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Showing posts from July, 2010

The Bixwá Verb: Part the Second

In the previous post on Bixwá's verb system, I talked about grammatical affixes, aspect and valency. This post will cover affixes that are more lexical, though the direction prefixes are used for some aspectual refinements. The verb so far:

Aspect - STEM - Voice

Instrumental Prefixes
I got the idea for the instrumental prefixes, once again, from Native languages of North America, though not Athabascan for a change. Instrumental prefixes are fairly common in unrelated languages across a wide area, from Haida in British Columbia to the Siouan languages of the plains. The Bixwá set is larger than some, but is by no means the largest.

The instrumental prefix comes to the left of any aspect prefix. The instrumental prefix will be separated from the verb stem by any aspect prefix, and I use a dash in the lexicon as a reminder, ró-máread (from ró-by/with words, language and see).

In Bixwá the instrumental prefixes can cover a range of meanings, not all of which are really instrumental.…

The Bixwá Verb: Part the First

In general I devote a lot of loving attention to my languages' verb systems. Nezhan, the sketch that led to Bixwá, produced things like this:

né-wíi-x-máá-di1sg.SUBJ-NO.CONTROL-2sg.OBJ-see-PFVI happened to catch sight of you.

This was a little too much like Athabascan languages, so I pulled back a bit. I no longer cross-reference the subject and direct object in the verb, but I still manage to pack a lot into the verb. Like Nezhan — and the Athabascan languages — a great deal of the verb's morphology is by prefixing, though Bixwá does mark valency and control changes with suffixes.

The Verb Stem

Most Bixwá root verbs are single syllable roots, though two-syllable roots are also well-represented. There is a small set of common transitive verbs which have two forms, one for animate direct objects, one for inanimate direct objects. For example, is see for inanimate DOs. For animate DOs, you must use deezh.

kora-ndeezh1SGdog-ACCsee.ANI see a dog.

áka1SGbooksee.IAI see a b…

In the Shadow of Tolkien

When I was about 16 or 17 I happened to run across a copy of The Monstors and the Critics, a collection of essays by J.R.R. Tolkien. Much of it is devoted to English literature, but it also includes the essay The Secret Vice, about constructing languages. So, I got exposed to a manifesto in defense of this hobby at a fairly impressionable age.

A few years ago I noticed that I had somehow not only inherited from Tolkien a justification for the hobby of creating languages, but my languages seemed to reflect a world view1 to which I myself do not subscribe. In particular, my languages tended to be technophobic, if not actually indulging in the Romantic Weltschmerz that afflicts Tolkien's Elves, and my languages, even ones I never publish, tend to be remarkably chaste and polite. I've been trying to get away from these tendencies, especially the technophobia which was quite entrenched for a long time.

I have not been content to simply add words like "computer" and &quo…

How to handle Tsrai compounds?

I tend to worry about lexical expansion early in the creation of a language. It's entirely possible for me to have several bits of derivational morphology tested and ready before I've even started seriously with, say, the verb system. I favor rather complex derivational systems (see the madness of Vaior's derivational system), but in Tsrai I'm trying to be more restrained. So, there will be much more compounding using root words and little or no bound morpheme use. I'm currently thinking I'll follow the Vietnamese practice, and write each element of the compound separately.

Since Tsrai so far has been head-initial for noun phrases, it seems best to use head-initial compounds (although the typology on this isn't so clear-cut). The big question now is — how to mark plurals? Since most noun plurals are marked with the suffix -ne, do I tack that onto the compound head, or the full phrase? What if the head noun reduplicates for plurals? Using syurperson (…

Embracing Redundancy, Ambiguity and Nonorthogonality

Even though I have never created an auxlang (i.e., an auxiliary language, like Esperanto), there are still certain habits its easy for conlangers to fall into which seem to be more suited to auxlangs. The longer I create languages, though, the less I'm willing to tolerate some of these things.

The first habit is efficiency, the avoidance of seemingly redundant things, such as multiple forms of agreement. No human language is perfectly, or even partially, efficient. Indeed, redundancy in a spoken language is a positive benefit, since language happens in a noisy medium. Nonetheless, nearly all my languages avoid certain features. For example, I typically use either strict head marking or strict dependent marking. Rarely do I allow overlap, which is somewhat unusual.

At this point Bixwá is not going to chage in this regard, but I decided in Tsrai that I will mark the plurality of the subject in both the subject and the verb.

Gad kóisA man sleeps
Órói këskóismen sleep (reduplicati…

A Taste of Bixwá

One idea I keep coming back to in my conlangs due to a throw-away notion from one of the Dune books of Frank Herbert. In Dune Mesiah, he refers to mirabhasa languages:

They were using a mirabhasa language, honed phalange consonants and joined vowels. It was an instrument for conveying fine emotional subleties. Edric, the Guild Steersman, replied to the Reverend Mother now with a vocal curtsy contained in a sneer - a lovely touch of disdainful politeness.

Now, it's never been clear to me what a phalange consonant is supposed to be. Regardless, I've made several attempts at my own personal mirabhasa. I've never really succeeded. For Bixwá I decided not to focus on emotional subtleties per se, but to combine a sensitivity to social and political power (of all sorts) as well as a substantial set of words to allow a speaker to make complex commentary on what is being said.

The sound system of Bixwá owes a lot to Athabascan languages — the apostrophe really is a glottal stop, e