Some family terms in Ćwarmin

December 5th, 2022

The basic family terms:

julo = son
ot = oldest son
zel = daughter

father =  aru
mother = viri

brother = raŋa
older brother = cawot
sister = zuja

In older Ćwarmin, possessive suffixes existed, but are used in very restricted contexts. However, in some lexemes, they appear as derivative elements of unclear meaning. Thus

-ata | -ete, formerly 1sg possessive

has lead to these terms:

raŋata ('my brother') = uncle
zujata ('my sister') = aunt
aruta ('my father') = grandfather
virite ('my mother') = grandmother

Apparently, parents referring to their siblings and parents has become a way children refer to their uncles, aunts and grandparents, and this was lexicalized. Other synonyms do exist, however. In addition:

aruta and virite are sometimes used as formal address to parents.
julata and zelete are used by some clergymen to refer to congregants.
cawata is used by some clergymen to refer to their senior clergymen.

The plural forms never have the possessive suffixes in use, as the morphological complexities for that has been largely forgotten. 'Otata', 'my oldest son' appears in some testaments and such.

Parents- and siblings-in-law also have forms such as 


In some regions, second person suffixes (-aba/-ebe) are used instead of these historical third person suffixes. Why second or third person suffixes won out in different regions is unclear.

Seyrán ta Tainaa

December 1st, 2022

James E. Hopkins received a BA in French from Hofstra University in 1974 and an MS in Metaphysics from the American Institute of Holistic Theology in 1998. He is a published poet, Eden’s Day (2008), and has a novel which features five of his conlangs, Circle of the Lantern, with the publisher as of this writing. He has been involved in language construction since 1995 with the birth of his first conlang, Itlani (then known as Druni). Although Itlani is his first and foremost love, since that time he has been developing Semerian (Pomolito)Djiran (Ijira)Djanari (Nordsh) and Lastulani (Lastig Klendum), the other languages spoken on the planet Itlán. One further language project, Kreshem (Losi e Kreshem), is also under development. His primary interest in language construction is from an aesthetic and artistic perspective.

What follows is the original Itlani text, in Realms-Somewhere-Real (RSR), of Seyrán ta Tainaa, translated into English and published as Circle of the Lantern in 2015 (AuthorHouse). This is a first draft of the RSR version available on planet Siarél (Earth).

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What’s in a specifier?

November 29th, 2022

There's no escaping it any longer: after decades of hemming and hawing, Koa's specifier system is just too damn complicated.

One might feasibly inquire what articles are doing in a putative IAL in the first place, and I've made a number of valiant attempts over the years (2010 and 2012, for example) to justify their existence by rigorously defining their use. Nonetheless, some inconvenient facts have been gently tapping on my shoulder recently, such as:

* Though theoretically beautifully defined, the system is so complex that the creator herself is often unsure of the best specifier choice in practice

* Specifier choice criteria seem to be much more detailed in pre-verbal (i.e. subject) position than post-verbally

* Following what you might call adjunct particles (ci he la lo me mo ne no o pe) there seems to be only a binary distinction -- definite vs indefinite -- which has never caused a problem

Indeed, going way, way back to basics, I have to confess that the most critical function of Koa specifiers is not in fact to elegantly plot fine distinctions on the axes of deixis, referentiality and discourse relevance, but probably just to help parse those predicates in the speech stream. As such, when preceded by one of those aforementioned adjunct particles, the primary work is already done and we can content ourselves with the pragmatic considerations that really matter: apparently only whether the NP in question is definite. Let's see, then, if we can reduce the system to a set of much simpler principles.

DEFINITE NPs are marked with ka when singular or optionally u when plural, unless:

* The NP requires being pointed at, whether physically or metaphorically, in order to be identifiable -- use ti/to "this/that"

* The NP is inalienably possessed by a pronominal referent -- use the relevant personal pronoun

* The NP is a name -- use le

INDEFINITE NPs are unmarked when preceded by another particle, or marked with a otherwise.

