Archive for November, 2012

Numerals, part 1

Saturday, November 24th, 2012
The Kareyku numeric system is very odd. Not because of the names of the numerals, which are quite regular and in accordance to the language constraints, but because the counting defies any formal explanation, or at least, for all of them but the last too. The system is mainly decimal, and a historical analysis points towards the hands having been used at some point. The numerals are as follows:

Number
Kareyku
1
tiri
2
kana
3
hatiri
4
hakana
5
soka
6
nawa
7
hasoka
8
hanawa
9
naka
10
haru

So, as can be seen here we have a clear sequence of groups of 2 or 4, that is tiri, kana, and then hatiri and hakana, which mean roughly "other 1" and "other 2" respectively. The last two number I have said had explanations in that 9 is clearly the word naka, "close, almost", and number 10 is haru "complete, perfect". One could consider this to be evidence of an older 4-based or 8-based system supplemented with a newer decimal system, but it nonetheless strikes as quite weird.

The numerals are used preceding the noun or object they modify:

naka vineru, nine men

hakana taro, four fathers

hasoka nakem, seven trees

And present no irregularities or variabilities.

Numerals, part 1

Saturday, November 24th, 2012
The Kareyku numeric system is very odd. Not because of the names of the numerals, which are quite regular and in accordance to the language constraints, but because the counting defies any formal explanation, or at least, for all of them but the last too. The system is mainly decimal, and a historical analysis points towards the hands having been used at some point. The numerals are as follows:

Number
Kareyku
1
tiri
2
kana
3
hatiri
4
hakana
5
soka
6
nawa
7
hasoka
8
hanawa
9
naka
10
haru

So, as can be seen here we have a clear sequence of groups of 2 or 4, that is tiri, kana, and then hatiri and hakana, which mean roughly "other 1" and "other 2" respectively. The last two number I have said had explanations in that 9 is clearly the word naka, "close, almost", and number 10 is haru "complete, perfect". One could consider this to be evidence of an older 4-based or 8-based system supplemented with a newer decimal system, but it nonetheless strikes as quite weird.

The numerals are used preceding the noun or object they modify:

naka vineru, nine men

hakana taro, four fathers

hasoka nakem, seven trees

And present no irregularities or variabilities.

Quick Notification

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

I just posted Conlanging for Beginners on my termitespeaker blog.  I didn’t put it here because in general more people view my other blogs and because comments are enabled there.  Hope you’ll take a look!

Quick Notification

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

I just posted Conlanging for Beginners on my termitespeaker blog.  I didn’t put it here because in general more people view my other blogs and because comments are enabled there.  Hope you’ll take a look!

Conlanging for Beginners: Building a Naming Language for Your Fantasy Novel

Friday, November 23rd, 2012
       As a member of the Language Creation Society and of the Yahoo conculture forum, I've been discussing world-building and conlang-building lately.  I've also joined the forum at the excellent website Mythic Scribes, which is subtitled "The Art of Fantasy Storytelling."  They have many resources available, including a thread on building conlangs for your book.  Since I've composed two conlangs and several naming languages for my writings, I thought a post drawing upon my own experiences as a beginner might help out other beginners.
       First, let me stress that you don't need to be a professor of linguistics to write a conlang.  A lot of the members of the LCS are just that; they know every subtlety of language and they know  the lingo.  They're so learned that they can be a little intimidating, I'll confess.  I'm not a professional linguist, but I have studied Spanish, French, and German (French is the one I pursued the most deeply) and when I was cataloging books as a librarian, I dabbled in several other languages, including Russian, other Slavic languages, and Swedish (catalog librarians have to be able to handle any language -- there are manuals to help you do this).  I also investigated Hebrew a little bit at one point.  I've always been fascinated by languages and syntax.  If you find these subjects tedious and you never took a beginning language in high school and you barely squeaked through high school English and can't remember a thing about its structure, you may not be very successful at writing conlangs.  It's possible to get somebody else to write one for you if you're serious.
 
