Thursday, December 29, 2011

Misunderstanding Láadan

With the help of a Christmas gift card, I got myself a copy of From Elvish to Klingon: Exploring Invented Languages, which was released in November of this year, from Oxford University Press (emic review). It's a collection of academic papers about various language invention topics. See the review for more details.

After I read the introduction, the first thing I did was go to the index to look for languages I know about. Láadan gets two mentions (in the index it is misspelled Láaden, but the page numbers point to the right place). In chapter 8, Suzanne Romaine's Revitalized Languages as Invented Languages, page 215, we get this lengthy paragraph,

A similarity of purpose and motivation drives inventors of all new languages, whether in the real or fictional world. The perceived need for them arises from dissatisfaction with the current linguistic state of affairs. Recognition that language can be used for promoting or changing the social, cultural, and political order leads to conscious intervention and manipulation of the form of language, its status and its uses. In this sense then, the idea of a modern standard Hebrew as the language of a secular Jewish state sprang from the mind of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, no less than Klingon did from the imagination of its inventor Marc Okrand. Hence the planners of Néo-breton, Modern Hebrew, and other revitalized languages are no less inventors than are authors of speculative fiction like George Orwell or Suzette Haden Elgin, who conceive new languages consonant with their vision of a brave new world. The task is to invent and spread a language to encode it. The project of imagining a world without gender differentiation and inequality gave birth to Elgin's Láadan, invented by women for women, just as much as Modern Hebrew would be conceived as a vehicle for modern Jewish statehood and nationality in the creation of a new land by pioneers, and of a new Jew who would escape the confines of the shtetl. Speaking or narrating in a feminist woman-made language in Elgin's Native Tongue (1984) becomes a liberating force for women dominated by a patriarchal society in the twenty-thrid century, just as Irish became and continues to be a language of resistance in the struggle against British rule.

Ok. Seeing language revivification as an example of language creation should not be new to practiced conlangers who are likely to read this. I look forward to reading the rest of the chapter later.

What drives me ever so slightly bonkers is that this paragraph contains two deep misunderstandings about what Elgin attempted with Láadan. First, Láadan is not "invented by women for women." It is indeed invented by women, and intended to express the perceptions of women better, and is "for women" in the sense that it aims at this goal. But at no point has she said that it is for women only. In fact, she goes out of her way, in both the books and in interviews about Láadan, to explicitly deny this. It is for women and men to use. Romaine's account rather makes it seem like Láadan would not be open to use by men.

Second, "imagining a world without gender differentiation" is not part of Láadan's goals either. In A First Dictionary and Grammar of Láadan (Second Edition, 1988), Elgin lays out the inspirations for Láadan in the first chapter, The Construction of Láadan. The fourth item is,

I focused my Guest of Honor speech for WisCon on the question of why women portraying new realities in science fiction had, so far as I knew, dealt only with Matriarchy and Androgyny, and never with the third alternative based on the hypothesis that women were not superior to men (Matriarchy) or interchangeable with and equal to men (Androgyny) but rather entirely different from men. I proposed that it was at least possible that this was because the only language available to women excluded the third reality. Either because it was unlexicalized and thus no words existed with which to write about it, or it was lexicalized in so cumbersome a manner that it was useless for the writing of fiction, or the lack of lexical resources literally made it impossible to imagine such a reality.

Láadan, like Esperanto, is a kind of conlang Rorschach ink-blot test. Whatever they might actually mean, they are primarily the vehicles for people's preconceptions about what they are. Here, Láadan has been shoehorned into a thesis about language revitalization. I don't think the misunderstanding of it undermines the argument, but it is astonishing to see it so badly misinterpreted in an academic context, especially when material directly from Elgin is so readily available.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Kahtsaai Vocabulary: -(i)rwa

Learning a language represents training in the delusions of that language.1

I am a great collector of lexical derivation methods. I ran across one a while ago — I wish I could remember where — which I immediately grabbed for Kahtsaai (PDF). This resulted in a minor lexical upheaval, but I'm very fond of the results.

