Tag Archives: vocabulary

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 :þ


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.