       However, if all you need is a naming language (a minimal conlang that consists simply of sounds thrown together, without contructing any syntax), you can still manage to do that convincingly.  Let's assume you're setting out to write a fantasy laid in an imaginary world where nobody ever heard of English.  You may have several different countries and several different peoples.  These peoples probably speak different languages, but you can have them all speak a common language -- a language of diplomacy, say -- in which case you can just render everything in English and be done with it. 
       But even then, you will have many names that remain in the languages of those countries.  You need names for the countries themselves and their citizens, for some of their cities, and for other places like rivers or mountain ranges.  You might also find yourself needing names of foods and flowers and minerals and gods and philosophical concepts. You can just unsystematically make up nonsense words for these, or you can try to systematically diffentiate the several languages of your countries.
       One way to do this is to make up a system of phonology for each language.  Just some notes will serve (I'm avoiding the International Phonetic Alphabet here):  Let's say the country of Talasu speaks Talasian.  So you decide that what makes the language different is that it has no voiced fricatives. 
       What is a voiced fricative, you say?  In a voiced consonant the vocal cords vibrate, in an unvoiced consonant, the vocal cords do not vibrate.  Here is a list of voiced fricatives in English (with examples): v (as in van), th (as in then), z (as in zip), zh (as in pleasure).  The corresponding unvoiced fricatives are f (as in fan), th (as in thin), s (as in sip), and sh (as in pressure).   Say them out loud and you'll hear and feel the difference.
       Thus you would be able to milk a little comedy by making a name (e.g., Zazavi) in a language that uses voiced fricatives.  A native of Talasu would pronounce the word "Sasafi" and might get teased about it, or he might be discriminated against because his speech patterns reveal where he comes from, thus becoming a shibboleth.
       From the rules, you know that the word "Talasian" will not be pronounced "Talazhian" but "Talassian."  But this introduces another point.  If you make the language "Talasian," you are making use of an English suffix -ian, which we use frequently in words like Italian, Indian, Canadian, Australian, etc.  Suffixes and prefixes like -ian  or -ed or un- are called morphemes (an indivisible basic particle, a building block for a word).
       Your imaginary people would never build their words using English morphemes, so you might want to call your language Talasunta (where the suffix -nta means "speech" or "language.")  Or you could call it Nis-Talashu (where "nis" means "language" and "Talashu" is a genitive case, thus making the word mean "Language of Talasu."  In your other countries' languages, if you needed a genitive case, you would construct it differently. 
       For my purposes here, I'll call the language "Talasunta."
       I find I can't write even about a naming language without getting into some minor linguistic terminology. But I hope you get my point -- set a few phonetic rules, make them vary among your languages, and don't use any morphemes (basic word particles) that are found in English.

       Now, I'll confess -- I have usually violated the rule of devising the phonology first!  I've always just thrown a bunch of sounds together to start with.  And I've gotten in trouble, too.  When I started writing "The Termite Queen," I had to name my dying termite right off (see sample chapters 1 and 2 on my other blog, Ruminations of a Remembrancer.) because the first line in the book is "My name is ... "  So I blithely thought, "What would be a good name?  I know!  Ti'shra!"  And I wrote "My name is Ti'shra." Then when I got to working out the details of the language, I thought, "So what does 'Ti'shra' mean?  I know!  Sweet Flowers!  Lovely!  Perfect name for this harmless little creature who gets abducted by aliens!" 
       But then I thought, "So 'flowers' is plural.  What element of the name makes it plural?  I know!  In the Shshi language, prefixing sh- makes a plural, just like with the word 'Shshi.'  You have one Shi, two Shshi."  And I stuck myself with that system.  Unfortunately, in English the combination of sh plus certain consonants doesn't occur and so leads to difficulties of pronunciation.  When we get the Shshi word "shza'zei|" for example, which means "little ones," you're likely to spit all over your computer trying to pronounce it!   Other tough combinations are sh+f, sh+d, sh+h, sh+j ... you get my point. 
       So another rule is, try to think about the consequences of a rule before you set it in stone!

