Archive for November, 2007

A Common Conlanging Pitfall

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007
Don't have time for a long post today, so I thought I'd make a quick post about one of the common conlanging pitfalls I've experienced and hear others talking about a lot.

I've been guilty of as this as well: throwing in TOO MUCH. Putting in too many phonemes, morphemes, and basically throwing in everything INCLUDING the kitchen sink! I think this happens because all of us speak a very developed, rich language, whatever it is. We want our conlang to be as full and rich, but this will NOT happen overnight or even in a few years. THINK SIMPLE. ESPECIALLY if you are working on your first conlang.

Think about this for a few minutes. When are we most creative? When we have less to work with, because we have to be. Think of preparing a meal: you are in a huge kitchen with fully stocked cupboards and freezer. You can make ANYTHING. What do you make? You're paralyzed for a few moments as you consider the possibilities. Then maybe you start making something, but start looking through that cupboard at all the other ingredients in there. And that pantry over there. And all through the freezer, wondering just how many different meats and fish they have in there. BUT, what if you were in a small kitchen? What if you only had ten ingredients, but you only want to use five, so that you have something left over for another meal tomorrow? You work more quickly, and you get more creative. The end result may not be a masterpiece, but that doesn't mean that its worthless. Conlangs are, by their nature, works that are continually updated, tweaked, and polished.

Choose fewer building blocks and be more creative with them. Once you've done a conlang or two, even if you get thrown into the huge kitchen, you will know how to make a few things and you can make them again, and start experimenting with other ingredients, or more ingredients.

Make A Lang Card Game – Part One

Monday, November 26th, 2007
After the 2nd LCC, there were two large steps that helped my proto-language for Fauleethik fall into place. The first was I began working on a conlang card game. The Glossotechnia game made my mind race. What could make language experimentation more accessible to your friends and family than a card game? Heck, what could make it more accessible to ME? I knew I needed to wrap my head around linguistic concepts better in order to experiment more and get the results I wanted. Plus, I might get some friends and family involved in my secret vice. Plus, I had an additional idea: what if this could be an easier way to codify and explain your conlang to others? Instead of having to write out a lengthy description with phonology, morphology, syntax, grammer, etc., what if you could just give a code or list of card numbers or something and they can have an almost instant picture of what your conlang is? All these ideas really got me excited to work on this.

Now, a language is a fairly complex piece of work, and the amount and depth of data involved can be extensive. Even a large numbers of cards would probably fall short of being able to COMPLETELY describe and explain a deep and full conlang. But, the flavor/charisma/general characteristics should be able to be expressed, IMHO. This is the premise I started with.
































As for the game, here's the basic rules: at the beginning of each game, players are given a sentence (or maybe more than one, for a longer or harder game) to translate. Each turn, each player draws and plays some cards, makes a word from the current pool of phonemes, the goal being to come up with enough words and rules to be able to translate one's sentence; the first one who translates their sentence wins!

Cards played are adding phonemes, restricting the number or class of phonemes, merging phonemes, morphemes, coining inflections, restricting meanings or broadening meanings of words, and it goes on and on. There are cards that restrict your opponant's action on his next turn. Here's a sample of some phoneme cards so far. I'm not done but hope to have some time during the holiday season to finish all these cards up!

2nd Language Creation Conference Part Two

Sunday, November 25th, 2007
The second day started off with Jeff Burke. Now, Jeff Burke was supposed to talk at the 1st LCC, and I was really excited about his talk, but an accident befell him and he wasn't able to show! Jeff has done a lot of research on Native American languages, specifically Algonquian and Iroquoian, and has created his own conlang based on his favorite parts called Noyahtowa. He gave a talk about evolutions and changes of pronominal prefixes within some native American languages and why they were interesting for a conlanger. Good stuff!