The form is -rwa after vowels, -irwa after all consonants except r, l and ł, in which case it's just -wa. For now, it is only attached to verbs. It produces stative verbs meaning that something has the characteristic of causing or permitting the verbal action. That's a bit obscure. Some examples make it clearer:

łeit fear, be afraid of łeitirwa scary
weir be sick weirwa contagious
posé trust, believe póserwa trustworthy, believable
tááít go to someone for help; seek sanctuary tááítirwa messed up or dangerous beyond one's ability to cope with alone

Some of the resulting words are similar to English nouns in -able, but most are not. It seems very useful, and is so far doing a good job of taxing my ability to come up with English definitions for things. What, for example, would this derivation of kén urge, impel, set in motion mean? What about kitra tame, subdue? The notions seem useful.


1 Given as a "Gowachin aphorism" in Frank Herbert's novel Whipping Star.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Natlang Inspiration: Navajo WOD

I sometimes worry that I get too enthusiastic with derivational morphology. Then I read things like this, from The Navajo Verb System: an Overview, by Robert W. Young, and I feel like a derivational slacker. It's a long quotation (pp. 57-59), but it's worth it.

Note that in Athabascan linguistics, a "classifier" has nothing to do with the usual linguistic sense of that word, but has to do with transitivity. The null classifier is noted with Ø.


The "run" verbs provide classic examples of crystalized metaphor.

"Singular-run" verbs are derived from a root WOD (Perfective Stem), the base meaning of which is "flex, bend." With Ø-Classifier the Verb Theme ØWOD is produced and this Theme, in combination with adverbial 'ahá-: apart, derives the Verb Base 'ahá-øwod with the meaning "bend apart, become disjointed," as in shigaan 'ahááwod: my arm became disjointed (bent apart). With Ł-Classifier the "bend" theme is transitivized to acquire the meaning "cause to bend," and again in combination with 'ahá-: apart, the Verb Base 'ahá-̵łhod is generated, with the meaning "cause to bend or flex apart, break by flexing apart" as in béésh 'áłts'ózí 'ahááłhod: I bent or flexed the wire apart.

With L-Classifier the causative-transitive Theme becomes mediopassive, serving to derive constructions in which the subject and object are the same. LWOD and its Stem variants produce lexical constructions that describe the subject as "self-flexing" and this came to be used as a metaphor for "run," an action performed by flexing the legs. Thus 'ashkii 'ólta'dę́ę́' ch'élwod: the boy ran ("self-flexed") out of the school; 'ashkii 'ólta'di yílwod: the boy ran ("arrived self-flexing") to school, 'ashkii 'atiin góyaa yilwoł: the boy is running ("self-flexing") down the road.

The concept involved in running carries a connotation of "swift movement," a feature that opens the way to further extension of what began as a metaphoric mediopassive Theme. With the meaning "go swiftly" the "singular-run" verbs are applied to inanimate objects - contexts in which "Self-flex" plays no part, asi n chidí (dzi'izí, nááts'ó'oołdísii, kǫ' na'ałbąąsii) yilwoł: the care (bicycle, whirlwind, locomotive) is running along; k'aa' shighálwod: the arrow went through me.

Applied to conveyances, in Verb Bases that include the postposition P-ił: in company with P, the "transportation by fast vehicle" verbs are generated. Here the subject is the vehicle and the person transported is represented by the pronoun object of the postposition P-. Thus, chidí shił yilwoł: I'm riding along in the car (i.e., the car is running along with me; kintahdę́ę́' shił ná'oolwoł: I'm returning from town by (unspecified) fast moving vehicle (car, motorcycle) (literally, something unspecified is running back with me); Yootóodi shił 'ílwod, I arrived in Santa Fe (by unspecified fast moving vehicle). Other modes of travel are distinguished by other verbal roots, as P-ił (d)t'a: fly; P-ił Ø'éél: go by boat; P-ił idloosh: go by quadruped (horse, burro); P-ił (d)'na': go by slow-moving (crawling) vehicle (tractor, army tank, heavy truck).

"Run" is used idiomatically in expressions of the type: Pí-ka 'a--lwod: help P (literally "run away out of sight after P") as in shimá bíká 'eeshwod: I helped (ran away after) my mother; Pí-lák'ee ha--lwod: escape from P, as in 'awáalyaaí shílák'ee haalwod: the prisoner escaped from me (literally "ran out of my hand"), 'éé' biih --lwod: dress hurriedly, as in 'éé' biih yishwod: I dressed quickly (literally "ran into my clothes").

