Archive for January, 2015

miniatureconlangs: Bringing Children up in Conlangs: Your Conlang is Less Well Adapted than You Think

Saturday, January 31st, 2015
miniatureconlangs: Bringing Children up in Conlangs: Your Conlang is Less Well Adapted than You Think:

Not in the same vein as other posts here, but a bad conlanging idea nonetheless.


Bringing Children up in Conlangs: Your Conlang is Less Well Adapted than You Think

Saturday, January 31st, 2015
Natural languages have existed for quite a while. Due to this simple but obvious fact, they have also been subject to linguistic evolution. Linguistic evolution is quite different from the evolution of multicellular organisms. I am not going to talk about 'strong languages' supplanting 'weak languages', since this is not what I am thinking of at all - I am thinking of how the parts of a language themselves are selected for.

Languages consist of many bits and pieces. These bits and pieces do not really have an existence of their own. They exist as pathways in neural networks, viz. the brain. When an infant learns to speak, it observes the linguistic productions of other humans, and tries to identify the patterns in these productions. This we call learning, and learning is adjusting the weights in the pathways in the brain.

What relevance does this have to the evolution of a language? Well, clearly, patterns will be smoothed out in some sense. Our brains are fairly similar, but they are not identical copies. One brain might not spot the same pattern as another, and thus fail to generalize it. Thus, over time, only patterns that most brains catch will survive. Thus, the fact that some feature is in the grammar of a natural language is not only testament to this feature being learnable, but to it being some kind of local optimum for learnability - other similar patterns that are less learnable will turn into that pattern.

Of course, diligent practice - in a formalized setting - can make a less learnable pattern dominate, but that requires quite some effort. In part, some of the 'prescriptive' grammar ideas we hear are taught in such ways so as to enforce some rather unusual meanings.

Further, when a natural language lacks methods of expressing something that real life makes necessary (or at least favourable) to be able to express, a method for expressing it will soon appear; gaps are filled quickly, and good contenders for filling the gap will survive. And they will filter through the speech community. Thus, huge gaps in human interactions will not exist for long, and patterns for generalizing them will fill it out faster.

When you speak your conlang to your child, you'll end up having to invent a whole lot more of this on the run that when you speak your native language. And you won't have the time to go and jot down what you thought up, and chances are you won't remember what approach you took, thus making it quite likely you'll end up with an inconsistent hodgepodge, making it hard for the child to be able to rely on the linguistic stimulus it is exposed to.

When you've designed your language consciously, it has not gone through this smoothing process either - thus it may have features that are unlikely to be parsed the way you prescribe them to be parsed by a first-language-learner, or it might have features that are just cognitively unlikely to work out - phonological distinctions used in ways that are (too) hard to resolve, morphological and syntactic things that cannot really be figured out without formal teaching, etc. We don't know how complicated things an average child can be expected to be able to figure out.

In real languages, much of the redundancy we see appearing (so-and-so, it went ..., so-and-so, he went ... etc) are attempts at improving the likelihood that the hearer gets enough data right. If no one ever had heard things wrong or indicated that he didn't catch that word, it's a bit unlikely we'd go and waste time and effort adding a lot of extra syllables here and there. However, we do add them - and it seems this helps reduce the amount of mishearing and so on. However, if you have a formalized grammar that you've struggled to internalize, you'll be quite likely to think that the formalized version you have is not to be adjusted by such tricks - you'll stick to the levels of redundancy in the language you've made. What if the level of redundancy is insufficient? Are you even likely to realize this from your child's reactions? Notice that the way real languages do this is by being a large distributed algorithm where - in some cases dozens, in some cases hundreds, in some cases millions of people are involved in adjusting the parameters of redundancy and in testing out people's hearing. Some of them do have too little redundancy, some quite enough.

But with your child, it's quite likely you won't have the support of a huge community of other people randomly fine-tuning it like that, and it's hard to say whether your interactions - especially early on - will give a sufficient idea of whether the language has enough redundancy (or contrarily, way too much).

