Archive for June, 2016

Ŋʒädär: The absolutive and the unabsolutive cases

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016
The absolutive case in Ŋʒädär has a slight complication: for some nouns, it is in fact marked with an explicit absolutive morpheme in the singular, which is omitted before other case suffixes. For these nouns, the roles usually covered by the absolutive are also somewhat redistributed. However, the naked stem - the unabsolutive - also is a case of sorts, with a few interesting quirks:
  • It is used whenever the noun is an attribute of another noun, regardless of whether this is possession or some other type of attributeness.
  • It is used when the noun is a complement of copulas and the like.
  • It is used when forming compounds, regardless what case the compound normally would take the noun in.
This case only appears as a plural case with two nouns, warga-n (pl. warg-umu), mountain, and märsi-n (pl. märs-ümü) autumn. For most other nouns, the plural forms restore the regular case system.
A handful other nouns with this case include:
ük'cö-n house
pulko-n loot
gosto-n leather
xamla-n honey (lacks plural altogether)
seŋe-n peace
sop'a-n salt
mükcä-n a herb not unlike parsely
vusro-n rot, pus
They all end in -n, but not all nouns ending in -n end in an -n absolutive marker.
In some dialects, this case is also used with intransitive subjects, and as object of imperatives. In eastern dialects, it has generally been completely lost.

Language Creation Tribune, Issue 9

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

Language Creation Tribune

Issue 9

June 2016

A word from our President

Welcome to the 9th edition of the Language Creation Tribune. Summer is coming (at least for those in the Northern hemisphere), and I hope you are not all staying inside working on your conlangs, especially if the weather is nice. A breath of fresh air does wonders for one’s creativity! I myself am writing this column from the beautiful and sunny island of Corfu, taking my own advice to heart. And it is needed: as you may have noticed, I haven’t been very active as President of the LCS lately. Various circumstances have conspired to sap me of my energy, and I really need a recharge. So I apologise in advance for my lack of activity. I hope to get back on track in the next few months.

As you probably noticed, the last few months the LCS has mostly been busy with the Paramount vs. Axanar court case. I will not focus on it in this column (our position has been clearly stated in the link I just gave, and you can check the links below for even more information). Rather, I will just repeat that by intervening with our amicus brief, we did exactly what the LCS stands for: to promote and further the art and craft of language creation, and to ensure conlangers and non-conlangers alike can carry on enjoying our craft without hindrance. And we will stay vigilant in the future, to ensure it stays that way.

However, I realise that our focus on the Axanar case means we have not been focusing on our core activities, and I do understand if people find that irritating. I know some people have been asking these kinds of questions: “What about the next LCC?” “Where are the updated videos from the LCC6 that we’ve been promised?” “What about the LCS’s social media presence?” And so on… I could once again explain that we are a volunteer organisation with limited time and energy, but in truth I agree that we (and by “we” I mean “I”) have not been responsive enough lately, and I can only promise that we will pick up the slack in the next few months.

Concerning the next LCC, like last time an email will be sent within a few weeks to the Members’ List kicking off the bidding round. However, you don’t need to wait for it: as I know some people are already doing, if you are interested in hosting the next LCC, don’t hesitate to start and looking for venues already.

As for the updated videos from the LCC6, the fault lies squarely with me, and a lack of ability to delegate, which is why I hereby ask for help: if you have experience with video editing and are interested in helping to get the ground work done so we finally get HD videos of the LCC6 presentations, please contact me privately, so I can explain to you what kind of work must be done.

I will also get back on track concerning our social media presence, so you can expect some kind of announcement in the next weeks.

Also, don’t forget that your members’ benefits, as described at the end of this newsletter, are always available to you all. Don’t hesitate to make use of them. And if there are other things that we are not yet doing, but you think we should be working on them, don’t hesitate to contact us with your ideas. We are always looking for more ways to support the conlanging community.

As usual, I can only say that the LCS wouldn’t exist without your support, and I hope you will carry on supporting us, even when times are hard and we (or rather “I”) have difficulties to stay on top of things. Your support does mean a lot, and helps us supporting you in return.

