Grammar

General design

The grammar of ROILA is intended to be regular. There will be no exceptions and any rule will be applicable to all words from a part of speech. Since ROILA’s grammar is of the isolating type new words will be added to reflect grammatical categories and typically only one new word will be added after the part of speech in question. For e.g. the new word will be added after the verb to exhibit tense and after the noun with regards to plurality. Hence in any one sentence an inflection takes place near only one word type.

Parts of Speech

ROILA has the following parts of speech: Nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives and 4 pronouns (I, you, he and she).

Names and Capitalization of Nouns

Names of people will be used as it is. The first letter of names borrowed from natural languages will be capitalized as will be the first letter of every new sentence.

Gender

Gender will not be marked in ROILA for animate beings neither for inanimate objects. Gender will only be marked for pronouns (he/she), see the section on person references.

Numbering

Grammatical Numbering will be represented for plural nouns. In the singular instance there will be no changes whereas for plural nouns the word “tuji” will be added after the noun. The meaning of “tuji” is “very”.

I love this fruit
Pito loki wikute
I love fruit

I love all fruits
Pito loki wikute tuji
I love fruit <word marker for plural>

Person References

Person References are conveyed using “I” and “you” (pito and bama respectively). We assume that this would be enough as ROILA is primarily intended for interactive communication between two people and references to he/she can be replaced by the usage of names of those people. However we still allow for the representation of gender in the third level of person references. This is accomplished by using “liba” for he and “mona” for she.

I can go left or right
Pito leto fosit webufo buno besati

Tenses

Tense will be spread over the basic three levels: past, present and future. Present tense will imply normal sentences with no changes. Past will be represented by the addition of the word “jifi” and future by “jifo” after the verb in question. For e.g.

I am walking to the house
Pito fosit bubas
I walk house

I walked to the house
Pito fosit jifi bubas
I walk <word marker for past tense> house

I will walk to the house
Pito fosit jifo bubas
I walk <word marker for future tense> house

Polarity

Polarity will simply be represented by yes/ok/good (“wopa”) and no (“buse”).

Do not listen to her
Buse lulaw mona
No listen her

Referring Questions

Questions can be addressed using the word “biwu” which literally translates to what.

What color is the musuem?
Biwu wekepo buse kulil bubas?
What color not new house

Conjunctions

Conjunctions include: sowu (and), buno (or), kijo (because).

I think this musuem is very dirty and bad
Pito wetok pimo buse kulil bubas topik sowu bujeti
I think that not new house dirty and bad

Word Order

Word Order will be a rendition of SVO.

He (S) saw (V) (the) bird (O)
Liba (S) make jifi (V) mipuki (O)
He see <word marker for past tense> bird

Punctuation

Every sentence will conclude with a full stop: “.”
Question marks can be used in sentences where a question is asked.
We do not support commas, apostrophes and quotation marks: , ‘ ” respectively.

What the ROILA grammar does not have and some work-arounds

While designing the ROILA grammar we took into account several criteria which meant that some grammatical categories were dropped completely. These categories may be found in several natural languages. We discuss each briefly and suggest how we could make up their absence.

- Certain form of Tenses such as perfect tenses are not fully supported. In some situations it would be possible to express perfect tenses by rephrasing the sentences. Let us look at an example

I am going (I am about to go) | Pimo kapim kanek | I about go

- Case is partially supported in ROILA by means of pronouns. Obivously the noun does not inflect. ROILA supports the expression of I, you, he and she as pronouns which covers the Subjective/Nominative case. For possession the sentences would have to be rewritten. Here is one example

This is Omar’s book (This is the book of Omar) | Bamas fojato fomu Omar | This book of Omar

- Aspect is loosely interchanged with tenses in most languages. ROILA does not support it explicitly.

- Modality can be partially expressed by the usage of words such as ‘may’ instead of ‘might’ for the Subjunctive type.

He might be ill (He may be ill) | Liba bemotu mufe pubemu

- Active voice is the default scenario supported by ROILA so the subject or actor of the action is always before the verb. Therefore there is no direct support for expressing passive voice.

- Articles are not part of the ROILA vocabulary, so there is no ‘a’, ‘an’ or ‘the’.

  1. John E. Clifford’s avatar

    Where and how to prepositional phrases fit into the grammar?
    Are there restrictive relative clauses, and, if so, how and , if not, how work around?

  2. Aaron’s avatar

    Seems you left out of this list what I would think would be the most important grammatical function in this language: the imperative. From the video it sounded like you form it by leaving out the subject, kind of like in English. Some languages use the second-person future tense.

