Detail #430: Split-prominent languages

August 3rd, 2022

An idea that I suspect exists in the real world is split-prominent languages. Languages which for some verbs (or some constructions) favour a topic-comment structure, and for some verbs (or constructions) favour a subject-prominent structure.

If I knew more about Japanese, I would maybe know whether it qualifies, but that's where I'd search first.

Tanol: A Reference Grammar

August 1st, 2022

Harry Cook is an undergraduate in linguistics with German at the University of York. He’s been conlanging since 2014, beginning at the age of 13. Within linguistics his interests focus on morphophonology, morphosyntax, historical linguistics, and dialectology. His other interests include writing, music, astrophysics, ale, and history. These interests typically feature extensively in his conlanging and worldbuilding. Harry began his current world building project in 2018 and has at least a decade’s worth of work left to complete. Tanol represents the first major milestone in his project, a project which Harry hopes will gain him some notoriety within the art of conlanging.


A full reference grammar of the Tanol language.

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Some thoughts on conlang families and typology

July 13th, 2022
This post details some thoughts about typology, and then comes up with some ideas for Dairwueh-Bryatesle-Sargaĺk. Or, to be long-winded about it:

Some thoughts on typology, relative (and other) pronouns and Dairwueh, Bryatesle and Sargaĺk in light of Indo-European and Uralic 

1. Typological preamble

I have sometimes come across the claim that a very conservative and thoroughly Indo-European feature that has survived in all branches since day one is the interrogative pronouns are also relative pronouns thing. It turns out this is wrong, but it's still interesting enough to spin an idea off it.
If anyone is not familiar with the gist of the idea, English has several obvious examples of this:
the man who bought the car
the areas which Caesar conquered
at the time when she arrived
Not all languages with relative pronouns have these correlations with interrogative pronouns, c.f. Hebrew, where relative pronouns and interrogative pronouns do not overlap at all.

Even then, of course, the overlap in IE languages is not complete - both English and Swedish have interrogative/relative conflation to some extent, but counterexamples exist: c.f. English 'the house that I bought', Swedish "bandet som hon spelar i" ("the band that she plays in", som being a cognate to English 'some', actually). Some "non-Q-root interrogatives" sometimes also work as relatives, sometimes not. In Swedish, some speakers dislike using "när" as a relative adverb ('when') which is an exceptional interrogative due to not having a historical "qw"-root, and prefer using 'då' ('then', quite clear a cognate and not interrogative as all) as a relative adverb for times, and even more strongly, people prefer "där" over "var" (there, where).

It turns out that this structure might go back to fairly early Indo-European, but must have been lost in several branches and later re-emerged in Germanic and Slavic, for instance, through Latin influence. Many languages in the "near-IE" sphere have also been influenced by the Latinate construction, possibly with Germanic or Slavic vectors of influence: Finnish has began to use mi-interrogatives (which are mainly for non-human referents) as a relativizer, in addition (in some dialects instead of) the joka-relativizers.
Joka is, in the singular nominative identical to 'each', but in the other cases they are distinct. First of all, as a determiner it is not (necessarily) inflected for case: joka mies, joka miehen, joka miehellä, (each man, each man's, by each man) ..., although there is also an inflected form jokainen/jokaisen/jokaisella which can be used independently or as a determiner. 

As a relative pronoun, 'joka' is inflected for case, but the root is jo-, and -ka is a suffix that goes after the case suffix or vanishes: mies, joka ... (the man who ...), mies, jo-n-ka ... (the man whose ...), mies jo-lla ... (the man with whom ...), miehet jo-t-ka ... (the men who ...). Apparently, some eastern dialects maybe retain the -ka, but my sources on this are a bit unclear. I am, alas, rather unaware of how relativization is handled in other Uralic languages.
Here we actually get a slightly disconcerting thing: Sihler's New Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin suggests PIE had a relative pronoun yoh-. Why do tantalizing hints at Indo-Uralic jump out at every corner? Why!?!

3. Specifics of relativization

I like the overlap with four different types of pronouns that we find here: "each"-quantifiers, some-quantifiers, demonstratives and interrogatives. I also can see a reasonable grammaticalization path for each of these into being used as a relativizer, and it's also possible to find a slightly less demanding grammaticalization path if they start out as something more general and turn into relativizers AND this-or-that on the other hand.

Now, we can take the basic idea "formal conflation of so-and-so with relativizers as a stable feature in a language family".  So-and-so doesn't even have to be pronouns - it could be some auxiliary, it could be some type of pronoun, it could be some conjunction. Relativization happens in many different ways in different languages, but I have decided to go for relative pronouns as one of the strategies present in all BDS languages.

4. Stable features in families

It's clear Indo-European does have some rather stable features over times: the three gender system (say I, writing in one of the languages that has lost it and speaking another that has reassembled it natively), verbal prefixes that are largely overlapping with prepositions, -a as a feminine marker (somewhat less stable), ... so, having a few stable features in Dairwueh-Bryatesle-Sargalk (as well as others in Cwarmin-Ŋʒädär) might very well lend these groups a more "family"-like type of grammatical style.

It is conceivable, however, that this is a type of survivor bias! Proto-Indo-European probably had quite a large amount of features. Just by random chance, we'd expect a handful of features to survive in multiple branches: us thinking of these features as resilient or somehow "characteristic" features of a family might be a mistake. They may very well be features that just have survived the elimination lottery.