Fiat Lingua!

Christophe Grandsire-Koevoets,

President of the Language Creation Society.

Conlang Curiosities 

by John Quijada

Get It While You Can

Two common English verbs, “can” and “get”, which native speakers such as myself take for granted as seemingly simple words signifying simple concepts, are in fact minefields of outright semantic anarchy. In fact, if their semantic patterning were to be exactly paralleled in a conlang, the community-at-large would berate the conlang as being unrealistic, a joke-lang, or a sure sign of newbishness.

Nevertheless, reality is stranger than fiction (as is usually the case) and the lexico-semantic bizarreness of these two “simple” English words is worth looking at if only to demonstrate that the great majority of natlang-style conlangs are too regular and too lacking in the subtly outlandish oddities found in real-world natural languages. In this respect, exploring the semantic patterns of these two English words is worthwhile for any artlanger or natlang-style conlanger.

One way to appreciate the semantics of English “get” is to see how its various meanings are translated into another language, say, Italian, where every single instance of this little English word requires a completely different verb:

  • I got it yesterday. → L’ho recevuto ieri. (“I received it yesterday.”)
  • Get me my wallet. → Portimi il portafoglio. (“Bring the wallet.”)
  • I don’t get Non lo capisco. (“I don’t understand it.”)
  • He’s getting Diventa vecchio. (“He becomes old.”)
  • I’ll try to get there on time. → Tentarò di arrivare a tempo. (“I’ll try to arrive on time.”)
  • You’re going to get it! → Ti farai sgridare. ( “You’ll make yourself scold.” [idiomatic construction])
  • Did you get ahold of him? → Hai potuto parlare con lui? (“Were you able to speak with him.”)
  • I get 20 euros an hour. → Guadagno 20 euro all’ora. (“I earn 20 euros per hour.”)
  • Can you get me some money? → Puoi procurarmi del denaro? (“Can you procure me some money?”)
  • A lot of cars get sold here. → Si vendono molte macchine qui. (“Many cars sell themselves here.”)

And let’s look at our poor little defective modal verb “can”, which means:

  • “be permitted to”, e.g., You can go now.
  • “have the potential to or possibility of”, e.g., It can flood this time of year.
  • “have the opportunity to”, e.g., I can ask about it when I arrive.
  • “have the physical capacity or ability to”, e.g., Can you touch your toes?
  • “offer to”, e.g., I can sing for you if you like.
  • “know how to”, e.g., I can swim, can you?

Anyone who’s studied Romance languages knows that the lexico-semantics of English “can” do not map in a one- to-one correspondence to those languages’ verb of potential/capacity, e.g., English “I can see you” = Spanish “Te veo”, French “Je te voix”.

So the curious conlanger looking to impose curiosities within one’s conlang might do well to play around with the lexico-semantic ranges of certain “common” words (perhaps using a dart board or some Dungeons & Dragons twenty-sided dice) to achieve similar effects. And perhaps such shattering of lexico-semantic boundaries might even result in something as bizarre as the one additional meaning of English “can” that I left out above:

“I bought a can of tomatoes.”


Conlanging News

Articles and online media relevant to conlanging

  • The Atlantic published this article titled “The Man who Invented Dothraki: How one linguist creates obsessively detailed—and fully functional—languages for Game of Thrones and other shows.”
  • Unwinnable published an article about building languages in video games.
  • Several sources provided articles about the Paramount v. Axanar case, including NPR, Hollywood Reporter, and Mother Board.