    Along the lines of the previous commenter, if you leave out the prepositions, how can you tell the difference between a direct object and a prepositional phrase?

    The vocabulary list seems to show a simple one-for-one relationship between English words and ROILA. That seems like a big mistake to me, since there is an enormous difference between words and meanings.

    Part of the reason that you can say just about anything in those 850 words is that many of those words are useful in a variety of ways. A large number of them are simultaneously nouns, transitive verbs, and intransitive verbs.

    If you make no distinction between transitive and intransitive verbs, you will run into problems.

    Fosit bubas!
    Fosit fipuko!

    Other than the possessive, what construction do you use to modify a noun with another noun? Like, “Where is Omar’s history book?

  3. Sonia Keys’s avatar

    I find your your adoption of gendered pronouns deplorable and I urge you to collapse your two gendered pronouns into a single gender-free word.

    Gendered pronouns presume sexism. They presume that animates are partitioned into two social classes which are to be treated differently. They presume that the criterion of class membership is a certain anatomical structure, that this structure is noted at birth and that class membership is thereafter immutable. While these presumptions pervade human society, they serve no purpose but to perpetuate atrocities of sexism.

    Gendered pronouns have no place in a robot interaction language. Please consider the negative effects of their use, their absence of practicality, and the potential good that could come of replacing them with a single gender-free pronoun.

  4. Kreaton’s avatar

    Apart from sexism there is another good reason to avoid gendered pronouns: they aren’t useful and complicate things.
    If you really need to say “he/she” you could simply say “man/woman”, like in “give the book to the men”, instead of “give the book to him”. This allows further improvements in identify a person.

    If in the same room there are a man and a woman you could still use “man/woman” instead of “he/she”, if there are two people of the same sex you could use ” exactly the same structure to indicate one of them: “give the book to adult”or “give the book to child”.

    In fact you don’t even need a genderless pronoun for the third person. A word for “human being” and one for “robot” should suffice, and their distinction would be more meaningfull the a “he” or “she”.

    Keep the good work!
    (and sorry for the bad english, I hope I made myself clear)

  5. Beowulf’s avatar

    While I agree that the pronouns could easily be removed, one of their main functions would be to simplify lists of actions.

    “Omar did this. Then HE did that. Then HE did the other.”

    In which case “he/she” should be replaced by a single pronoun such as “they”, but lacking the plural connotations. A similar consturct would also be useful for simply pointing to someone and saying “Give the book to THEM.” as kreaton said, a single word for human and one for robot should do.

    And though it is unfortunate due to its other apects, sexism is engraned and in a way necessary, perhaps not to a robot, but if a man were to walk into a women’s change room I am sure most if not all of the women would consider this unacceptable. As such some gender differentiation is required. Don’t blame sexism on the language, blame it on a chance of evolution.

    And finally I think prepositions are used as in english, as the vocabulary includes them, allowing for prepositional statements such as:

    “From Russia with love.”
    “Nikuf Russia bopup loki.”

  6. Daithi’s avatar

    How do you handle aspect? Aspect conveys a lot of information in English sentences. For example–

    I eat pizza.
    I’m eating pizza.

    Both of these are the present tense of the verb eat, but they mean vastly different things. How do you convey this information in Roila? Keep in mind this is just one simple example. Take a look at Grammatical Aspect in Wikipedia. The end of the article provides — “Examples of various aspects rendered in English” and they list about two dozen categories of aspect.

    With no grammatical aspect and a highly limited vocabulary, I’m afraid Roila is going to result in lots of very ambiguous sentences.

    ——-

    To those who asked about prepositional phrases. It does look like the language does have some prepositions so you can differentiate between

    “He painted the house for an hour.”

    and

    “He painted the house in an hour.”

  7. Onymous’s avatar

    Well as it so happens there exists a third person neuter singular pronoun “IT” as in: Omar did this, then it did that, then it did other thing. It’s really just English convention that “IT” shouldn’t refer to a person, which isn’t even terrible consistent because we apply “IT” to gendered things like animals and babies all the time.

  8. Onymous’s avatar

    Also using “IT” allows you to use pronouns to refer to objects, which according the rules are neuter, as well as people.

