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Showing posts from 2013

What about dying languages?

There are various ways a person can respond the the discovery that I create languages for fun. The most common is noncommittal and polite puzzlement. A few people will be enthusiastic about the idea, especially if they're fans of the recent big films and TV shows involving invented languages in some way. Every once in a while, especially online, someone will object on the grounds that people involved with invented languages should, instead, be Doing Something about dying languages. This objection is so badly thought out that I'm genuinely surprised at its popularity.First and foremost, anyone complaining about people messing around with invented languages has failed, in a fairly comprehensive way, to understand the concept of a hobby. Time I spend working with an invented language is not taken from documenting dying languages or some other improving activity, it is taken from time I spend with my banjo, reading a novel or watching TV.Second, while it is true I, along with most…

Arbitrary Sort Orders in Python (including digraphs!)

Unicode: everyone wants it, until they get it.
Barry WarsawI know I'm due to do another post about LaTeX, but that'll have to wait for next week.I've recently discovered two nice tools for my iPad which let me do some programming, and sophisticated editing and text processing, Editorial and Pythonista. So, I've been working on some code related to conlanging.I know some people hate them, but I'm a big fan of word generators for three reasons. First, they help me avoid overusing certain sounds, something I'm normally prone to. Second, it helps you verify that the rules you've given for your syllable shapes actually describe what you want. Finally, while I might have phonaesthetic concerns about some vocabulary, I don't want to agonize over the word for "toe" or "napkin" most of the time, so I like having a random pool of words to grab from. I still might change the word, or decide a random selection is not right for the word, so …

Conlanging with LaTeX, Part Three

In this post I want to talk about the thing that makes LaTeX so immensely powerful: it is programmable.It is the great tragedy of modern computing that the industry has, for the most part, systematically trained people to be terrified of their computers. Things are changing all the time, usually in baffling ways, and those little changes all too often completely break other things we rely on. One consequence of this, though other issues compound the problem, is that most people have very powerful universal computing machines at their disposal but never write even a small program to solve a problem they might have.This is not the place to teach computer programming, but I can introduce you to some very basic programming within LaTeX, to give you the power to radically alter the appearance of your conlanging documentation with just a few simple changes. It is this programmability of LaTeX that makes it such a powerful tool. Fortunately, most easy things are easy, so we'll start …

Conlanging with LaTeX, Interlude One

One of the perennial problems in writing any document dealing with multiple languages is choosing a font that can handle everything. Add a little linguistics, and things get very messy. Since I wrote the first part in this series, I have discovered a new font that's designed for this sort of linguistic work, the Brill. It's been in development for a while, but I hadn't checked it in more than a year, waiting for the bold. Now it's ready.It has several character sets (Latin, Greek, Cyrillic, IPA), special glyphs for some humanist work, and, best of all, has true bold, italics and small caps which harmonize nicely with the rest of the text.It's free for non-commercial use — which describes most of us conlangers — so give it a try. I've been working on a personal language document with this font, and it really is very nice. I'm not 100% fond of the italics, but I'll put up with that for true small caps and a well-integrated polytonic Greek.

Conlanging with LaTeX, Part Two

In the previous post I suggested a basic LaTeX tutorial you might use to get a basic command of LaTeX. I'm going to assume everyone reading this has played around a little with LaTeX.Before you can produce any document in LaTeX, you need to tell it a little about what you intend. The very simplest trussing for this will look a lot like this:\documentclass{article} \begin{document} Saluton! \end{document}The space between the \documentclass and \begin{document} lines is called the preamble, and this is were you can put all sorts of other declarations to change how LaTeX works, either by changing its default behavior or by adding new functionality. For this post, I'm going to mention a few things that are useful for conlangers to have in their preambles. Specifically, I'm going to focus on what LaTeX calls packages. Fortunately, if you do a web search on most LaTeX packages you can get good documentation on how to use them effectively.The first thing you should know, i…

Conlanging with LaTeX, Part One

One common set of questions in conlanging forums is about how to organize the material, the grammar, the dictionary, lessons, etc.  While there are some dedicated language tools out there, most of them are fairly complex or expensive.  So most people just use word processors for their grammars and sometimes spreadsheets for their dictionaries, assuming they use computers at all.

At this point, I'm prepared to say there are no good tools for writing a dictionary.  There are tools out there, but they tend to be very tricky to use well, assuming the hobbyist conlanger can even afford the cash or the time to invest in such tools.  And for tools to let people collaborate on a lexicon?  Forget it.

So, I just write my dictionaries as text.  Here's an example lemma for Kahtsaai,
No spreadsheet is going to produce anything that looks like this without a great deal of programming.  It might be nice to have a nifty tool to manage a dictionary entry like this, but a general tool to do tha…