Archive for May, 2008

Second thoughts about the conative

Sunday, May 11th, 2008
So, yeah, thinking about it cross-linguistically, conative really isn't the term for what I'm talking about for the meaning of lu -- I think I'll have to go back to volitive. The conative would be focusing on the idea of the attempt, the effort, the trying; a useful semantic, but not what I'm going for here.

Tolkien’s Alphabets

Sunday, May 11th, 2008
I was working on my fonts for my conlang again and I starting thinking about alphabets in general, and I thought it would be fun to do a post on Tolkien's Middle Earth alphabets, Cirth and Tengwar.

First, let's take a look at Cirth, which was used to write Khuzdul, the dwarvish language, as well as Quenya and Sindarin, the elvish languages. It was based on the Norse & Anglo-Saxon Futhark runes. There's nothing very fancy about this alphabet, it functions much the same as our own; each glyph represent one character. But note that the different letters correspond to each other in certain ways: letters that are phonetically close to each other look similar.
















P and B, for example. B is pretty much the "voiced" form of P (voiced means that your vocal chords are engaged and vibrating). B looks just like P but its got that extra little stroke sticking out there, making it look like an R. Same thing for T and D, and K and G. And those are just the plosives; look at F and V, S and Z, and Sh and Zh. But it goes even further than this. Some consonants are combinations of sounds, especially ch and j (t and sh make ch and d and zh, the voiced versions of t and sh, make j), and you can see the relation between these letters too. Ch looks like a combination of T and Sh, and J looks like a voiced version of Ch, having an extra stroke. Another thing I like about the alphabet is that the vowels look different from the consonants; they have different angles or combinations of strokes. I don't understand why M and N are not similar, but I don't care that much. The alphabet works as a runic, archaic form of writing. By the way, the sample at the bottom of the picture says "Balin, son of Fundin, Lord of Moria."

A few more notes about how this alphabet relates to language: its written the same as English, written left to right, AND the phonetic values of the letters vary for different languages in Middle Earth, just as English does, to the frustration of many people struggling to learn and speak it! Also, although it is not shown this way in the sample, words are often separated with dots.

Now, moving on to Tengwar! The first thing that I love about Tengwar is that it has different "modes." Just as the phonetic values of Cirth vary for different languages, the same thing happens in Tengwar's different modes. But the biggest difference between the modes is how the vowels are written, and here's the kicker: the vowels are indicated with diacritic marks. Look here:
No, those marks above the letters aren't just to be flashy, those are the vowels! Now the difference between Quenya and Sindarin is where the vowels are written; in Quenya, the vowel coming BEFORE the consonant is marked above the consonant. In Sindarin, the vowel coming AFTER the consonant is marked above the consonant, and here's an example of that:

Here's the alphabet:

First off, let me say MUCH PRETTIER than Cirth, with all the swirls and curves. But again, notice how letters are related to each other phonetically: p, t, and k look very similar, and mb, nd, and ng (the Quenya equivalents of b, d, and g) look just like them with an extra mark showing that they're voiced. M and n look similar this time, and h and y look very different from the rest because they are sounds made in a different way from the others. Notice another interesting difference between Quenya and Sindarin (alphabet shown below):


Sindarin does not have as many of the funky consonant cluster letters that Quenya has; there's actual b, d, and g sounds, for instance.
The letter names are the same, they just have a different "phonetic value."

Take all this in, digest it, and start thinking about your conlang, and how you want it to look on a page, computer screen, carved in wood or stone, or whatever. It can be a good idea to have a proto-language or an archaic form of your language, to give it some history and make it feel more natural, since the language you speak certainly has history! If you're making up a con-culture or con-world, along with your conlang, different people might use different modes of the language, or write the letters differently, or assign different phonetic values to the letters. Maybe some people use diacritics, and another people use new letters to represent vowels. Let your imagination roam and don't be afraid to take inspiration from the great conlangers that have come before you. :)

Tolkien’s Alphabets

Sunday, May 11th, 2008
I was working on my fonts for my conlang again and I starting thinking about alphabets in general, and I thought it would be fun to do a post on Tolkien's Middle Earth alphabets, Cirth and Tengwar.

