Archive for July, 2020

Words of Immiseration

Tuesday, July 7th, 2020

You never know what's going to lead your conlang to new grammar.

More than a month ago I was reading a bit by and about Hannah Arendt, and I realized Kílta was lacking a few bits of vocabulary I'd need if I wanted to convey some thoughts on my reading. In particular, I was looking to be able to describe ways in which communities and societies immiserate and even kill people. In particular, I was struck by the notion of entire populations being essentially ignored to death (refugees, mostly, come in for this sort of treatment).

But to say someone has been ignored to death is actually a fairly complex bit of grammar. The to death part here is a resultative secondary predicate. I had been considering secondary predicates ("I painted the wall red," for example) in Kílta for a while, and had some notes from a little research I had done on the topic, but hadn't committed to anything yet. If I wanted my immiserable expressions, I'd need to make a decision, to go with secondary predication, or pick some other method. Not all languages use secondary predication, after all.

In the end, I decided to use secondary predication, and picked a slightly unusual (but attested) way to do this: an adverb immediately before the verb can be interpreted either as a manner adverb or as a secondary predicate. Given Kílta's love of argument dropping, some ambiguity is possible, but I try not to let potential ambiguity stop me, especially if I can convince myself context will clear things up (most of human communication is context, anyway). At any rate, here's an example:

Tërta si mámui tëlpo.
meat ACC soft.ADV cook.PFV
They cooked the meat (until) soft.

The secondary predicate here is the adverb form of the adjective mámin soft.

Postpositional expressions in the shape [N mai] (the lative), can also be used preverbally as secondary predicates:

Këchar në vós mai këkíno.
government TOP plague LAT ignore.PFV
The government ignored its way into a plague.

Note here that, while in standard English secondary predicates can only refer to the object, in Kílta the subject (or topic, as here) can also take secondary predication. For more possibilities and subtleties of Kílta secondary predicates, see the grammar (section 10.6, as of July 2020).

So now I had constructions for secondary predication, but I did not just create a schematic way to handle all these expressions of immiseration. While Kílta is not a rigorously naturalistic conlang, I do consider plausibility an important part of its esthetics. A too tidy chart always makes me wince a bit. In any case, in a few places result converbs are used rather than secondary predication. That said, I did concoct a small number of rather specific adverbs for use as secondary predicates.

For example, I already had the word ína outcast, exile, pariah. I needed an adverb for this, and decided to use an "archaic" derivation to produce an unused intermediary form *ísa which was then turned into the adverb ísui in the way of an exile, outcast, and as a secondary predicate, into exile:

Ámatulásilur si ísui pëcho.
refugee.PL ACC into.exile oppress.PFV
They oppressed the refugees into exile.

On the other hand, I simply conconcted a new root adverb, méstë, which means something like harming the household or family. It turned out to be surprisingly easy to find uses for this outside secondary predicates.

Vós në méstë memúlo.
plague TOP CIS.arrive.PFV
The plague reached us, harming the household.

As a secondary predicate:

Símur në mélá si méstë túkwilo.
3PL TOP parent.PL ACC humiliate.PFV
They humiliated the parents until the family took harm.

Finally, I needed to death. I did not simply want to use the verb die or some expression too like English here. Kílta already has a strong association in other expressions of os dust with the entropic effects of time, and it was only a little stretch to push this into dying territory. I used a special locative adverbial derivation, which means down(ward) to, giving ostorë:

Avur në ámatulásilur si ostorë këkíno.
1PL TOP refugee.PL ACC to.death ignore.PFV
We ignored the refugees to death.

Not the lightest topic, to be sure, but I've now filled out a parts of a sadly useful semantic field, and acquired a useful piece of new grammar as part of the bargain. On my phone I have a document that's just an ever-growing list of expressions I want to add to Kílta. Most of the time I get new words out of this, but once in a while a whole new corner of grammar appears.

Conlang Courses Around the Globe

Wednesday, July 1st, 2020

Jessie Sams is an Associate Professor of Linguistics at Stephen F. Austin State University. She generally teaches courses rooted in linguistic analysis of English, though one of her favorite courses to teach is her Invented Languages course, where students construct their own languages throughout the semester (she was even able to get Invented Languages officially on the books at SFA with its own course number). Her research primarily focuses on syntax and semantics, especially the intersection of the two within written English quotatives; constructed languages; and history of the English language and English etymology. In her free time, she enjoys reading, hosting game nights with friends, baking (especially cupcakes), and, of course, conlanging.


This is an attempt at a comprehensive list of the various constructed languages courses offered at the university level throughout the world. As courses are added, readers are encouraged to share information with the author, so that the list may be updated.

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