       Names often mean something, like my "Ti'shra," and all words derive from older roots, so you have to decide -- do my names of people, provinces, cities, mountains, rivers, etc., have meanings apart from themselves?  If so, you need to decide how the component parts fit together.  Maybe the country of Talasu has a range of mountains called the Black Jaws (obviously you're going to make something sinister happen there!)  "Jaw" becomes "frago," "black" is "nat."  You decide that in Talasunta, the adjectives follow the modified word, as in French or Spanish, so your mountain range becomes the "Fragonat." 
       At that point you should begin making a vocabulary list -- extremely important, because there is no way you can remember every word you've used, and as your book gets longer and you create more words, you'll never be able to find them again.
      You should also write out every decision you make regarding syntax, like the rules for placement of adjectives, for how to construct plurals and genitive case, etc. 

       What if you want the people in your world to sometimes speak privately, not using the common language?  You want someone to overhear a few phrases in Talasunta.  You can construct just a few rules and usually you can come up with something that will work.  That's what I did in the beginning with !Ka<tá, the Bird language spoken by my Prf. A'a'ma, the avian alien that plays such an important role in "The Termite Queen."  Mostly what I constructed were expletives (birds apparently curse a lot!) but there are some full sentences, too.   In Chapter 2, he says, "Prf. Jerardo ali ♫hi ♫ko’ó∙wa gi !i po∙atré]” and Kaitrin humorously upbraids him, "Tió’otu!  That’s not nice!  But what’s going on?  You surely didn’t go to all the trouble to contact me just to make fun of one of our colleagues.”
        I don't tell the reader of the book what Prf. A'a'ma's insult meant, but I'll reveal it here: "Prf. Jerardo has dung beetles in his head."  When I first wrote the book, I decided on the English of what I wanted him to say and then I just cooked up some words that sounded like birds might twitter them -- I had done nothing on the phonology yet.  I did come up with some non-English sounds and some characters to represent them, like ∙, which is a cough, and ♫, which is a warble and, as a prefix, makes words plural.  
       But this remark did require devising a third person singular present tense form of the verb "to have."  In English, "to have" is an irregular verb.  Most languages have some irregular verbs, but I decided that in !Ka<tá, "to have, to possess" is regular.  I don't remember whether at that point I decided on a form for the infinitive, which would be "khe'ali."  I think I just  said, "OK, 'ali' sounds good for 'he has'" and went from there. 
       But again, I kept careful notes on what I'd done -- I made a little table of verb forms and started by filling in the 3rd person singular masculine present tense.  At first I had just two or three entries, but later it grew to include all possible forms and tenses and aspects and moods ...  So I stress again, keep records on all grammatical decisions! 

       Now I'll construct an example of Talasunta: The hero hides behind the curtain and he overhears two men talking in that language, which he doesn't understand.  You could just write, "so the Prince rushed off to find the Ambassador, who spoke Talasunta, and repeated the words as near as he was able.  The Ambassador was horrified at what he heard ... "
        But it would be much better this way: "The Prince overheard two men speaking in Talasunta, but all he could catch was "Asolya dimerumu chinsa."  A few moments later, he was consulting the Ambassador, who spoke the native tongue.  And the diplomat was horrified.  "He said, 'We plan to kill her at dawn'!"  That enhances the realism of the story.
       In this language, the subject pronoun is suffixed to the root of the verb, so "asolu" means "to plan" and "asolya" means "we plan."  Infinitives end in -u, so "dimeru"  is "to kill" and "mu" is the objective case of the third person feminine pronoun, which is suffixed to the full infinitive.  "Chin" means "dawn" and the suffix "-sa" is a postposition (the language doesn't have prepositions) meaning "at the time of."
       As you can see, if a conlang, even just a naming language, is done right, there are multifold complications!  But you know what?  Writing a conlang is the most fun of anything in the world, for anybody to whom language is fascinating and not a tedious bore!  Actually, I got quite interested in Talasunta while I was writing this, but conlangs can be very time-consuming, and so I don't think you'll ever learn any more about that language!
 
