Friday, September 20, 2013

Dārys Se Jaes

The King and the God

The King and the God is a short parable created by historical linguists in the 1990s in reconstructed Proto-Indo-European, in a fashion similar to Schleicher's famous fable: The Sheep and the Horses. This new one in particular is loosely based on a passage from the Rigveda, involving a king and the god Varuna. I thought this was such a good candidate to be translated into High Valyrian the language created by David J. Peterson for the HBO Game of Thrones series. It's short, it's concise, the sentences are simple and plain, plus I was excited to notice our current High Valyrian lexicon had almost all the entries to translate the parable.

So I decided to try my hand at it. This is the first final draft of the parable translated into High Valyrian with the invaluable help of my good friend and Editor, Mad Latinist, also responsible for this great blog with his insights and analyses on High Valyrian and Astapori Valyrian. Thanks!

Dārys Se Jaes

Dārys istas.[1][2] Riñosa mijetas.[2] Dārys trēsi jaeliles. "Trēsi yne tepō!"[3][4], zȳhot voktot jeptas.[5] "Rullori jaes rijībās"[6], voktys dārī ivestratas.[7] Dārys va Rullorī istas sesīr jaes rijīptas.[8] "Yne rȳbagās, Āeksios Rulloris!"[9], jaes Rullor hen perzȳ māstas.[10] "Skorion[11] jaelā?". "Trēsi jaelan". "Kesir[12] iksos[4]", jaes Rullor perzo vestras.[13] Dāria dārot trēsi teptas.

English translation of the High Valyrian:

The King and the God

There was a king. He had no child. The king wanted a son. He said to his priest: "Give me a son!". The priest said to the king: "Worship god R'hllor". The king went towards R'hllor and now worshiped the god: "Hear me, Lord R'hllor!", the god R'hllor came from the fire. "What do you want?". "I want a son". The god R'hllor of fire said: "May this be". The queen gave the king a son.

There are some differences to accommodate to the available vocabulary and the change from Varuna/Werunos to R'hllor, the only name of a god given so far. I guess it could also work as an example of the conversion to the R'hllorian cult. I can't resist pointing out that Stannis Baratheon also desires a son in the series. This has been a lot of fun and a good practice for the language which looks really cool, I hope the grammar is correct.

For more information about the fable and to hear an audio file of Andrew Byrd reciting it check: The King and the God parable.


[1] We have no word for "once" or the construction "there was", not to mention that there could even be a special construction for "there was once..." as in story-telling.
[2] Probably the verb should be in the Imperfect Active, but we don't know the forms for many verbs.
[3] There original has here: "May a son be born to me!", but we have no word for "to be born".
[4] I assumed the subjunctive can here be used as a jussive construction of the type "May-it-be".
[5] Is this the correct usage of the verb? How about the cases?
[6] We don't have a word for "pray" so I had to use the next best thing: worship, a well-attested verb. Is this the correct imperative?
[7] Again, is this the correct usage of the verb? Are the cases correctly used?
[8] Is this the correct form of the Perfect Active?
[9] Replaced "Father Werunos" with "Lord R'hllor" as we have no word for "father" and this seems more appropriate when talking of R'hllor.
[10] We have no word for "heaven", also it seems more likely that the God of Light, R'hllor, should appear from a fire, maybe one used to communicate with him as seen in the series.
[11] Is this the correct form and usage of "skorion" for "what"? We have at least two sentences attested using a form of the root skor-, "Skorion massitas?" 'What happened?', and also "Skoros otāpā?" 'What do you think?'. Although we have some theories about the difference in these two it is still uncertain what each one actually represents, as the sentences seem to share the same structure and role of "what".
[12] Is this the correct term for "this" used as a pronoun "May THIS be done"?
[13] Replaced "bright god" with "god R'hllor of fire", taking "of fire" as a kind of attribute similar to "jelmazmo".

Friday, October 12, 2012

To Morpheme Or Not To Morpheme?

Today I've listened to a great episode of Conlangery (, the podcast about conlangs for conlangers by conlangers. The show, incredible as ever, made me think a lot about the idea of morphemes (and what's better than a show that also makes you think?). The whole deal about morphemes started out as a note in passing at the end of episode #68 (also recommended) with no other comment than David hating them as a linguistic tool. The ideas where hugely developed in this last episode, for which I'm very grateful.

