Archive for July, 2015


Monday, July 27th, 2015

A language in which register is the primary contrastive feature. The only permissible syllables in roots are [ha] and [haa], so every sentence sounds like laughter. Each mora has one of 5 tones (top, high, mid, low, bottom), and each syllable has one of 3 voices (breathy, modal, creaky), so that there are 95 possible monosyllables. (For comparison, 21 is the median consonant inventory size according to WALS, and with 5 vowels that gives 105 possible CV monosyllables.) Vowel quality is used to indicate the speaker’s attitude towards the referent of a word ([a] = neutral, [e] = positive, [o] = negative). Final vowel nasalisation is used to mark verb complements.

Example sentence (-d = breathy, -t = creaky, -n = nasalised):

Há hàád hent, hȍhȍ het hòódhȍt hán.
há hàád hent hȍhȍ het hòód-hȍt hán
1p.SG love POSACC2p.SG but 2p.SG NEGlove-not ACC1p.SG
‘I love you, but you don’t love me.’


Monday, July 27th, 2015

A conlang in which verbs, adjectives and demostratives belong to the same category. CV syllable structure, words are usually long (three syllables, rarely two). There are 7 phonemic register tones, from here on labelled 1 for the lowest and 7 for the highest. Nouns are a string of tones; they cannot appear on their own, so they mix with the verb (subject) or adjectives and demonstratives. For example:

bite: ka-hu-su, long: ma-fa-yi, dog: 364, snake: 117

ma1-fa1-yi7 ka3-hu6-su4 : The dog bites the snake.

pigeon is usky (revisited)

Monday, July 27th, 2015
usky = pigeon (bird) (noun) (Some things Google found for "usky": an uncommon term; uSky is software to change sky color shade in the Unity 5 development platform; USKY Skype gateway hardware; uSKY AIR is a small start-up carrier in South Korea; an unusual last name; Shanghai Usky Information Technology Co Ltd of China)

Word derivation for "pigeon" :
Basque = uso (dove or pigeon), Finnish = kyyhky (pigeon or dove)
Miresua = usky

I'm redoing this word because I'm changing the Basque source word to uso, which appears to be the more common Basque word for pigeon. My previous Miresua word for pigeon was gauhky, which used pagauso (wood pigeon) for the Basque word.

Note that the y in usky is pronounced as in Finnish, which is as the French u or German ü.

Even though Basque and Finnish use the same word for dove and pigeon, which makes sense since they are very similar birds, I'm going to keep two separate words. I consider doves to be smaller and more favorable than pigeons. The Miresua word for dove, which uses the same Basque and Finnish source words, is kyso.

Alice has a conversation with a pigeon, so the word pigeon occurs a dozen times in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
"But I'm NOT a serpent, I tell you!" said Alice. "I'm a--I'm a--"

"Well! WHAT are you?" said the Pigeon. "I can see you're trying to invent something!"

"I--I'm a little girl," said Alice, rather doubtfully, as she remembered the number of changes she had gone through that day.

Tatediem: Relative Clauses

Sunday, July 26th, 2015
Relative clauses in Tatediem use slightly different constructions depending on what argument is relativized. Relativized subjects are fairly simple: replace the subject prefix with an object prefix - or a possessive prefix for animate, transitive subjects.

For other arguments, there is a wackernagel particle that takes the object congruence of the relativized argument on it, -byim. In addition, the verb may take agreement for the grammatical class, either in the subject or object slot, depending on which one is free. The morpheme always is the form usually used with objects.

Verbs are turned into infinitives and gerunds by use of the grammatical class as well. Infinitives can carry subjects as well as objects. Both have objective prefixes, however, and there is a manner-prefix -ngkia- that signals infinitiveness. So essentially the template is gram-subj (as obj)-obj-ngkia-stem. An empty subject or object slot is normally not marked, but a strategy for distinguishing which is omitted exists - restating the subject as owner of the gerund or infinite, or for objects having -byim appear with object congruence after the gerund or infinitive.

Tatediem: Descriptive Comitative Possession

Friday, July 24th, 2015
In Tatediem, it is possible to form phrases along the line of "with his arms bare" using the following pattern: cong1-ADJ def2poss1-NOUN2 where 'cong' is the congruence class marker of the possessor, and poss- the possessive prefix of that class.

