An Intermission

August 22nd, 2017 by Miekko
I have been moving, and otherwise busy. Posting will soon return to its usual frequency. The computer and internet are finally unpacked. Yay.


August 22nd, 2017 by surullinensaukko

Phonosynthesis: your conlang’s phoneme inventory increases when it’s sunny. There are separate day and night registers meant to accommodate this change. During a solar eclipse, people get confused because they don’t know what register to use.


August 18th, 2017 by surullinensaukko

Noun classifiers based on the colour of an object.

Creative Commons

August 14th, 2017 by Conlangery Podcast
Just wanted to let everyone know that I am putting Conlangery under a Creative Commons Attribution – Non-commercial – Share-Alike. This means that you are free to copy, distribute, remix, and create derivative works from the show, so long as you give attribution, your work is not commercial in nature, and you also use a... Read more »


August 10th, 2017 by surullinensaukko

Create a conlang for a race of animate trees, that use human-shaped diagrams to represent language phylogeny.

Conlanger Lore: Free Word Order and Case

August 7th, 2017 by Miekko
There is a very common notion bandied about on conlanging groups online that free word order and case go hand in hand. This leaves out a significant chunk of the truth. I did mention this as an example in the previous conlanger lore instalment, but this goes deeper into this particular issue, and looks at some of the things people do not often know.

1. There are languages with case that do not have particularly free word order. German is one of them.

2. There are languages without case that have rather free word orders. For instance, Swedish has more free word order than German despite lacking case on nouns.

More extreme instances exist, for instance among the overwhelmingly isolating languages of south-east Asia, but I picked Swedish and German as they are fairly familiar, SAE languages where the freedom of word order and presence of case contradicts the 'received wisdom' in the conlanging community.

However, there are a few particular reasons why this particular piece of wisdom annoys me: it ignores the wealth of variation there is among human languages. Several other strategies of disambiguation exist!
A. Noun Class Congruence
A strategy that is common in Sub-Saharan Africa is having a bunch of noun classes, and congruence with those on the verb:
Nounclass 1 Nounclass 2 Verb(subject congruence=class 1)(object congruence=class 2)
With such a system, it is clear how shuffling the location of the nouns and the verb do not affect understandability, except when the nouns are of the same class. Such things do occur, but will be discussed further down simultaneously with similar ambiguities in other languages.

B. Animacy Hierarchies
In a language where subject- and object-disambiguation is guided by animacy hierarchies, a noun that is higher on the animacy hierarchy is assumed to act on a noun lower in that hierarchy. This in part, I am convinced, guides the disambiguation when OVS word order occurs in Swedish. Usually, the hierarchy in most languages is something like 1 p > 2 p > 3p animate > 3p inanimate, but quirks exist: apparently, some languages have second person outrank first person.

Another important fact is that it's possible for verbs and nouns to somehow be associated: bears are, for instance, more closely associated with the subject position of 'roar' than bags are. These are not even necessarily lexical facts but rather physical facts we know about things. So, if we take a sentence like this key opens that lock, even if we cut it up into three slips of paper on which the phrases 'this key', 'that lock', 'opens' are, a random anglophone can with several nines of probability assign the nouns to their correct roles.

This seems to be a grammaticalized state of affairs in many languages - to the extent even that if the subject and object are the unexpected way around, even with explicit case marking you'll sometimes get people parsing it as though the speaker made a mistake in case marking rather than parsing it as referring to an unlikely situation.