This is of course not all there is to it, there's even more similar arguments that can be presented.

[I have answered some comments to this post in this new post]

[This is part of a series regarding why I would advise against anyone bringing up their kid in a conlang]

#273

Saturday, January 31st, 2015

Your language’s nouns inflect by singular, paucal and plural. They are marked in the orthography with the flags of Singapore, Panama and Poland respectively.

thumb is peuro

Saturday, January 31st, 2015
peuro = thumb (noun) (some things Google found for "peuro": an unusual to uncommon term; a rare last name; user names; part of a bad misspelling of Puerto Rico; several gaming character names; Iso-Peuro and Pieni-Peuro are lakes in Eastern Finland; similar Peura is the name of a town on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia)

Word derivation for "thumb" :
Basque = erpuru, Finnish = peukalo
Miresua = peuro

Another new word for a body part. This word is one letter shorter than the shorter word, in this case the Basque word, which is OK under my rules.

The word thumb doesn't appear in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. But it appears twice in Through the Looking-glass.
"That's just what I complain of," said Humpty Dumpty. "Your face is the same as everybody has -- the two eyes, so --" (marking their places in the air with this thumb) "nose in the middle, mouth under. It's always the same. Now if you had the two eyes on the same side of the nose, for instance -- or the mouth at the top -- that would be SOME help."

Wednesday’s Word – Sons and daughters…and such

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

This post delves a bit more into the culture of the people who speak Mychai than previous posts might. It’s about familial relationship terms.

Mostly Mychai isn’t too surprising here. There’s a word for father (Asag), mother (Mrem), brother (En), sister (Ler), son (Ksro) and daughter (Dhuil). There are also words for maternal grandmother and grandfather versus paternal grandmother and grandfather (I haven’t fully solidified these though. So these terms are all quite simple.

Where things get a little unusual is when you get into extended relationships. While cousins (cross or otherwise) are simple, Rebe for males and Rab for females, what you call your aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews, parents-in-law and children-in-law, depends on you. More specifically, your sex.

And by that I mean that your sex determines the word you use for your relationship with that person. Let’s start with the words a male uses (and since I’m male, that doesn’t seem too sexist a place to start): If I am referring to my niece or daughter-in-law*, I use the same word for daughter: Dhuil. While my nephews are Loce. Now, for the generation older than me, for my aunts and my mother-in-law*, I use the same word for mother: Mrem. But for my uncles, I use Cuem.

All that’s easy enough. Now for the women:
For their nephews and sons-in-law, they use the same term for son: Ksro. And for the nieces, Loce. Wait…Loce means niece here, but up there it meant nephew… Yes, that’s right. The actual meaning of Loce is dependent on the sex of the speaker. Perhaps a better translation of the word for be “my siblings child of the same sex as me”. Okay, that’s simple enough, and maybe you can see where this is going. For a female, her uncles and father-in-law are the word for father, Asag, while her aunts are Cuem. So Cuem works much like Loce in that it can mean aunt or uncle depending on the sex of the speaker (or person who is in the relationship, more accurately). A better translation of this might be “my parents sibling who is the same sex as me”.

Now, why does this system exist? Perhaps it’s because for the speakers of Mychai they attribute a heavy cultural significance to cross-sex relationships between the generations, and so words the convey closeness are used. Or maybe it’s because there is a huge cultural taboo from having sex with family members that closely related so the words used up the ick factor. Who can tell? Certainly not the inventor.


*I haven’t quite worked out the terms you use for in-laws who are the same sex as the speaker, so that’s still pending.


Wednesday’s Word – Sons and daughters…and such

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

This post delves a bit more into the culture of the people who speak Mychai than previous posts might. It’s about familial relationship terms.

