')
manti zdani = ant nest (Gua 'anthill')

28. The modifier specifies the characteristic time of the event specified by the head.

vensa djedi = spring day (Chi)
crisa citsi = summer season (Chi)
cerni bumru = morning fog (Chi)
critu lunra = autumn moon (Chi)
dunra nicte = winter night (Chi)
nicte ckule = night school (Chi)

29. The modifier specifies a source of energy for the referent of the head.

dikca tergusni = electric lamp (Chi)
ratni nejni = atom energy (Chi)
brife molki = windmill (Tur, Kor, Hun, Udm, Aba)

There are some compounds which don't fall into any of the above categories.

ladru denci = milk tooth (Tur, Hun, Udm, Qab)
kanla denci = eye tooth

It is clear that "tooth" is being specified, and that "milk" and "eye" act as modifiers. However, the relationship between "ladru" and "denci" is something like "tooth which one has when one is drinking milk from one's mother", a relationship certainly present nowhere except in this particular concept. As for "kanla denci", the relationship is not only not present on the surface, it is hardly possible to formulate it at all.

Here are some types of compounds where there is no effective difference between the modifier and the head.  In some languages, it is common for these compounds to occur in the opposite order as well.

30. The compound may refer to things which are correctly specified by both components. Some of these instances may also be seen as asymmetrical compounds where the modifier specifies a material.

cipnrstrigi pacru'i = owl demon (Skt)
nolraitru prije = royal sage (Skt)
remna nakni = human-being male (Qab 'man')
remna fetsi = human-being female (Qab 'woman')
sonci tolvri = soldier coward (Que)
panzi nanmu = offspring man (Ewe 'son')
panzi ninmu = offspring woman (Ewe 'daughter')
solji sicni = gold coin (Tur)
solji junla = gold watch (Tur, Kor, Hun)
solji djine = gold ring (Udm, Aba, Que)
rokci zdani = stone house (Imb)
mudri zdani = wooden house (Ewe)
rokci bitmu = stone wall (Ewe)
solji carce = gold chariot (Skt)
mudri xarci = wooden weapon (Skt)
zdani tcadu = home town (Chi)

31. The compound may refer to all things which are specified by either of the compound components.  English does not have compounds of this form, as a rule.

nunji'a nunterji'a = victory defeat (Skt 'victory or defeat')
donri nicte = day night (Skt 'day and night')
lunra tarci = moon stars (Skt 'moon and stars')
patfu mamta = father mother (Imb, Kaz, Chi 'parents')
tuple birka = leg arm (Kaz 'extremity')
nuncti nunpinxe = eating drinking (Udm 'cuisine')
bersa tixnu = son daughter (Chi 'children')

32. Alternatively, the compound may refer to things which are specified by either of the compound components or by some more inclusive class of things which the components typify.

curnu jalra = worm beetle (Mon 'insect')
jalra curnu = beetle worm (Mon 'insect')
kabri palta = cup plate (Kaz 'crockery')
jipci gunse = hen goose (Qab 'housefowl')
xrula tricu = flower tree (Chi 'vegetation')

33. The compound components specify crucial or typical parts of the referent of the compound as a whole.  English does not have compounds of this form, as a rule.

tumla vacri = land air (Fin 'world')
moklu stedu = mouth head (Aba 'face')
sudysrasu cunmi = hay millet (Qab 'agriculture')
gugde ciste = state system (Mon 'politics')
prenu so'imei = people multitude (Mon 'masses')
djacu dertu = water earth (Chi 'climate')

Here are the explanations of the three-letter language-name abbreviations:

Aba = Abazin
Chi = Chinese
Eng = English
Ewe = Ewe
Fin = Finnish
Geo = Georgian
Gua = Guarani
Hop = Hopi
Hun = Hungarian
Imb = Imbabura Quechua
Kar = Karaitic Hebrew
Kaz = Kazakh
Kor = Korean
Mon = Mongolian
Qab = Qabardian
Que = Quechua
Rus = Russian
Skt = Sanskrit
Swe = Swedish
Tur = Turkish
Udm = Udmurt


More of my blather

If, Ghu help you, you want to see a lot the stuff I'm posting as blog comments rather than saving for my own blog, then this amazing search engine is your friend.  If you, too, post a lot of comments, go to their home page and set up your own profile, giving them the "web address" you use to post, and everyone can see many of the places you are posting to as well.  Very, very nice.

