Archive for August, 2021

Unknown Riches

Saturday, August 28th, 2021

A few weeks ago I was chatting with some conlangers, and we were talking a bit about some deeper issues in conlanging, especially around personal conlangs. I was extolling the virtues—not entirely coherently— of keeping a diary in your conlang. I said that you don't always know what resources you already have available when you want to create something new, but that inhabiting the language even a little, such as in a diary, will open up possibilities that might not otherwise occur to you.

One of Kílta's riches that occurred to me very recently, based on only a few uses of the diminutive, was that I could use to mark what is effectively first person possession when referring to direct line family relationships (grandparent, parent, sibling, child, grandchild):

Ommira në erniënto.
omm-ira në er-niënt-o
mother-DIM TOP TRANS-leave-PFV
My/our mother left.

With a little more thought I decided this could extend out to non-direct relations (cousins, nieces, etc.), if you grew up seeing them nearly every day.

Finally, I decided that with possession, you could use the diminutive to refer to family members very close friends you spent a lot of time with, especially while growing up.:

Ton vë ommira në erniënto.
2SG ATTR omm-ira në er-niënt-o
mother-DIM TOP TRANS-leave-PFV
Your mother left.

Since Kílta is a personal language, there aren't many opportunities for me to make use of the construction in this second example, because none of my childhood friends are ever going to learn the language. Nonetheless, I sometimes create things for Kílta to establish a general ambience, to suggest the full meaning of a construction, even if marginal functions of a construction aren't going to get much use.

When a conlang needs something new, it's easy to just create something entirely new, and often enough that's necessary. But I always enjoy finding preexisting material ready to be used to create some new construction or nuance.

A Bryatesle Mystical Practice

Saturday, August 21st, 2021

In the Bryatesle-Dairwueh religious landscape, there is a variety of mystical practices in the religious communities. Some schools of mysticism overlap many of the faiths, some schools of mysticism are closely aligned with some particular faith, and some schools of mysticism are more or less synonymous with a faith.

Within the stedbaprian faith, a widely held idea is that humans live their lives in a state comparable to inebriation. We do not realize the true state of affairs, because this pseudo-inebriety prevents us from seeing clearly it.

There are several ways of dealing with this. Note, however, that the state is not the same as inebriation, but merely in several ways similar to it. From this emerges a notion: if a person can, during inebriation, practice his ability to think clearly, this will help him see clearly when sober - much like a swordsman will first practice with wood swords or some other less sharp implement.

Thus, the stedbaprian mystics will consume alcohol and various psychoactive herbs at certain times, and then practice a variety of cognitively demanding tasks. This tends to be done in groups of at least three.

A person who is very proficient at these tests when intoxicated will be considered more likely to be able to see the world as it is, and hence will be more trustworthy and proficient in thought, perception, behavior and skills.

Feasibility, Conlangs and a Challenge

Monday, August 9th, 2021

Through the years, I have suggested some typologically unlikely, and maybe even some typologically impossible ideas in this blog. I find typologically unlikely - and even antiuniversal - systems somewhat interesting. However, I do believe there are some types of systems that we even find in some conlangs, which violate a type of constraint that I believe is a solid wall of impossibility.

In my own thoughts on this topic, I basically think of them just by the term "genuinely impossible systems". However, an issue with them is that their surface realization is possible - and there's probably multiple genuinely impossible systems corresponding to every possible surface realization.

Here's a phonological example. In antirealistic, there are two phonemes /b/ and /p/. These have the following realizations. NB: the phones themselves aren't really the interesting thing here, their relative realizations are:

initial: /b/ : [b], /p/ : [p]
medial: /b/ : [p], /p/: [b]

Why do I hold this to be unrealistic? Unless there's super-strong morphophonemic reasons to identify the [b] inside a word with /p/, and the [b] in the onset with /b/, I am very certain that any child or foreigner learning this language will identify the [b]-sounds as /b/, and the [p]-sounds as /p/. In lieu of a very strong morphophonemic relation here, there's no way a learner would identify them like that - even if the writing system maintained the identity.

A morphological example, then - and I don't think we find much of these in conlangs (unlike the phonological example seen above). In unrealistic, there are special verb forms corresponding to English -ing, and in unrealistic it's -int. However, for intransitive verbs, this consists of -i- (intransitive) and -nt (intransitive active participle), whereas for transitive verbs it consits of -in- (transitive) and -t (transitive active participle). Unless -in-, -i-, -n-, -t and -nt exist as independent morphemes but only ever occur in this context, there's no reason a learner would identify this as a complex suffix.

Syntax, then. Can anyone come up with a good syntactical example of a similar infeasible structure?

Detail #414: Passives and Reflexives

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2021

Passives and reflexives sometimes are fairly similar (and in some languages even indistinguishable). One of the Russian passive constructions is the reflexive construction, and the Swedish synthetic passive originates in a perfectly analogous construction - a reduced reflexive pronoun becoming a verb morpheme.

In some languages, the "passive" does not promote the object to subject position. This, for instance, is the case in modern Finnish (but earlier, it does seem it might have been the case). However, since the passive fulfills many of the roles the passive fulfills in other languages - emphasizing the object as the "central" participant, omitting the subject, etc - it gets to be called a passive.

