Archive for June, 2017

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 ʒur 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 ʒur-te pronoun let the new addressee replace the previous one as the main addressee, thus warranting the use of te, rather than ʒur-te. However, if the second addressee is, say, behind your shoulders, or the primary addressee still is referred to often enough, ʒur-te may remain ʒur-te throughout a whole situation.

The next level of demonstratives, the ʒiki/ʒisi-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. 

Sargaĺk: Demonstratives

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017
Demonstratives in Sargaĺk come in three levels of deixis,
ʒaŋ - this
ʒur - yon
ʒiki - that, there
These have gender congruence even in the absolutive, for the following feminine forms:
ʒem - this
ʒin - yon
ʒisi - that
Feminine case forms are suffixed to these roots, masculine ones to the masculine roots. The root for each of these consists of the first three phonemes - ʒaŋ-, ʒur-, ʒik-, ʒem-, ʒin-, ʒis-.
These have several related derivations, which also can showcase gender marking:
ʒarʒas, ʒerʒes - right, fit, suitable, the right one out of a set of alternatives
ʒurʒur, ʒinʒin - different, 'another one'
ʒirʒiki, ʒiʒisi - too distant, unreachable

ʒakal - bring
ʒukal - be moved between places none of which are 'here'
ʒikal - remove

ʒaŋlus, ʒemlus - this _____ of yours, this particular _________
ʒurnus, ʒinlus - a similar ____
ʒiklus, ʒislus - another, different,

ʒaŋluʒəŋ, ʒurnuʒəŋ, ʒikluʒəŋ - intensive versions of the demonstratives.
ʒemluʒəm, ʒinluʒin, ʒisluʒis
There is a special dual for couples formed by simple apposition: zaŋʒem, ʒurʒin, ʒikʒis.
 ʒik-ta-ʒis-tat nen keršo sadra-mic vitnət-ju-an
that couple provided me a knife and a net
The negative pronouns are sometimes prefixed to the demonstrative pronouns in Sargaĺk. The meaning of this construction differs by the type of demonstrative pronoun:
pinʒaŋ, pinʒem -  unfit
pinʒur, pinʒin - just anyone out of a set
pinʒiki - close by (adjective-like)

A Bryatesle-Dairwueh-Sargaĺk Adjective Type

Sunday, June 11th, 2017
In the BDS family, certain particles with adjective-like distribution are present in all languages. These adjective can be used with any NP in almost any position, even though the most similar translation in English cannot: 'what about/how about ...'

In Bryatesle, the adjectives are kyne- and sudu-, in Dairwueh xən- and orə-, and in Sargaĺk you find cin- and asku-. The pairwise distinction between these differ between the languages: the Dairwueh pair differ by animacy (xən- being animate, orə- being inanimate), the Bryatesle kyne- and sudu- differ by number (sudu- being plural), and the cin- and asku- pair of Sargaĺk differ by definiteness (asku- being indefinite).

It should be clear that kyne-, xən- and cin- are cognate. One rather typical vowel correspondence pattern in monosyllabic roots can be spotted here.
Bryatesle /ɨ/ <y> : Dairwueh /ə/ <ə> : Sargaĺk /i/ <i>
The sound changes on the initial consonants are a bit more complicated though. The cin- in Sargaĺk suggests the original sound was /k/ rather than /k'/, since /k'/ is more stable against sound changes in Sargaĺk. This fits well with Dairwueh, where k > x, k' > k. The three other forms do not seem to be cognate at all.

Some examples of use would be these:
tvem kynë mindë gavari livytri

tvem kyn-ë mind-an gava-ri livyt-ri

how aboutdef.acc.femgirlacc.femmeet2sg.atelicwent2sg.atelic
how aboutthegirl
that you meeting
how about the girl you were meeting
xənŋa srotoŋa misandeb
how aboutinstr/locsmall boatinstr/locarrive2sg.past
how aboutwiththe boat
How about (with) the boat (with which) you arrived 

We notice in both Bryatesle and Dairwueh that the case function of the noun is somewhat ambiguous - it is never quite clear in past tense expressions whether the case pertains to its relation to the past tense verb or how it relates to the inquiry. Therefore, the case forms often may get somewhat confusing.

To Be Right in my Conlangs

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017
To express the sentiment of being right in my conlangs, a number of slightly different constructions are used. However, first a quick overview of being right in the languages I speak and a few more.

