“namin” is not good

Well, this is a blog posting about one thing: A funny misunderstanding and an insight on how language evolves. To explain the situation: The person with whom I want to spend the rest of my life, whom I want to marry and whose children I want to raise (in the following posting just abbreviated to Allanea) is here in Ireland with me for 12 days*. While he does not speak rejistanian in any degree of fluency, he understands a few words and has a basic idea about how the grammar works. Sometimes, I use rejistanian with him and in this specific case, I used “namin” quite often when we could not find something which we needed (the usual things: mobile phone, glasses, condoms**) and then I found it. This led to the fact that Boris understood the word in a rather different sense than it was intended: Instead of understanding it as “here” (which is what it means), he understood it as “it’s okay [we found it]”. And so one time, he used the term “namin” as “it’s okay”.

This confused me a lot until he explained his reasoning (and even later). However, as conlanger you can IMHO take a few lessons from it:
1) meanings can change quite unpredictably
2) sometimes, people do things with language you do not expect
3) it does not always need to make complete sense, sometimes language makes none and that is okay.

* the internet gave a whole new meaning to the term “long-distance relationship”.
** well, yes, we believe in this “no sex before marriage” thing, however since the institution of marriage exists since centuries, we feel free to f…(ornicate)

Of valley girls and unemployed expats

I always thought that upspeak in English is a strange phenomenon but nothing to complain about just as much. Then, I got into contact with this person who is from my own country and lives here in Ireland but whose English is by far worse. At least it feels that way. I realized that the reason is not so much that he makes grammatical mistakes or has a strong accent (he does make some mistakes in terms of pronunciation, but I have heard much more glaring ones in English classes at college). What I realized was that his intonation and prosody was so off that it was actually hard to understand him.

Okay, prosody is a topic I have not yet covered, in anything like great detail, but it definitely deserves being covered. Most conlangers do not mention intonation in their grammars. At least not the ones, I know of. Personally I do mention it in passing in Rejistanian, but have not thought about it for my other languages (if you could see me now, oyu’d notice that I blushed in embarrassment). It is an interesting topic and one I need to read up about more myself.

I suspect that again the oral exolangs are in the best position here. They can be however their creators want them to be without any qualms about feasibility (on that note: how do the likes of Na’vi, Klingon and Dothraki do it? Keep an English inflection in order not to confuse actors and fans? Go wild?). Auxlangs are at a much worse position. People do not only have a different linguistic background but probably will use the inflection of their native language (or just a language they know very well*) for the auxlang. This can create a set of problems in how to distinguish yes/no questions from statements. The typical way to do that is via a question particle, a way which is also done in some natural languages (for example colloquial German uses “ne” at the end of yes/no questions). That has a set of problems like the placement and how that affects the intended correct intonation, but I guess the other ideas are worse in terms of ease. They might not be though, as I said, difficulty is not only the existance of a strange rule but also its application. Artlangers, of course are free to do as they like.

So, how to create a conintonation and conprosody? To be honest, I am not that sure. I would suggest babbling. Seriously, babble in random sounds in the vague conphonology and try just by that to convey something. Try to make it sound as if a teacher instructs a class or as if a child tells a sibling to be fruitfull and multily, just not in these exact wordsūüėČ . Maybe this will lead you to something good. Don’t forget to document speech in your conlang with recordings to retain these things.

A new trick for vocabulary

You might have noticed that vocabulary is one of the things, which I care very deeply about in conlangs. The posting I get most links to details the creation of vocabulary. Now that I am reading Steven Pinker’s book The Stuff of Thought, I realize that there is a different trick to look at what might be missing in vocabulary. Apparently it was originally invented by Bertrand Russel in the 1950s, even though not for conlanging. What you need is a basic word, like to eat. Now create a progression from the best connotation to the worst one. This can be two or three steps. here a German example: ich esse, du schlingst es runter, er frisst. (I eat, you eat (hastily), he eats (like an animal)). Or in Tsali: Uka anda, oparlki hima (I eat, you eat (undeservedly or too much)). Here is an english example with another term: I exploring my sexuality, you are promiscuous, she is a slut*. Using longer terms and idioms is perfectly okay and even encouraged.