This leaves open a simple way of keeping the reflexive and passive distinct, yet reuse the morphology:

noun.nom verb.refl = reflexive
noun.obj verb.refl = passive

However, there are of course reflexive constructions (and passive ones!) that do not directly pertain to the direct object - "I gave myself a surprise", "I looked at my toe", "I did it for myself". In such circumstances, I like the idea of letting a language conflate the two, or possible allow for disambiguating the reflexive by inserting a pronoun.

Further, third person pronouns could possibly have an anti-reflexive morpheme available for such constructions:

he saw.refl him.nonrefl in front of him

he1 saw him2 in front of himself1

I am pretty sure the idea of a nonreflexive pronoun has occurred previously in this blog, but I am pretty sure the general idea here is new. I am considering including it in Bryatesle, since its reflexive and passive system is still underdeveloped. However, it feels like integrating this with the Bryatesle case system would be a nightmare.

Alas, Ćwarmin, Sargaĺk and Bryatesle all have sufficient passive/reflexive systems fleshed out, Ŋžädär isn't really suitable for this, and Tatediem is off the table, for now at least. Maybe I should revive it.

Real Language Details: Word Order operations in Swedish

Sunday, August 1st, 2021

As usual, my real life language example will come from Swedish (a habit I really need to break). This time, we're looking at word order in main clauses. First, Swedish is in many ways similar to English, but differs on a few important points:

  • thou/you-distinction, and case distinction on both. I will use thou/thee and you/ye for nom/acc in my English examples.
  • In spoken Swedish, 'de' (they) and 'dem' (them) have - in most regiolects - been conflated to 'dom', which I will write 'thom'.

Swedish is V2, unlike English, which means that almost always, there'll be one constituent left of the finite verb, and the rest will go to the right. Exceptions include a handful of adverbs that can go between the subject and the verb, and questions, which have a fairly strict VSO order.

Basically, some linguists describe the Swedish word order in main clauses as follows:

[fundament] V S * iO * dO *

The asterisks represent adverbs, whose rules are not all that interesting with regards to this point (but may be dealt with later). If the fundament remains empty, it is a question, but if any thing from the right of the verb is moved to the fundament, you get a statement. Adverbs can be moved, subjects, objects, indirect objects, etc. If it's a prepositional phrase that is moved, the preposition can be stranded at the end of the clause.

Now to some exceptions. For conservative speakers, objects that are personal pronouns can further be shifted leftwards to the slot directly right of the verb, displacing the subject:

then saw thee a friend

It seems there are some restrictions:

  • a heavy subject is more likely to move right, or a subject that has some "association" rightwards - i.e. coordination with something in the next clause
  • a pronominal subject cannot be displaced
  • a definite, non-heavy subject  seems unwilling to be displaced

Now we're getting to an interesting bit, were there's two groups of conservative speakers, and the less conservative group is shitting on the more conservative group for being sloppy.

The they-them distinction, as mention, is weakened in the spoken language, such that 'thom' has replaced both. Thus, 

thom see me
I see thom

are both permissible in most speakers' eyes and ears. This causes a complication where speakers who are unsure of the written form tend to err on the side of using 'them', giving results such as

them see me
I see them

This annoys a fairly large contingent of conservative speakers - even those conservative speakers who themselves have 'thom' in the spoken form but who have good intuitions for when which form is used.

Some conservative speakers seem to instinctively correct every 'them' that is in even a slightly unusual position to 'they'. Thus,

then answered them a voice over the speaker

will be hypercorrected by them to

then answered they a voice over the speaker

even in contexts where this makes no sense. There seems to be four kinds of readers with regards to this:

  1. Some readers do not react at all that anything is wrong, and will read 'them' as the subject.
  2. Some readers react that something is wrong, and will read 'them' as the subject, and would correct it to 'they'. These will consider the sentence sloppily written and a sign of the modern degradation of the language.
  3. Some readers react that the word order is wrong, but read 'them' as the object. These will consider the sentence sloppily written and a sign of the modern degradation of the language.
  4. Some readers do not react at all that anything is wrong, and will read 'them' as the object. If they are keenly aware of Swedish linguistic developments over the last 100 years or so, they will see this as somewhat conservative.

Of course, group #4 and #3 will be aware that some writers do not distinguish they/them, and if the context has several they/them-errors, they will join #2 temporarily.

Esis Vinter

Sunday, August 1st, 2021

Francisco ACP Andrade is a Professor of Law at Universidade do Minho Law School. Having Portuguese as his native language, he is quite fluent in French, Spanish, and English. He studied in France (Poitiers), England (Sheffield), and in the US (Seattle). He has also studied some Italian, German, and Russian. Being very interested in European languages, he started, as a hobby, to create an auxiliary language that could be understood as really European. That was the beginning of the project of the language Europeze, an auxiliary language derived from the main European languages, based mainly in Romance and Germanic languages, but with some elements of other European languages (mostly, but not only, Slavic languages and Greek).


“Esis Vinter” is a story based on the life of a foreign student in Sheffield (England) in 1994-1995. It is told as a surrealistic tale, and it shows the difficulties arising from cultural differences and the friendship established with some of the international students. The story is mainly developed around the friendship of the narrator and a French girl. Cultural references to differences and similarities between Portugal and France in contrast to the English way of life are a constant of the tale. The story is presented in Europeze, French, and English.

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