Tag Archives: conlang

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.

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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).

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.

Hello world

This is a blog about language, constructing of language and my own conlangs. I will post here whenever I feel I have a good reason to do so, not daily like on the Rejistanian Word of the Day. I am going to write about experiments, experiences, Kenshuite He Mo Gie, Tsali, quuxlang and all the other stuff. Even some rejistanian might sneak its way in. ūüôā