Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Birth of Tsrai

The World Atlas of Language Structures is just a wonderful way to spend hours. One thing I realized while reading some articles is that in my years of conlanging I have systematically avoided using certain features of language that are very common across the world. I tallied up a list in my mind of things I've avoided, and sure enough, the outlines of a new language started to appear — Tsrai.

I have only rarely used reduplication, a process that is ubiquitous in natural languages. For Tsrai, I decided to use reduplication to indicate number, as a marginal process for nouns but the most common way for verbs.

I strongly favor very simple sound systems for my languages. Even if I have a large inventory of sounds, I keep the syllable structure quite simple and open, at most allowing resonant codas. So for Tsrai I've decided to use a moderately complex system, with a few more complex onset types allowed. This means my decision to use reduplication has resulted in some hefty tables of behavior. Of course, a recent exposure to Squamish may also have something to do with that. The big question was how to reduplicate syllables with complex onsets. I decided that since the second element of any complex onset is either an approximant or a resonant, to impose sound changes similar to Ancient Greek for such reduced syllables. For example tyar reduplicated is tityar (< *tytyar).

Other tendencies of the sound system are inspired by the Nobiin language.

I tend to favor VSO or SOV languages, so Tsrai is solidly SVO. I am also very fond of case marking, but for Tsrai I've gone isolating, using word order for syntax. I've taken inspiration from Yoruba and Vietnames (also SVO languages) and used certain particles to mark focus for fronting behavior, as in —

Lë ba gad dai I see this man.
Gad dai fë lë ba I see this man. ( is the focus particle)

I decided to step away from my aspect obsession. Verbs are marked only for tense — a past vs. non-past distinction only in verb morphology — letting adverbs and verb auxiliaries take up the slack.

I briefly considered using some sort of ablaut change in verbs to make ergativity a lexical category, a la Classical Chinese. But that got too messy for other plans for the language, so I tossed it. The idea may reappear for transitivity matters.

I do want to include verb chaining, but this presents some interesting design questions. At the moment a verb's form may be changed in two ways. First, reduplication for plural subjects, as in këskóis from kóis sleep. Second, it may take the suffix -ta to indicate past tense. The suffix is prone to assimilation, so that the verb varag choose, select may appear as vëvarag (pl.), varakka (past) or vëvarakka (past pl.). The syntax questions right now for verb chaining are (1) do all verbs need to be marked for number and tense and (2) if not, would the first or the last verb set the number and tense for everyone else in the chain.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Airenen! Sózil! Howdy!

I've been inventing languages for a long time. The first one happened after my first encounter with Latin. I was probably 14 or 15. I never really stopped, though there have been slow times when other things occupied my time. For example, work on Vaior, the only language of mine other people have tried to learn, pretty much stopped when I got focused on Ancient Greek. But even then, I might create a quick sketch of a language on a few scraps of paper while awaiting to be called for the tender ministrations of a dental hygienist.

Recently I've been involved in the community of people trying to learn Na'vi that exploded after the film Avatar came out. For the first time in my life I was seeing people eager to know about verb aspect and ejective consonants. I like to encourage that sort of thing, so I've been happy to help them. This has also resulted in me getting back to language invention of my own. Rather than fill my old blog, currently mostly devoted to ancient Greek, I decided to start a new blog just for my conlanging musings. Creating languages is a pretty obscure hobby, and not a populous one, but I hope there will be a few people who find my agonies of deciding between different ways to form relative clauses interesting or instructive (if only as a caution).

Right now, as I start this new blog, I have two quite different projects in development. The first, Bixwá, bears many signs of my recent attempt to learn an Athabascan language, Navajo, along with a few Algonquian touches. It is much further along, and right now is mostly in the arduous vocabulary-creation phase, though much syntactic fine-tuning remains. The second, Tsrai, is what happens when I decide to deliberately step away from old habits, with a little help from the WALS, and create a SVO language with no declensions and more features common across the world's languages.

From time to time I suppose I'll comment on the odd political or social developments among conlangers.

Words of Immiseration

You never know what's going to lead your conlang to new grammar. More than a month ago I was reading a bit by and about Hannah Arendt,...