This construction is most common with the kinds of nouns that typically are inalienable, but not restricted only to them. It is maybe more similar to the Latin version, nudae lacertos. Syntactically, the closest in English would be something like 'nude of the arms',although that seriously scrambles the Latin cases.

Ćwarmin: A Regional Quirk in Forming Large Numbers

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015
Most Ćwarmin dialects have calqued their way of forming numbers beyond a thousand from Bryatesle. However, in the far west, there is a community that went through a relatively rapid modernization of their economy with very little contact with either Bryatesle or Dairwueh, but rather with several other groups. This rapid modernization also brought with it the need for an ability to form bigger numbers, and since none of their trading partners were particularly dominant, they evolved one of their own instead of borrowing it.

Notice that the dialect has some sound changes as well as some lexical differences from the version I usually describe. Below I give examples for the tens and the thousands.
Observation: nine divided by six is one and a half.
dusso = ten
eyse tara dusol = one ten-part = 1.5*10, rounded up = 20
mey tara dusol = 2* 1.5 * 10 = 30
mey tara e dusso = two ten-parts and ten = 30 + 10
sićey tara dusol = three parts, rounded up = 50
nurwa tara dusol = 60
nurwa tara e dusso = 70
meŋgə tara dusol = 80
seŋgə tara dusol = 90
kurcuw = thousand
eyse tara kurgwal = one piece of thousand = 1.5 * thousand, then rounded up = 2000
mey tara kurgwal = two pieces of thousand = 3000
mey tara e kurcuw = two pieces and thousand = 4000
sićey tara kurgwal = three pieces = 5000
nurwa tara kurgwal = four pieces = 6000
nurwa tara e kurcuw = four pieces and thousand = 7000
meŋgə tara kurgwal = five pieces = 8000
seŋgə tara kurgwal = 9000

So essentially, "ten with a sub-base of rounded-off 1.5". The same pattern for hundreds can be obtained by substituting dusso with peknə and dusol with pektəy. A smaller number can be placed to the right of these numbers, i.e.
sićey tara dusol sićey = 53
three part ten three

Sometimes, larger numbers appear on the left hand side, giving, for instance
seŋgə dusso tara dusol = 16*1.5*10 = 240.
The rounding is always upwards.

turkey is inkalkur (revisited)

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015
inkalkur = turkey (noun) (Some things Google found for "inkalkur": an unique term; in Turkish the somewhat similar word İnkalar means The Incas)

Word derivation for "turkey" :
Basque = indioilar, Finnish = kalkkuna
Miresua = inkalkur

My previous Miresua conlang word for turkey was inkailka. I modified this word so it wouldn't end in -A.

This is the large bird that Americans traditionally eat for Thanksgiving dinner. Not the Eurasian country.

The Basque word appears to be a compound word meaning indi- (from America) + oilar (rooster, cock).

Surprisingly, the word turkey occurs once in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
However, this bottle was NOT marked 'poison,' so Alice ventured to taste it, and finding it very nice, (it had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffee, and hot buttered toast,)....


Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

The Second Viennese School of linguistics has decreed that all sentences are to be composed of the same twelve basic phonemes in various orders, each appearing in exactly one place in the “phone row”. Phonemes can be repeated, alternated, or separated with pauses, but this does not change the base meaning. The set of allowed phonemes is arranged symmetrically with regards to place and manner of articulation, so negating a statement is done by saying it upside down. Development of a writing system should be straightforward.

Detail #186: Inverse Habitual Marking

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015
Imagine a language where some verbs are inherently habitual, and some inherently punctual or momentane or such. The same marker serves the role of deriving the other meaning. However, with a few verbs, the verb itself carries no inherent aspect. The aspect is instead derived from contextual cues, and the aspect marker operates with regards to whichever aspect the contextual cues implied. 

Further, the language does have other aspectual, temporal, diathetical* and modal affixes. These are also contextual clues - but the position of the inverse habitual marker with regards to the position of other morphemes in the verb complex can influence the parsing as well.

