Archive for October, 2012

sugar is zokre

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012
zokre = sugar (noun) (some things Google found for "zokre": an uncommon term; name of a Mexican professional wrestler who is half of the Los Luchas tag team; user names; name of a couple of World of Warcraft characters; a rare first name)

Word derivation for "sugar":
Basque = azukre, Finnish = sokeri
Miresua = zokre

This is a word inspired by Halloween candy.

Review and Analysis: The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012
       I began my Amazon and Goodreads reviews of this book by stating: “This is what science fiction ought to be," and I concluded the reviews with the statements: "Strongly recommended for the thoughtful reader, including readers of mainstream and literary fiction. Not recommended for fans of hard SF or space opera.”  I read one negative review by someone who had to be one of the latter.  The spiritual quest that forms the central theme of the book obviously left this person cold, and certain scientific facts such as a possibly flawed portrayal of the red star called Alpha Centauri C or Proxima (Centauri) drove this reviewer to express great scorn.  This person obviously is somewhat lacking in the ability to see beyond mundane SF and to suspend disbelief!
I could write a thesis about this book, but I'll restrict the present discussion to two aspects, beginning with the technique.
The plot is really quite simple: The SETI project picks up beautiful godlike music from the Alpha Centauri system and the Jesuit order mounts an expedition to find the planet at the urging of Fr. Emilio Sandoz.  The group of close friends who form the mission crew arrive at Rakhat and make first contact with the Runa, learning later that the planet harbors a second ILF called the Jana’ata.  They remain woefully clueless about the culture and the relationship between the two species until it’s too late. 
The POV does not conform to the rule of consistency (it changes from one character to another under the overall umbrella of an omnipotent narrator) and yet the action moves forward with a seamless relentlessness in a subtle give-and-take between past and present.  I can imagine the author outlining the plot and then manipulating the alternate sections in order to produce the wonderful suspense.  The odd thing is, you know from the beginning that the mission ended badly; you're introduced immediately to the appalling aftermath.  And yet you don't know why the project ended in this way; you learn first in little morsels, bits of the future, dropped at intervals into the plot.  I found it impossible to predict what was going to happen next.  I correctly anticipated only one thing, something I think I can say without playing the spoiler: I assumed all along that there would be another expedition to Rakhat and that it would form the subject matter of the second volume, The Children of God.  And I believe I was correct in that.
As a conlanger, I have to make a quick remark about the use of language in the first contact.  Emilio Sandoz is a skilled linguist, responsible for communicating with the extraterrestrials.  I don’t know how much work the author did on the two alien languages, but we have at least naming languages here, and a few rules of word formation are stated.  If I ever read the book again, I’ll make a list of the words.  But likely somebody else in the conlanging community has already done that.
 