And finally, the "singular-run" Theme appears as a calque from English, functioning with the meaning "operate," as in naalyéhé bá hooghan yiyoołwoł: he runs a trading post, he runs a store (literally: he causes it to be running along).

The "run" verbs employ three distinct Stems, distinguishing number as singular, dual and plural (1, 2 and 3+ subjects).

"Dual-run," like "singular-run," is derived somewhat deviously as a metaphor - but here one in which the two subjects are described literally as "chasing each other."

An intransitive Verb Theme NI-ØCHĄ́Ą́' (Perfective Stem) and its modal variants carry the meaning "flee." as in tsé'ą́ą́ góne' yah 'anííchą́ą́': I fled into the cave; siláo yik'ee noochéé̵ł: he's fleeing from the police. Ł-Classifier produces a causative-transitive Theme NI-ŁCHĄ́Ą́': chase (cause to flee), as in łééchąą'í shinoołchééł: the dog is chasing me (i.e., causing me to flee).

When the direct object of the causative-transitive Theme is recoprical 'ahi-: each other, L-Classifier replaces Ł-, and the theme takes the shape 'ahi-NI-LCHĄ́Ą́': chase each other. It is this Theme that carries the figurative meaning "dual-run," as in 'ashiiké 'atiin góyaa 'ahinoolchééł: the two boys are running (chasing each other) down the road.

(Skipping some morphological trickiness not relevant here. —Wm)

Again, the connotation "swift movement" permits an extension of the "dual-run" verbs to include inanimate objects, as in chidí 'atiin góyaa 'ahinoolchééł: the two cars are running down the road; k'aa' naakigo shigháhi'neelchą́ą́;: two arrows went through me (literally "chased each other through me"). And "dual-run" verbs are used idiomatically in contexts of the type 'at'ééké bimá yíká 'ahi'noolchą́ą́': the two girls helped their mother (literally "they ran away out of sight after her"), 'awáalyaaí shílák'ee hahi'noolchą́ą́': they two prisoners escaped from me (literally "they chased each other out of my hand").

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Kahtsaai: the Irresultative

I recently ran across a line in reference to the mass of British politicians suddenly turning on Murdoch, "if you strike at the king you must kill him." That, and the slides from LCC4 about Dothraki, reminded me I needed to tackle the irresultative for Kahtsaai.

The irresultative is a bit of an odd beast — is it an aspect? lexical aspect? mood? Some languages are quite sensitive to telic irresultatives, such as Finnish which uses an irresultative construction for verbs of emotion, so that direct objects are marked with the partitive instead of the accusative. In English we have various ways to mark a failed attempt, such as the example above, "strike at someone," or the ever-popular, "she was talking at me."

For Kahtsaai, I'm less interested in lexical aspect, but wanted a way to encode an action that didn't quite work out, or didn't quite meet expectations. The most interesting formal marking for this I've been able to find is in Tariana, which repeats the verb with a suffix, -kane,

pi-nawa-kalite-dewa-kalite-kane
2SG-OBJ1PL-tell-FUT.CERT1PL-tell-IRRES
We will tell you (but not all of it)


I decided to go with an idiomatic expression, using the verb łom, a transitive verb which usually means "throw at, pelt." When suffixed to a verb, the resulting expression means either (1) that an act was attempted but somehow didn't succeed, or (2) that the speaker's expectations were somehow unfulfilled. So,

Yotásekłiitaaltíkłe.
yo-tá-sekłii-taaltíkle
3AN-1SG-sting-strikesnake
The snake struck me.


but,

Yotásekłiitaałłomtíkłe.
yo-tá-sekłii-taal-łomtíkle
3AN-1SG-sting-strike-IRRESsnake
The snake struck at me.


For a thwarted expectation,

Hekíísiłomtsi
he-kíísi-łom-tsi
3IN-rain-IRRES-EVID
It was supposed to rain (but didn't).


Finally, in irrealis or dependent clauses, the irresultative is more purely conative ("try to"), though with a strong sense that success is harder to come by. This let's me translate the sentence that started this all:

Toultamatssekłiiłomnematsłóúníír.
toultama-ts-sekłii-łom-nema-ts-łóú-níír.
lord3INDEF-3SG-strike-IRRES-ADV3INDEF-3SG-must-kill
If you strike at the king you must kill him.