I think it is true that many think of languages and words as a string of morphemes, while this notion is being challenged lately, it did have a very strong hold upon many linguists' minds. If you think about it, the further back you go, the more people relied on morphemes. A good example could be some old English dictionaries with etymology such as the one I have. Another example would be Esperanto itself, where this is a huge problem: morphemes are everything. This is one of the biggest downsides for me. Think about the "suffixes" which can equally be treated as whole words or units of meaning, it seems Zamenhof really believed in the theory of morphemes. You have for example:

malamiko "enemy" (mal- + amiko).

Note the prefix mal- which marks the opposite of something, the antonym if you will. It can be used as a word in itself, remember that it is considered still a prefix;

malo "opposite".

Other examples include:

junulo "youngster, young person" (juno + ulo, or more "natively" jun'ul'o)
ulo "person"
vortaro "a group of words, dictionary" (vorto + aro, or vort'ar'o, with suffix 'ar' meaning "a group of, a collection of")
aro "a group".

This is done in Esperanto intensively. In the same line I find in one of my dictionaries analyzing words things like a noun-forming suffix for proto-Aryan (sic) -ti, and thus giving English tru-th, divided into the morpheme of "true" and the morpheme of "noun", and other examples are presented in Latin do-ti, dowry, men-ti, mind, mor-ti, death.

The Atlantean Affair

I still remember it being mentioned that in the script the "Latin" phrase used by the protagonist (Milo Thatch) was written and analyzed as:

Dic-es lingu-as Rom-ae (sic)

To mean "you speak the language of Rome?" Jokes about how incorrect the phrasing is aside, it is plain that they mark the "morphemes" to relate them to the morphemes of Atlantean, as exemplified in the same text:

Kag wegen-os prid-uses es-e-nen.

Which is, by the way, reworked into "Latin":

It-a, su-m ami-ce via-tor. (sic)

In this last one you can even detect a very big mistake. The idea was to translate "Yes, I am a friendly traveler", but the problem is that in that sentence "friendly" is an adjective, it modifies "traveler", it looks like an adverb, but it isn't. So it actually says, "Yes, I'm a traveler in a friendly way", I don't know, maybe he means he never mistreats his back-pack. 

So, as you can see, so dependent were they on morphemes that they thought they could just replace the -ly morpheme for adverbs (which in English can also be used in adjectives) with the Latin morpheme -e for adverbs. And therein also rests my idea about why morphemes are not the refined tool we are lead to believe and why David Peterson is totally right, here we see that the "adverb morpheme" in fact does not act as an "adverb morpheme" but as an "adjective morpheme". There's no 1 to 1 morpheme to meaning, there's no 1 to 1 perfectly determined category for each morpheme, and even when you can work them into morphemes they will back-slap you right to your face...

Morphemes, they never fail to disappoint. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

How Wide Should Your Suffixes Be?

Few doubt that suffixes or prefixes, affixes in general, are a useful tool in a conlanger toolbox, but how precise should they be? In this respect I tend to think: the broader the meaning the better. To me it's actually a lot of fun to be able to have an arrange of suffixes with broad meanings and play around with the possibilities that can be unlocked with them.

One example I am specially fond of is Esperanto's -aro and -ujo suffixes. The first one roughly means "a group, heap, collection, set, herd" and is mainly used of groups of things that form a sort of collection, such as words in a dictionary, or the human-kind in general, while the other has an approximate meaning of "jug, box, container, vessel" and it's used mainly to mean countries (containing people), or more even interestingly trees from their natural fruits. So, for example, you have vortaro to mean "dictionary, a collection of all the words", homaro "humanity as a whole", and on the other side you have Hispanujo "Spain, the country", and pomujo "an apple-tree". This brings many possibilities worth exploring. You could talk of your library as either libraro or even librujo, but they would have subtle differences.

In the case of libraro it means the collection of books that constitutes your library, i.e. your books as a whole. The second case implies the container wherein those books are set, i.e. your shelves as a whole, the whole furniture. Therefore you would have a knowledge of your libraro, but you would want to move your librujo around your bedroom. This is interesting because with only one little suffix you get two different words connected while, at the same time, subtly different in their sense.