Fiat Lingua‘s latest articles

  • March 2016: “Gnóma: A Brief Grammatical Sketch of a Conlang” by Jessie Sams
    • Abstract: “Gnóma is a conlang for garden gnomes, who have a grim past behind their currently pleasant statued smiles. Their language is rooted in Gothic (as that was their native language) and has been influenced by both Romani and Turkish through long periods of language contact. The description of Gnóma in this paper treats it as a natlang, comparing it to typological trends of world languages and providing a brief overview of its sounds, writing system, and grammar.”
  • April 2016: “Invented Languages: From Wilkins’ Real Character to Avatar’s Na’vi” (collected) by Angela Carpenter
    • Abstract: “Angela Carpenter taught an undergraduate course on conlanging at Wellesley College during the fall semester of 2015. Collected in one .pdf are the final papers of the students from her course. In each paper, the student has documented their conlang and presented a text in that conlang. The document also contains links to audio recordings of the included texts.”
  • May 2016: “The Slovio Myth” by Jan van Steenbergen
    • Abstract: “The “universal simplified language Slovio” has been controversial since it was first published on the Internet in 2001. It claims to be immediately understood by 400 million people, and to be mutually understandable with all Slavic and Baltic languages. The impression is given that Slovio is a huge project, spoken by hundreds or even thousands of people and officially supported by major international organizations. At the very centre of a large network of websites in Slovio is the site, featuring a complete grammar, learning materials and an exceptionally large dictionary. But even though Slovio is being vigorously propagated as a serious rival for Esperanto, it also claims to be first and only Pan-Slavic language, and in spite of its declared global intentions, the motor behind Slovio appears to be radical Slavic nationalism more than anything else. In this paper, Jan tries to determine what Slovio is really about and on what scale it is really used, in other words, to separate myths from facts.”
  • Call for submission: Fiat Lingua publishes everything conlang-related, including reviews of conlang-relevant books, conlang grammars, essays on style, conlang criticism, scholarly work on a conlang-related topic, and conlang artwork and prose or poetic composition. If you have something you’d like to publish or have an idea you think might work as an article, email All submissions must be in PDF format.

Conlangery podcasts

  • March 2016
    • Conlangery #117: Kash
    • Description: A discussion on last year’s Smiley winner, Kash.
  • April 2016
    • Conlangery #118: Linguistics Databases
    • Description: An overview of online linguistics databases.
  • May 2016
    • Conlangery #119: Paramount v Axanar
    • Description: A discussion with Sai, Christophe, and attorney Mark Randazza about the Paramount v Axanar case.

LCS Member Milestones

William Barton published the second book of his conlang-related SF/F series: Venusworld Book2: White Sea Crossings.

White Sea Crossings cover

Alexis Huchelmann writes, “In mid-June, I’ll present before a jury the first part of my master thesis (linguistics) at the University of Strasbourg. It’s a basic review of the nature and history of conlangs and existing research in the field. I had the good luck to write it under the patronage of Hélène Vassiliadou, who encouraged me to describe in the second part the complete creation of a language, from scratch.”

LCS Membership benefits

You can find more information about becoming a member, as well as more information on the benefits, here.

  • Two permanent domain names and free full web and email hosting; for more information or to fill out the form to claim a domain name, please visit this page.
  • Checkout privileges for the LCS Lending Library.
  • Access to a Hightail account (you can find more information about Hightail, an online file server, at its website); please email Sylvia to create your account.
  • Full voting rights in the LCS.
  • Discounts on all LCS events.

Please direct any questions you have regarding LCS membership to Also, all communication regarding your membership will come from that address as well, so please white-list

You shop. Amazon gives. If you shop Amazon, you can now support the LCS by using this Amazon link for your shopping. Amazon will give a percentage of its profits on all the purchases you make through that link to the LCS.

Detail #296: A Restriction on Possession

Monday, June 27th, 2016
In Proto-Uralic (and even possibly Proto-Finnic), possessive suffixes could not be applied to subjects. This leaves an interesting morphological consequence in modern Finnish - subjects with possessive suffixes on them are morphologically indistinguishable from objects with possessive suffixes on them, even when there's significant differences in the subject and object forms:
nominative: kausi
accusative: kauden
possessed nom-acc:
1sg: kauteni
2sg: kautesi
3sg/pl: kaudensa, kauteaan
1pl: kaudemme
2pl: kaudenne
We could of course imagine a similar thing with any type of possession - note that Uralic probably permitted using nouns and pronouns in the genitive as possessors of subjects. Semantically, though, it's obvious that subjects can be possessed - they might just maybe be slightly less likely to be so than objects and such, or there might not even be any statistical difference there.

