Saturday, October 22, 2022

"Black Adam" - Kahndaqi Language

I was hired in 2021 to create two languages for the film "Black Adam," one for timeline-hopping wizards (called the Language of Eternity in the credits), one for Kahndaqi, Black Adam's language. The wizard language does show up in the film, but is somewhat masked by voiceovers, so I'm just going to say a few things about the Kandaqi language here, for those curious.

The nation of Kahndaq is imagined to somewhat predate the rise of the more familiar ancient Near Eastern civilizations of Egypt and Sumer. We discussed various options how to base the language, but I convinced them to go with a language isolate (i.e., a language not related to anything else), but which had also spent a lot of time living in close company with Sumerian and Elamite.

Languages that live next to each other a long time start to borrow things from each other — not just words but even grammatical tendencies. So, from time to time when creating a new Kahndaqi word for dialog, I would go take a look at a Sumerian or Elamite dictionary to see if there might be something reasonable to borrow (usually modified a bit, in either sense or phonology). For example, the Kahndaqi word for king, lúke (accent marks stress) hints at a relationship with the Sumerian word, which is usually romanized lugal. Mostly I picked a few core nouns for this sort of borrowing, since those are most easily borrowed. Most Kahndaqi vocabulary, though, I generated myself. 

As in Sumerian (and Hurrian), ergativity pops up in some parts of the language, though not identically to Sumerian. There are a few unusual features of Elamite grammar which I didn't feel I could get away with borrowing into Kahndaqi, the personal noun classes, especially. (One person on twitter asked about Elamite in particular, I'm guessing for exactly this fun part of the grammar.)

I'll give two examples for the linguistically inclined. This is the first bit of dialog I produced, and it appears in the second trailer (just after the 20s mark):

Soemel tilam.
soemi-el til=am
magic-2.POSS weak-COP.AN
Your magic is weak.

So, personal possession is often marked with suffixes, as in soemel your magic. I used an animacy-based noun class system, and soemi magic is grammatically animate, which is why the copula clitic is the animate form here.

Erentas ma'ate inger.
Eri-enta-s ma'ate i-nger-∅
people-1PL.POSS-ERG champion 3PL.ERG-need-3AN
Our people need a champion.

Here we have another example of personal possession as a suffix, our people. And a taste of ergativity, both in the subject noun marking and the verb. Transitive verb subjects are marked with prefixes. That apostrophe marks a glottal stop, ma'ate /mɑˈʔɑte/. 

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Obsidian Words

A few weeks ago I added the word miusma obsidian to Kílta. I knew it would get some sort of metaphorical or metonymic meaning at the time, but hadn't settled on the details. I focused on the long use of obsidian as a weapon-making material—go take a look at a macuahuitl—to extend the meaning.

As of yesterday, miusma can be used metonymically to represent violence, organized violence in particular, though it doesn't have to be state-organized. It is normally used as an attributive:

Rëtu korá miusma vë kinta kwan uttimo.
many people obsidian ATTR night during die-PFV
Many people died during the obsidian night.

The phrase "obsidian night" refers to some sort of group violence that took place at night.

Orávës në miusma vë lár si mítët, kwál si salkësto.
fanatic TOP obsidian ATTR word ACC speak.CVB.PFV, riot ACC put.INCH.PFV
The fanatic spoke obsidian words and started a riot.

The implication of "obsidian words" is that they were meant to provoke violence.

This is probably enough baggage for the word for now, but I wonder if other ways of using it will present themselves.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Covert Grue

There is extensive literature on basic color terms. Since Kílta is a personal language for speaking in the modern world, it has a fairly wide color vocabulary, and does distinguish blue and green (pikwautin, ralin), unlike a grue (green-blue) language which unifies those colors under one term.

One thing I've done in Kílta, inspired in part by the articles in The Aesthetics of Grammar: Sound and Meaning in the Languages of Mainland Southeast Asia (Jeffrey P. Williams, editor), is to pay a lot of attention to how words are intensified. English of course has plenty of intensifying collocations — hopping mad, deeply concerned, etc. — but in Kílta there are quite a few intensifiers which only intensify. They have no independent meaning, and are often (apparently) root words.