Feel free to post some degrees of connotation of your conlangs (with explanation) into the comments.

* I would like to point out the hypocrisy of this term or rather, the lack of a male equivalent. So I am going to announce to use the term slut from now on also for males :√ĺ

Underappreciated conlangs

While I try to post daily anyways on my rejistanian blog, I was inspired by this posting for a posting here, on my general purpose blog. We all know the big ideas and big players in the conlanging area: Esperanto, Quenya, Klingon, Ido, Toki Pona, Ithkuil, Kamakawi, Kélen etc. But who else is there?

IMHO, Volap√ľk is one of the more underappreciated conlangs. But it had the great foresight to attempt to make difficult sounds more accessible even for non-europeans. And it seems to be more… tense than Esperanto which can be quite aesthetically pleasing.

Teonaht is another one. I seriously appreciate the dedication to work on a project for more than 40 years. Sally Caves, you are a role model!

Saizai’s gripping language is also very innovative and deserves to be seen more widely. It takes a new idea and runs with it.

These are a few very subjective picks. Who do you think deserves more appreciation?

Conlanging intuition

I have to admit that the topic on the Conlang Mailing List was quite interesting to me. If I was more spiritually inclined, I might think that somethings are something In knew from a language of a former life, because they just feel so right. Like the really odd system of rejistanian comparisons. For no-one else, 14 comparisons make probably no sense at all, but forme, it is something which just clicked with the language.

Another thing which sounds so very RIGHT for me is putting the adjectives behind the verb. German does not do this and neither does English (with a few exceptions like ‘something blue’) but for me, this just felt exactly how it should be*. I guess this makes only a very limited amount of sense to anyone else, but sometimes, I do get this feeling about things, not all of them related to conlanging. When for example I discovered Forth, I got the feeling that this programming language actually makes sense. I am sceptic enough to accept that the idea that something like this stems from a former life is not even wrong (ie: so bizarre that it is unfalsifiable), but I like it in the way I like a bizarre plot twist in a story. The Rejistanis however probably are not so sceptic about this and it makes sense that they actually have a word for something like that. *has an idea which completely fits the idea and creates word*

Someone on the list said the feeling that something just clicks is inspiration. Maybe it is related to it, but it misses a component. Inspiration to me is “Hey, I suddenly have a great idea how to do it!”, it is not “Hey, I suddenly have a great idea how to do it and to me it feels as if THIS AND ONLY THIS is right!” (but then, languages cannot and will not cover every nuance in connotation with a different term).

Whatever it is, it is one of the reasons to conlang since it is one of the most satisfying moments which exist.

* I used it so often that I intentionally decided not to use that feature in Tsali.

What makes a language complex?

There is a thread on the CBB forum concerning the most complex conlang and it was wuite strange to me what many people understood as complexity. Complexity, IMNSCO does not only mean a grammar with many categories, as many people seem to think. So here a few thoughts on what makes a language complex:

