Archive for June, 2017

Detail #348: Finely Grained Reciprocals (and potentially reflexives)

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017
One of the structures English uses for reciprocals is "one another". This, I've always interpreted as a sort of parallel implicit clause that tells us how to interpret the first clause. This is a very naive model, I know, but think of it as
(each) one verbs another
Russian has a rather similar structure, with  друг друг- drug drug(obj/obl case), i.e. other(nom) other(object or oblique case), or even potentially friend friend(object or oblique case). In the case of Russian, I am pretty sure this is understood in terms of other other rather than friend friend – friend and other are homonyms but distinct lexemes despite sharing their etymology, but one could imagine a language where similar structures could be made from a much larger set of nouns or pronouns, possibly also including additional information, e.g. "child child(...)" would tell us that the group who acted reciprocally consisted entirely of children, etc. Of course, not all nouns would fit in there, and maybe there'd be some particular quirks, such as some slight reduction of the case markers or of the root or whatever, so e.g. "child chi's" for "each other's (wrt children)". One could go further with this idea, and for instance mark differences in the reciprocality - does each agent act on one other agent or on multiple ones, etc. (Not that that can't be marked by other strategies as well, and not that that really is all that interesting in most contexts.)

Detail #343, pt 2: Differential Number

Saturday, June 24th, 2017
One position where differential number can make sense is after numbers themselves.

In many languages, numbers are followed by singulars rather than plurals, giving phrases which, if translated morpheme-for-morpheme, would be along the lines of
five man
three ship
Other languages obviously have plurals there (and some have some non-obvious case, e.g. Finnish has partitive singular for nominative and accusative NPs, and for other cases, there's agreement between the numeral and the noun. Except for nouns that lack singular forms altogether, the noun is in the singular, and for those nouns that lack singular forms, the noun is in the plural and the numeral also is inflected for the plural (which numbers otherwise mostly are not!)

Now, let's consider how to use this to differentiate things. One difference number sometimes can contain is that of a number of things being seen as a number of individuals, or as a group containing some number of members. Imaginably, a singular noun after a numeral would be more likely to indicate groupness, whereas plurals would be likely to indicate an individuated plural. However, collectives vs. singulatives imaginably would go the other way in languages that have those.

Further, of course, one can consider the interaction of this with determiners like many, some, etc. Here, we get two possibilities: maybe plural by itself indicates individuated plurality, and collective plurality needs some kind of pluralizing particle in combination with a singular root - so many mother would signify '(a group of) many mothers), whereas mothers would signify several mothers acting without coordination. On the other hand, we could imagine that words like many could overrule the plural's individuation, and so many mothers would signify mothers as a group. Again, the collective-vs-singulative situation could provide the very opposite interpretation, where the collective itself implies groupness, but some extra particle indicates individuation; or the singulative with some particle indicates individuated plurals.

Detail #347 pt II: A Meatier Description of Quirks by Featural Design

Saturday, June 24th, 2017
One of my faithful readers asked for a meatier description of the thing I described in the previous post. Here goes.

Let's consider a system that can be decomposed into four binary features, A, B, C and D. Let's pretend we're building a verbal system, so this is some kind of TAM++ system we're describing. So, let's consider what the four things could be:
A: transitive vs. intransitive
B: perfective vs. imperfective
C: past vs. non-past
D: irrealis vs. realis
However, the markers do not simply mark a single feature at a time, so the markers that exist may be:
א perfective + transitive + realis + past
ב past + perfective
×’ irrealis + intransitive
ד transitive
×” past + intransitive
ו imperfective + intransitive

The idea is there should be more of these, but working out a nice system is tedious so I skipped that bit. With the system above, if you want to express transitive irrealis, you have to construct it using ג and ד - irrealis intransitive + transitive, where transitive overrules the intransitive bit of the previous morpheme. Thus the system is fusional, in part, and agglutinating in part.


Friday, June 23rd, 2017

Rhotics can have all sorts of pronounciations, from the alveolar trill to a uvular fricative to the alveolar approximant - make your conlang use the *bilabial* trill (/Ê™/) as its default rhotic.

