the Dangers of the Table of Radicals

There are some pitfalls and boobytraps involved with relying on Chapter VIII of Searight’s book, the Table of Radicals.

In my years of watching the online forum I have seen several promising students give up and disappear after trying to memorize this collection of similar-sounding radicals (iba, ibi, ibu, ipa, ipi, ipu etc.) all at once. This is a nearly impossible task which offers no potential rewards. This is not the way to learn a language.

I have seen others get tricked into thinking that a Sona radical can be defined by three or four English words. This is a false assumption that prevents a student from appreciating how different Sona really is with regard to mapping concepts onto words.

Let’s look at this steaming pile of radicals more closely. Here is a sample of it:

D. T.
DE p. through; hole; pierce. TE n. hand; project; take.
den n. tooth; bite; plough; dig. ten v. hold; contain.
ade n. hollow; cave; cup; scoop. ate n. tube; cylinder.
ide n. notch; dent; crack. ite n. flap; leaf; blade; tongue.
ude v. break; rend; burst. ute n. pocket; sheath.

the Table is easily misinterpreted

If you assume that you can use a radical as a free-standing word based on the definitions in the Table, you might be led astray. For example, let’s take the concept of ‘plough’ (plow). The Table might trick you into thinking you can use den as a translation of ‘plough.’ But Searight recommended agaden as the equivalent of ‘plough.’

(Granted you could probably use den as an abbreviation after you had first used agaden, as in “I bought a new agaden because my old den could not den my largest cornfield quickly enough.”)

In many, many cases like that, the information in the Table is just a bunch of hints guiding you towards assembling compound words. We might misinterpret these hints as meaning that the radical alone would convey the idea that we have in mind. Sometimes it would, sometimes it wouldn’t.

Another problem is that a typical English word contains several different meanings. Let’s say a naïve student wants to write about “starting a new project.” He looks at the Table and sees that te is supposedly a noun defined as ‘project,’ among other things. He uses te as his word for ‘project.’ Not good!

Someone wanting to write about projecting a movie onto a wall might look at the Table and assume they can use te as a basis for their Sona word meaning ‘the projector.’ But it’s clear that Searight means ‘project’ in the sense of an object protruding, sticking out from the surrounding terrain. Using te in a Sona compound for ‘movie projector’ would be a feeble choice. It would not be an optimal Sona expression.

Another example: the Table says ite means ‘tongue,’ among other things. But that refers to the “tongue” of a shoe rather than the tongue in your mouth. Searight used ite in his word for ‘ear,’ itega. His translation for ‘tongue’ (in the mouth) is laga.

three or four words cannot teach you a radical

You can’t learn how to properly use a radical from the information in the Table. You need to see examples of sentences and compound words in which they have been used, preferably including some examples created by Searight himself.

According to the Table, te is a noun corresponding to English “hand; project; take.” But the reality of te is much more complicated, as Searight reveals elsewhere in the Book:

Just as the C. yu ‘hand’ is used in many compounds, often losing its primary meaning, so our te, J. te ‘hand’, may be used to express ideas of grasping, anything to be grasped, which protrudes and therefore can be grasped. The meaning is never obscure. We may have tebi (handle), bute (nose), tega (arm), sute (stalactite), bate (stick), and so on, the idea of te being consistent throughout.

Another example of a radical’s cloud of meanings is van. The Table gives these hints of its meanings: hide; mask; shade; night. In some of Searight’s compounds you catch a glimpse of a subtly broader meaning: zovan, defined as ‘smoke,’ must have been coined by thinking along the lines of “the stuff associated with fire that might prevent you from seeing other things,” or “the dark stuff that comes from fire.” Likewise huvan meaning ‘fog’ was probably created by thinking “the weather stuff that might prevent you from seeing things.”

When we look at the compound words that Searight created we can kind of get inside his head and learn to emulate his thought processes. I don’t believe you can obtain such good results from gazing at the Table of Radicals.

hard (and maybe not helpful) to memorize

Sona’s two-syllable radicals are monotonously similar to each other. iba, ida, iga, ika, ila, ima, ina, ipa and so forth. It’s difficult to store these in the brain properly if you try to learn them all at once. And some of them are seldom used, so memorizing them (expecially in the early stages of studying Sona) could be viewed as an exercise in futility.

I believe most students will have more fun and have more success if they memorize useful or interesting words and phrases rather than isolated radicals.

Knowing that juri is a greeting equivalent to “good day” and xejuve (cat joy plant) is a proposed word for “catnip” will, for most people, give the brain a better and longer lasting appreciation of the radical ju than they would get from its entry in the Table of Radicals.

Studying and memorizing a phrase like mi ime inri tu sen esanyo (I hope you feel healthier now) will teach you quite a bit about Sona syntax, vocabulary and grammar. You wouldn’t get any of that from expending the same amount of effort to memorize a few items from the Table of Radicals.

better resources

The SonaUiki Radical Reference is a good source of information about Sona’s radicals. It is available here. Another resource is the HTML version of Searight’s book; simply combine all the chapters into one big file and then search it for examples of whatever radical you are studying. Additional resources are under construction here at Sonagona headquarters and at other Sonaphile websites.


©2013 Richard K. Harrison

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