  • Strange phones/phonemes: Yes, Hindi and Tagalog might consider a certain sound common, but this does not mean that for me as a German speaker, it is. I am guilty of that sort of complexity for at least one British-English speakers about Rejistanian: Apparently, /h/ and /x/ were indistinguishable for him.
  • FUBAR phonotactics: “Sandhi, bloody sandhi”ūüėČ
  • Strange use of aspiration: This belongs to the previous point, but then, it is a more specific difficulty
  • A misleading orthography. Apparently, I am guilty of this as well: “r” for /x/ makes sense given the history of the sound or the fact that [R] is a valid allophone. However, Englishspeakers do not expect this. The fact that I write /s`/ as “x” (rejistanian, quuxlang) or “z” (Kenshuite He Mo Gie, Tsali) is probably misleading at first, but not on the level of English orthography’s oddity
  • Odd clusters of consonants or vowels: Someone mentioned to me that he prefers Volap√ľk over Esperanto because it does not have clusters like “-nstr-” which are hard to pronounce for people not used to them. From that time, I liked Volap√ľk better. While certain sounds are very easy to pronounce in isolation, in certain combinations, they are hell. I created Jasabag√©’a to eliminate difficult clusters, because I know how very guilty I am of that one: /zt/, /ss`/, /wk/ and /lt/ in initial positions of words in various conlangs
  • Tones: From a European perspective, tones are rather difficult and I assume that this is also true if the conlang has nother pattern than your L1. If your L1 has ‘only’ low and high tones and you want to speak a conlang with 9 different tones, there will be an issue. At least I assume that.
  • Dissimilarity: Try to learn these quuxlang words: “hibalama” means “woman and one of her children”, “luZatso” means “father, mother and girl”, “kae” means “human carries object” (all from quuxlang). And now remember these words: “lana” means “child”, “jile” means fast, “c√≠m√≠” means twelve (all from jasabag√©’a). And now remember “rapida” means fast, “birdo” means bird and “modifi” means to edit (all from Esperanto). I think it is safe to assume* that the Esperanto terms are easiest to remember. But even if you use a priori vocabular, if the concepts differ too much, this constitutes complexity.
  • References: It is an issue in natlangs that certain words mean something because they refer to something related. Some examples here: “Iraq is another vietnam”, “Tempo” (literally: speed) for paper tissues because the most popular brand is called like that, and “‘xikila” for “to qualify using 2 different routes” because the team which first ‘xikila-ed into the rejistanian national soccer cup was Xikila**. As the last example showed, even conlangs can and probably will develop these.
  • Irregular grammar: The grammar does not have to have many rules, but if these are really strange and have many exceptions, the language is hard to learn. Esperanto has for example 4 different ways in which an adjective can agree with the noun, Tsali has 2. Despite that, Esperanto is easier because when you know how to decline “granda” (big) (granda domo, grandan domon, grandaj domoj, grandajn domojn), you also know how to decline “nova” (new) and bela (beautiful), while Tsali does not tell you that: mazdzu’ feri, mazdzu’tik feri but elat feri, elati feri and fadi feri, fadiu’ feri.
  • Different grammar: Let’s assume that you had to learn Esperanto in one week. In terms of grammar, it would definitely be doable. Now let’s assume you had to learn rejistanian in one week, it seems as easy if there were not these darn subjunctive moods, which in this form do not exist in English, the week passes and you realize that you still have no idea when exactly to use ‘lanja, when ‘meshi, etc. In general, a grammar which makes distinctions which your natlang does not make is more difficult. As such, even 2 different evidental forms are harder to learn 3 tenses which have an equivalent in your language.
  • Complex grammar: Now we’re at the point you wanted to be. Yes, a language with no tenses is easier than one with 10 tenses***.
  • Pragmatic differences: Here, you can find things like the very indirect, ‘spiral-shaped’ way in which Chinese say things, the many pitfalls of politeness in German, the fact that according to the Language Construction Kit book, poles consider the imperative for less rude than English speakers…

BTW: this must be a record: 860 words about complexity and no hate against Toki Pona.ūüėČ

* yes, “assume makes an ass out of u(sic!) and me”, but bear with me. It might make sense nontheless.
** a fourth league team can qualify for he cup by winning either the league or the “nantical” (ie: the nanti-wide tournament for teams in the leagues below the 3rd one and non-ASR teams). Xikila did both in the first year of the cup.
*** “Yes, of course there are ten of these, this is why they are called tenses!”

Untranslatables and Badly-translatables

Sometimes, there are things, which have one term in one language and require an entire sentence in another one. This is not only true for terms which are very nation-/culture-specific (ie: tropical nations having no word for iceberg), but also for terms, which you would expect the language to have. For example, according to several native speakers who are interested in football (British usage) or soccer (for our American readers), English lacks a term for “Tabellenletzter”. Despite claiming to be the country which invented the sport and despite having a relegation system, this simple term does not exist. Thus there is no Tabellenletzter in the premier league but a “club which is on the last spot in the league table”. I am not sure why this is. It is not as if England does not have struggle against relegation. However, maybe this is related to the culture. If a culture treats failing as, well, a failure and has a generally optimistic outlook on life, there might be a reason for a lack of terms which detail failure. Or maybe this is too Sapir-Whorfian. I do not even know how I could falsify such a hypothesis in a language.

