Archive for March, 2017

A Bit on the Ethics and Aesthethics of Prescriptivist Thought

Saturday, March 4th, 2017
This is a response to a thing written maybe two years ago in a facebook group; I hope whoever wrote it has forgotten about it and does not feel harassed or pointed out. This post has been a very long time in the works, and while I could come up with better examples, more in-depth explanations etc, I think I will just call it a day for this one by now. Indented text are quotes, all the rest is my own writing.Finally, I did ask for permission to repost this and comment to it, but I don't even remember who wrote the original text. No malice intended.
I think I've finally managed to put my finger on what exactly bothers me about language evolution, particularly of my native language. It's not the fact that languages change, period, that gets on my nerves; I accept without grievance the fact that the present is ephemeral and all things must change - and I would be proud of contributing to a shared achievement of our species that continued to grow in complexity, nuance, or efficiency.
This is a nice onset. Of course, the context in which it was posted puts some limitations on it: facebook comments and statuses and 'posts' don't really provide a venue for any depth. So, I'll point out a few things I find missing this far: metrics for complexity, nuance and efficiency.

Complexity itself is not an obvious concept here: complexity for complexity's sake is often among the most wasteful things imaginable, and therefore at odds with another desideratum: efficiency. What is complexity supposed to mean? Let us imagine a rule that says that words that begin in clusters cannot be preceded by the preposition 'for', but need to be preceded by the preposition 'otaque'. This would increase complexity without making the language any more expressive. Complexity is anything that increases the amount of data needed to describe the language's workings.

Further, we can come up with quite different metrics for the other thing I mentioned, viz. efficiency: the most important are probably precision in expression, data compression, noise tolerance, effort for the brain etc

Turns out these are somewhat incompatible too: more compression / shorter exponents for information leads to less noise tolerance. Greater precision leads to greater effort for the brain.
It's the fact that it doesn't do that, at all. The principle of least effort predicts that almost invariably, the people who will end up being vindicated by evolution are the majority, the people who put the least pride into how they speak and typically carry the least amount of linguistic knowledge. It's demagoguery, but made inevitable not through governmental decree but by the core tenets of human social behavior.
Given the quality of governmental decrees throughout history, I think we should be happy it's not for the government to decide on what your language is supposed to be like. Let us give an example of an inconsistent ruling given by a language academy, viz. the Swedish Academy. Much like some flavours of prescriptivist English, the Swedish Academy frowned on 'better than me'-style constructions. The justification was that 'it is a shortened form of 'better than I am', and thus calls for the nominative rather than the accusative form. However, the Swedish Academy permitted the use of reflexive possessive pronouns in that position, e.g. 'better than her own sister'. Here's the kicker: you can't under any circumstance have a noun phrase with her own as its possessor be a subject in Swedish, so clearly the Academy were either unaware of their own failure to be consistent or they didn't care that their explanation was mistaken.

Yet that particular alleged grammatical error was often used by teachers to harass kids in school, or by people who felt they spoke "better" than others to illustrate that they indeed were better. In many things, pride often precludes clear thinking. And language is one of the fields in which pride both precludes clear thinking and becomes a whip with which to punish those you don't approve of. (And often, those are of social classes who just don't have the time to invest to learn this things, nor would get any actual tangible benefits from investing it.)

The linguistic systems that have been formalized as Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, Finnish, Russian, etc, are in part of course inventions of a few scholars - but the bulk of them are the results of undirected linguistic evolution! Not a bad day's work done by random drift in a speaker community. Most of what those scholars did was just analyze what random drift had come up with.

These people whose linguistic knowledge is being put down by the poster to whom I am responding, are also among those who need language as a tool in their daily life, and they are representatives of the kind of hardware that needs to be able to interact with it - their brains contain the heuristics that sample the string of phonemes and do crazy good reconstructions of the underlying sentence that only sometimes get it wrong – and they adjust to whether they're often misunderstood or they often are met with the reaction 'oh you misheard' by adding redundant information that helps in recovering the message; and thanks to the magic of evolutionary design methods, this takes their brains' limitations with regards to memory and speed, their own limitations with regards to time they have at their disposal to invest in learning additional vocabulary and additional grammatical quirks to satisfy upper middle class wankers' linguistic aesthethics, et.c. into account. Luckily, most won't even desire to suck up to upper middle class wankers, thus prioritizing the other desiderata higher than the satisfaction of those upper middle class wankers.
I guess that's why I've always been, to my own occasional chagrin, more into engineered languages than ones designed to resemble natlangs, which - while I continue to have a lot of fun with - I ultimately only enjoy to the extent that they let us break human convention, not imitate it.
Anyway, rant over, I understand I'm being a pretentious ass, yada yada yada, we all get to have one thing we're like that over, mine's language. Just thought I'd share.

Yes, you are being a pretentious ass, but I also think you're being an ignorant ass, which in my view of things is worse.

Secret Languages Needed for Webcomic

Friday, March 3rd, 2017


Taylor Hunt is looking for a language and script expert to create two related written languages (one Archaic form, and one Modern form derived from the former) for a webcomic. Neither language will appear in dialogue, so the written versions are paramount. However, these should still be fully-fledged conlangs. One important detail the applicant needs to take into account when applying is that the writing system for the Archaic language is non-linear (and in universe the language itself was designed artificially, as a secret language and obfuscation system). The Modern language, however, is written linearly. The employer has done some work on the languages already, and will share it with the chosen applicant.
The job itself consists of:

  • Two full conlangs, one derived from the other, with a complete grammatical description and about 500 words of vocabulary;
  • A non-linear writing system for the Archaic language, and a linear version for the Modern one. No font is required, the employer will draw everything by hand.