Summation of How to Write a Naming Language
  • Set up a system of speech sounds (phonology) for each of your languages in order to differentiate them.
  • Never use any morphemes (basic word particles) that are taken directly from in English, or for that matter from any other Earth language. That is, you could use the syllable, but it can't have the same meaning as it does in Earth languages.
  • Try to think about the consequences of a decision before you make it (and that's harder than it sounds!) But this is important, because going back and changing a whole language structure is almost impossible.
  • As you construct words, make a vocabulary list, preferably in two directions, Talasunta to English and English to Talasunta.
  • Keep careful records of rules of syntax, so you won't put adjectives after nouns on p.6 and before nouns on p.300.  (And parenthetically, don't use the same grammatical structure for all your languages.)
  • And if you can work it out, use syntax that resembles English or other Earth languages as little as possible (that's one of the tougher rules to follow, unless you're more familiar than I am with all the languages of the Earth). 
       When I started this, I had intended to talk about the naming language in "Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder," but I got sidetracked.  Maybe I'll write about that in a later post!


 

potato is patuna

Friday, November 23rd, 2012
patuna = potato (noun) (some things Google found for "patuna": an uncommon term; Patuna Bushyhead is a female couture designer originally from the Republic of Georgia; Patuna Farm Adventures and Patuna Chasm near Martinborough in New Zealand; a rare last name; a rare feminine first name; Vadiga Patuna is a traditional Southern Sri Lanka dance; in Finnish an essive form of the noun patu which means "(colloquial) old hand"; Yapa Patuna is a former name of Jaffna, Sri Lanka)

Word derivation for "potato":
Basque = patata, Finnish = peruna
Miresua = patuna

This is a word for Thanksgiving. Our dinner included mashed potatoes.

I considered making this word perata, but that means to gut (a fish) in Finnish.

The language of thanksgiving

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

In my previous posts about toddler language acquisition, I’ve largely talked about my younger child, who is currently aged two-and-a-half. You might think this is because my older child, aged four-and-a-half, has already passed most of the more interesting milestones.

This is the opposite of the truth.

Our oldest son Ciprian has had severe language acquisition delays, for reasons that no one knows. For whatever reason, he never passed the linguistic level of a typical two year old, knowing about two dozen single words, and that’s all. He never progressed to simple two-word sentences, he acquired new words very slowly if at all, and his pronunciation remained idiosyncratic and difficult to understand. This was combined with a variety of difficult behavior issues, such as an obsession with running water (he would turn on the water in the sink and watch it for hours if we’d let him), and self-harming when he was frustrated or angry.

It’s hard to overestimate how frustrating this was. When he wanted something, Ciprian would simply shout "Give give give" over and over, and you would have to guess what he wanted from context. (He also didn’t know how to point to request things, an essential pre-linguistic skill that he never mastered.) If you couldn’t figure it out, then you had to prepare yourself for a bout of screaming and self-harming.

Earlier this year, shortly before his fourth birthday, we said enough was enough and sought help from his pediatrician, and then the child psychologist that she referred us to. Unfortunately, all we got was a bunch of negatives: he isn’t autistic, his hearing is fine, and he isn’t cognitively impaired. The technical term they deployed was just "developmentally delayed", without any suggestion of the reason. This was less than encouraging. Eventually, the best thing we could do was just to enroll him in a preschool to give him more opportunities for stimulation, and talk to the school district about special education. The local district offers pre-K special education for qualifying students, and after their assessment they quickly assigned him a speech therapist and an early childhood specialist.

This was the best thing we’ve ever done for Ciprian.

It’s now six months later. While it would be great to say that things changed overnight, the reality is that we saw only marginal improvements for the first several months. His self-harming behavior decreased and his overall mood improved, but we only saw incremental additions to his vocabulary and no significant breakthroughs in his overall language. That was, until about six weeks ago, when for some reason the floodgates opened.