First, let's take a look at Cirth, which was used to write Khuzdul, the dwarvish language, as well as Quenya and Sindarin, the elvish languages. It was based on the Norse & Anglo-Saxon Futhark runes. There's nothing very fancy about this alphabet, it functions much the same as our own; each glyph represent one character. But note that the different letters correspond to each other in certain ways: letters that are phonetically close to each other look similar.
















P and B, for example. B is pretty much the "voiced" form of P (voiced means that your vocal chords are engaged and vibrating). B looks just like P but its got that extra little stroke sticking out there, making it look like an R. Same thing for T and D, and K and G. And those are just the plosives; look at F and V, S and Z, and Sh and Zh. But it goes even further than this. Some consonants are combinations of sounds, especially ch and j (t and sh make ch and d and zh, the voiced versions of t and sh, make j), and you can see the relation between these letters too. Ch looks like a combination of T and Sh, and J looks like a voiced version of Ch, having an extra stroke. Another thing I like about the alphabet is that the vowels look different from the consonants; they have different angles or combinations of strokes. I don't understand why M and N are not similar, but I don't care that much. The alphabet works as a runic, archaic form of writing. By the way, the sample at the bottom of the picture says "Balin, son of Fundin, Lord of Moria."

A few more notes about how this alphabet relates to language: its written the same as English, written left to right, AND the phonetic values of the letters vary for different languages in Middle Earth, just as English does, to the frustration of many people struggling to learn and speak it! Also, although it is not shown this way in the sample, words are often separated with dots.

Now, moving on to Tengwar! The first thing that I love about Tengwar is that it has different "modes." Just as the phonetic values of Cirth vary for different languages, the same thing happens in Tengwar's different modes. But the biggest difference between the modes is how the vowels are written, and here's the kicker: the vowels are indicated with diacritic marks. Look here:
No, those marks above the letters aren't just to be flashy, those are the vowels! Now the difference between Quenya and Sindarin is where the vowels are written; in Quenya, the vowel coming BEFORE the consonant is marked above the consonant. In Sindarin, the vowel coming AFTER the consonant is marked above the consonant, and here's an example of that:

Here's the alphabet:

First off, let me say MUCH PRETTIER than Cirth, with all the swirls and curves. But again, notice how letters are related to each other phonetically: p, t, and k look very similar, and mb, nd, and ng (the Quenya equivalents of b, d, and g) look just like them with an extra mark showing that they're voiced. M and n look similar this time, and h and y look very different from the rest because they are sounds made in a different way from the others. Notice another interesting difference between Quenya and Sindarin (alphabet shown below):


Sindarin does not have as many of the funky consonant cluster letters that Quenya has; there's actual b, d, and g sounds, for instance.
The letter names are the same, they just have a different "phonetic value."

Take all this in, digest it, and start thinking about your conlang, and how you want it to look on a page, computer screen, carved in wood or stone, or whatever. It can be a good idea to have a proto-language or an archaic form of your language, to give it some history and make it feel more natural, since the language you speak certainly has history! If you're making up a con-culture or con-world, along with your conlang, different people might use different modes of the language, or write the letters differently, or assign different phonetic values to the letters. Maybe some people use diacritics, and another people use new letters to represent vowels. Let your imagination roam and don't be afraid to take inspiration from the great conlangers that have come before you. :)

Vowels, Diphthongs, & Semi-Vowels

Sunday, May 11th, 2008
Today I wanted to talk about vowels. More specifically, how vowel sounds combine. Combining vowel sounds creates diphthongs; thats the basic definition of a diphthong. But, there is another category, and its used a lot in English. Its called a "semi-vowel" and it includes letters like r, w, and y. This took me a second to wrap my head around, because I'd always thought of w and r, and, to a lesser extent, y, as consonants. But think about it- a consonant is a sound we make by impeding the flow of air through our mouths (p, m, s, b, z, even h, a little), but you're not really putting your tongue anywhere when you make an r. You could argue that you use your lips to shape a "w" sound, but when you sound it out, its pretty obvious that w is pretty much an "oo" sound combined with whatever is before or after it (row, water, coward). So my amateur-linguist definition of a semi-vowel is: a diphthong or vowel sound that is used as a consonant. This way, the semi-vowel can technically break some of your phonology rules for vowel combination, and make the conlang feel more natural and real.

