Category Archives: Conlangs of Others

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 words ūüėČ . Maybe this will lead you to something good. Don’t forget to document speech in your conlang with recordings to retain these things.

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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?

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!”

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.

Conlangs and usability

Conlangs are not normally looked at in terms of usability, however, it needs to be considered when deciding how to reach the goals of a language. There are different stages of usability and their lack. On the lowest level are languages like Rikchik which cannot be used by humans at all. The ones, which are designed for alien mouths. Then, there are the languages, where the mouth can pronounce the sounds, but the brain protests very much if you want to learn it as L2. Ithkuil/Ilaksh belongs here. As does Fith. And as does the nounless language quuxlang, which I developped. A step further towards ease is a language which uses really odd grammatical structures or phonological features. Here, for the first time, the L1 of the wannabe-speaker is relevant. A speaker of German will struggle with anything tonal. And at least one speaker of British English was unable to hear a difference between /h/ and /x/ in rejistanian words. Also languages with natlang-grade amounts of exceptions fit here since they require a lot of rote memorization. Then there are the simplified languages, Esperanto, Ido, Volap√ľk, Rejistanian (which is a fictional auxlang)…

And then there are languages, which try to fall into this category but overdo it so much that they are actually quite challenging. Like Toki Pona. Yes, it has only 100ish words, but it needs to know so any terms which have to be memorized that it actually cannot be considered easy anymore.