If you've been following the plot closely so far, you may have noticed that hu and po are conspicuously absent from the above taxonomy. I would in fact like to advance the theory that these have never been specifiers at all, but were mistaken as such because of their tendency to appear most frequently before unmarked NPs!

Let's start with the basic supposition that hu and po are in fact quantifiers, not specifiers: specifically ∃ and ∀, respectively. They can quantify indefinite NPs -- in which case there would be no article -- or definite ones, in which case they would be marked as described above. Examples of use, with both a logical and vernacular gloss:

po lulu i sihi
ALL flower VP plant
"for all flowers, it is the case that they are plants"
"(all) flowers are plants"

po ka lulu i puna
ALL DEF flower VP red
"for all of the flowers in a predefined set, it is the case that they are red"
"all the flowers are red"

hu lulu i puna
EXIST flower VP red
"for at least one flower, it is the case that it is red"
"a/some flowers exist such that they are red"
"some flowers are red," "there are red flowers"

hu ka lulu i puna
EXIST DEF flower VP red
"for one or more of a predefined set of flowers, it is the case that they are red"
"some of the flowers are red"

That seems clear and simple enough, but probably the thorniest area in the treatment of indefinite NPs has been in the choice between a and hu. For the last several years it's seemed that in practice the former is used for instantiated nouns -- real, specific things -- not yet raised to the discourse stage, whereas hu marked the NP as non-referential. Thus, heretofore:

1) ni mene la ko kou a tusi
1SG go DAT ABS buy INDEF book
"I went to buy a (certain) book"

2) ni mene la ko kou hu tusi
1SG go DAT ABS buy EXIST book
"for some book, it is the case that I went to buy it"
"I went to buy a (theoretical, not yet identified) book"

...but this is clearly far, far too fine a distinction to actually prescribe. Perhaps less elegant but more actually produceable by humans with competing resource demands beyond this single utterance:

1) ni mene la ko kou a tusi mao
1SG go DAT ABS buy INDEF book certain
"I went to buy a (certain) book"

2) ni mene la ko kou tusi
1SG go DAT ABS buy book
"I went to buy books, I went book-buying"

In fact ni mene la ko kou a tusi could potentially be interpreted in either sense according to context, and I think that's the important thing for me to accept here: that allowing context to play a role is not discarding all elegance or sophistication in this language.

Another place that things get confusing is around existential statements. What's the difference between these?

1) a lulu i ne ka masa
INDEF flower VP LOC DEF table
"a flower is on the table"

2) hu lulu i ne ka masa
EXIST flower VP LOC DEF table
"for at least one flower, it is the case that it is on the table"
"there's a flower on the table"

Semantically nothing at all, I think, but pragmatically these will have a different thrust. The purpose of (1) seems to be to communicate contextual information, whereas (2) is more concerned with the truth value of the proposition. If we really want to talk about existence and not truth value, I realized recently, we also have this option which is likewise vastly more human:

i me lulu ne ka masa
VP COM flower LOC DEF table
"there's a flower on the table"

or even

ka masa i me lulu (ne ta)
DEF table VP COM flower LOC 3SG
"the table's got a flower (on it)"

Hu is pretty straightforward for "some" in at least the quantifier sense of the English word, but note that there is a more periphrastic possibility as well:

hu lulu i puna
EXIST flower VP red
"some flowers are red" or "there are red flowers"

nai pi lulu i puna
some QUANT flower VP red
"some flowers are red"

So somehow or other that was actually pretty...easy? I'm almost a little nervous about it after all these years of fretting. I'll get back to you after I've tried it out in everyday usage.

Coming up next: if that's all clear now, maybe I can finally tackle how to say "something" and "nothing," a problem that has vexed me as long as I can remember -- this all came up right at this moment because I'm working on a bidirectional dictionary for my girls, and I couldn't figure out what to list as the generic translations!

Detail #433: The Antideponent Verb

November 18th, 2022

Let's for a moment consider the deponent verb. This is a verb which lacks morphologically active forms, despite being active. This might seem a bit weird, but let us have a look at some Swedish deponent verbs.