Some important clues:
  • with generic plural subjects (i.e. a species or class of things taken as a whole), habituals are always expected, but the interpretation is then that e.g. 'members of this class do so and so', without any necessity that the individual do it habitually - just that it's a trait of the class to do so at least once.
  • passive voice tends to imply non-habitual, except with a handful of verbs (sexual ones, food-related ones and work-related ones)
  • past tense in combination with perfect tends to imply non-habitual
  • past tense in combination with imperfect defaults to habitual, except with a handful of verbs (for definite subjects, ones that can only be carried out once or are unlikely to happen often in a lifetime: be born, die, lose virginity, be blinded, succumb to plagues, drown, marry (for women subjects)
  • if a person is mentioned with his social class or title, it is more likely to be parsed as habitual
  •  ... definiteness, social views, types of action, etc, may all influence this; I see too many possibilities to start listing them all, and if I listed them all I'd end up with every verb having this. Come up with your own lists!
The combination of future tense and some evidential is parsed as follows:
X verb-fut-evidential  → I think X will verb in the future, because he habitually verbs already
X verb-fut-inverse-evidentialI think X will habitually verb in the future, because he habitually verbs already
The difference in meaning here of course is subtle: the first example simply deals with some particular future time, the latter with future taken more widely. 

* voice-related

A Review: The Indo-European Controversy: Facts and Fallacies in Historical Linguistics

Monday, July 20th, 2015
A Review: The Indo-European Controversy: Facts and Fallacies in Historical Linguistics (Asya Pereltsvaig, Martin W. Lewis)

A few years ago, a team of researchers lead by Russell Gray and Quentin Atkinson presented a mathematical model for the spread of language families. Applying this model in reverse to the Indo-European languages supported the Anatolian hypothesis, a minority position on the location of the Indo-European urheimat.

For some reason, this was widely published in media, and the paper Mapping the Origins and Expansion of the Indo-European Language Family appeared at the same time in the journal Science. Gray and Atkinson have made very vocal and powerful claims about their findings: 'decisive support [for the Anatolian hypothesis]' is among the various things they have said about their own work.

Pereltsvaig and Lewis go over the results in depth, and find them highly lacking: they find numerous problems in the geographical spread that it presents, including multiple instances where the sanity of the model is excruciatingly questionable. They present the evidence we have against the Anatolian hypothesis (and even more clearly, the evidence we have against the Gray-Atkinson version of the Anatolian hypothesis) and all the difficulties it brings with it, as well as the evidence we have for the Steppe hypothesis.

They also present the evidence that has lead most linguists to accept Steppe Hypothesis instead. 

The argumentation is persuasive and clear, well-nigh undeniable. This leads to an important question: how did Science let a paper that is so rife with unsound historical linguistics pass peer review? It turns out that linguists did peer review it, and Science ignored their judgment, because their negative comments did not pertain to the maths of the model - clearly, having a mathsy model is a guarantee that the mathsy model is correct in Science's view?

Publications such as Business Insider either repost bad science from the Gray-Atkinson team, or add their own even worse spin to it. Consider their version of the Gray-Atkinson animated map. This is, allegedly, how "Language" spread across Europe. In linguistics, "Language" signifies the general phenomenon, the fact that humans can communicate in a complicated system. So if we are to take Business Insider's video title seriously, this is how the ability to speak spread in Europe, and all the current language families were the first languages spoken in their areas. 

Pereltsvaig and Lewis point out a very real problem: other scientists apparently do not take linguistics seriously, and we are facing a rise of armchair philosophers who disdain empiricism in favour of cute models (at least when going outside of their own field - i.e. Gray and Atkinson probably understand how to be scientific in their own field, but when working with language, the computational model seemingly blinds them to empirical facts). 

This, in turn, is coupled with the modern phenomenon of clickbaiting, where the most attention-attracting claim is more likely than other claims to pull in ad money, and thus scientific claims are propagated online not by their likelihood of being accurate, but by how tittilating they are. This is a genuine problem, and needs to be curbed.

Pereltsvaig's and Lewis's book is less combative than this review, although at times it does take vigorous swings at the Gray-Atkinson teams publications. It is a good read, and gives a lot of information about historical linguistics and especially Indo-European historical linguistics. A certain glimpse into issues in the philosophy of science can also be gleaned. It is well written: both clear, enjoyable and relevant.