Even in languages with case marking, situations where case does not help disambiguate the situation may exist - and sometimes in such languages, this does not negate free word order. In Finnish, the plural object and the plural subject take the same marker, -t, in telic, positive, (etc) clauses. Even then, I regularly hear and utter sentences where the subject and object are displaced from the canonical SVO order.
C. Animacy Hierarchies with Inverse/Direct Alignment
The previous system does not really permit for changing the subject and object except maybe with some complicated work-arounds. Inverse/Direct alignment simplifies this by having a 'voice-like' marker that simply tells whether the higher or lower noun in the hierarchy is the subject. This is not strictly speaking a voice, since it does not affect the transitivity of the verb.
The other part we have to look at is free word order. Sometimes when some speaker of some language points out that their language has absolutely free word order, they will, in one post deny the idea that their language's free word order expresses anything, while maintaining that it does express something that just can't be expressed in words in another post, etc. Generally speaking, word order tends to have some kind of significance, though this significance can be pretty difficult to express and maybe even harder learn to get right for a second-language speaker. However, difficulty of formalizing/expressing a thing is not the same as that thing not existing. Thus, it seems people are quite confused as to what free word order generally even signifies.

Conclusion: Don't buy the hype re: case enabling free word order, it's not the only option. Also, don't just go and say 'this language has free word order', plz tell us what the language does with its free word order.

Conlangery #131: The Seventh Language Creation Conference #LCC7

August 7th, 2017 by Conlangery Podcast
This month Christophe and William come on to talk about their experience at LCC7. Along with a few people William recorded on his phone. View the conference page here and all the videos of talks here. Top of Show Greeting: Croatian (translated and performed by Dorian Frangen)

A Useful Grammar of Colyáni and Text with Commentary

August 1st, 2017 by Fiat Lingua

Muhammad Abd-al-Rahman Barker (1929-2012) was a professor of Urdu and South Asian Studies at McGill University and later at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Amongst conlangers, he is most famous for creating the Tsolyáni language, one of several conlangs he created for his conworld Tékumel, in which he set his expansive paper and pen role playing game The Empire of the Petal Throne.

William “Bill” Shipley (1921-2011) was a linguist who trained at UC Berkeley and taught for many years at UC Santa Cruz. For most of his professional life, William studied and worked on the Northern Californian Maidu language, producing a grammar, and a book of translated Maidu stories.

John Moore is a Professor of Linguistics at UC San Diego and Provost of John Muir College. He received a BA in Linguistics from UC Santa Cruz in 1979 and a PhD, also from UC Santa Cruz Linguistics, in 1991. His work has been on Spanish, syntax, and lexical semantics, including a 2001 book, co-authored with Farrell Ackerman, on the syntax/lexical semantics interface (Proto-Properties and Grammatical Encoding: A Correspondence Theory of Argument Selection, CSLI). A long-time flamenco guitarist, Moore has also published on aspects of flamenco, including a 2012 annotated translation of oral histories from an early 20th century flamenco singer (A Thousand and One Stories of Pericón de Cádiz, Inverted-A Press).


In the early 1980s, linguist Bill Shipley offered an undergraduate class called “Languages of the World”. One of the assignment of that course was to create a language. As a guide, this document written by M. A. R. Barker was given to students. It comprises a text in Tsolyáni plus an interlinear, along with a grammar sketch to help the reader understand and appreciate the text.

Version History

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

Detail #353: A Name Thing

July 29th, 2017 by Miekko
In some languages, you sometimes have proper nouns coming from verbs, e.g.
Forget-Me-Not, Vergissmeinnicht, Förgätmigej (a kind of flower in some European languages), some Biblical names also are clearly verb forms.

We can imagine then names that are not indicative - consider, for instance, the only example given above - it is an imperative in the three languages given. If we consider situations in which names are given, Forget-me-not might maybe change depending on context! It could be Forget-her-not, it could be Forget.PLUR-her-not, it could be Forget.Dual-him-not, it could be Forget.Reflexive-Not (i.e., the vocative would be reflexive!). Of course, this depends on the role the referent has in the VP, but also on what other things the verb marks - does it mark anything about the listener, as it can do in Basque, etc

Such a thing could lead to interesting names.

Detail #352: A Different Auditory System

July 28th, 2017 by Miekko
What consequences would it have for language if the auditory system had musculature that made the ear 'focus' on only one band of the audible spectrum at a time?