The applicant should negotiate with the employer on how best to share the created materials.


Taylor Hunt

Application Period

Open until job filled


The deadline of the initial project is six months or more after agreement, to be negotiated with the employer.


€1000 for the full project as described above (payment in three instalments at start, midpoint and conclusion of the project), to be negotiated with the employer.
Besides compensation, the language creator will be fully credited for their work.

To Apply

Email Taylor Hunt at taylorcharleshunt “at” gmail “dot” com to express your interest in the project. Please include qualifications and samples of previous work.

Note: Please assume that comments left on this post will not be read by the employer.


Friday, March 3rd, 2017

A conlang in which there are genders corresponding to each of the Pokemon types. Transitive verbs are conjugated based on how effective the subject’s type is against the object’s type.


“The sprinkler(water) watered(not very effective) the lawn(grass)”

“The boxer(fighting) punched(super effective) the statue(rock)”

Inraj Sargaĺk Generation-Specific Terminology

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017
Family terminology in Inraj Sargaĺk is one of the parts that most certainly are a holdover from the substrate. In part, a strong reason to suspect that this system is conservative is its unusual traits.

First, comparing the most immediate family terminology, we find that the system of distinguishing siblings, uncles and aunts by age is not well-established in Inraj Sargaĺk. Thus simi signifies all male siblings, and tame all female siblings.

The Inraj family terminology with regards to offspring, aunts, uncles, grandparents is specific to generations in a cyclical manner. Thus, a given person was born during the time considered to be the time of generation 1. He is considered the ospa of his father, who belongs to generation 3. His son will not be his ospa, however, but his ərok.

The graph below has 'female siblings' to the left, male siblings to the right, and parent/descendant in the middle - with females to the left, males to the right. Thus, aunts' and uncles' side of the family are not distinguished. The graph is cyclical, i.e. going downward past "mile / ərok", you get "adan / mota" again, etc.

Thus, a person of the ərok generation will have a mota for grandfather, a motbor for great uncle, an ospa for father and an ospor for uncle, an adkas for great aunt, a diskes for aunt and dise for mother. A mota will have an ərok for dad, etc. In the unusual case where greater spans of generations have survived, the prefixes mar-/mer- and sul-/sil- signify 'old' or 'young' to distinguish the two, e.g. maradkas : 'an adkas of the older generation when two adkas generations coexist', a sildise is the younger person that could be termed dise.
The most immediate family terms - sister, brother, father, mother, son, daughter - are often the same as in regular Sargaĺk, but in religious contexts even those are replaced by the terms here. For even slightly more distant relatives - uncles, aunts, grandparents, grandchildren - these terms are the usual terms.

Sargaĺk Possessives

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017
Possessive formation in Sargaĺk utilizes two cases - the pegative as well as the absolutive. There are certain syntactical restrictions on both.

First, the default possessive case when the possessum is oblique is the pegative. Thus
However, if there are adjectives pertaining to the possessum to the left of the possessor, the pegative is blocked:
There are certain reasons why an adjective would be to the left of the possessor:
  •  Whenever the possessor rather signifies the kind of possessor, than an individuated possessor, or even the kind of  the possessum (e.g. fish guts) rather than an individuated possessum, the possessor and possessum are syntactically closer together than the possessum and its adjectives are.
  • Whenever the adjective distinguishes an individuated possessum among a potential multitude of possessum's owned by the same possessor (e.g. 'John's red hat (as opposed to his blue hat)')
Whenever the possessum is in one of the core cases, viz. pegative or absolutive, the same rule with regards to adjectives surrounding a possessor holds. Another rule that holds for core case NPs is that the case of the possessor is partially influenced by the transitivity of the verb, and the possessor may be dislocated from its possessum. The basic rule for possessors is: the more transitive the verb is, the more likely for a possessum to be pegative, and the higher up the hierarchy ditransitive subject > indirect object > transitive subject > direct object > intransitive subject, the more likely the possessor is to be in the pegative case.

It is not uncommon for a possessor of core cases to become a "pretend-subject"; this pretend-subject doesn't trigger any ditransitive marking or anything such on the verb, though. The pretend-subject can be marked for pegative even if the situation isn't "pretend-ditransitive". Since subjects usually go sentence-initially, this means the possessor can be offset from its possessum. It is generally speaking not possible to decide which noun is the possessum from any syntactical or morphological cues – contextual knowledge and a sort of noun hierarchy are relevant parsing cues.

The Dai Language: An Embarrassment

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

David J. Peterson received a BA in English and Linguistics from UC Berkeley in 2003 and an MA in Linguistics from UC San Diego in 2005. He created the Dothraki and Valyrian languages for HBO’s Game of Thrones, the Castithan, Irathient and Indojisnen languages for Syfy’s Defiance, the Sondiv language for the CW’s Star-Crossed, the Lishepus language for Syfy’s Dominion, the Trigedasleng language for the CW’s The 100, and the Shiväisith language for Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World. He’s been creating languages since 2000.


David J. Peterson’s first paid conlanging project occurred eight years before Game of Thrones. It was a language called Dai, and it was done in early 2001 for a high school student’s Dungeons & Dragons campaign. This paper provides a brief introduction to the nature of the work, and the full language, as it stood at that point.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

grammaticalityandotherjudgements: I guess I’ll call this my…

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017


I guess I’ll call this my zombie comic because we all thought this whole thing was dead but I’m bringing it back to life (or something like that, 4th year is a struggle so don’t expect any new/regular updates anytime soon).

Anyway, I wrote this like 9-ish weeks ago and figured I’d post it. Tl;dr: be nice to your friends because they might secretly be sentimental idiots

My amazing and wonderful best friend posted a comic update - I’m so proud!