Next was John Clifford, who spoke last year about aUi and Toki Pona; conlangs with a degree of popularity. John has a Masters in Lingusitics and a PhD in Philosophy abd has been a college professor, so he knows how to teach and he's pretty fun to talk to. This year he spoke about the problems of success with your conlang; success meaning more and more people discussing and speaking your language. The main problem he spoke of was losing control over your conlang, and how one might build-in some restrictions on a conlang so as to keep your control.

Sylvia Sotomayor spoke next about her conlang, Kelen, and her experiment with building a conlang that has no verbs! Sylvia is another linguist who studied at Berkeley and, if I remember right, her conlang was also a project for one of her classes. Pay attention, if you're still in school and reading this! Here's a link to the handout for her talk, and of course you can go here for the Powerpoint and audio.

Right before lunch we heard James Gang talk about Verbotomy, which wasn't so much conlanging, as inventing words and playing with language a bit. This was a lot of fun! And it does help you think about language in new ways, which is what conlanging does most of the time, too. As I am writing this I just added a Verbotomy widget to my blog and you can go to Verbotomy.com to see some more of this fun game.


After lunch on Sunday, our last talk of the day was Clint Hutchison, who spoke to us about, of all things, shorthand, and "Universal Semantic Markers." It was a great talk for thinking about orthography and having one character represent a connection or concept. For more on this, go to the LCC website, media page.

There was a panel next, on the conlang "relay" which had actually taken place prior to the LCC, in which conlangers basically played a game of "Telephone." This is a game, for anyone who has not heard of it, where everyone sits in a circle, and the first person whispers a phrase to the person to his left, and that person whispers it to the next person and so on until it comes back to the first person. Inevitably, someone mishears the whisper, and the phrase begins to change. The first person then reveals what the original phrase was, and what the final phrase was, and everyone has a good laugh. Well, in this case, the original phrase was translated into a conlang, and enough rules and vocabulary of the conlang are given/explained so that the person can translate it, and then they translate the phrase or story into their conlang and the process repeats. In the panel we went through the several conlangs involved in the relay, and how the story of "The Talking Rock" got changed subtly in each step. Each participant had to read the story in their conlang, as they translated it. It was informative, enlightening, and really funny. I hope to participate in next year's relay!

There was another workshop on vocabulary and another panel after this, about incorporating conlangs into your life, and spreading the good conlang word, which I hope I'm doing a bit of with this blog, but I had to leave. I did check them out later at the LCC website, though.

The second LCC was,IMO, even better than the first. Of course, it was easier to pack in more content and speakers when you have two days instead of one, but I really loved the mix of technical talks, fun activities (workshops, Glossotechnia, Verbotomy, the relay panel) and talks on and about individual conlangs.

One of the things I realized about my own conlang, after thinking about John Clifford's talk, was that I might want to REALLY simplify my proto-language. The other thing I did was I started making my own card game, so that I could wrap my head around linguistic principles better, and better see how a change in one part affects the rest. Both these ideas yielded rich results! I'll be posting more about this card game, Make A Lang, and the proto-language to Fauleethik I developed, very soon. Stay tuned!

2nd Language Creation Conference Part 1

Saturday, November 24th, 2007
The Second Language Creation Conference was coming and I was feeling pretty good about the progress of my language over the past year. I had a phonology, a rough morphology, and a few grammer rules, but it really wasn't very detailed at all. But my runic script and font, aha, now there was something people could actually look at! I actually submitted a page for the LCC program for my conlang (page 55), which at this point was called Fauleethik, which literally meant sound-tongue. The original name, Peetik, I had given up shortly after the 1st LCC. I had originally chosen Peetik because I loved how the runic Futhark alphabet was so named because F, U, Th, A, R, & K are the first six letters of that alphabet, and it just happened to make a cool sounding name. P, Ee, T, I, & K were supposed to be the first five letters of my conlang alphabet, but I realized I didn't like arranging my alphabet that way after all, and the name didn't sound right. "Fauleethik" fit the picture in my head so much better.