It feels like his vocabulary has doubled or tripled. He’s added a variety of English and Romanian words, and has started to use them more appropriately, where before he would indiscriminately apply the few words he used to virtually everything, making it very difficult to discern what he actually wanted. He’s become scrupulously polite, always saying "please" and "thank you" when making requests, in both English and Romanian. But most importantly, he’s started actually using sentences. Now, he actually says "I want cookie" when he wants something, and life is good.

His sentences aren’t grammatical yet. For the most part they’re two- and three-word collocations. And there’s still a long ways to go—he isn’t remotely like a normal four-year-old yet, and his little brother is significantly ahead of him. But for the first time in years, it feels like we’re actually getting somewhere.

So what am I thankful for this year? I’m thankful for a fifty-item vocabulary, for two-word sentences, and for my awesome kid Ciprian.


Tagged: autism, conlang, developmental delay, language acquisition, thanksgiving

The language of thanksgiving

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

In my previous posts about toddler language acquisition, I’ve largely talked about my younger child, who is currently aged two-and-a-half. You might think this is because my older child, aged four-and-a-half, has already passed most of the more interesting milestones.

This is the opposite of the truth.

Our oldest son Ciprian has had severe language acquisition delays, for reasons that no one knows. For whatever reason, he never passed the linguistic level of a typical two year old, knowing about two dozen single words, and that’s all. He never progressed to simple two-word sentences, he acquired new words very slowly if at all, and his pronunciation remained idiosyncratic and difficult to understand. This was combined with a variety of difficult behavior issues, such as an obsession with running water (he would turn on the water in the sink and watch it for hours if we’d let him), and self-harming when he was frustrated or angry.

It’s hard to overestimate how frustrating this was. When he wanted something, Ciprian would simply shout "Give give give" over and over, and you would have to guess what he wanted from context. (He also didn’t know how to point to request things, an essential pre-linguistic skill that he never mastered.) If you couldn’t figure it out, then you had to prepare yourself for a bout of screaming and self-harming.

Earlier this year, shortly before his fourth birthday, we said enough was enough and sought help from his pediatrician, and then the child psychologist that she referred us to. Unfortunately, all we got was a bunch of negatives: he isn’t autistic, his hearing is fine, and he isn’t cognitively impaired. The technical term they deployed was just "developmentally delayed", without any suggestion of the reason. This was less than encouraging. Eventually, the best thing we could do was just to enroll him in a preschool to give him more opportunities for stimulation, and talk to the school district about special education. The local district offers pre-K special education for qualifying students, and after their assessment they quickly assigned him a speech therapist and an early childhood specialist.

This was the best thing we’ve ever done for Ciprian.

It’s now six months later. While it would be great to say that things changed overnight, the reality is that we saw only marginal improvements for the first several months. His self-harming behavior decreased and his overall mood improved, but we only saw incremental additions to his vocabulary and no significant breakthroughs in his overall language. That was, until about six weeks ago, when for some reason the floodgates opened.

It feels like his vocabulary has doubled or tripled. He’s added a variety of English and Romanian words, and has started to use them more appropriately, where before he would indiscriminately apply the few words he used to virtually everything, making it very difficult to discern what he actually wanted. He’s become scrupulously polite, always saying "please" and "thank you" when making requests, in both English and Romanian. But most importantly, he’s started actually using sentences. Now, he actually says "I want cookie" when he wants something, and life is good.

His sentences aren’t grammatical yet. For the most part they’re two- and three-word collocations. And there’s still a long ways to go—he isn’t remotely like a normal four-year-old yet, and his little brother is significantly ahead of him. But for the first time in years, it feels like we’re actually getting somewhere.

So what am I thankful for this year? I’m thankful for a fifty-item vocabulary, for two-word sentences, and for my awesome kid Ciprian.