Update: Alas, this service is dead.


More female programmers

I tried to post this comment to a public site, but failed repeatedly. The topic of the original post isn't relevant to my comment, which was in response to a comment that read, in its entirety:

Why would we would want more female programmers?

My answer:

The world needs more effectively mobilized brains. We can't afford to constrain ourselves on what size or shape or color the bodies are that house those brains. Also, diversity is good in itself: it improves flexible response, and it's silly to throw away a cheap source of diversity.

A major U.S. university with a strong CS program (I am contractually prevented from naming it) that had female CS undergraduate admissions in the single digits year after year was able to raise their admission to the same rate as other engineering programs by changing just one thing: they no longer gave people who already had programming experience preferential admission. There have been no changes in the overall performance of the student body in the years since.



This is to announce my edited version of H. Beam Piper's classic story of linguistic archaeology on Mars, "Omnilingual". Why edit a classic? Here's my Editor's Introduction:

H. Beam Piper's 1956 story "Omnilingual" is one of the few, and still one of the best, science fiction stories in which the science is linguistic archaeology. While the meat of the story holds up marvelously fifty years later, the particulars are firmly rooted in the 1950s. Everyone smokes like a chimney — on Mars! The women are called girls, and their gender is mentioned at every conceivable opportunity. All the work is still done with pencil and paper and sketching boards and looseleaf notebooks.

My edits, then, are intended to modernize the work, to help the 2009 reader not stumble over the details. Notebooks are computerized; sketchbooks have been replaced by tablets. Gender equality and the metric system are taken for granted. Smoking isn't even mentioned. I wedged in a mention of the Classic Maya decipherment of the 1980s (a counterexample to the story's thesis!), but let one of the characters dismiss it as irrelevant. I set the story, as Piper did, forty years in the future, but that is now 2049 rather than 1996. There are fewer This Is Science Fiction flags, so "Earth" instead of "Terra", "U.N." instead of "Federation Government".

Piper's Mars and his Martians are completely impossible based on what we know of Mars today. Rather than trying to change all that, which would have involved wholesale destruction and re-invention, I have changed the planet's name to Ares after the Greek rather than the Roman god of war. The intention is to suggest someplace analogous to Mars as we know it in 2009, but different in detail. The atmosphere on Ares is thin, but breathable with supplementary oxygen; the humidity, while low, supports plenty of life forms. As for the too-human Martians (or Areans), I have made them an offshoot of Homo sapiens whose presence on the fourth planet from the sun remains a mystery.

However, the characters, the plot, the underlying logic remain the same. Hopefully I haven't damaged the story too much in trying to adjust it to modern taste. Those who prefer the original form can easily find it at Project Gutenberg, who provided the public-domain base text from which this revision was made. They also have the original Frank Kelly Freas drawings, which I didn't feel right about using -- they were made in the 1950s, too, and no longer seemed to fit the revised text.

Read and enjoy!



David Moser's relentlessly self-referential story "This Is the Title of This Story, Which Is Also Found Several Times in the Story Itself" begins simply enough with the fairly ordinary sentence "This is the first sentence of this story."

But by the fourth paragraph, a harbinger of what is to come: "Introduces, in this paragraph, the device of sentence fragments. A sentence fragment. Another. Good device. Will be used more later."

True enough. "Incest. The unspeakable taboo. The universal prohibition. Incest. And notice the sentence fragments? Good literary device. Will be used more later."

A later passage from the same increasingly disconnected tale: "Bizarre. A sentence fragment. Another fragment. Twelve years old. This is a sentence that. Fragmented. And strangling his mother. Sorry, sorry. Bizarre. This. More fragments. This is it. Fragments. The title of this story, which. Blond. Sorry, sorry. Fragment after fragment. Harder. This is a sentence that. Fragments. Damn good device."

Still further down: "The purpose. Of this paragraph. Is to apologize. For its gratuitous use. Of. Sentence fragments. Sorry. "

And then: "Or this sentence fragment? Or three words? Two words? One?"

Getting near the end: "By the throat. Harder. Harder, harder."

Lastly: "This is."

Read. The whole thing. Worthwhile. NSFW, technically.


Why Are PHBs Stupid?