First, Swedish has a morphological passive, mostly formed by affixing -s to verb forms. (Swedish also has two periphrastic passives, but this is irrelevant for now.)

Here are some verbs which never appear without their -s:
andas (to breathe)
hoppas (to hope)
minnas (to remember)
låtsas (to pretend)
brås (to take after, to be similar to someone - in both cases due to family connections)

Some of these can take objects (granted, a minority). Andas can take the gas which is breathed ('breathe air', or, say, the aliens of Jupiter breathe methane - varelserna från Jupiter andas metan). "Hoppas" can take det ('that, it') as its object, signifying 'I hope so' (but literally 'I hope that'). Minnas can take any person or thing or fact as its object. Låtsas often is an auxiliary with a transitive verb under it.

In Swedish, these lack a past participle - but some do have a gerund (that morphologically looks exactly like a past participle; however, syntactical differences clarify that it indeed only is a gerund). I will warn against looking into lists of Swedish deponents, because some of them do seem to be just passives with slightly odd semantic shifts, or sometimes even just ... passives. The Swedish -s form also imho is not just a passive marker but also happens to be a reciprocal and an aspectual marker.

Other languages with deponents may have other restrictions - maybe all the deponents are intransitive, or maybe a verb is only partially deponent (i.e. deponent in, say, the participles but not in the finite forms).

Let's make up a set of features:

+ active syntactically
+/- transitive
-  active finite forms
- active infinite forms
+ passive finite forms
+ passive infinite forms
- can take agent adverb (e.g. the 'was seen by us' part)

Let's use these features to consider the antideponent.

Verbs such as 'boil' in English seem to permit somewhat similar behaviors, i.e. they can be passive in meaning (or active), thus passive syntactically is partially true. However, English does have active finite and infinite forms for boil, i.e. 'to be boiled' and the participle 'boiled' itself. The active form, 'boiling' interestingly enough does serve to convey the passive meaning of 'being boiled' as well. It cannot, however, take the agent:
the egg is boiling by me is wrong, I'm boiling the egg is acceptable.

Let's inverse the above table fully:

- active syntactically
+/- transitive
+ active finite forms
+ active infinite forms

- passive finite forms
- passive infinite forms
+ can take agent adverb

The interesting bit here is the +/-transitive, and I think that's where we could distinguish this from run off the mill split-ergativity, where some verbs just happen to have an ergative-like behavior. If we restricted this so it only ever happened with intransitives, and the actual subject was demoted to agent adverbial, whereas the subject either is empty or a dummy pronoun, this is getting us into some interesting ground.

Another option is just simply having these as a sort of lexical restriction: these verbs just don't do passive. I think English maybe actually might have some of those even beyond the auxiliaries?

A further option is of course to take something like English 'I broke the window' but only permit these two options:

The window broke.
The window broke by me.
*I broke the window.

Once more voices are involved, some interesting options emerge, such as gaps in the voice paradigm for verbs.

Detail #432: Generalized Wh-movement

November 17th, 2022

Wh-movement tends to come in two forms in conlangs, as far as I can tell: English-like or wh-in situ. Let's consider some other options! This post was inspired by some questions in the conlang mailing list.

1. Wh-at the end

There are, apparently, some reasons to consider this highly unlikely in languages. OTOH, it might not be entirely unattested.

2. Wh-in wackernagel

The Wackernagel position, i.e. the second word in a clause, seems a rather natural option.

3. Wh-next-to-verb

Both the position after and before the verb seem to make sense as possible attractors for the interrogative pronoun.

4. Discontinuous wh

There are further complications we can consider, such as discontinuous-wh. I find this most likely for two types of interrogatives: determiners and adjectival interrogatives ('what type of a', 'yes/no-query determiner', 'which', 'of what qualities', etc).

These actually occur in some Slavic languages with interrogatives like "kakoj" and "kotoryj". 

Anyways, discontinuous-wh can probably be combined with any of the three previous forms, and in different ways - maybe the head noun is moved instead and the wh remains? Maybe vice versa. Different movements for both parts of the interrogative noun phrase seems unlikely, but parts of the noun phrase may well be pulled along with the interrogative particle.