Mostly Mychai isn’t too surprising here. There’s a word for father (Asag), mother (Mrem), brother (En), sister (Ler), son (Ksro) and daughter (Dhuil). There are also words for maternal grandmother and grandfather versus paternal grandmother and grandfather (I haven’t fully solidified these though. So these terms are all quite simple.

Where things get a little unusual is when you get into extended relationships. While cousins (cross or otherwise) are simple, Rebe for males and Rab for females, what you call your aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews, parents-in-law and children-in-law, depends on you. More specifically, your sex.

And by that I mean that your sex determines the word you use for your relationship with that person. Let’s start with the words a male uses (and since I’m male, that doesn’t seem too sexist a place to start): If I am referring to my niece or daughter-in-law*, I use the same word for daughter: Dhuil. While my nephews are Loce. Now, for the generation older than me, for my aunts and my mother-in-law*, I use the same word for mother: Mrem. But for my uncles, I use Cuem.

All that’s easy enough. Now for the women:
For their nephews and sons-in-law, they use the same term for son: Ksro. And for the nieces, Loce. Wait…Loce means niece here, but up there it meant nephew… Yes, that’s right. The actual meaning of Loce is dependent on the sex of the speaker. Perhaps a better translation of the word for be “my siblings child of the opposite sex”. Okay, that’s simple enough, and maybe you can see where this is going. For a female, her uncles and father-in-law are the word for father, Asag, while her aunts are Cuem. So Cuem works much like Loce in that it can mean aunt or uncle depending on the sex of the speaker (or person who is in the relationship, more accurately). A better translation of this might be “my parents sibling who is the opposite sex of me”.

Now, why does this system exist? Perhaps it’s because for the speakers of Mychai they attribute a heavy cultural significance to cross-sex relationships between the generations, and so words the convey closeness are used. Or maybe it’s because there is a huge cultural taboo from having sex with family members that closely related so the words used up the ick factor. Who can tell? Certainly not the inventor.


*I haven’t quite worked out the terms you use for in-laws who are the same sex as the speaker, so that’s still pending.


Detail #140: A Link and riffing on its contents

Thursday, January 29th, 2015
Aszev wrote, some time ago, a pretty good summary and introduction to systems of answering polar questions. It is a good read, and really condenses the matter very efficiently.

What could be some fun way of going slightly beyond this? We could of course try to come up with some 'new' table not present in the typology offered by Aszev.

1) Right-left flip on the Three-Form System
Conflate positive answers to negative and positive questions, distinguish negative answers to negative vs. positive questions. An obvious extension. Why it doesn't seem to be attested surprises me a bit. This is a three-way system mirrored left-right.
pos!neg!
pos?yesnay
neg?yesnope
2) Pseudodiagonal Languages
The agreement system gives a nice diagonal system.
pos!neg!
pos?yesno
neg?noyes

But we could obviously make one of the diagonals not conform to letting it be diagonal.
pos!neg!
pos?yesno
neg?nonope
Or alternatively make one of the nos deviate.
pos!neg!
pos?yesno
neg?nopeyes

3) Doing other things with this:
We could imagine a language that takes two types of this, and basically marks for both. Of course, let's not have the marking have similar exponents at all!

We take an agreement system (and apply that to presence of person inflections on the verb, for instance), and a negation particle that follows the English two-form system:
pos!neg!
pos?yes, congruenceno, no congruence
neg?yes, no congruenceno, congruence

We could maybe use some other exponent for this, who knows? Maybe the things I currently mark 'no congruence' get a peculiar subject case? Or maybe something like:
pos!neg!
pos?yes, verbno, did not verb
neg?yes, did verbno, not verb
There's endless possibilities. Of course, these will interact with other negation in general, and possibly one might want to use some of these as negation (or affirmation)-approaches in other circumstances. Maybe the markings given by the neg?-pos! cell encodes a strong affirmation, pos?-pos! encodes a reaffirmation, neg?-neg! a strong negation, pos?-neg! something else, so there's use for this outside of the slightly limited context of polar questions.