This brings me to the topic of conlangs. I have written about how to create vocabulary, but how do you prevent creating it by accident? One idea is to have an expression which is used instead and document this one. Kenshuite He Mo Gie however uses something slightly different. Kenshuite He Mo Gie’s file is more a diary of the language than a reference of it. As such, when I want to document a glaring hole, which should be there, I am happy to write “TERM intentionally left blank” or something as direct to tell me to stay away from directly translating this thing. It probably is a good idea to have a private section of your dictionary with these terms.

NaNoWriMo and conlanging

NaNoWriMo is upon us and I have to admit that I am one of the participants (at 5k words atm and writing in English). But I have thought about conlanging in respect to it. What kind of conlang would be best to win the NaNoWriMo with? Here are some ideas of mine:
1) It needs to have a well-developped grammar
2) It needs to have well-developped pragmatics, you do not want to think about how citizens of your conculture greet themselves, whether and how they use names, this kind of things
3) It needs to have a sufficient amount of root words. This does not mean that it needs to have a dictionary of 23k words like Kankonian supposedly* has, it means that there need to be sufficient ways to say what you want to say in your conlang either by words of by constructions.

And now fo some nice-to-have stuff:
1) It needs to be entered with a normal QWERTZ/Y keyboard, or whatever you use. Point is: no one wants to constantly remember which key is which character or to learn the 10-finger system for your conscript, or to enter diacritic characters from a character table.
2) It needs to be verbose. Well, yes, 50k words need to be written somehow.
3) It needs to use distinct words instead of affixes.
4) It needs not to compound but instead form terms.

This leads to a scary thought: Toki Pona is a language, which I tend to bash, but it might be the best language for the NaNoWriMo.

* I have no reason to doubt Khemehekis’ words but sheer incredulity. However, if the inventor reads this posting and takes offense, please provide evidence. Not because I am a paranoid and untrusting person, but because this seems to be an extraordinary claim, requiring extraordinary evidence.

“Rices and moneys”

These words, of course, sound very wrong. There is a difference between mass nouns (rice, money) and count nouns (apple, peanut) in languages and only count nouns will be pluralized. It was quite difficult for me, given the little knowledge of linguistics, which I had, to realize that these things are not the same in every language out there. I am still struggling with this. Seriously. It seems hard to me to imagine that certain mass nouns to be discrete and OTOH, certain words which are used for individual things to have a counterpart which refers to the mass of them. This is one of the things, which I still struggle to implement well in my ‘langs.

Kenshuite He Mo Gie, as a communist conlang which marks the singular, not the plural of course has the tendency to see many things as count nouns which are mass nouns otherwise. But apart from that, it is a question of, often random asignment. So, how do you do it?

“Which ruler do you obey?”

Kenshuite He Mo Gie was created based on a definite idea how the culture is like and this idea was implemented in grammar and vocabulary. Tsali started with a vague non-cultural idea and a Pentium 1 computer. As such, creating the language meant also making up the culture on the go. While I was walking to Bergisch-Gladbach, the language gave me a big hint on the culture behind it: I thought about asking about the nationality in the various conlangs I created. Rejistanian would probably ask “Where were you born?” since Rejistanis do not have any concept of naturalization. You are citizen of the country you were born in. If they would want to know the official nationality, they would probably ask something like: “Where does your passport come from?”

The Kenshuite He Mo Gie speakers live on a barely inhabitable planet as survivors of a crash. Visitors would be asked a lot of things, nationality probably not being one of them.

Naeso would use a rather direct construction, though that has not been voted on yet.

And Tsali would ask which ruler one obeys. The reply would take the form “Berlin-obeyer am I” ie: the term for nationality is derived from the capital city, not the country. This is inspired by Singularity Sky by Charles Stross and I suspect that the Tsali speakers also have a distinctly authoritarian culture. Or if I go for the irony: Are a young egalitarian democracy, which still uses the language of earlier, absolutistic times. Irony or not: Some nations are going to be named after the family which rules them: Wintsor dia kpektsi (Windsoer-land) will the the UK and Sahud dia kpektsi (Saud-land) Saudi Arabia (which is named in this manner in German and English as well).


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