Detail #347: A Possible Quirk of Featural System Design

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017
Ever since I read an analysis of the Russian case system in terms of binary features, I have been thinking a lot about featural analyses of systems in my conlangs, and also of featural design, i.e. coming up with a set of features, introducing some distortion in the system (i.e. merging some combinations, or adding a feature that only combines with some particular combinations of features) and deriving some grammatical subsystem from such principles.

One idea I came up with recently, but which I am pretty sure I might not ever actually implement, is the following: have some markers that fuse more than one feature, but do not fill out the full space with these. So, e.g. if we have features A, B, C, D and E, we may have markers for
1: A
2: B
3: C ^ D
4: ¬ D ^ E
5: ¬C
6: ¬E
Evaluation happens from left to right -i .e. 4, then 5 would leave D positive, 5, then 4 would 
You cannot obtain "purely" D by just going for one morpheme, you need to combine 3 with 5, so C ^ D, but correct the C to o ¬C.

This could get even more interesting if we didn't just have binary features, but also some form of intensive that could be used to form certain constructions. But there may be a future post coming up about three-way feature systems where the values are "yes, no, intensely yes".

Language Sketch Needed for New Intellectual Property

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017


Toby O’Hara is looking for a skilled conlanger to develop a conlang sketch for a new intellectual property set in a fantasy world, to be used for novels, role playing games, miniatures and board games, but starting with novels. The premise behind this language is that it was originally created by angelic and daemonic beings. The beings had a complex system for communication, based on telepathy and glyphs/runes, which they adapted into an audible language to communicate with lesser beings (i.e. humans). Nowadays, this language is long lost and forgotten, but traces of it still exist within all forms of spoken communication of the present-day world.
Initially, all that is needed is a basic conlang sketch with rules for naming characters, locations and concepts. Only a romanization is needed, the writing system is to be designed later. Regarding lexical forms, most needed are opposing concepts (e.g. good/evil, light/dark, female/male, etc.), so no more than 50 words would be necessary at this time. The sound and look of this romanized language is open to the conlanger’s imagination, hopefully with some input or feedback from the employer along the way.
Ultimately, this sketch is intended to be developed into a full conlang that will serve as the starting point for the creation of several (3-5) other spin-off languages. The language will also need a script, possibly a glyph or rune system in the vein of the Chinese hanzi or Japanese kanji, but obviously with its own unique look and feel. For that reason, experts with experience creating glyph or symbolic orthographies would be highly desirable.
This job posting is just for the initial conlang sketch. The additional work referred to above will be negotiated and contracted separately. Depending on how many people apply for the job, it is possible that more than one person will be hired to do this first sketch. In that case, it will be up to the employer which sketch will be used, and which person(s) will be hired for future assignments.


Toby O’Hara

Application Period

Until the job is filled, but at least till June 30


The deadline for the Conlang Sketch is 3 months, but this can be negotiated.


The compensation is $200 for the Conlang sketch, which will be paid in two installments (half up front, half upon completion). An additional $100 will be paid if the sketch can be completed before July 31. Besides compensation, the language creator will be fully credited for their work.

To Apply

Please email ‘Toby’ at ‘shadowborne-games’ dot ‘com’ for more information. Any sample conlangs that the applicant is willing/authorized to share would be greatly appreciated. The chosen candidate must be willing to sign a Nondisclosure Agreement (NDA) before work commences.
Note: Please assume that comments left on this post will not be read by the employer.


Sunday, June 18th, 2017

Langauges can split noun classes in different ways such as male/female, animate/inanimate, edible/inedible, etc.

However, your conlang should classify nouns as “human” or “dancer”

Dairwueh Case System: Cases as Bundles of Features, pt II

Sunday, June 18th, 2017
Dairwueh has five cases,
  • nominative
  • accusative
  • dative
  • genitive
  • locative-instrumental
The following treatment only deals with the use of these cases when they are not accompanied by prepositions. Prepositions basically just ignore this stuff.

Basically, all cases except the locative-instrumental sometimes are subjects, giving us the following feature: potential subject? Of course, this is a very limited feature of most cases - the accusative being subject of a few verbs, the dative likewise. Thus it is not a very strong feature; however, as for subjects go, nominatives and genitives both very frequently occur as subjects. We basically can assign those two the value +subj.

