Sunday, December 1, 2019

blairjay asked: So, I'm starting to conlang...

blairjay asked:
So, I'm starting to conlang. Do you feel that making a conlang before a world/culture might be better, so you can base place names and such in the conlang?

A good question. I always feel like a conlang and its culture are so intrinsically related that I don’t think you can do one with no thought for the other.
In fact the very choices you make on your conlang will inform you of the culture. E.g.: why is the word for “to grow” related to “tree”? Why “ten” is related to “hand”? Etc. It’s always good to think of this little bits of culture when developing your conlang and viceversa.
Consider names: if you have many names with the word for “duck”, then what is its significance in the culture of those speakers? What’s taboo? What’s not? All those questions spring from the creation of the language itself.
So, I would advice to have both in mind, you can start with one or the other of course, but ultimately they will show some relationship.
I hope I have answered your question and thanks for asking! Keep them coming! 😃

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Friday, November 29, 2019

shahryarsstories asked: Hey, I'm starting a conlang for a book I'm writing, any advice on where to start?

shahryarsstories asked:
Hey, I'm starting a conlang for a book I'm writing, any advice on where to start? I already have a lot of words and sayings but I doubt there's any shred of consistency because I was having fun just making up words. I'd love to know if I should start over or if I should just go with it and make a grammar system to make the words and sayings make sense grammatically 😂

Well, that’s really good! Nothing better than the thrill of creating new words. Okay, if you are looking for consistency that’s easy enough. You already have a certain corpus (words, phrases, names, etc); the thing now is to see whether some patterns emerge, whether the words kind of look like coming from the same place.
For instance: even if you are not very linguistically inclined you will note that Erik and Amadeo come from two very different languages. The idea is that all your words look either “Erik” or “Amadeo” but that they follow a pattern. The pattern doesn’t have to be those two, I’m just giving an example there. This is called your phonotactics, and it’s the make-up of the conlang. So, how are your words? Do they tend to end mostly on vowel or consonant? If consonant, which ones? Always the same or pretty much any of them. This will all inform you of how your conlang will look like.
When you move onto the grammar you will be able to make small words based on this pattern not to disrupt the general “feel” of the language. Or maybe you discover you have two very different (even if related) languages! That’s even more fun!
Play with it, have fun, and remember you can ask me anything! 😊 thanks for this ask! Hope to have helped you!

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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

5929ms asked: I have a question about conlanging...

5929ms asked:
I have a question about conlanging... It's not a technical one, but I have been wanting to start a project. The problem here is that I already have one, it's quite big, and I can't stop looking back at it or trying to adjust anything new to it. Do you have any tips how to draft without thinking how much it's "similar" to what you've already done?

Yay! You are my first ask! So congrats!! 🎊🍾🎉
This is an interesting question that often happens to conlangers. Some find it really hard not to keep reelaborating a previous project. 
To me the best you can do is go in a whole different direction, such a different direction you won’t be able to go back to the other one. So, for instance, if in project A you were working on a standard European language, why not try a Mayan-inspired language this time?
I find it easier the more different the two are. Or for instance, if you’ve done a priori, why not try a posteriori? That could be a way to start. You could also try thinking of a very different cultural background and start building from there.
Thanks for you ask and cheers on being number 1! 😃

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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" or;

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.

blairjay asked: So, I'm starting to conlang...

blairjay asked: So, I'm starting to conlang. Do you feel that making a conlang before a world/culture might be better, so you can base ...