The book is much more than its technique, of course.  I’m not going to touch on the subtleties of characterization here, even though that’s what the book is about.  Instead, I’m going to talk about the theme by comparing the book to my own writings.  That may seem a bit audacious, because, while I think I’m a good writer, I definitely lack Mary Doria Russell’s intense ability to focus.  However, two people whose opinions I respect have commented that my books reminded them of The Sparrow, and that’s what impelled me to read it.
And we do write on similar themes.  I've written three first-contact stories.  In the novella "Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder" (which is quite focused, actually) the first contact with a very bizarre species has an outcome every bit as disastrous as in The Sparrow.  Both books present a flawed contact between two cultures that are incompatible, although in my book it's the humans and not the ILFs who precipitate the tragedy.  In The Sparrow an innocent human cultural practice disrupts the status quo of the alien culture (I won't spoil it by saying what it is), while in my book it is a human psychological breakdown that does the harm.
My two-volume novel The Termite Queen deals with a first contact between Earthers and the intelligent termite species called the Shshi. However, neither TQ nor “Monster” deals with THE first contact, the very first time humans encountered aliens.  That event happened in the 28th century, when Earthers met Prf. A'a'ma's bird people, and it forms the topic of my big old floppy WIP The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars.  Since then Earth has formed amicable relationships not only with the Krisí’i’aidá but with the Te Quornaz and the Pozú, and they know of the existence of many other intelligent lifeforms.  Meeting the termite people is unique only in the difficulty of communication. 
Both TQ and The Sparrow have anthropologists and linguists for main characters, a circumstance that would not be unusual for any first contact situation.  However, I had the feeling all the way through The Sparrow that this crew was fragile, undertrained, and clueless about what they were getting into.  When you assume God is underpinning your mission – that a sort of divine fate is at work and God will keep his eye on you and protect you as he does the sparrow – you're very likely to get into trouble.  The Termite Queen crew is not like that.  Earthers have had too much experience with aliens.  Space travel is ubiquitous, a joint undertaking by several alien species, organized on a regional galactic scale.  Both the crews and the scientists have wide experience with off-world missions.  Of course, that doesn't keep them from making mistakes, but it does make them well qualified to take on a first-contact project.
The Sparrowwas published in 1996, so the year 2019, when the book starts, was 23 years in the future.  That can seem like a long time, but that date is now only seven years off and obviously we aren’t going to be mining asteroids and using them for space travel by that date.  This is why I place my stories in a time way beyond any possibility that a person of today might still be alive to know what actually developed, and I leave the period between the present and at least a hundred years off purposely vague.  The only thing I mention happening in the 21st century is a cycle of disastrous religious wars, and the way things are going on Earth, that certainly is within the realm of possibility.
But Russell isn't out to write future history as I am, so the connection between the present moment and what happens when we get where we are going is less important than the events themselves. Her purpose is to explore the relationship between God and human beings – does God exist?  Does he interact with his creation?  Should we hold God responsible for the evils that happen in our world or on other worlds?
Now, while some of these questions come up in The Termite Queen, answering them is not my purpose.  In my future, society has developed a humanist culture and those questions are already answered.  God has moved into the realm of myth, from which you can draw wisdom but which gives you no absolutes because the nature of god or even whether a god exists can’t be known (Mythmaker Precept No. l).  People might study god(s) and beliefs academically but ordained clerics and  religious institutions no longer exist, and people generally don't concern themselves the role of gods in their lives.
     That being said, the end of both books has spiritual implications and is strangely similar: the achievement of at least partial redemption.  The whole final section of The Termite Queen is called “Absolution.”  In The Sparrow Sandoz gains forgiveness and absolution through speaking and through words – Absolvo te, says Father Candotti in the traditional language of Catholic confession.  Griffen Gwidian gains forgiveness through personal atonement, although words would have been enough had circumstances been different.  Kaitrin’s absolution comes from a symbolic release of guilt – the “dark bird” that flies away and settles on a scapegoat. 
The strange thing about The Sparrow is that even among these Jesuits, these most Christian of men, nothing is said about the central doctrine of Christ’s vicarious atonement for the sins of humanity.  The emphasis is on God the Father, not God the Son.  My humanist book ends with a resolution that is more conventionally Christian than the end of The Sparrow, albeit portrayed in a context that is completely alien.   
 
So I would conclude by saying, yes, there are similarities between my Termite Queen and Russell’s The Sparrow, and they lie not merely in plot points (the first contact, the off-world expedition and the preparations for it, the linguistic-anthropologist characters, the use of constructed language).  There are also thematic similarities.  I would hope that some of you who like The Sparrow would also be moved to try reading my books as well.

