Feasibility, Conlangs and a Challenge

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

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

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

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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Detail #413: Object Prepositions encoding a bunch of stuff

July 31st, 2021

This system might be incorporated into a conlang of mine in the future. Consider a system where direct objects often take a sort of accusative preposition, but this preposition also is inflected with information about the object and the verb.

To some extent, the inflections can be combined - but not indiscriminately so.

The basic preposition could be a syllable, say ir. Maybe we have some congruence thing going on, so it might be ar for plurals or something like that. It also is not used with pronouns - and not only not with personal pronouns, but not with pronouns in general. (Possibly with the caveat that indefinites and some quantifying pronouns may permit taking them.)

Restrictions on use

All individuated objects that are not pronouns or proper nouns require an object preposition. For perfective verbs, non-individuated objects may also take the preposition.

In subclauses, the object preposition may act as a head of a verb phrase without any actual verb involved.


s- : bring into existence
w- : change the nature of something gradually
p- : change the nature of something in a way that breaks categorization
n- : destroy

sw- and sn- seem to be used by some speakers for a slow, gradual process of creation or destruction, but is far from accepted by all.


-k : the object in half
-kek :the object into multiple parts
-ta : the object is intrinsic, habitually recurring; the verb could be considered gnomic.
-ba : the object is temporary, accidental, occasional or incidental.

Circumfixes cannot co-occur with pre- or postfixes.

k- ... -di : an object of strong desire
f- ... -ap : an object of strong hate
kus- ... -a : an action that merges objects or brings them together locally

Constructed Languages 2021-07-24 23:58:02

July 24th, 2021

My name is Johnathan Palmer and I used to be a little involved on this journal years back. I have since finished my B.A. degree in Applied Linguistics with a minor in Psychology. I graduated from Ashford University which is now the University of Arizona global campus. I just filled out the form to become a member of the LCS and will be sending in my payment at the beginning of next month. I don't know if anyone remembers me but that's okay. I have been working on a couple of conlangs for about five years now. I have finished one and would like to explain it from a linguistic point of view. It is a poly-synthetic language that I have named Taljruk with an accent on the a. If anyone is interested let me know and Ill share how it works. 

Example: King = Afer (a as in after, and er as in the er in after) - Noun
              Wiley = Kiznihk (Wiley, first i sounds like y in symbol and second i sound as in nick) - adj

               The Wiley king = Kizafernihk
        Do you see what I did there? I inserted the noun afer in the middle of the adj kiznihk.

More Research Needed: Coordinated relativizer over gaps in Swedish

July 14th, 2021

In Swedish, much like in English, coordination over gaps conserves syntactical role.

The relative pronoun* 'som', for some speakers at least, seems to permit coordination where the explicitly stated pronoun is a subject and the gap is an object, thus violating the conservation of role. A similar weird sentence in English would be, _ marking the coordinated gap.

?the guest that arrived and you received _.

* There is some controversy regarding whether it even is a pronoun and has any role in the VP or is just a complementizer, but I hold that the existence of mistakes such as the genitive 'soms' (should be 'vars') argues in favour of it being a pronoun.

Detail #412: Mandatory Non-Indicative Mood on some Verbs

July 1st, 2021

Certain verbs, e.g. "understand" or stative verbs that convey strength or reach, could easily develop in a way that potential aspect becomes mandatory. Ultimately, the difference in meaning between "can you understand this" and "do you understand this" is not all that big.

Here's a challenge - find other, rather "average" indicative, non-auxiliary verbs and a grammaticalization path that makes some non-potential aspect mandatory.

Vatum: A Growing Collection of Conlang Literature, no. 2

July 1st, 2021

DeSDu’/Jack Bradley is an artist, conlanger, and dedicated speaker of the Klingon language based in Chicago. He holds a BA in Visual and Media Arts from Université Laval and is currently working on an MFA in Fine Arts at Columbia College Chicago. In 2018 he passed level 3 of the Klingon Language Certification Test and has since worked on a number of Klingon literary projects, both as a translator and as an author of original works. He has worked on a number of professional conlanging projects and is currently working on a personal language, Chátsu, which will be at the center of his MFA thesis art project. He is the editor of Qugh, ‘eSrIv, and VATUM.


This is the 2nd issue of VATUM, a quarterly publication whose goal is to share and showcase the original literary work done by conlangers in their own languages. Each work is presented in a conlang with an English back-translation.

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Detail #411: Some Nouns are Auxiliaries

June 23rd, 2021

Consider a system where a few nouns when they are subjects or objects instead inflect like auxiliaries. When the noun has the role of a subject, it is inflected in third person. As objects, they require the infinitive to be in some kind of antipassive-like form.

Sometimes, these auxiliaries can convey information about a subject that is a noun.

Consider, for instance, if "team" was one such noun-verb monstrosity. Now, one could for instance construct a thing like

Erin and Pekka team.3pl.pres fight monsters / E & P, as a team, fight monsters.

However, "team.3pl.pres fight.inf monsters" would simply mean "the team fights monsters". 

I team.1sg.pres fight-antipassive dummy-acc-plur would simply mean "I fight (the/a) teams" 


I will in a later post consider some quite different nouns that could have quite different side-effects in a system like this.