So the conlang question is, do you want to make special rules about how vowels combine or don't combine in your language? No vowel combinations? Or every syllable must have at least one consonant and vowel? I originally built Pitak to not have any diphthongs or semi-vowels, but then I was looking at Tolkien's Sindarin language and Toki Pona, and realized I'd really like to have at least one semi-vowel in there, so I added w. As far as what languages seem to have which, I'd say that more primitive languages seem to have less combined vowel sounds, and established, evolved languages seem to have more diphthongs or semi-vowels mixed in. And further, think about whether the vowel combinations denote certain cases. Diphthongs or semi-vowels could show that a word is past tense, a command, or plural. Cool stuff.

Vowels, Diphthongs, & Semi-Vowels

Sunday, May 11th, 2008
Today I wanted to talk about vowels. More specifically, how vowel sounds combine. Combining vowel sounds creates diphthongs; thats the basic definition of a diphthong. But, there is another category, and its used a lot in English. Its called a "semi-vowel" and it includes letters like r, w, and y. This took me a second to wrap my head around, because I'd always thought of w and r, and, to a lesser extent, y, as consonants. But think about it- a consonant is a sound we make by impeding the flow of air through our mouths (p, m, s, b, z, even h, a little), but you're not really putting your tongue anywhere when you make an r. You could argue that you use your lips to shape a "w" sound, but when you sound it out, its pretty obvious that w is pretty much an "oo" sound combined with whatever is before or after it (row, water, coward). So my amateur-linguist definition of a semi-vowel is: a diphthong or vowel sound that is used as a consonant. This way, the semi-vowel can technically break some of your phonology rules for vowel combination, and make the conlang feel more natural and real.

So the conlang question is, do you want to make special rules about how vowels combine or don't combine in your language? No vowel combinations? Or every syllable must have at least one consonant and vowel? I originally built Pitak to not have any diphthongs or semi-vowels, but then I was looking at Tolkien's Sindarin language and Toki Pona, and realized I'd really like to have at least one semi-vowel in there, so I added w. As far as what languages seem to have which, I'd say that more primitive languages seem to have less combined vowel sounds, and established, evolved languages seem to have more diphthongs or semi-vowels mixed in. And further, think about whether the vowel combinations denote certain cases. Diphthongs or semi-vowels could show that a word is past tense, a command, or plural. Cool stuff.

Vowels, Diphthongs, & Semi-Vowels

Sunday, May 11th, 2008
Today I wanted to talk about vowels. More specifically, how vowel sounds combine. Combining vowel sounds creates diphthongs; thats the basic definition of a diphthong. But, there is another category, and its used a lot in English. Its called a "semi-vowel" and it includes letters like r, w, and y. This took me a second to wrap my head around, because I'd always thought of w and r, and, to a lesser extent, y, as consonants. But think about it- a consonant is a sound we make by impeding the flow of air through our mouths (p, m, s, b, z, even h, a little), but you're not really putting your tongue anywhere when you make an r. You could argue that you use your lips to shape a "w" sound, but when you sound it out, its pretty obvious that w is pretty much an "oo" sound combined with whatever is before or after it (row, water, coward). So my amateur-linguist definition of a semi-vowel is: a diphthong or vowel sound that is used as a consonant. This way, the semi-vowel can technically break some of your phonology rules for vowel combination, and make the conlang feel more natural and real.