  9. BB’s avatar

    You don’t explain why existing constructed languages are inadequate.
    You might also have considered whether any natural languages meet the requirements.
    More fundamentally, very few people will learn a new language just to communicate with robots.
    Clearly English has a number of severe design faults, such as the use of /s/ for widely varying functions such as indicating possessives, plurals, 3rd person singular nouns, abbreviations of “has” and “is”, and so on. But you could modify English to meet your processing requirements and have an installed English user base of billions of human beings. Any other system will lose out to an English-based one in the end. You could have used your genetic algorithm to strip out consonant clusters, find the most efficient way to clean up ambiguities in the English grammar, and so on, and have a Robo-English that humans could learn well enough to be up and running in the first hour. It seems Procrustean to make the humans bend over backwards to serve the robot needs. I wish you explained your goals and design constraints more clearly.

  10. BlackFox’s avatar

    Existing languages are inadequate because with current technology it is VERY hard to get a program to work out what you are saying reliably. For instance, try using the speech control system on oyur computer, you keep having to confirm things and re-spell words. Those systems are relatively easy because you use control words for it to recognize “Begin”, etc. For day to day use, commands of a robot style, these limitations are insufficient, especially as you would have to learn to phrase “Go home now” as something along the lines “Move to location home time now”

    Even if you could make a program understand commands in english, there are simply too many words that are hard to distinguish. The consonant/vowel/consonant system means that the robot can easily distinguish each sound (combination of consonant & vowel) and so work out the exact spelling of the word easily.

    So yes, real languages have evolved over time. This has made them inaccurate, we require context and many other details to understnad what is going on. The robot doesn’t even have a system as powerful as the human brain to try understand the language, and we take years of our life to learn it.

  11. Alex F’s avatar

    And let me add to the hue and cry regarding the gender distinction in pronouns. Quite unnecessary, and to me it just feels like linguistic parochialism. Gendered pronouns may be in Standard Average European, but that’s no reason to have them here.

  12. Leke’s avatar

    In Tenses, it is written….
    “Past will be represented by the addition of the word “jifi” and future by “jifo” before the verb in question.”
    …but in the examples the tense marker appears after the verb.

    Which is right, the examples or the explanation?

  13. Ed’s avatar

    Museum = Not new house
    Ha!

    Museum of natural history…

    Not new house of natural past tense marker

  14. Chrissomerry’s avatar

    I think the anti-gender lobby isn’t exactly making a good case. Perhaps a genderless pronoun in addition to he/she (akin to “they”) is a great idea, but taking out he/she means that, for humans (who robots are expected to interact with), it becomes increasingly hard to identify a person with a pronoun. Unless of course, those who call this sort of gender distinction deplorable would prefer to be treated in a fashion completely ignorant of their gender identity and needs?

    The idea is we want robots to understand humans, and why there are differences (and similarities) between women and men, and that it’s not just something we don’t care about. I for example would be deeply offended if some super advanced robot of the future decided that my gender did not matter, and thus expected me to act/dress like a woman (being a man myself) for a task (of course, being a human, I could just pull out the plug, but I’d still be annoyed). We want future generations of “smart” robots to “get” why humans are so damn pedantic about this.

    Otherwise, if it’s not so important, I’m guess we should all start making very big adjustments to the way we live.

    (Perhaps, for robots, more pronouns, including neutral pronouns (e.g. gender neutral) is better, than combining existing pronouns).

  15. Steven Wayne Lytle’s avatar

    I agree that the language should not have any gender distinction, especially in the pronouns. Many of the world’s major languages (e.g., Chinese, Finnish, Hungarian, Turkish) don’t distinguish gender except by word semantics, i.e., “mother” and “girl” are inherently feminine, but the pronoun and grammatical forms are identical to those used by “father” and “boy”, inherently masculine words. If it ever is necessary to distinguish between male and female, simply add a word for “male” or “female” when needed.
    A distinction between animate and inanimate might be useful, but not male vs. female.
    The gender distinction is important in the real world, of course, but it shouldn’t be part of the grammar. — stevo

  16. Khalid’s avatar

    This language looks funny. And, I think the pronunciations and word inventions are based on Japanese style of pronunciation.

    My suggestion is instead of learning the whole new system of language to interact with Robot, we can use Simple English to communicate with Robot as English is already a universal mode of communication.

  17. James’s avatar

    What advantage does this have over IALs? The well-established Esperant(id)o, Interlingua and similar are far more developed, with tested grammars and full vocabularies (recognisable to most IE-language speakers). However, they are not the ideal solution, given that they still carry some of the ambiguities found in any natural languages, and ROILA (non-logical connectives, lack of difference between questions and statements, lack of freedom to leave out unwanted nouns, ambiguity of pronouns…). We’d be far better talking in a logical language, Lojban being the most popular today. It’s designed to be machine-parsable, both from speaking to writing and writing to meaning. It’s grammar can be defined in BNF, as are programming languages.