We could of course combine some other systems in some neat ways like this as well.

Beneath the hood: a closer look at Nuirn spelling – vowels.

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

Actual vowel length is determined by stress and the open or closed nature of the syllable. Only vowels that bear a primary or secondary stress can be long. Generally, open syllables contain long vowels, while closed syllables may contain long vowels, but usually contain short.


These values are for fully realized, stressed vowels. Vowels bearing the acute accent can only occur in stressed syllables.



  • a

    • Usually realizes somewhere between /ɑ/ and /a/. harta /hɑɾ.tə/ (elk, wapiti). Surrounding low vowels encourage /ɑ/, but if the surrounding vowels are high it moves towards /a/.


  • á

    • Always /ɔ/ or /ɔ:/. cál /kɔɫ/ (cabbage)


  • e

    • When short, /ɛ/; when long, /e/ or /ɛɪ/. sende /sɛn.də/ (to send)


  • é

    • Always /e:/ or /ɛɪ/. ségl /se.gəl/ (sail)


  • i

    • When short, /ɪ/; when long, /i/. fitte /fɪ.tʲə/ (woman)


  • í

    • Always /i:/. bíl /bi:l/ (car)


  • o

    • When short, /ʊ/ or sometimes /o/; when long /u/ or /o/. hosta /hɔs.tə/ (cough)


  • ó

    • Always /u:/. sól /su:ɫ/ (sun)


  • u

    • When short, /ʊ/; when long, closer to /u/. slutta /slʊ.tə/ (close)


  • ú

    • Always /ɪʊ/ or /ɪw/. spút /spɪʊt/ (spade card)


  • y

    • As i, above. The short vowel y is often short of ii, ji, ij, and indicates more clearly that the adjoining letter is to be palatalized.


  • ý

    • Always /y/ or /y:/. grý /gɾy:/ (dawn)


  • æ

    • When short, /ɛ/ or /æ/; when long /æ/. plæntyn /plæn.t̩n/ (banana)


  • ø

    • When short, /œ/ sometimes tending towards /ɜ/; when long /ø:/. grøn /gɾøn/ (green)

All diphthongs are inherently long, and can only appear in stressed syllables.



  • ao

    • Always /ø:/. This is not a true diphthong. Sometimes the sound /ø:/ occurs in words where it is treated as grammatically low; this written form makes its umlaut class clear.


  • aoi

    • Always /ʌɪ/ or /əɪ/, an alternative graph for øy below. The umlaut transformation of ao.


  • au

    • Always /aʊ/.


  • ay

    • Likelier to be closer to /əɪ/ than /aɪ/. The same sound is also written -igh in the pronouns migh.


  • ey

    • Alternative graph for é, above; éy is sometimes written and is also pronounced the same.


  • oy

    • Historically /ʌɪ/, but has a tendency to merge into /əɪ/.


  • øy

    • Always /əɪ/.

#272

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

A conlang for dragons where the color of fire you’re breathing as you speak changes the mood of any verbs, and the heat of the fire indicates noun case.  Now, work out a writing system.

Detail #139: Continuous verb aspect, reduplication and a twist on reduplication in general

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015
The reason I present this idea in the order I do is that this is how I came up with it - following this path of thinking.

Ok, so doing something along the lines given below is quite obvious:
I run run ≃ I habitually run
I think think ≃ I habitually think
etc
However, how about forming an intermitten aspect by non-continuous reduplication, i.e. by placing some other arguments between the two verbs:
I run a bit run ≃ I sometimes run, I run, then I don't, then I run again
I sing songs sing ≃ I sing every now and then

So basically, weakening the effect of reduplication by increasing the distance between the reduplicated elements. We could maybe extend this to plurals by reduplication:
house burn.pres = a|the house burns
house house burn.pres = houses are burning 
house burn.pres house = a few houses are burning