Review and Analysis: The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012
       I began my Amazon and Goodreads reviews of this book by stating: “This is what science fiction ought to be," and I concluded the reviews with the statements: "Strongly recommended for the thoughtful reader, including readers of mainstream and literary fiction. Not recommended for fans of hard SF or space opera.”  I read one negative review by someone who had to be one of the latter.  The spiritual quest that forms the central theme of the book obviously left this person cold, and certain scientific facts such as a possibly flawed portrayal of the red star called Alpha Centauri C or Proxima (Centauri) drove this reviewer to express great scorn.  This person obviously is somewhat lacking in the ability to see beyond mundane SF and to suspend disbelief!
I could write a thesis about this book, but I'll restrict the present discussion to two aspects, beginning with the technique.
The plot is really quite simple: The SETI project picks up beautiful godlike music from the Alpha Centauri system and the Jesuit order mounts an expedition to find the planet at the urging of Fr. Emilio Sandoz.  The group of close friends who form the mission crew arrive at Rakhat and make first contact with the Runa, learning later that the planet harbors a second ILF called the Jana’ata.  They remain woefully clueless about the culture and the relationship between the two species until it’s too late. 
The POV does not conform to the rule of consistency (it changes from one character to another under the overall umbrella of an omnipotent narrator) and yet the action moves forward with a seamless relentlessness in a subtle give-and-take between past and present.  I can imagine the author outlining the plot and then manipulating the alternate sections in order to produce the wonderful suspense.  The odd thing is, you know from the beginning that the mission ended badly; you're introduced immediately to the appalling aftermath.  And yet you don't know why the project ended in this way; you learn first in little morsels, bits of the future, dropped at intervals into the plot.  I found it impossible to predict what was going to happen next.  I correctly anticipated only one thing, something I think I can say without playing the spoiler: I assumed all along that there would be another expedition to Rakhat and that it would form the subject matter of the second volume, The Children of God.  And I believe I was correct in that.
As a conlanger, I have to make a quick remark about the use of language in the first contact.  Emilio Sandoz is a skilled linguist, responsible for communicating with the extraterrestrials.  I don’t know how much work the author did on the two alien languages, but we have at least naming languages here, and a few rules of word formation are stated.  If I ever read the book again, I’ll make a list of the words.  But likely somebody else in the conlanging community has already done that.
 
The book is much more than its technique, of course.  I’m not going to touch on the subtleties of characterization here, even though that’s what the book is about.  Instead, I’m going to talk about the theme by comparing the book to my own writings.  That may seem a bit audacious, because, while I think I’m a good writer, I definitely lack Mary Doria Russell’s intense ability to focus.  However, two people whose opinions I respect have commented that my books reminded them of The Sparrow, and that’s what impelled me to read it.
And we do write on similar themes.  I've written three first-contact stories.  In the novella "Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder" (which is quite focused, actually) the first contact with a very bizarre species has an outcome every bit as disastrous as in The Sparrow.  Both books present a flawed contact between two cultures that are incompatible, although in my book it's the humans and not the ILFs who precipitate the tragedy.  In The Sparrow an innocent human cultural practice disrupts the status quo of the alien culture (I won't spoil it by saying what it is), while in my book it is a human psychological breakdown that does the harm.
My two-volume novel The Termite Queen deals with a first contact between Earthers and the intelligent termite species called the Shshi. However, neither TQ nor “Monster” deals with THE first contact, the very first time humans encountered aliens.  That event happened in the 28th century, when Earthers met Prf. A'a'ma's bird people, and it forms the topic of my big old floppy WIP The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars.  Since then Earth has formed amicable relationships not only with the Krisí’i’aidá but with the Te Quornaz and the Pozú, and they know of the existence of many other intelligent lifeforms.  Meeting the termite people is unique only in the difficulty of communication. 
Both TQ and The Sparrow have anthropologists and linguists for main characters, a circumstance that would not be unusual for any first contact situation.  However, I had the feeling all the way through The Sparrow that this crew was fragile, undertrained, and clueless about what they were getting into.  When you assume God is underpinning your mission – that a sort of divine fate is at work and God will keep his eye on you and protect you as he does the sparrow – you're very likely to get into trouble.  The Termite Queen crew is not like that.  Earthers have had too much experience with aliens.  Space travel is ubiquitous, a joint undertaking by several alien species, organized on a regional galactic scale.  Both the crews and the scientists have wide experience with off-world missions.  Of course, that doesn't keep them from making mistakes, but it does make them well qualified to take on a first-contact project.
The Sparrowwas published in 1996, so the year 2019, when the book starts, was 23 years in the future.  That can seem like a long time, but that date is now only seven years off and obviously we aren’t going to be mining asteroids and using them for space travel by that date.  This is why I place my stories in a time way beyond any possibility that a person of today might still be alive to know what actually developed, and I leave the period between the present and at least a hundred years off purposely vague.  The only thing I mention happening in the 21st century is a cycle of disastrous religious wars, and the way things are going on Earth, that certainly is within the realm of possibility.
But Russell isn't out to write future history as I am, so the connection between the present moment and what happens when we get where we are going is less important than the events themselves. Her purpose is to explore the relationship between God and human beings – does God exist?  Does he interact with his creation?  Should we hold God responsible for the evils that happen in our world or on other worlds?
Now, while some of these questions come up in The Termite Queen, answering them is not my purpose.  In my future, society has developed a humanist culture and those questions are already answered.  God has moved into the realm of myth, from which you can draw wisdom but which gives you no absolutes because the nature of god or even whether a god exists can’t be known (Mythmaker Precept No. l).  People might study god(s) and beliefs academically but ordained clerics and  religious institutions no longer exist, and people generally don't concern themselves the role of gods in their lives.
     That being said, the end of both books has spiritual implications and is strangely similar: the achievement of at least partial redemption.  The whole final section of The Termite Queen is called “Absolution.”  In The Sparrow Sandoz gains forgiveness and absolution through speaking and through words – Absolvo te, says Father Candotti in the traditional language of Catholic confession.  Griffen Gwidian gains forgiveness through personal atonement, although words would have been enough had circumstances been different.  Kaitrin’s absolution comes from a symbolic release of guilt – the “dark bird” that flies away and settles on a scapegoat. 
The strange thing about The Sparrow is that even among these Jesuits, these most Christian of men, nothing is said about the central doctrine of Christ’s vicarious atonement for the sins of humanity.  The emphasis is on God the Father, not God the Son.  My humanist book ends with a resolution that is more conventionally Christian than the end of The Sparrow, albeit portrayed in a context that is completely alien.   
 