The adverbial clause suffix, C-ne V-hte, means something "if, when" and the like.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Semantic Range

A word's range, from a natural language, not an invented one:

č̓ix̣ʷ-, č̓ix̣ʷaˑ ghost, scary thing; dead person; worm, bug; penis (slang)

(Page 401 of Studies in Southern Wakashan (Nootka) Grammar — a substantial PDF).

Friday, June 17, 2011

Kahtsaai Word of the Day: Keilo'éík

Ok, so I'm not going to start a series on Kahtsaai words just now, but I thought I'd share this one...

When I arrived home today I noticed that the poor, ratty poppy I planted two years ago finally outpaced the bunnies and produced a single bloom. I decided Kahtsaai needed a word for "poppy," and I immediately thought of the vivid Homeric simile, when Gorgythion is hit by an arrow,

μήκων δ᾽ ὡς ἑτέρωσε κάρη βάλεν, ἥ τ᾽ ἐνὶ κήπῳ
καρπῷ βριθομένη νοτίῃσί τε εἰαρινῇσιν,
ὣς ἑτέρωσ᾽ ἤμυσε κάρη πήληκι βαρυνθέν.

His head fell to the side, just as a poppy, which in a garden
is weighed down with fruit and the rains of spring,
so his head nodded to the side, weighed down by his helmet.



(Please forgive the Old High Translationese. It is an occupational hazard of even the amateur classicist.)

So, the Kahtsaai word for "poppy" is keilo'éík, from keil soldier, fighter and éík head.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Kahtsaai: Devising a Practical Orthography

All of my conlangs that do now or ever have existed are written in the Latin alphabet. I have from time to time tried my hand at inventing scripts, but the results are never satisfying. One of the first attractions to me about foreign languages was not the languages themselves, but the writing systems. I gave myself an intense early education in calligraphy in several scripts, which makes me a harsh judge of invented writing systems. I rarely find a conscript beautiful, or at least harmonious, and this applies doubly or triply so for my own. So, I'm stuck with Latin.

All my early languages aimed at a phonetic representation. Thus I was rather shocked the first time I encountered Dirk Elzinga's wonderful Tepa, which spells things like [tuɣu] as tuku and [yɨška] as yɨyka. But now that I've spent a lot more time staring at Native American languages — including plenty in the Uto-Aztecan family, which seems to be the inspiration for Tepa — I've come to appreciate phonemic writing systems a lot more. Changes in my habits of language construction drive this somewhat, too. So, here's an account some of the considerations that went into settling on the Latin orthography for Kahtsaai.

The Vowels


Here's the Kahtsaai vowel inventory:

i [i] ii [iː]
e [ɛ] ei [eː] o [o] [ʊ] ou [uː]
a [a] aa [aː]
aai [aːɪ]


The first issue I had to deal with is tone. I'm very fond of tonal languages — more fond than typology would warrant — but there it is. The only practical way to indicate tone is with diacritics.1 Since I stick with simple two- or three-tone systems, this is easy. In a two-tone system I use á for a high tone and no accent for low, and for a three-tone system á high, a mid and à low.

However, once I decide to use tone, I'm only really left with one option for long vowels, something else I'm fond of. In a non-tonal language, I use the acute accent for a long vowel. But, since I've already grabbed that diacritic for tone in Kahtsaai, I simply write the vowel twice to indicate length, a and aa, etc. (In the ancient times of ASCII-only terminals, that's how I always wrote long vowels.) In theory I could combine diacritics, and put accent marks above macrons, but I find that difficult to read and a real pain to write legibly or type. In Kahtsaai, each mora of a long vowel may have its own tone, leading to tone contours on long vowels, káar to save, to preserve having a falling pitch.

You will also note that the mid vowels aren't marked long in the same way. Phonemically, e and ei are just short and long versions of each other, but there was such a significant quality change that I decided to write them differently. This does work out in the phonological processes of the language. Noun stems that end in vowels lose a single mora at the end when they are incorporated. So, the noun kopi water becomes just kop- when incorporated, and éi tree has the incorporation form é-. This pattern also motivates the spelling of the single, long diphthong as aai. When final, the moraic reduction results in -aa, as in taraa- from taraai health, condition, status, weather. I think the switch from aai to aa conceals the stem less than a spelling change from ai to aa. The extra reminder that this is a long vowel diphthong doesn't hurt, either.