In Finnish, the usual way would be olla oikeassa, essentially 'to be in (the) right'. In Swedish, however, the expression is ha rätt, 'to have right'. This also seems to be the way of expressing it in German, recht haben. Russian has прав, 'right, true' as a complement, so e.g. ты прав, "you (are) right/true". Onto languages I don't speak: The French and Italian expressions seem to be analogous - although 'to have reason' seem to be more literal translations. Spanish is a bit like Finnish, although with 'in truth' (en cierto) rather than 'right'.  Bear in mind that I might be wrong on any of those beyond Finnish, Swedish, English and Russian. As a side note, for Finnish, English, German and Russian, there's a clear connection to right (the direction or side).

So, onto the conlangs!

In Bryatesle, being right is expressed using a verb that is closely related to the verb 'carry', verg, in the perfective aspect, with a quirky case subject, viz. the ablative.
tërty virg-a
you.abl carry-perf.3sg
you're right
In isolation, virga sometimes is used to express 'you're right'.

In Ćwarmin, being right is expressed by the demonstrative adverb olba/elbə ('this') in an adverbial form, olbaru, elbəri (essentially 'like this, like so, thus') or in the nominative definite olbutu, elbiti.  The construction with olbaru/elbəri uses the reflexive possessive accusative:
bec olbarsun
you thus-refl.poss.acc
~you have thus
you are right
The olbutu/elbiti form comes with the dative of whomever is right:
un olbutu
(s)he.dat right.nom.def(s)he is right
Unlike Bryatesle, Dairwueh uses the verb əduin, 'hold', but like Bryatesle, it uses a quirky case subject: the genitive. The verb is in the 3rd person II.
vedin ŋe ədu-ar
I.gen was.3sg hold-past.prtcpl
"my was held"
I was right

Ŋʒädär has a reflexive, locative expression. 
(sint) prä-ŋä-bürs-äz ŋul-ər
(they) right-at-3pl/3pl-direct self-plur
they are right
Prän does in fact have a slight typological similarity to 'right', although it signifies a different type of direction: in fact, it signifies the east. prä-ŋä thus also signifies "in the east", but the only situation in which this appears with transitive marking is when signifying 'being right'. For those who haven't read how the reflexive works in Ŋʒädär, here's a post.

Sargaĺk uses a reduplication-like construction:
(ne-tta) tvadas tvadas yəra-si
I-peg truth truth put-1sg
I put truth (to) truth
I am right
Clearly, the pegative of the subject suggests that the two instances of "truth" are considered different constituents, however - one being a direct object and one an indirect object. Hence the (to) in the word-for-word English translation. Here, as well, the subject pronoun can be omitted.

Dairwueh: Relative Clauses

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017
Relative clauses in Dairwueh reuse a certain idea I quite recently had – the relativizing auxiliary. In Dairwueh, it is kadal. Its main forms are
present tense:
3sg I: kada (masc, neut) | kado (fem) | kaduni (plur)
3sg II: kadal (also infinitive)
past tense:
3sg I: kadiŋ | kadari (plur)
3sg II: kale
3sg I: kadəyi (masc, neut) | kadəvo | kadəŋan (plur)
3sg II: kaləy
negative present and irrealis:
3sg I: kadešne
3sg II: kaleš
negative past and irrealis:
3sg I: kadeyš | kadeyšin (plur)
3sg II: kaleš
3sg I: kadeŋa
3sg II: kaleŋ
The difference between 3sg I and 3sg II is somewhat different than elsewhere in the language - 3sg I is restrictive, 3sg II is nonrestrictive. The main verb appears in an infinitive or participle form. If the relativized noun is some form of oblique or non-nominative argument of the subclause, a resumptive pronoun appears in the clause in the relevant case (or with the relevant adposition). 

If the relative clause lacks an eternal head, the verb will almost always be 3sg I. If the implicit external head is not nominative or accusative, there has to be some external resumptive pronoun in that case. Often, this is a demonstrative, but a personal pronoun is also possible, and comes immediately after or before the subclause.

Whenever the external head is a personal pronoun, there may be a person discongruence - and there may even be a personal subject person in the subclause itself, e.g.
ekadašor ver samotəg, (ver) samotas
rel_verb.pass_neg I win.inf, win.1sg
I, who is not won over, win
Intonationally, the subclause is often introduced with a slight drop in pitch for first word of the subclause - which is not necessarily the relative auxiliary verb, followed by a relatively quick rise, followed by a slow descent to the end of the subclause.