4. Implications for Bryatesle-Dairwueh-Sargaĺk

So, as a kind of tribute to Indo-european, I will have a 'similar' correspondence as the one we just ... well, partially debunked or threw on the trashheap or whatever. After a way too long post, here's the nugget:

In BDS languages, relative and reflexive pronouns greatly overlap, and this goes back to proto-BDS.

I think this might require some reworking of Bryatesle, Dairwueh and Sargaĺk.


Animacy and Possession in Sheña

July 1st, 2022

Jasmine Scott is a middle school educator and amateur conlanger based in Wisconsin. Her primary conlanging project is Sheña, a personal artlang designed to be a global heritage language for queer folks. In her free time, she enjoys watching anime, listening to music, writing, collecting playing cards, and building vocabulary.


This article introduces the Sheña language and its typography and examines a unique semantic/syntactic link between animacy and possession in Sheña.

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Obsidian Words

June 24th, 2022

A few weeks ago I added the word miusma obsidian to Kílta. I knew it would get some sort of metaphorical or metonymic meaning at the time, but hadn't settled on the details. I focused on the long use of obsidian as a weapon-making material—go take a look at a macuahuitl—to extend the meaning.

As of yesterday, miusma can be used metonymically to represent violence, organized violence in particular, though it doesn't have to be state-organized. It is normally used as an attributive:

Rëtu korá miusma vë kinta kwan uttimo.
many people obsidian ATTR night during die-PFV
Many people died during the obsidian night.

The phrase "obsidian night" refers to some sort of group violence that took place at night.

Orávës në miusma vë lár si mítët, kwál si salkësto.
fanatic TOP obsidian ATTR word ACC speak.CVB.PFV, riot ACC put.INCH.PFV
The fanatic spoke obsidian words and started a riot.

The implication of "obsidian words" is that they were meant to provoke violence.

This is probably enough baggage for the word for now, but I wonder if other ways of using it will present themselves.

Moya Abugida

June 1st, 2022

Carl Buck is the creator of Kala, a personal constructed language. He works in the national security field and has worked in the US government most of his life. He enjoys cooking, spending time with his children, camping, and generally relaxing next to his fire pit in his yard. He has been a conlanger since long before he knew there was even a name for it. He created his first cypherlang around age 9 and has been creating and learning various types of languages from that time on. He lives in rural Pennsylvania.


A detailed description of the Moya abugida created by Carl Buck for his language Kala.

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Detail #429: Pseudo-Gender

May 21st, 2022

It struck me that a language could have a system of lexical associations that are somewhat gender-like without quite being a gender system. Let's begin with a basic, fairly gender-like version.

The ways in which this system expresses itself is in which nouns are used to express relations:

If a thing is the origin of something, it's either its mother or father; if it originates with another thing, it is its son or daughter; it goes together with something - brother or sister. Closely associated with something? Husband or wife. Other typically sex-specific terms are also associated, and human-metaphors are either fully male-centric or fully female-centric for any given noun.

However, we can also imagine other ways of expressing relations. Maybe the categories are streams and trees!

Origin - source, root.
'Offspring' - (part of) delta, branch (or nut, or seed, or fruit)
Associate - a different, named river that is culturally seen as close, a specific different species of tree
Intimate associate - a named tributary, the word for a major branch
Decline - drought, fall over
Increase - flood, grow

A Question about Syllabic Consonants

May 1st, 2022

Is there any language that has a syllabic consonant that, in the language, lacks a non-syllabic equivalent?

E.g. a language whose only lateral is a syllabic consonant, or whose only rhotic is syllabic.

To What Extent do Constructed Languages Serve an Important Purpose in Media?

May 1st, 2022

Eva Caston Bell is a student of English Literature, Spanish, and History, with these studies having shaped her interests in both the linguistic and contextual elements of constructed languages. She is also interested in fandom and pop culture and how it can be used for intellectual and academic purposes, especially on platforms of predominantly young users such as TikTok and Twitter. In her spare time, Eva enjoys playing the guitar, listening to Oh Wonder, and singing with her school choir.


This research project explored the extent to which Constructed Languages serve an important purpose in media. The study focused largely around the combination of prior research conducted by language constructors and the experiences of those who consume constructed languages within the types of media they exist in, such as film, television, and literature. These experiences were collected through primary research in the form of a survey which compiled the sentiments of over 200 conlang enthusiasts, and covered the questions their own perspectives on learning a constructed language, their varying effectiveness dependent on the medium they existed in, and the constructed languages with which they were most familiar, in order to gauge the way in which constructed languages have the most extensive effects on those the reader or audience. Through the combination of these differing perspectives, the project was able to investigate the prevailing function that constructed languages serve within pop culture and media, and how this role has differed since the establishment of online communities in the field. The most popular trend offered by both conlangers and their fans was that constructed languages offer a sense of community and collaboration between those who would not otherwise associate, while also providing academic value to fiction and pop culture, a sentiment established more by those that construct languages, rather than those that receive them. This therefore demonstrated the role of the constructed language as a unifying presence of media, both commercial and social, and a mode of expression for everyone involved in or affected by their presence.

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Detail #428: A Case

April 29th, 2022

Consider a language where the nominative and the vocative are identical. However, what if a clause may only have one nominative-vocative constituent, and the subject therefore is a marked nominative in the presence of vocatives?

What would be a reasonable name for such a case?

I find it rather likely for this to be restricted to pronouns - or in case nouns also get it, that it is at the very least not distinguished in adjective congruence.