Finally, the phoneme /o/ has two realizations. In open syllables it is [o], in closed it is [ʊ]. The morphology of Kahtsaai ensures that underlying /o/ in a single root presents itself in both shapes frequently. For example, using the verb -wo to eat, te'ewo I ate it has no evidential due to the first person subject, and is pronounced [tɛ.ʔɛ.wo]. With the direct evidential, -ts, we get yonwots she ate it [jʊn.wʊts].

The Consonants


The consonants of Kahtsaai are much simpler. I decided not to follow the Americanist tradition of spelling /ts/ as "c", and just use ts. At morpheme boundaries t + s results in tss, so no ambiguity about stem boundaries arises from using this digraph. Since Kahtsaai allows coda stops, this could have become a minor problem.

Before voiced resonants (l r) or glides (w y) the stops (which includes ts for this discussion) are pronounced voiced. This change is not represented in the practical orthography, [kid.ɾa] to tame, subdue is spelled kitra. Again, this choice is motivated by not wanting the basic stem to be concealed in writing every time a new morpheme was added. Besides, the change is 100% predictable.


_____
1 Ok, some languages use what look like coda consonants to mark tone instead of actual syllable codas. Hmong, especially, comes to mind. But I tend to favor moderately complex syllables, with actual coda consonants, so that could get very confusing.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Little Kahtsaai

I've been churning through sketches and modifications in the last year, resulting in the current rather full language, Kahtsaai. A lot of the work is based on Bixwá, which in turn was the outcome of several sketches. It became clear that Bixwá was getting cognitively unwieldy for my purposes, so I stepped back. I generalized some of the ideas a bit. In particular, I ditched the instrumental prefixes in favor of full-on noun incorporation, with instrumental significance one use available for that (Mithun's type IV NI). This cleaned things up a bit.

I dropped case marking altogether, with one marginal exception. Semantically inanimate nouns are marked when they are the subject of a transitive verb. The verb subject prefix for an inanimate noun is also different. So, in both case marking and verb conjugation, inanimates follow an ergative alignment (mostly), while animates are nominative-accusative:

he-nop
3IN-fall.over
it fell over


kí-tá-nop-im
3IN.TRANS-1SG-fall.over-CAUS
it knocked me over


The language is far enough along that I can complain about the recent weather and environmental conditions:

Áánitá-wimehe-tsaaiki-kohto'pe-yo-se'á
lately1SG-eye3IN-itch-INST.APPLspruce-LNK-wind
lately my eyes have been itching from allergies


Noun-noun compounds have a link syllable joining elements (an idea probably most recently inspired by Coast Tsimshian). Incorporated nouns are abbreviated in various ways, most regularly, but a few have particular incorporation stems. So, I could have rephrased things a bit:

Áánitei-wim-tsaaiki-kohto'pe-yo-se'á
lately1SG-eye-itch-INST.APPLspruce-LNK-wind
lately my eyes have been itching from allergies


Notice that the incorporated noun, wime, has been reduced to just wim-. You will also see that Kahtsaai has an instrumental applicative to bring in a new argument. There is also a benefactive applicative, as well as a fossilized locative applicative that is not freely productive.

So far I have omitted evidential marking, which is usually marked:

tówaarmósheweitaraa'ánméín
tówaarmóshe-wei-taraai-án-mé-n
meanwhiletomorrow3IN-very-state-hot-FUT-EVID
it's supposed to be very hot tomorrow


Here we have a hear-say evidential, somewhat merged with the future marker (Kahtsaai is usually aspect obsessed, not marking tense except for the future). The discourse particle tówaar marks a discourse break, especially a change in topic.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Addicted to Dependency-marking

The cycle of revisions I've been working on in the last year and a half or so is winding down to a fixed set of features that I really like. But I have found there's one thing I've had a hard time giving up: case marking. A hefty chunk of what I'm aiming for is inspired by various areal features of North American native languages, where case marking (and dependency marking in general) is not exactly common.