So the conlang question is, do you want to make special rules about how vowels combine or don't combine in your language? No vowel combinations? Or every syllable must have at least one consonant and vowel? I originally built Pitak to not have any diphthongs or semi-vowels, but then I was looking at Tolkien's Sindarin language and Toki Pona, and realized I'd really like to have at least one semi-vowel in there, so I added w. As far as what languages seem to have which, I'd say that more primitive languages seem to have less combined vowel sounds, and established, evolved languages seem to have more diphthongs or semi-vowels mixed in. And further, think about whether the vowel combinations denote certain cases. Diphthongs or semi-vowels could show that a word is past tense, a command, or plural. Cool stuff.

Vowels, Diphthongs, & Semi-Vowels

Sunday, May 11th, 2008
Today I wanted to talk about vowels. More specifically, how vowel sounds combine. Combining vowel sounds creates diphthongs; thats the basic definition of a diphthong. But, there is another category, and its used a lot in English. Its called a "semi-vowel" and it includes letters like r, w, and y. This took me a second to wrap my head around, because I'd always thought of w and r, and, to a lesser extent, y, as consonants. But think about it- a consonant is a sound we make by impeding the flow of air through our mouths (p, m, s, b, z, even h, a little), but you're not really putting your tongue anywhere when you make an r. You could argue that you use your lips to shape a "w" sound, but when you sound it out, its pretty obvious that w is pretty much an "oo" sound combined with whatever is before or after it (row, water, coward). So my amateur-linguist definition of a semi-vowel is: a diphthong or vowel sound that is used as a consonant. This way, the semi-vowel can technically break some of your phonology rules for vowel combination, and make the conlang feel more natural and real.

So the conlang question is, do you want to make special rules about how vowels combine or don't combine in your language? No vowel combinations? Or every syllable must have at least one consonant and vowel? I originally built Pitak to not have any diphthongs or semi-vowels, but then I was looking at Tolkien's Sindarin language and Toki Pona, and realized I'd really like to have at least one semi-vowel in there, so I added w. As far as what languages seem to have which, I'd say that more primitive languages seem to have less combined vowel sounds, and established, evolved languages seem to have more diphthongs or semi-vowels mixed in. And further, think about whether the vowel combinations denote certain cases. Diphthongs or semi-vowels could show that a word is past tense, a command, or plural. Cool stuff.

Vowels, Diphthongs, & Semi-Vowels

Sunday, May 11th, 2008
Today I wanted to talk about vowels. More specifically, how vowel sounds combine. Combining vowel sounds creates diphthongs; thats the basic definition of a diphthong. But, there is another category, and its used a lot in English. Its called a "semi-vowel" and it includes letters like r, w, and y. This took me a second to wrap my head around, because I'd always thought of w and r, and, to a lesser extent, y, as consonants. But think about it- a consonant is a sound we make by impeding the flow of air through our mouths (p, m, s, b, z, even h, a little), but you're not really putting your tongue anywhere when you make an r. You could argue that you use your lips to shape a "w" sound, but when you sound it out, its pretty obvious that w is pretty much an "oo" sound combined with whatever is before or after it (row, water, coward). So my amateur-linguist definition of a semi-vowel is: a diphthong or vowel sound that is used as a consonant. This way, the semi-vowel can technically break some of your phonology rules for vowel combination, and make the conlang feel more natural and real.

So the conlang question is, do you want to make special rules about how vowels combine or don't combine in your language? No vowel combinations? Or every syllable must have at least one consonant and vowel? I originally built Pitak to not have any diphthongs or semi-vowels, but then I was looking at Tolkien's Sindarin language and Toki Pona, and realized I'd really like to have at least one semi-vowel in there, so I added w. As far as what languages seem to have which, I'd say that more primitive languages seem to have less combined vowel sounds, and established, evolved languages seem to have more diphthongs or semi-vowels mixed in. And further, think about whether the vowel combinations denote certain cases. Diphthongs or semi-vowels could show that a word is past tense, a command, or plural. Cool stuff.

A new modal particle

Friday, May 9th, 2008
Ladies and gentlemen, meet lu, our new volitive/desiderative particle. Since halu = "want," I think the sound works rather well.