Now, we still need a method for that, and a few options appear:
  • some kind of oblique argument of the verb
  • some 'other type' of attribute (analogous, say, to the English 'of'-genitive or somesuch)
  • not actually permitting possessed subjects, instead demoting possessed subjects to some kind of oblique position, or comparable position to the causee of a causative (the whole possessive construction with subjects could very well be perfectly analogous to causatives)
Now, we can start imagining interesting other differences: in English, for instance, "-'s" covers the same syntactical spot as "the" and other determiners. We could imagine that subjects generally either have a much more restricted set of permitted things in that position, or even none at all; maybe subjects in this language only can be subjects if they're definite, and other agents that are closely related to the verb must be in some kind of oblique position, or maybe there must be some kind of pseudo-definite dummy noun with the actual agent as an attribute of some kind.

Further, one could of course have determiners for subjects behave oddly - maybe they migrate to a position similar to that of an auxiliary, so:
dogs all_(verbal morpho) bark
dogs some_(verbal morpho) like playing fetch
I saw some cats

Detail #295: Agreement with the Subject in Case Marking

Sunday, June 26th, 2016
This post uses the distinction between argument and adjunct without really ever providing any specific defition. I Should probably sometime actually 

Imagine a language where the case markers of direct arguments of the verb show some kind of agreement with the gender and number of the subject. We come up with a set of object markers that - maybe with some syncretism - thus marks mostly the agreement features of the subject, but to some extent also marks some agreement features of the object.

For the other cases, for arguments of the verb the congruence marker only codes the gender-number of the subject, and there's a separate morpheme marking the number of the argument. This number marker marks the gender of the noun itself, not that of the subject.

For adjuncts of the finite verb and for both the arguments and adjuncts of infinitives, the noun takes its own gender's case marker.

To illustrate such a system, I guess a three-gender system is suitable. Let's assume a very IE one, i.e. with three genders, one masculine, one feminine and one neuter.

In the system I came up with , the masculine and feminine objects take their own gender's accusative marker as object marker when the subject is neuter. When the subject is of the same gender as the object, they take their own gender's default morpheme - the one used for adjuncts and infinitive objects.
However, when a masculine subject and feminine object or vice versa occur, a special set of morphemes are used. Slightly more complicated in the singular than the plural, however, with more syncretism in the plural.

Finally, for the other cases as arguments, a masculine singular subject triggers masculine singular case markers, a feminine plural subject triggers feminine plural case markers, etc. If the argument and the subject are of the same gender-number marking, the argument's own number-morphology is lost.

Sargaĺk Words: Family Terminology

Saturday, June 25th, 2016
xane - mother
ərges - father
simi - oldest son
simižar -
oldest living son, if the oldest one has passed away
tame - any other son
siminša - the full set of sons (masc)
tamu - daughter
tamunša - the full set of daughters (masc)
lisna - baby, infant
žəgon - kid (from around three up to about thirteen years)

kəsimos - older brother, uncle
kətamos - any other brother
kətamsu - any sister or aunt

boxan - grandmother
borges - grandfather
olinu - ancestors (m, sg.)

When speaking of grandparents, whether they're maternal or paternal such can be specified, oddly enough, by just inserting 'mother' or 'father' in the pegative-genitive:
xantat borgen : mother's father (not 'mother's grandfather')
ərgesta boxan : father's mother (not 'father's grandmother')

minu - wife
aŋul - husband

ŋolmi - manners, with regards to family.

ecdə - relatively close family (but wider than nuclear family)
miv - village, but also relatives
ecdo -
house and privileges (m)
ecdak - inheritance

Adjectival Congruence in Sargaĺk

Friday, June 24th, 2016
In Sargaĺk, there is a very limited case congruence: an NP-initial adjective or determiner takes a case-specific congruence marker. However, the congruence is not entirely trivial:
  • The familiar comitative does not have congruence morphology of its own, but uses regular comitative morphology on adjectives.
  • Both masculine and feminine singular nominatives have a zero congruence marker on adjectives. Demonstratives distinguish the two, however, as do a few other quantifiers and determiners.
  • The ablative's adjectival congruence marker is identical to the regular oblique marker in the singular.
  • For non-nominative NPs, any intervening adjective takes an oblique, gender-specific morpheme.
The cause for this system seems to be providing cues as early as possible for parsing. 

