Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Identity-centered Pronouns

One of the things you might do as a non-hetero or non-gender-conforming conlanger is fiddle around with pronouns or other parts of a language to represent your own reality a bit more. Most first attempts at fiddling with the pronouns are likely to result in a giant pronoun inventory that is unwieldy while also leaving some people out. I've certainly produced a few of these in the past.

For a very slowly developing personal project (Kílta), though, I came up with an idea that might be workable: the identity center.

This is modeled on the deictic center. The deictic center of a narrative or conversation is that location in space to which words of location and motion are oriented: this/that, here/there, come/go, etc. The center can move in narrative to where the action is, but in most interactive conversation the center is where the conversation is taking place.

So, in this model personal and demonstrative pronouns are coded as being either at or away from the currently active identity center. There are neutral pronouns, and much of the time those will be the ones used, but if somehow identity becomes relevant these pronouns can be brought out to signal where things fit. Further, the identity itself can be anything salient. One might, for example, say this to conlangers:

Inna ekólot si kotiho më.
DEM.IDC work ACC understand.PFV NEG.
(They) don't understand this work.

In this, inna is the identity centered demonstrative, here indicating that the work in question (fiddling with pronouns, say) is somehow related to the conlanger identity.

I translated the Fire, walk with me poem from Twin Peaks into Kílta as a test, and the final line is:

Luëka, án tin tali.
fire.VOC 1SG.IDC with walk.IMP
Fire, walk with me!

By using the identity-centered first person pronoun, án, the reciter is placing themselves into the same identity as the mystical fire being addressed.

Kílta plays with pronouns in several ways. There is, for example, a pair of first person pronouns that code how much agency the speaker feels they had in the state of affairs being described. But by thinking about LGBTQ+ pronoun questions I have concocted a system that is more broadly usable. But I'm going to have to use the language for a good bit longer before I'll be quite ready to declare a success.


  1. For some reason this reminds me of logophoric pronouns, even if that's probably not *quite* what you're describing here. Logophoricity might fit right in there, though?

    1. Logophoric pronouns help you manage coreference between clauses. For example, in "he said that he was going" is the second "he" the same as the first "he?" Generally, logophorpic pronouns are limited to dependent clauses of report and cognition.

      The Kílta identity-centered pronouns are more like pronoun choices in a language like Thai or Japanese, where the choice codes your relationship with the people you are speaking to, and possibly the formality of the situation.