In my languages I have tried to keep this in mind and use it, specially in Unnai. In that language I have some suffixes that have very open and broad meanings that depending on the noun or adjective they are attached shift and mean new things. There are, of course, other interesting suffixes in Esperanto, one I particular like is -ingo, a suffix Esperanto uses too mundanely and logically but that I think used in other languages or conlangs has many possibilities. It basically means "an object in which the noun to which it's attached is introduced". Let's see a practical example: fingro "finger", gives fingringo "thimble". As for ideas for conlangs one could stretch it a lot more, it could just mean "something in which other something is introduced", you could have soul + this suffix meaning "body", a poetic version, of course, or how about feelings + suffix meaning "heart"? Well as you see it has a vast number of possible ways to go.

So, to sum up, keep your suffixes open and wide you never know when you could need a stretch in meaning.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Mayan Interference

I remember having read once that an early Mayan language investigator was surprised to realize that this language was actually about 90% greek in essence of words, grammar, etc. I really don't know how this came to happen, but the idea caught on really fast. It is something that would have been pretty spooky had it been real, of course, but actually it's a very weird notion. In fact, I even found some people claiming a mayan etymology for the word 'philosophy', φιλοσοφία.

PIL, to open one's eyes, be attentive, to contemplate. O, an intensifier particle. SOU, to shuffle, to untangle. IA, a hard or difficult thing.

So, voilà, we have that, according to this "faketymology" φιλοσοφία means something like 'to untangle something difficult in order to assert it strongly by contemplating it' (sic). What a wonderful fantasy has been concocted.

Back to the Real World

Not only should we forget that a Grimm's Law should occur to make pil into phil, but also we are lacking a ph in 'pil-o-sou-ia'. Not only that, but the intensifier is given a whole morphosemantic concept as "to assert strongly"! No, this is not how an intensifier particle works, and even if we were to blindly accept all this... SOU doesn't mean 'untangle' but 'to tangle, to tie a knot' just the opposite. All in all, a complete mess of a fantasy.

And this is even disregarding the fact that in greek 'philos' is a word and 'phil' is not. Also note that Mayan never used this word, and is not a valid word in any Mayan dictionary, also I think it breaks several Mayan rules.

But how? How can a language so dissimilar as Mayan be equated to Greek? This is actually a very interesting question, is it a misreading of Mayan dictionaries and Greek ones? Or is it a purposefully evil attempt at creating fake etymologies and fantasies to sicken real linguists and discredit Mayan studies?

When this doesn't work some equate it to other languages. I've read Mayan is a 70% Mesopotamian (sic), which makes no sense, since there were more than one language in use in the Mesopotamia at any time. Even that it is 70% Aramaic, which really startles me since Mayan prefers bi-consonantal roots and Semitic languages favor tri-consonantal ones, even when, by way of suffixes, Mayan can seem to have tri-consonantal roots, like for example hanal, akbal, both use the suffix -(V)l, but roots are han and kab respectively.

The most incredible? Someone wrote Yucatec Mayans and Japanese people can speak "fluently with no need of an interpreter". Really? Let's put this statement to the test, shall we? Let's write some common phrases in both languages to see how much they can understand each other;

Japanese: あなたの名前は何?
Anata no namae wa nani? Your name is what?

Mayan (Yucatec): Bix a kaaba’ ?
What your name?

Hum... I really don't think they would understand what the hell they are talking about. Certainly I wouldn't recommend you to speak Mayan to a Japanese. Let's see the answers to this, maybe they can glean the meaning from the similarity of the words for that;

Japanese: 私の名前はアレクス
Watashi no namae wa Alex. My name is Alex

Mayan (Yucatec): In kaabae Alex.
My name (is) Alex.

Hum... again, I don't think they would understand a word. Specially not if one speaks of "namae" and the other of "k'aaba'/k'aaba'e", or, for that case, "watashi" vs. "in", or "anata" vs. "a". So we can say for sure that this is not the case, then how come so many people on the Internet go by this theory? We sure love a good conspiracy or secret knowledge story no matter how wild it is.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Querétaro Incongruence

The International Day of the Spanish Language was celebrated last June 19th in Madrid, in the Cervantes Institute who promoted it. The celebration gathered more than 500 millions of Spanish-speakers worldwide in each of the institution's headquarters all around the world. The curious thing is that a poll organized by the Cervantes Institute on the Internet showed the word that was voted "the most beautiful of the Spanish language", and this word, as it turns out, is Querétaro.

