Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2012

At least...

Among the easiest things to smuggle into a conlang from one's native tongue are discourse particles and phrases. I recently had reason to think about the phrase at least, which means at least three distinct things.First, it is used to set a lower limit on some statement about degree or scale. It is easiest to see with numbers, but has a wide range of uses beyond that. Adding the tag "if not more" is often a good diagnostic test for this use, I saw at least five [if not more].She has invited at least Sarah and James [if not others].He's at least slightly depressed [if not seriously so].The second sense is evaluative. It selects a particular part of a larger state of affairs and marks it as something the speaker expects everyone to see as positive, At least I got an A-.At least she didn't ask me out.The last sense I've seen called "rhetorical retreat." You identify the source of your information but step back from committing to its reliability, M…

Kahtsaai: Distributive Portmanteau

So, while I sit here with a plumber working on my shower, I finally pulled the trigger on a change I've been thinking about for a while for Kahtsaai. One of the slot-one prefixes for verbs is -na'a- which marks distributed or widespread activity. Thinking about common uses for a while, I decided it needed to merge with two of the person prefixes for subject, he- (3 inanimate) and hááí- (3pl. animate).The resulting portmanteaus are he'a- and háá'ya-, giving such fun as he'a'ánméínIt's going to be hot (everywhere) (I hear), and háá'yawósénatsthey were running around everywhere.That change only took a week to commit to.

Recent Developments in Kahtsaai

In the last few months I have been focusing almost entirely on Kahtsaai vocabulary, and allowing that to drive any tweaks to the grammar. At this point, I consider the skeleton of the grammar complete, wanting only a lot more detail for certain sections.The ImperfectiveFor most of its life Kahtsaai has had a single primary verb of motion, , which was usually marked with either the trans- or cis-locative prefix to distinguish go and come. This turns out to be typologically very rare, which was fine, but I finally started to find it annoying, so I added aascome. The form kóh-ló is still available for come, but it cannot be used when the speaker means "right here where we're talking now," which is aas's core meaning.At the same time aas was coming into being, I was getting a bit annoyed about the regularity of the imperfective marker, -na. I did not want to add massive irregularity, but it just wasn't sitting right all by itself. So, I added a small number of…

Thesaurus 1.4

A new version of the Conlanger's Thesaurus is ready. It has a few more maps, a few more grammaticalizations, and some subsections on classifiers, demonstratives and a few useful implicational hierarchies for verbs.I've been tidying up some parts of Kahtsaai vocabulary as a direct result of working on the thesaurus, which is a nice side effect.

Kahtsaai: Intensives and Content Questions

Version 1.3 of the Conlanger's Thesaurus is out. It has a few more polysemy maps, a few more grammaticalizations, and an addition to the final section with some notes on the typology of content question words ("who, what, when," etc.). The semantic map I got from "thread" was suitably and ironically tangled.Some of the work on the Thesaurus has motivated me to make a few refinements to Kahtsaai. The biggest change is that I made some changes to question words. In English and the rest of the Indo-European family, we're used to content question words being obviously related in some way. In English, they all start with wh-, and in the Romance languages with qu-/c-. But it turns out this pattern is very rare in the world's languages, which may have completely unrelated roots for their core set of question words. So, I irregularized Kahtsaai a bit, with *ye'weiwhere becoming táá, and *ye'paswhy becoming łouh.Related to the question words, I ha…

Generating Semantic Maps

One of the central features of the Conlanger's Thesaurus is the cross-linguistic semantic maps. For the first version of the Thesaurus I used those I could find in public linguistics journal articles. But it occurred to me I could come up with some of these on my own.First I came up with some straightforward software to manipulate lists of definitions to produce the semantic maps automatically. I wasn't actually expecting this approach to work out so well right away, but my initial assumptions and model turned out to work pretty well.The biggest problem has been finding good dictionaries to work with. All too many online dictionaries — and not a few printed ones — are simply lists of words with single-word definitions. This is not a great way to get at polysemy. However, over the last few days I have managed to find enough good dictionaries online to make me confident in the cross-linguistic (and cross-cultural) polysemy maps I've been creating.The code is explained …