Let's imagine "Q" is an interrogative particle that forms a yes/no-question focused on the noun it belongs to. Congruence makes it clear it pairs with "house" in this imagined language, marked by roman lowercase numerals picked at random. We can now imagine that Q pulls along pertinent 'factors' along with it:

Q.iii red.iii you saw house.iii?
did you see the red house?

Verbal interrogative markers seem somewhat more likely to be discontinuous - just consider the English polar question.

Johnathan R. Palmer’s Short Memoir on the Creation of the Tɐ́lʒrə̬k Conlang and Dance

November 1st, 2022

Johnathan Richard Palmer (a.k.a. Polar Bear) is a new member of the LCS as well as a new member of the LCS Board of Directors. He has created his first two personal conlangs called Tɐ́lʒrə̬k and the dance and would like to share them with Fiat Lingua. Johnathan was born and raised in Pocatello, Idaho and currently resides in Garden Valley, Idaho with his wife Christina and their two huskies, named Timber, Teekon, and cat, named Henry. Johnathan works in his community as a Direct Care Staff for hurting teens and has been doing so off and on since 2012. He is a U.S. Veteran of the Army Reserve and National Guard. Johnathan Received his B.A. in Applied Linguistics from the University of Arizona Global Campus (formerly Ashford) in 2019. Johnathan and his wife are adventurers and travelers; they have been to Alaska many times, many places all over the United States, and have driven the Alaska highway many times as well.

Johnathan Richard Palmer has written a short memoir of his personal reflections when creating his first two conlangs and mentions briefly his process of doing so. Mostly this memoir is a reflection of Johnathan’s past as he confronts his greatest enemy—his childhood past. And how creating his first conlangs helped him discover healing for his body and mind through the dance and the Tɐ́lʒrə̬k conlang. This process of creating these conlangs gave Johnathan comfort when no person could. Johnathan also mentions why he conlangs and includes information on the conlangs themselves.

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“Black Adam” – Kahndaqi Language

October 22nd, 2022

I was hired in 2021 to create two languages for the film "Black Adam," one for timeline-hopping wizards (called the Language of Eternity in the credits), one for Kahndaqi, Black Adam's language. The wizard language does show up in the film, but is somewhat masked by voiceovers, so I'm just going to say a few things about the Kandaqi language here, for those curious.

The nation of Kahndaq is imagined to somewhat predate the rise of the more familiar ancient Near Eastern civilizations of Egypt and Sumer. We discussed various options how to base the language, but I convinced them to go with a language isolate (i.e., a language not related to anything else), but which had also spent a lot of time living in close company with Sumerian and Elamite.

Languages that live next to each other a long time start to borrow things from each other — not just words but even grammatical tendencies. So, from time to time when creating a new Kahndaqi word for dialog, I would go take a look at a Sumerian or Elamite dictionary to see if there might be something reasonable to borrow (usually modified a bit, in either sense or phonology). For example, the Kahndaqi word for king, lúke (accent marks stress) hints at a relationship with the Sumerian word, which is usually romanized lugal. Mostly I picked a few core nouns for this sort of borrowing, since those are most easily borrowed. Most Kahndaqi vocabulary, though, I generated myself. 

As in Sumerian (and Hurrian), ergativity pops up in some parts of the language, though not identically to Sumerian. There are a few unusual features of Elamite grammar which I didn't feel I could get away with borrowing into Kahndaqi, the personal noun classes, especially. (One person on twitter asked about Elamite in particular, I'm guessing for exactly this fun part of the grammar.)

I'll give two examples for the linguistically inclined. This is the first bit of dialog I produced, and it appears in the second trailer (just after the 20s mark):

Soemel tilam.
soemi-el til=am
magic-2.POSS weak-COP.AN
Your magic is weak.

So, personal possession is often marked with suffixes, as in soemel your magic. I used an animacy-based noun class system, and soemi magic is grammatically animate, which is why the copula clitic is the animate form here.