Mark Liberman on Language Log asks:
However we decide to define "manager", this group is certainly now the object of a complex of negative stereotypes. When and how did this start? I don't know, and I welcome suggestions. These attitudes may be connected to the antique European aristocratic disdain for those who are "in trade", and to the (I think related) modern intellectual disdain for the world of business. These attitudes seem to have been imported from the intelligentsia into industry through the medium of engineers and especially programmers, who (at least at lower levels) maintain a very different culture from the "suits" in finance, marketing, product planning, and so on.
I think Mark's right to speak of "engineers and especially programmers", and I think the key phrase is "maintain a very different culture". Historically, the boss that most people dealt with was the foreman, which the OED defines in the relevant sense as "the principal workman; specifically, one who has charge of a department of work." You began by doing the work, and if you got good at it, you ended up telling other people with less experience or less competence how to do it instead. This could go right up to the top: Thomas Edison began as an inventor, and wound up running a huge "invention factory", the first modern industrial research lab.

Two factors undermined this, though: the sense that promoting high-quality workmen instead of continuing to take advantage of their work made no sense, and the idea that management was or could be a profession abstracted from the particular work being managed. The first factor appeared particularly strongly in computer programming because of the huge disparity in productivity: the best programmers are literally two orders of magnitude more productive than the average. Losing a top steelworker to foremanship might cost the company the labor of 2-3 standard steelworkers, but losing the productivity of 100 merely competent programmers seemed insane. And of course geeks tend to like their jobs, and to be uninterested in (and incompetent at) people-managing. Companies had to deal with the widespread appearance of workers who did not want to be promoted, ever.

At the same time, the rise of the MBA spread the meme among the suits that managing people was a learned profession like law or medicine or engineering, where you primarily apply what you have learned from books, courses, etc. to the requirements of the job. Before that, management had always been seen as a job, like digging ditches or being President of the United States: you can prepare for it to some extent, but mostly you do a job by applying whatever you have to whatever you need to do.

Making management a profession was arguable; the associated notion that you could manage workers with no understanding of what they did was a disaster. Computer programmers were in the forefront of knowing what had happened: they quickly saw that their bosses had no idea of how the work was done, the necessary conditions for doing it, or the difference between what could be done, what could be done with extraordinary effort, and what could not be done at all. The boss had always been seen as a mean fellow (after all, he tells you what to do and can fire you), but now he also appeared clueless and even stupid, someone who could not be made to understand no matter what.
None of the early citations in the OED, nor the quotes that I find in LION, seem to reflect the modern Dilbertian managerial stereotype. That stereotype clearly predates Dilbert — but when did it arise? and where did it come from?

In this context, we have to return to Andrew's question: What is a manager, anyhow? By now, I suppose that the Dilbert empire employs a certain number of people, whom Scott Adams in some sense manages — does he thereby consider himself a "manager" in the relevant sense?
Scott Adams is not only a manager now, he has always been one by training: he was an economics major, not any kind of scientist or engineer, and he got an MBA before he worked with his first geek. He is extraordinarily observant (especially for an MBA, I add snarkily) and he actually does grasp how geeks think, but despite appearances he basically sees them from the outside. When I discovered this, the shock was so great that I started to see him as an outsider mocking my culture rather than an insider mocking its excesses (though to be sure Dilbert is harder on suits than on nerds), and I lost interest in the strip completely.

(Note: Even though Mark says he's been a manager since 1980, I think that industrial research and academia still basically run on the old model, and therefore their managers, including him, are mostly exempt from the trend I am reporting here.)


Common Lisp symbols bound in more than one namespace

These are the Common Lisp symbols which are bound in more than one namespace:  for example, + is both a function (addition) and a variable (the most recent form evaluated by the REPL).  The links point into the Common Lisp Hyperspec.


Two Kinds

There's two kinds of people in the world: those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don't.

There's three kinds of people in the world, those who can count and those who can't.

There's 10 kinds of people on the world, those who can do binary and those who can't.

There's 10 kinds of people in the world, those who understand trinary, those who don't understand trinary, and those who mistake it for binary.

And, of course, there's two kinds of people in the world, those who can tell a joke, and those who can't.

Or perhaps there are really three kinds, those who can tell a joke, those who can't, and those who can but run it into the ground.

But Little Anthony and the Imperials said it best.


No more anonymous comments; sorry.

I just had to clear out about 100 anonymous spam comments, and Blogger doesn't make that easy. So no more anonymous comments. Sorry. But you can still comment on any posting, no matter how old.