A Conlanger's Thesaurus

In the last year or so I have been thinking about writing a piece of software which would spit up a skeleton dictionary which I could fill in with a new language being created. The point was to help me get out of certain lexical ruts, while still creating a language that would be more or less internally consistent. I gave up on that project, but one side effect was a lot of reading about recent work in lexical typology. I found the semantic maps especially interesting as tools for conlanging. I've collected a bunch of that work in A Conlanger's Thesaurus.The core of that document is a word list, lightly edited, but mixed in whenever possible are cross-linguistic semantic maps, to prod thinking about new possibilities for words that don't simply reproduce the semantic boundaries of languages I already know. There are still a lot of gaps, but this seems a good start.The last two pages have some dense but very interesting semantic maps relating to matters most people wou…

Kahtsaai: a year old

I just noticed that the document sketch.pdf in my Kahtsaai directory is dated to April 23, 2011, meaning I just missed Kahtsaai's birthday. Taking a quick look at that sketch, it's interesting how much of the basic character of the language was firmly settled in just three not-very-dense pages with a whopping 20-word vocabulary.For example, the conjugation table of subject and object prefixes is very similar, with the biggest change being the addition of several conditioned variants for the third person inanimate object, and the indefinites (thank you, Nahuatl). The sound system is completely unchanged, which shows serious restraint for me. The inchoative went from being a suffix, -píí to an aspectual prefix, -yé'-. The verb chain got a new slot just for those aspectual and adverbial prefixes.I somehow derived an entire system of deixis from the single word hó'owa, thus.Amusingly, the clause-final discourse particle łaai, undefined in the sketch, was briefly turned…

Agreement of What?

I recently ran across this page about transitivity. Section six, "Problem Cases," mentions two languages in which it appears that the verb transitivity is cross-referenced on other constituents in the clause, in particular, adverbs and noun phrases acting adverbially. The first of the Shipibo-Conibo examples has two other elements in the clause so marked, Jain-xon-rathere-TRNS-EV and xobo-n-xonhouse-LOC-TRNS.I don't think I'm going to be using this feature any time soon, but some people might find it alluring.

Art and Conlanging

If you listened to the out-takes from the most recent Conlangery Podcast you heard an out-of-context quote from an experience I had in college. I went to a show of performance art pieces put on by art students. One of the episodes involved a man walking out on stage with a boom box, turning on some industrial music, stripping naked and proceeding to duct-tape sausage to himself.From time to time, both on the show and off, Bianca and I have amused ourselves by imagining how various schools of art would map to styles of language invention. But now I think we've been going at this backwards. There is nothing intrinsically confusing about an earnest, naked gentleman with kielbasa affixed to his person. The problem is that no one in the audience knew what language he was speaking. If he had passed out a grammar and lexicon first, the audience would have some idea of what he was trying to say.So, my current idea is that conceptual art is actually a form of conlanging. People just…

And ACADEW, too: Tsolyáni

While some of us invented our first languages without any idea others might indulge in this hobby, most of us come to it through exposure to some other conlang. Esperanto was the most likely for a long time, and many, many of us create languages in the Mirkwood-deep shadow of Tolkien's languages. Somewhat more recently, Klingon may be the first taste of invented languages, and now Na'vi and Dothraki are bringing a few to the hobby.I don't remember if I had seen Esperanto when I started creating my first languages — puny relexes of English with hybrid German-Latin grammars, including the dative case before I even know what one did with it. The deepest influence on my languages, however, come from an author who never invented a single language, Frank Herbert.When Herbert needed non-English touches, he grabbed historical human languages and made modest sound changes, largely to accommodate his editors, I'm sure. Arabic infuses the books (CHOAM = OPEC), and Romani make…

Perceiving ANADEW

One feature of Láadan that always struck me as odd was how it handled perception. There are no verbs for see, hear, taste, etc., rather there is a single verb láadperceive, which is used with an instrumental noun to clarify.Bíiláadlene-thoyu-nanwa.DECLperceive1SG2SG-ACCear-INSTEVIDI hear you. I was never clear what effect Elgin was aiming at with this, and it has always struck me as unnatural. I should know better, but if you had asked me last week if this would occur in a natural language, I would have said, "no." But no, it does occur — in one language, Kobon.Kobon is known for having a very small number of verbs — on the order of 100, of which about 20 get regular use. It achieves clarity by combing the verbs with nouns, adjectives and adverbs. So, eye perceive for see, ear perceive for hear, etc. It heads off into territory even Láadan wouldn't enter, with sleep perceive for dream (Láadan ozh).I really should know better by now.Some people might enjoy A universa…