Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Bixwá Verb: Part the Third

If the multiple layers of affixing on the verb stem aren't enough, there are also three slots for preverbs in Bixwá. The idea for these comes from the Algic/Algonquian languages. In those the preverbs are actually affixes, too, but in Bixwá these are separate words. I did this for two reasons. First, Bixwá has more phonetic flexibility at the end of a word than it does at internal syllable codas. Second, I didn't want to deal with noun incorporation — inanimate direct objects come between a verb and its preverbs, while inanimates do not.

Tense and Mood

The leftmost preverbs have to deal with tense, sequencing and mood. The tense preverbs aren't much used, though the future, ivi is most likely to be seen of the bunch. Much more frequent is wil, which indicates sequencing, "and then, and next" and the like. Two of the preverbs are involved in conditional sentences, which I will save for a different post.

Adverbial One

After the tense and mood preverbs come a set of preverbs with various adverbial senses. One I pilfered from, I think, Wiyot, is diwáa on arrival:

Then when he arrived he spoke to me.

Another good one of this set is haaz, which indicates senses like in vain, it isn't so, it didn't really happen. In the perfective, it indicates a thwarted expectation:

It was supposed to rain (but didn't).

One of this set, sa' has branched out into interesting territory. It's base meaning is of proximal deixis, in time, place or discourse, here, thus, there. It has developed to also assert narrative integrity, asserting that the statement fits into the conversation. This is useful for propping up unexpected information.

Then she threw the book (really!).

Note in the example above the location of the direct object, ákan. If she had tossed something animate, it would occur before wil.

Adverbial Two

This is a more motley set of adverbial senses, and I anticipate more appearing over time. Many of these describe path and location: cháa for horizontal motion, kwee apart, separating, zót away, but more exotic senses appear as well, such as e'ar leaving a detectable trace or path.

We returned against our will.

One of my current favorites is chaash, which says that an action took place out in precipitation,

You will be working in the rain/snow.

The exact nature of the weather will depend of course on the season. I have also been giving metaphorical extensions to some of the simpler senses. For example, ta'ii means to completion, fully, to exhaustion, but has been extended to be practically a marker of attitude, conveying weariness.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Bixwá by Foot

Right now both Bixwá and Tsrai are in a phase of moderate vocabulary growth. I'll ponder a few days, the bang out a few dozen words in a short time. Apart from creating a number system (which I always dread), creating vocabulary is always the most trying task of language creation for me.

As part of my campaign to avoid orthogonality, I have been making an effort to use analogy more. This has lead in interesting directions with the instrumental prefix zu-, which has the base meaning of by foot, with the foot. For example, tik means fall (over), and zu-tik means to knock over by foot (remember, using the instrumental prefixes always results in a transitive verb).

I decided that zu- could also be used to indicate mob violence of some sort, by way of the idea of trampling or stampeding over people. For example, from dó'a rule, custom, tradition, we get zu-dó'a impose a political or social regime on people. From there I went to zu-bayí subjugate, oppress from bayí endure, tolerate.

A few days ago zu- completed its march into the political realm when it encountered gísa be silent. With help from the detransitive suffix -óó I got zu-gísa'óó self-censor.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Gallimaufry


I've managed to get myself on a panel for a local con this fall to chat about the science of Avatar. In theory, I'm there to talk about language. We'll see how many people in the audience are interested in that.


Tsrai now has nice set of postural verbs. I'm still thinking about the semantics of these, especially in verb chains, but I'm ridiculously pleased to be able to say this,

He drank so much beer he ended up on the ground.


I recently got myself a copy of The Languages of Native North America by Marianne Mithun. What an astonishing diversity of languages this continent used to have. Language inventors will find so much inspiration in this book.

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,...