Now it's time for some example phrases:
p'ĺxo : pig, swine (m)
kor p'ĺxo : big swine
žaŋ-a p'ĺxo :
that swine

kor-ta p'əlx-ta : big swine (pegative)
žaŋ-ta (kor-ə) p'əlxta : that big swine
goŋ-ta (kor-ə) p'əlxta : dumb (big) swine (pegative)
kor-sa p'ĺx-a : dumb swines
goŋ-sa kor-eg p'ĺx-a : dumb swines (pegative)
goŋ-eg p'əlx-tsa : from the dumb swine
kor-eg goŋ-eg p'əlx-tsa: from the big dumb swine
goŋ-əssa p'ĺx-əssa : from the dumb swines

č'onku : bottle
kor č'onku : big bottle
kor-air č'onk-air
: big bottles
kor-sta č'onk-sta : big bottles (peg)
k'ilp č'onku : full bottle
k'il-tat č'on-tat : full bottle (pegative)
žaŋ-u k'ilp č'onku : this full bottle
žaŋ-tat k'ilp-i č'on-tat : this full bottle (pegative)
žaŋ-rut k'ilp-i č'onk-rut : in this full bottle
ža-rne k'ilp-i č'onk-ərne : into this full bottle
žaŋ-el k'ilp-el č'on-əssa : from these full bottles
As can be seen, the oblique masculine marker is -ə, the oblique feminine is -i. In the plural, they are -eg (masc) and -el (fem).

For complements of verbs, the oblique markers are used if the state expressed is fairly constant, i.e. 'he is tall' or the like, whereas if it is more temporary, no congruence marker is used.

    fifteen is vositima

    Thursday, June 23rd, 2016
    vositima = fifteen (numeral) (Some things Google found for "vositima": a very rare term; similar Vestima is an investment fund service; similar Fostiima is a business school in Delhi, India; similar visitmina is a website for the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art in the UK)

    Word derivation for "fifteen" :
    Basque = hamabost (from ten + five)
    Finnish = viisitoista (five + -teen)
    Miresua = vositima (five + -teen)

    Another new number word. This one is more Finnish than Basque, but I think not unreasonably so.

    I'm not sure if the word fifteen occurs in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland or not. I'll update this post later when I find out.

    Case in Answers in my Conlangs

    Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016
    Single-noun answers to questions sometimes in some languages do not necessarily preserve case. If we think of English prepositions as case markers, the two possibilities can be seen below:
    Case Preserving:
    Q: To where are you going?
    A: To Närpes.

    Non-case Preserving:
    Q: With what are you going to build it?
    A: Blood, sweat, tears, nails, wood and a hammer.
    My conlangs have slightly differing approaches to responses. Ŋʒädär permits case preservation, but also permits some non-preservation - oblique cases that are not preserved are replaced by the locative, whereas dative, genitive-comitative and complement cases are replaced by the absolutive.
    Q: vär xogon t'e-k bürü-ŋö-z
    you house what-instr build-fut*-direct
    with what do you intend to build a house?

    A2: altaŋ-ŋa
    A: (with|at) brick

    * the meaning of -ŋö- varies with the verb root and with surrounding morphemes.
    Ćwarmin requires case preservation, except with direct objects and quirky case subjects: for all of these, an answer in the nominative is permitted.
    Q: u kar-ar?
    (s)he what-from?where is he from?

    A: kirəc-ər
    A: from far away

    Q: bec kar-ac źarkus-amca
    Q: you who-acc meet-recent_past
    who did you meet?
    : Garan
    : Garan-uc
    Sargaĺk preserves case except the pegative, which is replaced by the nominative in short answers. 