A new intensifier I recently added is . It is only used with hichínin black, pikwautin blue, and ralin green. So, even though Kílta is not a grue language, I've hidden a grue tendency in the use of this intensifier.

Ummul në mó ralin no.
forest TOP deep green be.PFV
The forest is a deep green.

Mó hichínin mika në ël si alincho.
deep black stone TOP 3SG ACC shun
The jet black stone slipped from her grasp.

I extended in one other direction. Even though it is rather adverb-like, I permit it with kinta night to mean something like in the dark of night, for in a temporal adverb sense.

Ha në mó kinta otta si cholat oto vukai.
1SG TOP deep night sound ACC hear.INF fall.PFV DISAPPR
I happened to hear a sound at darkest part of the night.

Covert boundaries can be a useful way to think new things through.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Unknown Riches, Episode 3

I recently created a word for trout, mirëlcha /miˈɾəltʃa/ (no etymology). I probably don't need very many example sentences for food-related words — their usage is generally pretty clear — but examples for every new word is a habit now. I knew almost instantly that the phrasing of the obvious sentence was going to encode a distinction English doesn't make easily.

Ton në mirëlcha si chuvët akkalo tul?
2SG TOP trout ACC hunt-CVB.PFV capture-PFV Q
Did you catch any trout?

The center of the matter is the converb form of the verb chuvo pursue, hunt. In my part of the world, at least, people don't usually catch trout by accident, but have gone out specifically for trout. So, this sentence is able to encode that the speaker thinks the person they're talking to was out for trout, not just fishing in general. If I left out chuvo, the sense of the question would suggest that the trout was caught by chance, not the specific goal of the fishing.

By making Kílta primarily a V-language (according to the typology of Talmy), I set myself up for a pattern where events can regularly be decomposed a bit, with co-events or "activating events" encoded as converbs. Sometimes this leads to nuances that aren't simple to express in my native language, which is always fun.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Unknown Riches, Episode 2

I recently produced a sentence that made my friend learning Kílta ask which section of the grammar explained that use. Then I realized that not only was it not described in the grammar, I hadn't really thought about it explicitly.

Hakán ésamét kwan kwailo.
arm vaccine INST hurt.PFV
My arm hurts from the shot.

He wanted to know why the instrumental kwan was used here, when he would have gone for nós due to, on account of.

I have talked before about using a diary as a conlang tool. I am quite sure this sort of use of kwan started a while ago, but because the diary is handwritten, I can't easily search it to look for the first such use of kwan. Nonetheless, it was established early that kwan would indicate inanimate agents for passive verbs. The use of kwan in the example above is allied to that. It shows up in plenty of example sentences in the lexicon, chisanta kwan uttimo died from cancer, mata kwan atenko dissolved in the water, koska kwan haivo drown in shit, etc.

With a little thought it became clear that I was using kwan to indicate inanimate or indirect agents in patient intransitives (also known as "unaccusative verbs," an excessively cute and confusing bit of terminology). These are intransitive verbs where the grammatical subject doesn't have much agency in the situation, die, fall, be sick, happen, hurt, etc.

The detransitive suffix -is-o generally results in verbs with more patient-like subjects, so it, too, can take kwan in this sense, 

Chátis në mëtaula kwan kwitiso.
window TOP storm INST break.DETR.PFV
The window broke in (due to) the storm.

So here was a bit of Kílta grammar that was (probably) created in the diary, got used all over the examples, but hadn't been expressed explicitly until I got asked about what was going on. This is normal in the diary process. Certain use patterns develop because they seem right at the time, and over time take on semantics that can be hard to explain at first. In this case, I'm lucky enough to have someone ask me what I was up to with kwan. And now it's explained in the grammar.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Aka në rínchat no më - I will not fear

Years ago I started in on a Kílta translation of the very famous Litany Against Fear from Frank Herbert's Dune books. But I ran into a few problems I wasn't finding easy to work with, and rather than force it, I put the translation aside to marinate. I realized a few days ago I finally have the tools to address it in a naturally Kílta way.