I'll summarize a bit of what I got out of each talk during the LCC2. First of all, I was thrilled that David Salo was going to be giving the key note address; Mr. Salo was the linguist that worked on the Lord of the Ring movies, and helped them to come up with lines in Elvish and Dwarvish. You can go to the LCC website to hear his entire talk. I knew it would be enlightening to hear a linguist talk to us about creating historical depth to our conlangs. He made a few illuminating points: using irregularities can make a conlang more beautiful and feel more realistic, and using bits of other languages is something Tolkien did, and something we can do to help us accomplish things in our conlangs (aha, remember my post on Knowing A Second Language?).

The next talk was about "phono-aesthetics." John Quijada is the MAN. I loved his talk the previous year, and I loved his talk this year. He really knows how to make linguistics fun and accessible, and he really knows his stuff. Last year he showed me his binder of Ithkuil material, Ithkuil being his first conlang which he designed for maximum efficiency (meaning maximum meaning from minimum syllables) and it was a freakin' tome; probably weighted at least five pounds! He's working on a new conlang now, related to Ithkuil but easier to pronounce, if I remember right, called Ilaksh. But to comment on his talk: he talked about the differences between languages, how they sound and feel. The most obvious example of this would be that Elvish sounds "pretty" and orcish sounds "ugly." French sounds very soft, Bulgarian sounds harsh, Italian sounds very vowely. He talked about the "personalities" of languages and how we can study other languages and give our conlangs personality by adopting pieces of other languages, or thinking up new ways of creating personalities. Once again, you can go to the LLC website and hear his entire talk. He also gave us a handout which was very good. I'll scan this and post a link to it next week.

Lila Sadkin was next with a report on a conlang she developed as a thesis project, called Tenata. This conlang does not use tenses or cases! Her talk was another delving into the mechanics of what makes language work, and how it could work differently. The end result was very verbose, lots of syllables, but the structure is fascinating. And I'll just plug her website, which is right here.

Next, was one of my FAVORITES. Jim Henry spoke about Glossotechnia, a language creation card game. This REALLY got me excited and catapulted my own creativity. I won't go into all the details and rules here, but if this concept excites you, you can read more on the LCC website, and at Jim Henry's page, here. Also, Jim's game inspired me to make one of my own, which I will be posting more about later!

After lunch, David Peterson spoke about the evolution of his conlang, Sidaan. Interesting, since I'm kind of doing the same thing with this blog. David has developed LOTS of conlangs over the years, but he admitted none of them were very deep. He also admitted having commitment issues (heh). This talk was much more technical, and he spoke about how Sidaan evolved as he wondered if a language could change naturally from a SOV (Subject Object Verb) syntax order, to a VSO syntax order. Fantastic stuff.

Next was Donald Boozer, talking about a conlang he is developing that has a very unique feature: there is NO voicing at all! No vowels, no voiced plosives, no b, v, d, g, etc. A lot of unvoiced fricatives and use of hand gestures. It is called Drushek and it was one of the first conlangs reviewed at an LCC that was supposed to be spoken by beings that are not human. The Dritok speak this language and they are kind of like kangaroos with more human-like mouths. Check out more on this conlang at the LCC website or Boozer's site. He also compiled a great handout called "The Conlanger's Bookshelf" which occupies pages 20 through 31 in the LCC2 program! It's another EXCELLENT resource.

Don Boozer's talk was the last of the day, and we were going a bit over schedule. There was still a workshop and a panel to be done. My wife had come with me on this first day and she was beginning to get a bit tired, so a little ways into the workshop I begged off and went home, but I got onto a team with David Salo and Jim Henry and we played around with ideas about vocabulary and sentence structure and that really tickled me.

There were a lot of linguist folk at the LCC, people who had studied and were in the field of linguistics, but there were also a lot of people like me, casual conlangers who just enjoy language and want to learn more about how it works. More on the 2nd day of the 2nd LCC in my next post (yeah, the second one lasted two days!), and the advancements I made in my conlang because of it.

Conlang blog

Friday, November 16th, 2007
Matt Haupt made a blog: http://makealang.blogspot.com/

I've syndicated it at [info]makealang; you can add it as a friend to watch it.