  18. bartneck’s avatar

    Please notice that ROILA is mainly targeting the speech recognition level and only to a lesser degree the semantic level. Even if the grammar is logical, you still first need to recognize the words correctly. In any case, I do not think that we can train ourselves to think in code. The part of our brain that enables us to think logically is the newest and smallest section of our brain.

  19. Ronaldo’s avatar

    it’s not about robots *understanding* why we humans do things, it’s about the robots being able to distinguish what we order them to do. That’s why ROILA is more suited than English or Esperanto (when tAlking to robots, not to people).

    However, if I pronounce the I like in “big”, in a phrase like “loki jifi bati”, it comes awfully close to the E in red, and is not easy to pronounce..

  20. Shakespeare’s avatar

    You’ve got to see this in context. A robot is a simple machine that we would be giving orders to or requesting data from. There is no problem dropping a few of the things we all think of as so vital, because we aren’t going to use ROILA to write poetry or analyse art.

    The sex thing is irrelevant – there is no need for the robot to distinguish all men from all women. In the situation where it matters, the man/woman solution would work. That said, it’s ONE extra word, and robots don’t have opinions or emotions, so do you REALLY care if IT thinks of you as a specific sex or another IT? Are we so obsessed with what a plastic box “thinks” of us?

    I would like to learn ROILA, and then drop big chunks of it into social situations just to tease those of you who think English is so sacrosanct. As a bilingual person, although English is my home language, I am acutely aware of how hard it is for people who use it as a second language to really get to grips with its complexities.

    As for “I eat pizza / I’m eating pizza.” meaning “vastly different things” – c’mon, really???? How subtle does a difference have to be? In Afrikaans, you would say “Ek eet pizza” for both. NOBODY would look at you skew, and ask if you didn’t mean “Ek is nou besig om pizza te eet” or whatever other weird thing you’d have to say to make a distinction between “doing”, and “do”.

    This debate really pulls the linguocentric alterphobes out of the woodwork.

    Love it.

  21. Steven Lytle’s avatar

    How does one know which part of speech a particular word belongs to? English is extremely flexible, in this regard, but also ambiguous, allowing almost any word to belong to any part of speech.
    Basic English, the basis of your vocabulary, just allows the same usages as English, hence it is not helpful for determining the answer to the question.

  22. Seppo Säämäki’s avatar

    I speak finnish as my mother tongue so I can tell you really don’t need gender-specific pronouns anywhere. In english, gender-specific pronouns cause much unnecessary work for programmer. How many web forms have input field for gender just for handling correct pronoun in automatic responses? (+ backend code + needed extra database field for person records…) Much more easier to have just one, gender-neutral pronoun.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender-neutral_pronoun tells that “Most languages of the world do not have gender distinctions in personal pronouns.”

  23. CS’s avatar

    Did you try to use it as everyday language?
    Four parts of speech will not be enough for anybody. I can’t imagine speech without numerals and prepositions.
    Vocabulary of ROILA unbelievable hard to remember. That is much more than absence of grammar and ease of speech recognising I think.

    I would just use natural language instead of THIS, German or English for example. Or you guys really have nothing else to do?

  24. ChristianKl’s avatar

    I don’t see a reason to avoid choosing words that are similar to the roots that already exist in natural languages.

    It should be possible to have a CVCV, CVCVC and CVCVCV words that similar to existing language. You might look into how lojban gismu words were made by making words easy to remembers for speakers of the 6 major languages.

  25. Lars H’s avatar

    Nice job. A speech that’s easy for machines to recognize is something I’m been thinking of lately. But there’s a few thing I would have done differently.

    First I’l go with CVC, CVCVC, CVCVCVC to make every word start and end on an consonant. That might sound harsh, but would make it easier to split up words.

    Then I would use recognizable words as far as possible… like:

    fem: female
    mal: male
    tin: thing
    dol: do
    bet: beast, animal
    kow: cow
    sis: scissor
    wak: walk
    lov: love
    lil: litle
    hum: human

    Then pick up little from Esperanto (witch is good, but *not* easy for a machine to speech recognize). Like changing verb to substantive (but not with postfix):

    dol-sis: cutting (do scissor)
    tin-wak: Walker (thing walk)
    mal-kow: bull
    fem-kow: female cow
    etc.

    I also think of the need to be unambiguous. I wold come up with another word then and for concatenating (kat?) as that is one big source for confusion.

    For readability I use – as above, also for thing like not-new-hus (can You figure that one out?).

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