    Dairwueh preserves case except in situations involving quirky case, where the nominative or the accusative can appear instead, depending on whether the noun asked for is subject or object. One minor exception is that nominative interrogative pronouns with transitive verbs can take genitive nouns as answers, if the noun given for the answer is definite.

    Finally, Bryatesle does not preserve secondary case ever in short answers. Subjects and objects can preserve case, but may also be marked by nominative (regardless whether it's subject or object, or even quirky case subject or object that is being asked for). The two other cases can be preserved, or be given in the answer in the accusative case.

    Detail #294: An Unusual Way of Marking Reflexives

    Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016
    A thing that could be somewhat interesting would be to form reflexive objects by using a preposition and a pronoun. In the example sentences, I'll use eg as that preposition:
    I washed eg me
    I washed myself
    However, this could also provide a way of doing reflexive possession:
    he sold eg car
    he sold his (own) car

    he sold his car
    he sold another third person's car
    This would qualify as a preposition on syntactical grounds - whatever syntactical differences you find in the language between objects and prepositional phrases, you'd need to have this line up with the prepositional phrases: this might include omitting object marking on the verb, not permitting certain transformations, requiring the noun to be in some specific case.

    We could also restrict this from combining with other prepositions, thus making 'by him', 'from him', etc not distinguish reflexive and other third person.

    If the language permits reflexives in subject position (which some languages do in positions such as 'he1 doesn't know that he1's won the lottery', this could be made interesting by requiring a verb voice that lacks syntactical subject altogether, and for which the 'eg [Noun]' phrase is the demoted subject.

    Detail #293: Indefinite Pronouns and Noun Morphology

    Tuesday, June 21st, 2016
    Integrating definiteness and the whole indefinite pronoun system with its various functions into noun morphology instead of having things like case could be an interesting approach to noun morphology - it seems to me the order by which conlangers go for noun morphology beyond the derivative morphology is a hierarchy something like
    number (maybe fused with gender)
    possession marking (head or dependent marking)
    other cases (maybe fused with gender)
    possessive affixes
    definiteness marking
    noun class / gender (maybe fused with number)
    This is not particularly bad or anything, but we could do something else with nouns than that. Some Native American languages offer us the idea of marking for obviativeness/proximativeness, which interacts with the verb and the more general discourse in interesting ways. Few conlangers make Native American languages, however.

    The last in the hierarchy above is gender, which any Bantu-style language would almost necessarily be present.

    Now, I've often gone and linked the typological classification of indefinite pronouns that Apollo Hogan wrote way back. To this, we could add some definite pronouns and determiners - demonstratives, maybe articles (if we go so far as to distinguish 'that', 'this' and 'the'; seems 'the' may easily turn superfluous). From this point on, 'the/a/any/some/...' represents whatever system you come up with from that classification.

    Incorporating that whole system of 'the/a/any/some/...' into the noun, possibly in combination with possessive affixes (either giving {the, a, any, some, no, every, ...} * {my, your, his/hers, our, ...} or {the, a, any, some, no, every, ...} + {my, your, his/hers, our, ...} could give interesting results. Let's further permit a "light recursion", having the third person possessive suffixes further be marked for a less granular set of distinctions - merge a few of the different 'anies' and 'somes' that you have for that suffix, and maybe forbid certain combinations ('than any X of than any X' seems unlikely to ever be needed, i.e. forbid double indefinite standard of comparison. I find it likely that you'll ever need the possessor to be the indefinite standard of comparison, but you could of course permit having the marking go there nevertheless for whatever reason, or heck, require doubly marking it.)

    Since indefinite pronouns often have somewhat overlapping functions (just check the amount of overlap in the example systems section of the link), this gives us a somewhat more overlapping system than the typical case system - which is a nice effect, in my opinion.

    Even more interest could maybe be created by having different noun classes divide up this functional space in slightly different ways, maybe even having different numbers of divisions of it.