Archive for May, 2011


Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Glyph of the word 'ulakalaka'.


  • (adj.) patterned
  • (v.) to be patterned
  • (n.) patterning
  • (n.) pattern

Leya ulaka le olomo.
“Patterned stones for walking.”

Notes: My English vocabulary is leaving me! I know what I mean by “patterning”, but I’m quite certain there’s got to be a better word for it. Patternwork? Dang, that’s not a word. Detail? Eh. I got nothing.

Anyway, this sentence comes from a picture I took at the Huntington. Here it is:

A nice patterned floor.

I thought this was pretty cool. Not only is it, essentially, a cobblestone floor, but the stones are used to create patterns that look like tile! How cool is that?! Check it out: All the lines in there and everything are just stones. Wild!

Mispronounced, mangled, changed

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

“Venice City could be mispronounced, mangled, changed over the centuries through pronunciation errors,” Perkins said. “It could have become Vaycehn.”

Kristine Kathryn Rusch, “Becoming One With The Ghosts”

The crew of the Ivoire is just realizing that they’re in the right place, but the wrong time. What can we deduce about the pronunciation “errors” that renamed Venice City?

Let’s start by assuming that in the Ivoire‘s time, “Venice City” was pronounced pretty much the way it is now. That’s a big assumption. The Diving Into the Wreck universe is far enough in the future that Earth is considered a myth; English pronunciation is changing this instant, and even with mass media and widespread literacy slowing language change, we’d expect Perkins’s English to be very different from ours. (The language is called “Standard”, but the characters have Anglo names like “Coop” and “Perkins”, and other English place names like “Death Valley” are tossed around. If the name of the city wasn’t originally the English “Venice”, I missed the clues or forgot them.)

Still, we have to start somewhere, and “Venice” is fairly similar across various flavors of English worldwide. So even if Perkins doesn’t say it the way we would, her “Venice” derives from ours. It’s close enough that Rusch writes it as “Venice”. And it’s presumably somewhere between our “Venice” and “Vaycehn.”

“Vaycehn” has the same consonants as “Venice” – if we assume that the “c” is pronounced “s” before “e”, the way most readers will say it – but those consonants are re-ordered. VNS has become VSN.

This reordering is called metathesis, and it’s seen in many languages, including English. The Old English word “brid” became our modern “bird”, and OE þrÄ«tiÄ¡ became modern “thirty”. It’s not just a random slinging around of consonants – like other types of sound change, it only occurs in a particular context of surrounding sounds. So in the English words and others like them, a consonant + r + vowel sequence was re-ordered to consonant + vowel + r.

With only one example we can’t guess at what triggered metathesis in “Venice” -> “Vaycehn”, but we can confidently say there was metathesis.

Moving on to the vowels, “ay” is probably pronounced as in “way”, and “eh” as in the interjection “eh” or “meh”. While we could postulate even more metathesis here (maybe that “eh” vowel moved from the first syllable to the last, and then the other vowel moved and changed?), that’s not nearly as clear-cut as the consonant re-ordering – especially since we could also say that each vowel has simply undergone one change in the way it’s produced.

What has to happen to change the “eh” in the first syllable of “Venice” to “ay”? A linguist would say that “eh” and “ay” are both mid vowels (which describes the height of the tongue, as we discussed previously,) both front vowels (which describes where the airflow is constricted), and both unrounded vowels (meaning the lips aren’t rounded the way they are in English “you” or “know”). The difference is that “ay” is a tense vowel, and “eh” is a lax vowel.

English has several pairs of vowels that differ only in tenseness/laxness:

Tense Lax
wait wet
Luke look
feet fit

So, historically, on this planet some rule changed at least some vowels from lax to tense. (Once again, we might be able to deduce in what contexts this happened if we had more examples.)

We know that not all lax vowels became tense, because our second vowel in “Vaycehn” is still lax. The short “i” of “Venice” (probably originally a barred i, but let’s not worry about that) has become “eh”. Both vowels are lax, and they’re both pronounced with the tongue raised at the front of the mouth.

The difference is how high the tongue is raised. Short “i” is a high vowel, and “eh” is a mid vowel – the tongue isn’t raised as far.

So three plausible changes – metathesis, a change in tenseness, and a change in height – turn “Venice” into “Vaycehn”. But a linguist wouldn’t agree with Perkins that the language has been mangled – that an accumulation of errors have twisted it out of its true shape.

Let’s try an experiment. Read this sentence aloud: “I can’t read the address.”

Did you say “ADD-dress” or “uh-DRESS”? Is that how you always say it? Are you sure?

English has a group of word pairs – REB-el and re-BELL, REC-ord and re-CORD, CON-vict and con-VICT – where the word with the stress on the first syllable is the noun, and the word with the stress on the second syllable is the verb. Since the early sixteenth century, a number of words have changed their stress to match this pattern. As Jean Aitchison says in Language Change: Progress or Decay?, “There were 24 [of these pairs] by 1660, 35 by 1700, 70 by 1800, and 150 by 1934.” The noun “address” is currently in flux – some speakers say it one way, some speakers say it another. And they don’t typically consider either way to be wrong.

