Comparatives and languages that “don’t have them”

Some American Indian languages “don’t have” comparatives. All American Indian languages are small community languages (well, were) and those typically are mindbendingly complicated. There are so many mechanisms for expression that some familiar mechanism in European languages might be missing. A perfect example is a language with purportedly no marking for subject and object. Simplistic, right? Not really, the language marks words for so many things, that by the end of the sentence, you probably have figure out who hit who. (See that? who hit who– now which is the recipient of the action there?)

Okay, now what if a means for comparatives is missing– for example, a simple way to express where to things are on a scale.

You could say, “The cat is small. The dog is large” If you are used to languages with comparatives, this doesn’t feel the same. And worse, you don’t have 101 other things going on in the sentence to nail down the details of the story of the cat who’s size was on the lower end of the scale compared to the dog’s size.

Now lets take a context free sentence, do a louse translation in to toki pona and then speculate on what a real community would do if they had to do comparatives (and without new words and without morphology):

The colorless green ideas slept furiously, but the mobility fountain ran even more to the blenderward hermeneutic. That is why your tools should be more blue than my cloth is red.

sona pi kule ala li lape pi pilin utala- taso tawa pi ilo telo musi li tawa noka mute sama wan sama pilin nasa pi lipu mute. tan ni la o jo e ilo laso kin sama ala len loje mi pi kin ala.

If our life depended on comparatives being communicated rapidly and accurate, I imagine we would coin a syntactic innovation on the spot, it doesn’t matter if it is elegant or not, say…. X li quality kin li sama Y lili. X is more quality than Y. (and many other possiblitiies)– the key is that the structure is consistent– there is nothing about X is more Y than Z that requires it to mean comparitive except someone in the dim history of English started it.

And there would be no way to see why something liek X li quality kin… (etc) should mean that except that it was all that the colocutor could think of at the moment. With repetition, it would become part of the grammar.

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