10 thoughts on “Semantic Trees

    1. Groups of words that are related through their meaning. We can imagine, for example, words like chair, stool and armchair as leaves on the branch called “furniture for sitting.” And that branch on a larger one called “furniture.” And that one, in turn, on the branch called “household objects,” and so on.


      1. “chair, stool and armchair as leaves on the branch called “furniture for sitting.””

        This is lots of fun when you get to cross-cultural cross-linguistic trees since different languages chop up reality differently…

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Oh, I love these! Vietnamese is huge on “category” words. They are almost like– they almost occupy the entire slot filled by articles and pronouns in English. It is so delightful to shuffle through those categories and find out what is, or isn’t, considered a “creature” or a “fruit” or a “dish”. There’s a category I think of as “creatures” (con) that mostly covers animals and small children. But also knives, rivers, and roads 😀 “Qua” is fruit: so like apples, bananas, and balls. And mountains. Like in Spanish (IIRC), a sheet of paper is basically a type of leaf. And, you know, blue and green are just subsets of the color “xanh”– even pink gets its own word, separate from red, but for xanh you have to specify “sea green” or “tree green” or “sky green”

          Xanh is my favorite color 🙂

          I’m still trying to figure out why ngoi is the classifier for both house, and star. Is this like… the way we talk about the Zodiac with its different houses?

          I found a fun classifier chart here: https://learnvietnamese.com.vn/en/vietnamese-common-classifiers.html and a much more detailed discussion of the thing here:


          (in case anybody reading is as huge a geek as I am)

          Liked by 1 person

          1. “Vietnamese is huge on “category” words”

            From what I remember there is more than one slot for categorizing words… there are the classifiers but all sorts of words are preceding be category words as well, a Polish specialist in Vietnamese told me that in Poland they often say “nha blok” (house in viet and apartment-building in Polish).


            1. Nice! I’m biased, but if ever you wanted to learn a language just for the sheer joy of making utterly delightful linguistic discoveries and rearranging your head a little, tieng Viet is it!


              1. ” tieng Viet is it!”

                It is definitely wild. I spent some time with it 15-10 years ago (got a couple of conference papers out of it and could almost read some simple things, but other things then got in the way….)
                I was discouraged when going over a short story with a teacher-friend. For about 2/3 of the words I didn’t know or couldn’t find in a dictionary (very skimpy resources then…) they said “Oh that won’t be in any dictionary…” it was related to the way part of a word is repeated (beginning or end of the word and appearing before or after the other word).
                It’s a complex system that AFAIK even Vietnamese people haven’t figured out (in a way they can explain it to others).
                That was followed by “Oh i’ve never seen that before but it’s obviously XYZ….”
                After spending several hours looking up another word, another Viet teacher said “I don’t know! I was wondering about that myself!”

                Liked by 1 person

  1. Re: Cliff

    “Oh that won’t be in any dictionary…”

    You should see the bizarre hash that online translators make of my friends’ social media posts! Even a very good automated translator crumbles before the poetic wonder that is a contextual language.

    My father has taken up reading/translating Viet poetry in his old age, to keep his skills sharp. He says it is very nearly unintelligible on the first/second/third reading to anybody not born and raised in VN, requires constant cross-referencing to previous generations of poetry because so many phrases are some kind of shorthand that refers to other poems, in addition to the language being to a large extent metaphorical by nature…

    Just learning enough to get by in the country… eh. While dictionaries are somewhat helpful, it’s far more important to just listen, nail down the phrases you hear/use/need most (“Cái này là gì?” “đây là…”), memorize them, and not think too minutely about what they literally mean, because while that’s often beautiful or hilarious, it’s not always helpful! Like, there’s this term, “chơi bời” where choi is “play”… so like if you and your friends are hanging around the house all bored, someone’s going to suggest you all “đi chơi” (lit. “go play”) which is like, hang out, go do something fun. But if you try to use that to parse the previous term… no go, man. The dictionary is going to tell you that “bời” is “by” and that gets you exactly nowhere for “play by”. If you can get the whole phrase together it’s, roughly, “dissipated” and can almost exactly plug-and-play as the English word “playboy”… so is this some sort of joke Vinglish borrow-word and that’s why I can’t translate it? I don’t know! But if you’re willing to drink lots of coffee and be laughed at, it’s awfully fun to try to learn 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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