Languages always have some variability of this kind. Languages change when one variant edges out another – and it’s not always perceptible to speakers until it’s pointed out. When Aitchison asks “Progress or decay?”, it’s a trick question. Languages aren’t divided into good and decayed, bad groups. Language change isn’t a bad thing – or a good thing; it’s a neutral process.

After all, you aren’t speaking a mangled version of Old English, are you?

Conlangery #01: Why Conlang?

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011
Tomás insults George’s Spanish, then we get into a discussion about why we conlang and just how personal the hobby is.  Then, we talk a little about measure words and genders, and about our Conlang of the Week: Feayran — The language of a race of shapeshifters created by David Edwards. Links: Wikipedia on measure […]

Conlangery #01: Why Conlang?

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Tomás insults George’s Spanish, then we get into a discussion about why we conlang and just how personal the hobby is.  Then, we talk a little about measure words and genders, and about our Conlang of the Week: Feayran — The language of a race of shapeshifters created by David Edwards.


Wikipedia on measure words



Tuesday, May 31st, 2011



Sentence 9 in the LCC4 relay text:

kexien jahē lā;

Here is a three word sentence that is going to require two posts. :-)

kexien is a clause level modifier that denotes that the speaker has expected whatever is in the clause. I usually translate it as “of course”, but “expectedly” is also correct. So the woman is signalling that she expected this sort of situation.

harbor is torma

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011
tormatorma = harbor (noun) (some things Google found for "torma": a very common term; torma are Tibetan Buddhist cake figures used in rituals or as offerings; an uncommon last name; Torma Communications of Houston, TX; means horseradish in Hungarian; means "horde, throng" in Italian; Torma Parish in Estonia; similar Törmä is the name of a village in north-western Finland)

Word derivation for "harbor":
Basque = portu, Finnish = satama
Miresua = torma

My Miresua conlang word starts with T, the letter in common between the Basque and the Finnish words.


Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Glyph of the word 'foye'.


  • (n.) papaya

A havava ei i foye.
“I like papaya.”

Notes: Fresh papaya gets a bad wrap, in my opinion. I think it tastes quite nice. I definitely like what it adds to juices (who doesn’t?), but the fruit itself is a nice treat. I don’t love it, but I well enjoy it from time to time.

Thus concludes my meditation on papaya.

The specifics

Monday, May 30th, 2011

The Shmand-Fair started inside a town [...] Looking down, we could see a track made of two parallel straight lines, gleaming in the sunshine, which ran from the town and disappeared in the far distance.

John Christopher, The White Mountains

Perhaps it’s different for British kids. The opening pages of The White Mountains mention the towns of Winchester and Alton, and characters are named Molly and Henry, so maybe young British readers see the disturbing elements – the upcoming Capping, the modern watches built by ancient craftsmen with long-forgotten skills – rising up from their own backyards.

But for an American kid, handed the book by a friendly librarian, the story might as well take place in the generic English-speaking world shared by most kids’ stories. There’s a Winchester, Indiana, and an Alton, Indiana, but SF adventure books were never set in Indiana – it was against the rules.

Fleeing Winchester and the Capping, the protagonists cross a smallish body of water and find themselves in a country where they don’t speak the language. Nothing surprising there, to an American reader – the story world can contain anything that might present an exciting challenge.

But, reading the books again as an adult, it’s immediately apparent that The White Mountains are specific mountains in our world. The foreign language that baffles the protagonists is French – the boy they meet, who befriends them, is named “Zhan-Pole” (i.e., Jean-Paul), and he points out the rails of the “Shmand-Fair” – the chemin de fer, or railroad. (Interestingly, the phonetic spellings are about what an English speaker would likely come up with for modern French – Paris has fallen to the Tripods, but French is alive, well, and possibly unchanged.)

I suspect the White Mountains are the Alps, but there aren’t further linguistic clues – just geographical clues (a six-mile railroad tunnel through solid rock) which I will leave to others. À bas les Tripodes!


Monday, May 30th, 2011



Sentences 7 and 8 in the LCC4 relay text:

ē tema jāo mo macēna sasāra ī temme jamārienni ien la lerōña ñe mamōra mīña kēñ; sere jakīña ien ñi jatēnnīke ja pa liēr kēñ;

tema jāo mo macÄ“na sasāra is “the woman hears this” and temme jamārienni is “she laughs”. jamārienne is the word for a laugh, and the plural here implies ongoing laughter. Furthermore, since the laughter is followed by the woman repeating back what Tānre has just said to her, it implies laughter and speech interposed.

The woman hears this and laughs, “My eyes are like small moons? You wish that we were joined in marriage?”

High Eolic word of the day: arnac

Monday, May 30th, 2011

arnac (noun): alert, careful, thorough.

runacaláven ngassá run-arnac-es
no.reciter COP.POT no-thorough-ESS
“no Oleric reciter should be a non-thorough man”