Similar to What other languages can get by in some cases without prepositions or particles like Somali?, I am wondering how we can boil everything down to just nouns and verbs (maybe adjectives, or at least noun/verb modifiers). Prepositions/postpositions can be converted into serial-verb/coverb sorts of things, but what about conjunctions, can they be converted into nouns and/or verbs (or adjectives) somehow?

Some basic ones: if, so, because, unless, while, or, and, yet, for, but. I don't know of many more.

If not, why can't they be converted? I know there are such things as "pure function words", which have little/no content meaning, but at least with "and", I could convert that to a verb like "unite", and "or" as "choose" or "match" or something. And even "if", as "test" (like in programming). But I'm not sure this is ever done in real languages, and if it would really work. For example:

  • If I run and climb the tree, [then(optional)] I will get there first and can eat the fruit or pass it down.
  • test I run unite climb the tree, I will get there first unite can eat the fruit fallback pass it down.

It doesn't really feel quite right (assuming this is some sort of gloss for another language), because "unite" is really majorly a "content word" but should be more a function word, I don't know. So looking for natural languages as inspiration if they do anything like this, and treat the conjunctions as nouns/verbs/adjectives of some sort.

If we used "and" as "union" (noun), then a difficult sentence might be:

  • A union and possibly a union.
  • A union union possibly a union.
  • A union unites and creates one.
  • A union unites union creates one.

If as a verb "unite":

  • A union unites one and unites all.
  • A union unites one unite unites all.

Doesn't seem like it would work in either case. You need a word, possibly a verb or noun, which is only used as "and" in this case, it would seem.

A Common Structure for Cross-Linguistic Conjunction Patterns seems partially relevant.

2 Answers 2


I have a meta-comment, which I’ll make only once. Your questions relate to real issues in linguistics, but you aren’t declaring an identifiable theoretical framework for analyzing language. Maybe you assume that linguists agree on the essential details, but it is hard to find two linguists who agree. As for your present question, in principle you could reduce language to predicates, arbitrary variables and some minimal set of logical connectives (NAND). Linguists typically view such hyper-reductionism as unenlighteningly obscurantist. I would say that the answer is “Yes, you can, but at what cost?”. What framework are you assuming? If it’s home-grown, what are the essential postulates of that framework?

To address your specific proposal, the cost is, apparently, making the sketchy assumption that English underlies the human language faculty. The idea that the Logoori word translating into English as “or” is really the English verb “choose” or “match” is slightly bizarre, since it assumes that humans are genetically endowed with knowledge of English. You could modify the proposal by asserting a framework where there is a universal abstract lexical, so you don’t mean literally the verb “choose”, you mean the abstract universal predicate “CHOOSE” or “MATCH”, which could be realized as sarudza in Shona or velge in Norwegian. In this framework, we would want to know what the posited primitive predicates are, for example is “if-then” a primitive or is it reducible; if “cook” a primitive or it is reducible (and how in the world to you reduce names like Lance or Carl to something universal)?

The terms “noun” and “verb” are fundamentally syntactic – the baggage that they carry is about word-distribution in sentences, and not primarily about conceptual structure. There are languages lacking the adjective “green”, because the relevant word is a verb (which inflects like other verbs). Matumbi is such a language, and it does have adjectives (“big”), just not the same adjectives as English. There is a venerable literature on the question of whether “noun” and “verb” are an obligatory grammatical distinction across languages, roughly as venerable as the literature saying that all languages have “case”. It could be true, by stipulative definition, in some abstract way.

Using slot-filler tests, we can tell that “and” is clearly not a verb and is clearly not a noun in English (likewise Norwegian, French, etc). I leave this as an exercise to the reader. In Logoori, “if” isn’t even a word (there are inflectional constructions for devising conditional sentences).

  • I'm not sure what you mean by your first paragraph, like "declaring an identifiable theoretical framework for analyzing language" and "what are the essential postulates of that framework". What should I be including in my questions then? Should I write something down somewhere and link to it?
    – Lance
    Oct 26, 2022 at 19:13
  • As for now, basically I am a software engineer trying to create an intermediate language for translating between languages, that can be understood by computers, but also to some degree spoken. I look at things in an imperative way, that there are actions and objects (and features, like "big"). But maybe I need to rethink and consider there being only 2 things, not 3.
    – Lance
    Oct 26, 2022 at 19:15
  • 3
    In other words, you've trying to develop a framework, not puzzling over how some fact fits in an existing framework ("which framework?"). Your questions would seem to fall into the bin "do the known facts mesh well with this kind of analysis?". Therefore, yes, tell us the ontology of your framework. You don't necessarily need nouns and verbs (at least right now), you need actions and objects. "Noun" and "verb" are interface concepts, it would seem to me.
    – user6726
    Oct 26, 2022 at 20:52
  • I don't really know what else to say, I've collected some basic thoughts here. Any further guidance on what else needs to be done would be nice. I only ask about nouns and verbs because I try and stay reasonably within the bounds of the science. Even though I ask a lot of out-there questions, I don't know of a safe space to discuss the structure of reality, so I leave it at the linguistics level and do the compsci stuff on my own.
    – Lance
    Oct 26, 2022 at 22:01

Do any languages treat conjunctions as nouns or verbs or such things?

I’d say it’s the opposite:

Nouns, verbs and prepositional phrases (content words) evolve into conjunctions (function words).

For example, …
Indeed, …
In addition, …
Given …
In case …

Even just word order can work like a conjunction.

Were I to phrase it like this, then…

Schrieben wir Deutsch, dann käme das sogar viel häufiger vor.

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