So I would conclude by saying, yes, there are similarities between my Termite Queen and Russell’s The Sparrow, and they lie not merely in plot points (the first contact, the off-world expedition and the preparations for it, the linguistic-anthropologist characters, the use of constructed language).  There are also thematic similarities.  I would hope that some of you who like The Sparrow would also be moved to try reading my books as well.

Ughhh…

Monday, October 29th, 2012

I’ve got this terrible headache right now (and an ankle ache), so in order to distract myself, I’ve decided to talk about some of Dothraki’s pain vocabulary. This should work, right?

Let’s start in the most obvious place: the root nith. This root is most closely associated with “pain” in Dothraki. As an adjective, nith means “painful”. The root itself, though, is experiencer-focused, if that’s a term (or rather, if that’s the term for what this is). Thus, the natural interpretation of nith will be “painful to the one most intimately connected to the modified noun” (e.g. if you have some sort of otherwise neutral phrase like rhae nith, it will mean “my painful foot”, or, more specifically, “my foot that is painful to me”—never “my foot that’s causing something or someone else pain”). As a result, it can also be used to mean something like “in pain”, for example mahrazh nith, which would mean “the man who’s in pain” (or I guess “the painful man”, but that doesn’t quite mean the same thing in English).

As a verb, its sole argument is the one that feels pain. This started out referring exclusively to the individual, but has been extended to cover other objects. So while, for example, Anha nithak, “I pain”, would be more ordinary, one could say Rhae nitha, “My foot feels pain”. More usual for the latter, though, would be the causative version of the verb, annithat, for which you’d say something like Rhae annitha anna, literally “My foot pains me”, but probably best translated as “My foot hurts”.

Sidestepping athnithar (“pain”) for a second, I’d also like to briefly introduce the word athnithizar. Those familiar with Dothraki morphology will note that this is the diminutive of athnithar. While historically it’s related to the same root, today it means “to feel encouraged” or “to feel invigorated”. Its causative, annithilat, is what you’d use to say “to encourage” or “to invigorate” or “to entice”.

Back to pain, what I’ve got now is a mhari, or “headache”. It derives from the same root that gives us “sore”—one of the words coined by George R. R. Martin. A migraine headache would probably be mharisof, but if I ever have one, I may decide a stronger word is needed at that time.

The other thing I’ve got that should be clearing up is basically a rhae darin, which is a less-than-optimally-functioning leg. The verb form darinat is used most often to indicate that someone is limping (at the moment), though it can be used with other body parts (e.g. if one said of themselves Qora darina, it might mean that they sprained their wrist or did something which has affected the regular function of their arm).

