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Semitic languages are known for doing quite a bit of their inflection and derivation not via adfixes but via modifications around a triliteral radical of three consonants.

But I'm wondering if there's anything comparable to a language anywhere that does more or less the opposite.

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  • That would be unlikely to work well, since there are always more consonants than vowels, and therefore very few tri- or even quadrivocalic roots available, with far more consonants available for inflection than even polysynthesis with phonosemantics would ever need. – jlawler May 21 '13 at 3:36
  • @jlawler: Hmm that seems valid but languages are full of surprises and there are some with almost equal numbers of vowels and consonants. Now it makes me wonder if anybody has ever tried to make a conlang on such a principal. – hippietrail May 21 '13 at 8:52
  • Nobody would understand it. There are other reasons why it hasn't been discovered yet. Humans don't distinguish vowels as easily as consonants; a vowel just takes two formants (three for special cases), but only formants. Consonants are much more distinguishable, producing lots of extra phonetic bells and whistles to aid recognition, and occurring in predictable syllabic locations as well. Vowels are stuck in the middle of the syllable forever, differentiated by their surrounding onset and coda consonants. Now, making a conlang without syllables -- that would be an interesting challenge. – jlawler May 21 '13 at 13:43
  • I just read something a few hours ago that seemed to suggest a certain language was known for illustrating the weakness in the concept of syllables... but I don't recall where I stumbled upon it or which language it was... – hippietrail May 21 '13 at 14:15
  • @hippietrail: Nuxálk? specgram.com/CLIV.4/08.phlogiston.cartoon.12.html – melissa_boiko May 21 '13 at 16:00

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