Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A proto-language project

A long time ago I was very enthused to become a part of a proto-language project, where a group of people get together and receive a common proto-language to derive their own daughter languages from it. The language was called Cramarian or proto-Cramarian and I worked quite happily making 5 different daughter languages for it, then it became inactive to my disappointment. Some time later it enjoyed a small revival and I decided I would use the experience of that year-long break to make some new daughters, I wanted to make 4 new ones, I ended up making almost a dozen of them (can't help myself...).

In any case, there were only two examples given to us, and for this second term working on the project I decided to turn them into kind of a proverb so to have a real reason to translate the fragmentary example sentences. The first sentence was in IPA

nau gseɯ-siː-ʔi-mɯ
cat finger-PL-CONS-ERG
The fingers of the cat...

So I took this sentence and in one of my languages called Wakensi, an African semi-Bantu type of daughter language, the sentence became a proverb

mimi nau siseiʼi waruusesin
The fingers (nails) of the cat will keep growing

I will not get into a detailed explanation of this sentence at this time, but let me just point out how the ergative became kind of a particle at the head of the sentence and the plural is actually marked twice, first by this head-particle and then by the noun itself. The meaning of this proverb in Wakensi is that you don't have to worry about some things, because even the bad things will pass in time. A very pacific proverb in a way. The second sentence in the proto-language was even more odd

On the mountains of...

This one evolved in two different proverbs in two of my cramlangs. In Wakensi it developed into

(mimi) lun kikinauʼi ken
On the mountains of the Moon

As there is no verb the particle is optional in this case. Note the usage of reduplication in the noun, the reduplication in this language has a couple of uses. I created the proverb to mean 'nowhere' or some 'utopic place non-existing' in this language, used in such situations as when someone says 'Gee, I would like to make a living being an artist', and being answered 'Yeah, right, on the mountains of the Moon maybe...' as in 'that's not going to happen ever'. On the other hand a somewhat related, but yet different, proverb emerged in my other cramlang called Teutla

tlagabatla kʼinoatʼu kʼen...
On the mountains of the Forefathers...

Here the ʼ doesn't stand for a glottal stop but marks an aspirated stop. Again the meaning is that of 'in the beginning of times' or 'in an utopic past', it can be used to denote 'when dinosaurs roamed the Earth' as well as 'when humans were mighty', and so it is used in Teutla, because they have the belief that in the beginning their ancestors came from caves and they were mighty, much more so than in modern times. Also they lived in a Golden Age, which ultimately came to be oftenly parodied in later literature, one such sentence was

tlagabatla kʼinoatʼu kʼen xok garanhan mot
On the mountains of the Forefathers there was no darkness

To show how utopian this kind of past was thought of, a past with no shade, no illness, no hunger or want, a past free from the perceived miseries of human life.

So I thought this was a good way to acknowledge the example sentences and at the same time giving them a place in the daughter languages, as if they were quite important in this culture, because... hey! They must have a reason, right? In any case I quite liked my attempts on Cramarian languages, and I am quite honored to have been able to be in a project alongside such fine conlangers as I have for the Cramarian project.


  1. I take it that mimi, though derived from -mï, does not actually mark ergativity, since it is used with waruusesin.

    1. Oh, totally. In fact if you had samples of questions and negative sentences you'd see how it changes. The reduplication is, as mentioned above, marking plurality.