Before going on with this, I need to explain quickly the use of the genitive for subjects in Dairwueh: the genitive stems historically from an ergative case. It is used for definite subjects of transitive verbs.

Now we have (nom, gen) vs. (acc, dat, loc-instr). We want for the next feature to pick out one or more out of both these sets. Obviously the feature needs to distinguish nom from gen. Genitive and loc-instr both do adnominal things, but we can also consider how dative and genitive both imply some kind of control over something else: the dative receives control, the genitive has control. The nominative, however, also can have control over something - in the case of an indefinite subject it has control of a transitive verb, so, this particular feature would only serve to divide up the (acc,dat,loc-instr) set: (acc, loc-instr) vs. (dat) which pairs with (nom, gen) as far as this feature is concerned.

subjectgenitive (nominative)nominative
¬subjectdativeaccusative, loc-instr

This is not even really all that ineffective, but helps us envision how to split the next pair of pairs: (nom, gen) and (loc-instr, acc). Alas, I cannot come up with any feature that would distinguish loc-instr in particular from accusative while also distinguishing genitive from nominative, except for the dialects where the locative-instrumental marks all possessums. For such dialects, a "possessor/possessum" diagonal split would work. However, this diagonal only splits the cells it passes through, not including the two other cells of the table at all.

Here's a different option:

subjectnominative, genitivegenitive
¬subjectdative, accusativeloc-instr

The two tables above should suffice together to distinguish all the cases except for the nom-gen definiteness distinction. This distinction is explained above, and is unique to that pair.

This featural decomposition basically hints at how these cases are used beyond the implications their names imply: recipients, locatives and instrumentals, possessors, subjects, objects.

Sargaĺk: 2nd Person Interaction with Demonstratives

Thursday, June 15th, 2017
In Sargaĺk, the demonstratives can interact with the 2nd person pronouns in two interesting ways.

When redirecting attention to a new listener in a group with people, the pronoun can combine with the intermediate distance demonstrative. Thus
ʒu-ta-te-tta nen omər ulət
this.peg-you.peg  me comfort give
you, give me comfort
(A rather exasperated call for support when, for instance, talking to an idiot)
This is maybe most often used when talking to someone not directly in front of yourself, such as someone slightly behind you. Some speakers omit case congruence on the Ê’ur demonstrative. The demonstrative does exhibit gender marking, however, and thus this compound pronoun has gender marking in the second person. Plural marking is also possible. In case of combined genders, the default is the feminine.

If the new addressee is in a reasonable location for being considered the 'primary' addressee, one can, after two or three uses of the Ê’ur-te pronoun let the new addressee replace the previous one as the main addressee, thus warranting the use of te, rather than Ê’ur-te. However, if the second addressee is, say, behind your shoulders, or the primary addressee still is referred to often enough, Ê’ur-te may remain Ê’ur-te throughout a whole situation.

The next level of demonstratives, the Ê’iki/Ê’isi-pair, this often is used with a listener who is unknown, probably unseen, or at least far enough that facial features aren't easily recognizable. This would be used, for instance, when calling out to someone unkown or when not even sure anyone is there, such as "hey, is anybody there?". The default gender is feminine, but context may call for masculine - e.g. out on the sea, masculine pronouns are often assumed because men more often travel by boat than women.

Detail #346: Another Alignment

Thursday, June 15th, 2017
This alignment is a special case of inverse alignment. However, it does not have a hierarchy, it has a pairwise association between noun classes and verb classes. The association can be subject or object.

Sew belongs to a class of verbs consisting of actions demanding fine motor skill. A patch belongs to a class of nouns, basically 'small, inanimate, artificial things'. These two sets together default to object.

The argument which is relevant for verb marking is the leftmost noun-phrase that is not marked by any adposition. Thus, any pro-dropped pronoun is ignored - except if the VP only has pro-dropped pronouns, in which a person-hierarchy and an animacy-hierarchy is used. 

Thus, if the clause were
I sew-1sg-3sg a patch onto my jacket
the marking would be direct. However, if it were
a patch sew-1sg-3sg I onto my jacket
the verb would be inverse. If the construction were
sew-1sg-3sg a patch onto my jacket
you'd get the inverse.