Aka në rínchat no më.
Rínchot në, michumokës no,
Nekin uttimës no,
Mantin emémmiëtta no.
Rínchot si chérat no.
Aka si in hotekat in aimánat huitat no.
Rínchot në ohëchët, aka keta si michiëkan rinkat no.
Rínchot vë issa nen vura rokat no më.
Aka në anui vëchat no.

1) The canonical opening line is "I must not fear." Because the rest of the recitation uses the future a lot, I just put it in the future here. The film and TV adaptations of Dune all make their own modifications to the Litany, and the TV show used the simple future as well. I also use Kílta's high-agency first person pronoun, aka, which is more an aspiration if you're reciting this, but I find it a nice touch here.

2) I topicalize rínchot fear, and talk about it a bit. The word michumokës is a transparent compound, mind-killer.

3) Again, close to the original, "it is the little death" (no, not that one).

4) This is trickier. The original is "that brings total obliteration." I went with structural parallelism with line (3), [ADJ N no]. Emémmiëtta is a rather odd word, and means "that which causes destruction," in an instrumental sense. Often nouns derived like this are physical items. "It is a terrible instrument that causes destruction."

5) The closest equivalent to "I'll face my fear" in Kílta is rather aggressive, which I don't think is quite in keeping with the following lines. I use instead "I will acknowledge my fear," or even "I will feel my fear." The construction ADJ + chéro is normal for internal feeling expressions, which is supposed to be in mind for this sentence.

6) "I will allow it to go over and go through me." Very close to the original.

7) I use a converb clause for sequencing, rather than the nominalization of the original, "the fear having passed." Then I get to break out michiëkan with mind (attention) turned inward. There is a not often used suffix, -iëkan, which generates adverbs meaning in, inward, towards the center. The meanings are often idiomatic, as here. Michiëkan came out of some other vocabulary work I was doing, and once I had it I knew immediately it would work for this. I also use keta footprint, trace of passage, trace of existence.

8) "On the fear's path there will be nothing." Very close to the original, though again avoiding a nominalized relative clause.

9) A final declaration of agency, using aka, with the line very close to the original.

Translated out of Kílta:

I will not fear.
Fear, it is the mind-killer,
it is the little death,
it is a terrible cause of destruction.
I will feel my fear.
I will let it go over and go through me.
The fear having passed, I will see (its) trace by turning my mind inward.
On the fear's path there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

This remains quite close to the original, while accepting a few changes to meet Kílta's usual way of doing things, and few tweaks to make the style work better in the language. The last line lands a little flat and obvious in Kílta, and might still get some pragmatic refinements in the future.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Sending a Message

I have an ever-growing backlog of concepts for which I want to create new Kílta words. It gives me all the stress you expect from a todo list. One benefit of the delay, however, is that I regularly think up better derivations, or better nuance, if I have time to let a concept percolate a while before I commit to it.

One concept I've been thinking about is a way to indicate if a state of affairs communicates some other message. For example, if someone stops answering your phone calls, that says something. Often we can rely on Grice and experience to help us figure out when other messages are being communicated by someone's actions, but I wanted a way to be a bit more explicit about it. This sat on my todo list quite a while, and then just yesterday a good way to handle this presented itself: an auxiliary with a converb.

The verb ráno means signal, make a sign, as well as point out.

Eman në tátiën mai ráno.
child TOP dog LAT point-out.PFV
The child pointed at the dog

But yesterday it occurred to me that my send a message sense matches with this nicely. Now, a general converb followed by ráno marks that the state of affairs also communicates some other message.

Ha kë mës mítët ráno.
1SG DAT NEG speak.CVB.PFV signal.PFV
She didn't talk to me (which makes some other point, too)

Often an overt translation of this into English is going to be a bit clunky, but I've got growing pile of those in Kílta, too.

In any case, rather than creating a new clause-final particle or entirely new lexeme, I've just added to Kílta's substantial battery of auxiliary verbs.

"Black Adam" - Kahndaqi Language

I was hired in 2021 to create two languages for the film "Black Adam," one for timeline-hopping wizards (called the Language of Et...