Erentas ma'ate inger.
Eri-enta-s ma'ate i-nger-∅
people-1PL.POSS-ERG champion 3PL.ERG-need-3AN
Our people need a champion.

Here we have another example of personal possession as a suffix, our people. And a taste of ergativity, both in the subject noun marking and the verb. Transitive verb subjects are marked with prefixes. That apostrophe marks a glottal stop, ma'ate /mɑˈʔɑte/. 

Superbasic Full Conlang Starterpack

October 1st, 2022

Sanh Deda grew up and lives in Bulgaria. He’s been interested in world building since childhood, and later on became a language geek and conlanger. He currently studies architecture and spends his free time on languages and gardening.

This is a basic one page guide giving advice on how to start a full conlang.

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Relative Clauses in Dairwueh

September 17th, 2022

 I have previously given a short introduction to relative clauses in Dairwueh. Let's up the ante a bit.

Resumptive pronouns in relative attributes

Since the relativizing verb does not carry (much) information about the syntactical role that the referent has in the subclause, resumptive pronouns are often used. Some dialects and varieties of Dairwueh have a resumptive pronoun stem ner- (from a historical nez, the fricative popping back in some forms). Most use the neuter pronoun stem, but inflected for gender - the capital literary form specifically uses the t-stem version of the nominative and accusative.

A peculiar thing about the resumptive pronoun is that it can even be used for the subject of a subsequent subclause, as if this were how to form two subclauses in English:

the man who plays the guitar and he sings.

Weird restriction

Consider an utterance like 'don't reject applicants for being too boring'. In English this cannot be rephrased as 'don't reject applicants who are too boring', since this alters the meaning significantly. A strict reading has the rephrasing signify that no one that is too boring must be rejected, whereas the first only means that boringness must not influence the decision.

In Dairwueh, use of the irrealis form of the subordinating verb is used, among other things, for this particular structure.

The irrealis form can also be used to communicate a purely irrealis subclause, e.g. 'those who would do so-and-so'. To enforce the "purely irrealis" reading, a resumptive pronoun is used. To enforce the purely 'for being X' reading,the subordinate verb may be irrealis instead of infinitive - or in some varieties, a demonstrative pronoun is placed before the relative verb.

Finally, the irrealis form of the relative verb can also express an indirect question: I wonder the men who will sing -> I wonder whether the men will sing.

Use of the interrogative pronoun before a relative subclause requires irrealis in some dialects, and requires irrealis for present tense in many dialects.

Adjectives have a similar function as well when using the irrealis participle marker e-...-šis on them.

Happy birthday to Koa!

September 17th, 2022

This week on September 13th we had the world's first ever Koa Day celebration, including not one but two cakes: one improvised by Callie and me, and the other rather more artfully facilitated by Olga.

Someone also sent flowers! It was quite a lovely feeling for Koa to be seen/acknowledged/appreciated like this after so many years of my sort of being in the closet about it.

ALSO, and perhaps most importantly, there is now a Koa birthday song! It's just a direct translation of the American song, but still. Unsurprisingly we've got an extra syllable at the start of each line which means we have to start with an 8th note triplet, but it still works:

Pai Náute Lolo
Pai náute lolo la se
Pai náute lolo la se
Pai náute lolo, X mila
Pai náute lolo la se

The syntax here is so straightforward I think we can dispense with the interlinear, but I did want to say something about náute. Since nau means "give birth to, bear," the most accurate translation of "birth" from the point of view of the offspring would in fact be panáute: the occasion of being born, not the occasion of giving birth (way more on that here). In terms of actual usage, though, it's a needlessly granular distinction to have to make...and would throw off the meter even more, so clearly aesthetics are going to have win out here.

It does raise the question, though, of whether it's ever actually a helpful or meaningful distinction -- súsote "kisses given" vs pasúsote "kisses received," -- since all the arguments are represented in the instance being described regardless of which way way around you turn it. My instinct is maybe not, at least in a real human language. Not that it should be forbidden where it happens to add meaning, but also not prescribed.