Lu will be helping us by translating some of the English future tense semantics, specifically when the notion of futurity involves intention or desire. According to current plans, there will be another particle (form TBD) used in making predictions and the like. Par example:

ni lu polo o ka talo la ka noni
1SG=VOL=run ABL=DEF=house ALL=DEF=mountain
"I'll run from the house to the mountain"
"I think I'll run from the house to the mountain"
"I'm planning to run from the house to the mountain"

There is a certain amount of semantic overlap with halu and a full complement clause, as in

ni halu ko polo o ka talo la ka noni
1SG=want COMP=run ABL=DEF=house ALL=DEF=mountain
"I want to run from the house to the mountain"

I guess the question is whether the focus is on the action and the futurity thereof, or on the wanting itself. Note that English blurs the lines as well sometimes -- the sentence "today I wanna run from the house to the mountain" could encode an expression of desire, but I feel like more often it would be showing intent for the future.

By the way, note that the following sentence would not mean "everyone will learn Koa" in the way we'd usually expect to interpret that phrase, but something more like "everyone's planning to learn Koa," "everyone's thinking about learning Koa," etc.:

poka i lu opi le Koa
everyone 3=VOL=learn NAME=Koa

A question for you linguists: is there a better term than volitive or desiderative for this mode? I want to highlight the intentionality more than the desire, but intentative...AHA! Conative, that's it, from cōnārī "to try". The ol' Latin's getting a bit rusty. The above interlinear, then, should read

everyone 3=CON=learn NAME=Koa

And now, how about all those other modes I need particles for?

Some Translations of Pitak

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008
I just got a nice comment from another conlanging blogger that has nudged me back into action! I was just working on translating random phrases I thought of or saw around the house this past weekend so I thought it would be fun to post some translations and explain more about how Pitak works (for now, at least).
I'm doing it in the same format Arne Duering posts to her blogs (check out his blogs for some interesting conlangs!), because I think its more interesting than posting sentences and then translated sentences, and helps you understand the mechanics of a conlang better. It can also help you make devastatingly accurate and, hopefully, helpful, criticism, so be kind. ;)

A pasu fe wiki so napaku sa
A= the
pasu= past (descriptive case)
fe= two (or few)
wiki= weeks (plural case)
so= were (is; past tense case)
na-= most
paku= packed (descriptive case)
sa= being (is; present tense case)
The past few weeks have been completely packed.

Mi waf i li tasu muvo, en papu pol lafa lu fano, i tok mu lis lu fana la sipuku so
Mi waf i li= my wife and I
tasu muvo= recently (descriptive case) moved (past tense case)
en papu pol= a boy (descriptive case) baby
lafa= were having (have, current tense case)
lu fano= we found/discovered (past tense case)
i tok= and then
mu lis= our home
lu fana= we were finding (present tense case)
la si-= it in/into (prefix)
puku= broken (descriptive case)
so= was (is; past tense)
My wife and I just moved, found out we were having a baby boy, and then found out our house had been broken into!

No lu sikimosonu so ke lu nekewo
No= but
lu= we
si-= in (prefix)
ki-= high up (prefix)
mosonu= emotional (descriptive case)
so= were (past tense case)
ke= that
ne-= no/not, negating prefix
kewo= care (past tense case)
But we were on such an emotional high that we didn't care.

I highly recommend this exercise to any and all conlangers; it can really help you to figure out how your conlang works (or how you think it works), and you can change things or add things in your conlang, once you better understand it.
It can also help you figure out how it might sound, as you sound out sentences. I thought I had a nice phonology at one point with Fauleethik, then I started sounding out sentences and I didn't like it very much at all. Doing this excercise will help you figure things out much more quickly than overthinking the parts of your conlang.
If you haven't put together a lexicon/dictionary of a bunch of words WHO CARES. If you've worked on your phonology or phonotactics, you know what a word should look like, more or less, and you can just make words up until you come up with the "real words" for your fake language. ;) Here's a secret, if you didn't already figure this out from looking at the translated words above: almost every word I wrote is merely the English word changed into sounds that are pronouncable in Pitak and then conjugated appropriately.