Aside from it being a name of a state in Mexico, and aside the fantastically crafted meaning given ("island of the blue salamanders"), something caught my attention. The fact is that this word in particular is, obviously not even a Spanish word. It is the name of a state in a Spanish-speaking country, but it is not a Spanish word per se. You cannot speak about a "querétaro". The word is also of unknown or, at least, dubious etymology, but most probably a Purepecha name meaning, some claim, "place with crags" and this is the most probable, considering the topology of the place.

My point is, this is hardly a valid word for the vote. It is not more of a Spanish word as Oklahoma or Wyoming are English words, and I don't expect these wining the award in this language. Even names of spanish cities as Zaragoza or León have more claim to be regarded as a "Spanish word" than Querétaro or, by the same logic, Mexico or Nicaragua. At any rate it is a Purepecha name taken and adapted into the Spanish language, being the probable original name; K'erendarhu.

A very interesting flaw in judgement by the Institutions of the Spanish language.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Selk'nam concordances

A very nice, interesting language the Selk'nam, it also belongs to another indigenous people of Argentina who dwelled in the southernmost tip of the American continent. They have also been called Ona and they were part of the Chon linguistic and ethnic family.

Their language is intriguing in that it has a great number of words with very complex consonant clusters, for example; a word ʂq'òːht'èː means 'to gather', notice the retroflex with the ejective occlusive, also in the word haʔmqn which means 'coast'.

Most important about this language is the grammar, which includes a system of evidentials, namely, a dubitative, a surprisive, and a certitive. This, along with the pronominal prefixes can create quite a mouthful. The language does not take any markings for gender, but the certitive ending varies according to gender or neutrality, for example;
jah t-ahjqe-nn, I see (him), masc.

1st 3rd-to.see-CERT.masc.

jah t-ahjqe-èn, I see (her), fem.

1st 3rd-to.see-CERT.fem.

jah h-ahjq-n, I see it, neut.

1st 3rd-to.see-CERT.neut. 
In fact the same endings are also applied to the tense particles, so if we have xenn 'to come', and nèj 'present particle'.
xe-nn nèj-j čonn, the man comes. 
to.come-CERT.masc. PRS-CERT.masc. man 
But this last mark in the tense particle is not added when the pronoun is left last.
xe-nn nèj jah, I come (male). 
to.come-CERT.m PRS 1st
This suffixes can also be appended to the negative particle and other tense particles as well. Another interesting aspect of the language is the different lemmatas used in word-formation. I will discuss other interesting features of Selk'nam verbs and morphology in new posts.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Toba particles

Reading a linguistics magazine of the Argentinian Linguistics Society (RASAL in Spanish) I came across a paper by Cristina Messineo about some very interesting features about the language of the Toba people which I would like to share.

The Toba are an indigenous people in Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay in what is known as the Gran Chaco region. In Argentina they live mainly in the provinces of Chaco (not to confuse with the region), Formosa and Santa Fe.

Their language uses a set of particles to denote presence as well as to denote motion or act as classifiers. Most common particles are: da 'extended vertically classifier', ñi 'non-extended tridimensional classifier', yi 'extended horizontally classifier', na 'in motion, proximity', so 'in motion, distant', ca 'imperceptible, absent classifier'. How do we use these particles? An example would be,

qaica ca pan
EXneg CL:aus bread
'There is no bread.'

The first word literally means 'there isn't, doesn't exist' and it is followed by the absence classifier ca. Not only one must negate the verb but also the classifier must agree. On the other hand, we have the positive of this sentence,

huo'o na pan
EX CL:prox bread
'There is bread.'

Here we see the existential verb followed by the proximity classifier, indicating that the bread is there nearby. The classifiers, as seen above, can also indicate the shape of the object or if it either in repose or moving, I find this a very interesting feature of the language. But what would happen if you wanted to ask, unknowingly, if there is bread or not,

huo'o ca pan  ?
EX CL:aus bread
'Is there bread?'

The bread here has no apparent existence to the speaker and therefore the absence classifier is used, note that the existential verb is positive. To this question we might answer qaica ('there is not') if the answer is negative. The absence classifier can even be used with the verb to convey the sense of an irrealis mood, a supposed situation or a theoretical event in the future, as illustrated in the phrase,

cha'aye huo'o ca na'aq
conj. EX CL:aus day
'Because there will be a day...'

This is a very interesting construction that may help stimulate new ideas for language creation.