Since we’re on limps, though, if one has a persistent and habitual limp, the appropriate verb is mattelat (vimatterat can also be used, but really only to emphasize it). This one refers specifically to one’s legs, though, whereas darin can be used elsewhere. The verb ammattelat is kind of a vicious one: it’s where you go for someone’s legs specifically to hobble them. Ooh! Ooh! Just got an idea:

  • Ammattes mae. Hash yer nem vaesie ki reki?
  • Vos, sensei!

Heh, heh, heh… That last word is a borrowing; not a Dothraki word. See if anyone figures that one out.

Now if something aches specifically, you can use the verb ziroqoselat. This verb derives from the word oqo, which is the word for a beat or some sort of rhythmic noise. The form of the root was onomatopoeic in origin.

If pain needs to be qualified, Dothraki actually makes use of the words lavakh, “loud”, and haf, “quiet” or “soft”. Thus, of my headache now (post-Ibuprofen), I can say, Me vos athnithar lavakh.

And there you have it! That’s some of the pain vocabulary used in Dothraki. You know, I prefer athnithar to the English word “pain”. English’s word has that awful “p” sound in it. Blech! What a terrible sound. Can’t imagine having a name—even a last name—that begins with that sound…

Conlangery #73: Khangaþyagon

Monday, October 29th, 2012
Today we eventually get to talking about Khangaþyagon, and get a lot of interesting stuff out of it.  Also, George forgets a notable conlanger who has been featured before on the show.  *headdesk* Top of Show Greeting: Shokitin Featured Conlang: Khangaþyagon Email: Conglangerists: A while ago I finished my trawl through the Conlangery backlog, and I’m quite happy... Read more »

Conlangery #73: Khangaþyagon

Monday, October 29th, 2012
Today we eventually get to talking about Khangaþyagon, and get a lot of interesting stuff out of it.  Also, George forgets a notable conlanger who has been featured before on the show.  *headdesk* Top of Show Greeting: Shokitin Featured Conlang: Khangaþyagon Email: Conglangerists: A while ago I finished my trawl through the Conlangery backlog, and I’m quite happy […]

Conlangery #73: Khangaþyagon

Monday, October 29th, 2012
Today we eventually get to talking about Khangaþyagon, and get a lot of interesting stuff out of it.  Also, George forgets a notable conlanger who has been featured before on the show.  *headdesk* Top of Show Greeting: Shokitin Featured Conlang: Khangaþyagon Email: Conglangerists: A while ago I finished my trawl through the Conlangery backlog, and I’m quite happy […]

free (gratis) is dolain

Friday, October 26th, 2012
dolain = free (gratis) (adjective) (some things Google found for "dolain": an uncommon to rare term; an unusual last name; Cuirt An Dolain, Fairhill Court is a housing development in Galway, Claddagh, Ireland; user names; a rare first name; "Dolain, Finistere" is a painting (of Doelan in Brittany) by French Impressionist painter Henry (or Henri) Moret)

Word derivation for "free" (gratis, without charge):
Basque = dohako, Finnish = ilmainen
Miresua = dolain

I made this word start with D, which is unusual in Miresua. In Finnish only borrowed words start in D. It turned out to be unintentionally similar to the Basque word dohain (which is related to dohako), the noun for a spiritual, intangible gift.

The very first word.

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Today, I made up the very first word: Kaalajur! I finally figured out what it means!

Kaa-la<ju>r
1PL.INCL-speak<NTR>
We speak.

I figured the following patterns for the verb conjugation:

Agent-root<negative><transitivity>-aspect-degree-volition-epistemic-patient, where the negative and the transitive/intransitive distinction are realized as infixes to the root.

The Agent-Patient pattern changes with the sentence being in standart/question or polite word order:

Standard/Question: Agent-V-Patient

Politeness: Patient-V-Agent

The rest of the affixes stays the same.


Questions

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

For questions, I said I’d include an interrogative marker on the verb. I won’t do so. Instead, I’ll add an interrogative marker (a case in that sense) on the noun specifying the question! The word order stays as posted before.

  • 0: V N-Q
  • 1: V N-Q Subject
  • 2: V N-Q Agent Patient
  • 3: V N-Q Agent Receiver Theme

In the case of a binary question (“Is this it?”), there will be a special expletive.