Removing cases gives me deep anxieties, even though I know intellectually a language is perfectly capable of working fine without them, even if you have a nonconfigurational syntax. I spent part of today working through the behavior of applicatives, and have finally reassured myself multiple objects without overt marking can work just fine. Thinking about reasonable discourse situations, rather than concocted grammar puzzles of the sort one finds in old Latin textbooks, is a better guide to where real ambiguities can arise.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Wardwesân

In January of this year a Frenchman working under the pseudonym Frédéric Werst had a book published, Ward : Ier-IIe siècle. I first heard about it at Language Hat. It's a historical anthology of the Wards, an invented people, in an invented language, Wardwesân. I figured my library of conlang grammars (Láadan, Esperanto, Klingon) could use some Gallic company, so I ordered the book. It finally arrived, and I thought I'd give a quick overview of the language a bit. I haven't yet had time to read the main body of the text too much — my French is rusty, and literary French is much harder going for me than technical French — but I'll grab a few examples from it for analysis.

Sound System



The vowels are a, ā, e, ē, o, ō, i, y and u. Long ā has regional variantions, pronounced either [œ] or, apparently, as a long /a/ (ou commme un â français très marqué). For /e/ and /o/ sounds the ones with the macrons are tense, those without are lax, e [ɛ] ē [e], o [ɔ] ō [o]. The y is IPA [y], but is also usable as a consonant, [j]. The diphthong ae is [aɪ].

These consonants are as in French: b, d, j, k, l, m, n, p, ph, s, t, z; g is always hard, [g], r is "always rolled;" sh is [ʃ], kh is [x], gh is [ɣ], th is [θ], zh is [ð] (really!), x is [ts] and xh is [tʃ], q is [q], jh is the ich-laut, [ç].

Word accent is always on the first syllable.

There is no discussion of phonotactics or phrase accenting.

The Noun


Much loving attention was devoted to the morphology of the noun.

Most nouns do not have overt gender marking; inanimates never do, animates may, -a for masculine, -e for feminine: westa "king", weste "queen." There are some other minor patterns.

Plurals got quite a lot of work, though not all nouns get plural forms.


  • First, there is the common class of internal plurals which show some vowel change: gan "night" gaen, mazira "pheasant" mazōra. These seem quite common.

  • Second, some may have an internal vowel alteration, with or without additional change: thanor"pond" thōnar.

  • Third, some take a prefix al- or ar-: karz "child" alkarz. This may also involve vowel changes: barw "name" arbyrw.

  • Fourth, some take suffixes or other word-final alterations: rame "sister" rameth.

  • Fifth, nouns in -ael may form a plural in -aldon: zagael "young man" zagaldon.

  • Sixth, nouns starting in o- often have a plural in wo-: ora "plant" wora.

  • Finally, many nouns, abstract nouns especially, have no proper plural at all. But, if one is really needed, the postpositive particle amōn may be used.



Werst had fun with these many plural forms, with a number of lexical items with the same singular having different plurals: gem, gemazhan "cheek" (actually an example of the dual, -zhan) but gem, argym "cloud."

Vowel alterations are not only used for marking the plural. Agent nouns will convert an /a/ in the first syllable to /e/, and an /e/ in the first syllable to /o/: merwān "to manufacture" morwa "author."

There appear not to be adjectives, but nouns of qualification, which are joined to nouns with the appositive particle ab (which reminds me a lot of Persian ezafé). So, mega "something new", but mega ab magha "new god".

The Verb


The verb system is rather simple. There is a small collection of co-verbs which encode person and time, and participles which encode number. There are three active participles, and these are mixed and matched with co-verbs to produce quite an array of tense forms.

The co-verbs are regular: present wena (1st person), wega (2nd person), weza (3rd person masc.) and wetha (3rd person fem.), with er- replacing we- for the perfect, me- for the imperfect and wa- for the subjunctive.

The participles are -an (pl. -anōn) for present, -azan (pl. -azanōn) for past and -agō (pl. -agōn) for future.

A full conjugation for arbān "to write":







Singular Plural
1st wena arban wena arbanōn
2nd wega arban wega arbanōn
3m. weza arban weza arbanōn
3f. wetha arban wetha arbanōn



This strikes me as rather regular, but an interesting way to split the load. There is, however, a small number of verbs which have irregular — and fully conjugated — perfects (which I will not give here).

There is no passive conjugation, though there are passive participles in -ēnd, which are joined to their noun with ab: kamazh ab arbēnd "a written book."