Tagged: autism, conlang, developmental delay, language acquisition, thanksgiving

The language of thanksgiving

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

In my previous posts about toddler language acquisition, I’ve largely talked about my younger child, who is currently aged two-and-a-half. You might think this is because my older child, aged four-and-a-half, has already passed most of the more interesting milestones.

This is the opposite of the truth.

Our oldest son Ciprian has had severe language acquisition delays, for reasons that no one knows. For whatever reason, he never passed the linguistic level of a typical two year old, knowing about two dozen single words, and that’s all. He never progressed to simple two-word sentences, he acquired new words very slowly if at all, and his pronunciation remained idiosyncratic and difficult to understand. This was combined with a variety of difficult behavior issues, such as an obsession with running water (he would turn on the water in the sink and watch it for hours if we’d let him), and self-harming when he was frustrated or angry.

It’s hard to overestimate how frustrating this was. When he wanted something, Ciprian would simply shout "Give give give" over and over, and you would have to guess what he wanted from context. (He also didn’t know how to point to request things, an essential pre-linguistic skill that he never mastered.) If you couldn’t figure it out, then you had to prepare yourself for a bout of screaming and self-harming.

Earlier this year, shortly before his fourth birthday, we said enough was enough and sought help from his pediatrician, and then the child psychologist that she referred us to. Unfortunately, all we got was a bunch of negatives: he isn’t autistic, his hearing is fine, and he isn’t cognitively impaired. The technical term they deployed was just "developmentally delayed", without any suggestion of the reason. This was less than encouraging. Eventually, the best thing we could do was just to enroll him in a preschool to give him more opportunities for stimulation, and talk to the school district about special education. The local district offers pre-K special education for qualifying students, and after their assessment they quickly assigned him a speech therapist and an early childhood specialist.

This was the best thing we’ve ever done for Ciprian.

It’s now six months later. While it would be great to say that things changed overnight, the reality is that we saw only marginal improvements for the first several months. His self-harming behavior decreased and his overall mood improved, but we only saw incremental additions to his vocabulary and no significant breakthroughs in his overall language. That was, until about six weeks ago, when for some reason the floodgates opened.

It feels like his vocabulary has doubled or tripled. He’s added a variety of English and Romanian words, and has started to use them more appropriately, where before he would indiscriminately apply the few words he used to virtually everything, making it very difficult to discern what he actually wanted. He’s become scrupulously polite, always saying "please" and "thank you" when making requests, in both English and Romanian. But most importantly, he’s started actually using sentences. Now, he actually says "I want cookie" when he wants something, and life is good.

His sentences aren’t grammatical yet. For the most part they’re two- and three-word collocations. And there’s still a long ways to go—he isn’t remotely like a normal four-year-old yet, and his little brother is significantly ahead of him. But for the first time in years, it feels like we’re actually getting somewhere.

So what am I thankful for this year? I’m thankful for a fifty-item vocabulary, for two-word sentences, and for my awesome kid Ciprian.


Tagged: autism, conlang, developmental delay, language acquisition, thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

To those in America, Happy Thanksgiving! To those in Canada, Happy Thanksgiving about a month ago! To those elsewhere, happy day!

Something that may have been asked before but which I didn’t address was a Dothraki word for turkey. It seems to me that there would be no turkeys in Essos, if it was modeled after Eurasia (it seems like Westeros was modeled after North America, and Essos Eurasia, or something close to that), which would mean there would be no native word for turkey. If it were to be borrowed, it’d probably be borrowed from Westeros through one of the languages of the western coast of Essos. And since the Common Tongue is spoken in Westeros, it’d probably come out as “turkey” (or something based on it).

Thanks to Abe Simpson of The Simpsons, though, we do have a handy compound for turkey we can calque: a walking bird. A Dothraki calque for that would be zir ifay. In fact, we can put that together and get zirifay. That works pretty nicely.

So, to one and all, allow me to say: Asshekhi Zirifayi Vezhvena! Stay safe, and may the Cowboys lose (after Miles Austin gets two touchdowns. I need this win in fantasy)!