There is a "gnomic" tense, which ends in -aoth. It has neither tense nor number, and indicates general activities, arbaoth "one writes, people write, it is usual to write." The ending may alter the final consonant of some stems.

The imperative is in -ax (pl. -axō): jarān "to come" jarax, jaraxō.

Prepositions


Prepositions have two forms, strong and weak. It is easiest to say that the weak forms are used whenever the governed noun is modified by another noun, and the strong in all other situations. For example (in order of weak then strong) az, azōn "with". First, strong forms:

  • azōn yarn "with a friend"

  • azōn yarn nēs "with my friend"

  • azōn yarn ab Xamōn "with (my) friend Xamôn"



Weak forms:

  • az Xamōn yarn "with Xamôn's friend"

  • az warma yarn "with a sick friend"



Note especially the last form: it causes the qualifying noun to act more like what we expect with an adjective, rather than the warma ab yarn we'd otherwise expect.

Particles


Indeclinable particles do a number of syntactic jobs. As we have seen above, there is the appositive particle ab. The genitive relation is handed with tha, as in barzha tha qaman "the destruction (qaman) of the building."

The particle zha means something like "which has," which can also be used to create the effect of an adjective, mazaraon zha kazhar "a certain dating" (kazhar "certitude").

Various combinations and particles are used for verb aspect (which I'll omit here).

Et Cetera



There are several particle combinations with na which combine evidentiality and judgement, na zant for opinion from experience ((se) dire), na qant to express certainty, etc (these are a little regular for my taste, all in C-ant).

There are several kinds of article and demonstratives.

The grammar as a good (though not huge) section on the syntax of the language, which I will omit here.

Small Examples



A sentence grabbed at random from the text part of the book.

Na warzawēr nama aw aexeth ren ab arkan em aw bamastan baratha ab eman. (Il et évident à tout le monde que l'oeil a pour fonction de voir, et pour utilité de regarder, p. 215).

  • na, nāz, "in the function of; according to"

  • warzawēr "all, everyone"

  • nama "evidence, spectacle"

  • aw (also ā, ō) aspectual particle, quant à

  • aexeth "use, utility"

  • ren "act, action"

  • arkan "vision"

  • em, emzhan "eye"

  • bamastan "utility, service"

  • baratha "action, movement"

  • emān "to see," here in the present participle.



More interesting, for the verse of the Wards he picked a system of assonance and alliteration (a few lines, untranslated):


dura meth math derw mez denan

ukan gōn garth ag urben ganta danagh

dwan jaen jar jarga darnan

zeman nāz naen nāz naba zeran...

Monday, February 14, 2011

A cute little word

I have in the last few months been spending more time working on natural languages. In particular, a treasure trove of documents on Uto-Aztecan languages has been interesting. Unfortunately, the English translation of Michel Launey's "Introduction to Classical Nahuatl" keeps having its release date pushed back. I look forward to getting my hands on that. Most Nahuatl textbooks in English currently available make the old-fashioned philological approach I learned Greek with look like progressive language pedagogy.

As an experiment, I started working on a new language back in October, not using my normal methods of notebook-then-webpage, but straight into LaTeX. The results certainly look more impressive once the major sections start to fill out. The cross-referencing is nicer, too. I think I need to work on a few more style tweaking macros. In any case, the language, Tsariku, started off as a cross between inspiration from Uto-Aztecan languages and ancient Greek. However, it has evolved somewhat from there. I realized last week that I had snuck in a variant on split-ergativity, with the split working along animacy. Inanimate subjects of transitive verbs get a case marker, -s, but are unmarked as the direct object of a transitive verb or the subject of an intransitive.


aiku-stsi-nepá-n
this-ERG3IN-hurt-1SG
This hurt me.


aikuni-nepá-h
this1SG-hurt-3IN
I hurt this.


tsi-lemyaaiku
not3IN-functionthis
This didn't work.




Note that the conjugation, obligatory for both subject and object in transitive verbs, is still nominative-accusative alignment.

In any case, a tasty little tidbit of vocabulary. A noun recently concocted is kwehtsa, fear and uncertainty in response to sudden and uncertain social or political developments. This is less interesting than a recent compound, kwehtsulatú the sudden hush that comes over a conversation when an unexpected person approaches because one is uncertain of their loyalties.