Lexember 2014 #7: brizit

Another day, another word:

brizit vI to be stubborn

I've decided that at least most verbs in Middle Pahran will behave as Class I verbs, basically stative verbs as many languages have. Another small note, brizit does have a superficial similarity with briiza "donkey", however, I don't think I will jump through any hoops to make them related. Brizit is just what the random number  generator in awkwords gave me today (well, the proto-form bridit, which I applied sound changes to), and I think I'll just let it remain a coincidence.

Lexember 2014 #6: bun

As I said yesterday, I decided to limit the semantics of batlaam to only include larger rivers, simply out of personal preference. So, today, I decided to make another term for the semantic space that's left by that.

bun ni stream, creek, tributary

As suggested by "stream" and "creek", bun is usually for much smaller bodies of water than batlaam. However, in the sense "tributary", it can be quite large. Thus, if it is used to describe a body of flowing water in isolation, that's likely a small, easily fordable stream, but if it is referring a body of water that flows into another, it could be quite large.

Sometime when I'm not fiendishly busy with other things, I will work out some examples.

Lexember 2014 #5: batlaam

A new day, a new word. Here is a word I was surprised I hadn't had yet:

batlaam ni water, river

Once again, am using an asssociation I found in A Conlanger's Thesaurus. However, the next couple of days I may refine this a bit with a couple other words. Hearing batlaam, I kind of want it only to apply to big rivers, smaller streams will have another word. I'm also thinking that I will have another term for water, as I eventually want there to be one term that becomes a technical term used in alchemy, while another is the common term (Pahran is for a fantasy world).

Also vacillating on whether this should be animate or inanimate, since a river could be conceived of as animate. Thoughts?

Lexember 2014 #3: 'ããs

Today's word is my first verb for Lexember:

'ããs vII to train (an animal)

'ããs is a class II verb, which is the default class for transitive verbs. I won't go into the morphology, as I think as soon as I have time to work on Pahran again I may be revising the class II verb paradigm.

However, the most interesting thing about thinking of 'ããs today is that it led me to revise a completely unrelated word. Previously frujmaa "to teach" had also been class II, but I thought it might be better to keep 'ããs as class II and move frujmaa to class VII, which typically indicates situations where the subject is the origin or creator of the object (verbs such as build, create, write, etc). I also created a separate entry frujmaa "to learn" which is a class I (intransitive) verb.

My idea is that the class VII frujmaa "teach" is derived from class I frujmaa "learn", and that frujmaa will retain class VII status in contrast to 'ããs because of the different animacy relations. That is 'ããs is only used for animals, and thus only occurs when the object has lower animacy, whereas frujmaa applies when teacher and learner have equal status.

In any case, it looks like I am submitting this just under the wire. Hopefully I'll have the time to do the next few words in more timely fasion :P

Lexember 2014 #2: sõõp

It seems that I'm just a tad late for this (by my own time zone) but my second entry for Lexember 2014:

sõõp ni bowl, cup

My inspiration for the meaning of this word by my recent watching of lots of Chinese historical dramas (at the behest of my wife, of course). One thing you will learn about ancient China through these dramas is that apparently everyone used to drink alcohol out of bowls. I haven't done so much research into this, so I'm not sure why ancient Chinese are depicted this way or how accurate it is, but it does make sense that a cup and a bowl can function similarly and really are similar implements. As such, I decided that Pahrans, in the time period when Middle Pahran is spoken, will be sort of in between using just bowls to using more cup-like containers for some things. Eventually sõõp may come to mean just "cup" in a daughter language, or it may differ in meaning between a couple different dialects/daughters.

Lexember 2014 #1: tuuzaa

If you don't know, Lexember is an even that conlangers have latched onto where we invent a word in one of our conlangs for every day for the month of December. Until now I've never really participated, but I thought I'd go ahead and go for it, since it only takes a few minutes out of my day. So here it is, Lexember 2014, Day 1, from Middle Pahran, my current (languishing) project:

tuuzaa ni roof, house, bedroom.

I got the association of "roof>house" from one of the semantic maps from William Annis's A Conlanger's Thesaurus, which I think anyone doing Lexember should look to frequently for inspiration. This particular association works well for the fictional culture I have in my mind for Middle Pahran. Pahra is meant to be in a tropical location, and homes are fairly open. Poorer homes may be little more than a thatch roof, but even richer people with sturdier homes will culturally prefer entertaining guests or relaxing in the saamas, a central courtyard or flower garden, whenever the weather permits, and might not want to spend so much time indoors. Hence, I get house>bedroom (somewhat close to house>room on the map). In a Pahran inn, each room would be called a tuuzaa and would face directly onto the courtyard with no interior hallways connecting to other guestrooms.

Hopefully I can keep this up amid the craziness of papers and whatnot. In the mean time, have a great Lexember everyone!

From Aeruyo to Malviz: Where is this phonology even going?

So, one issue I realized I would have to deal with in deriving a language is historically is the fact that I would have to go back and analyze the phonology to figure out what the heck phonemes were there, anyway.  So, after a lot of wrangling, I managed to get Zounds to apply my changes to my entire lexicon.  Now after doing that, I'm finding the analysis will be a daunting task, and I'm feeling lazy.  So I thought, why not show the word list to my conlanger friends and see what they think of it.

So, with no explanation, I have here a list of all the words, in phonetic transcription, without the original Aeruyo words.  I won't tell you anything about what I've worked out from my initial eyeballing to keep it pure.  So, if you feel like doing some phonological analysis: here is the word list.

I'll come back when I've had time and desire to work up my own analysis, as well as any tweaks I've made.

From Aeruyo to Malviz: A little morphology

Since my last post on deriving Malviz from my existing Malviz language, I've worked a little on the morphology of the language.  Aeruyo had a complex inflectional system on both nouns and verbs, so in order to work out the morphology of Malviz, I simply ran several fully declined nouns and several fully conjugated verbs through the sound changes to see what irregularities and mergers occurred naturally.  Then, based on this work, I made the following morphology changes:


  • I got rid of the vocative case.  In most cases it was merging with either nominative or instrumental, and I had planned on getting rid of it anyway, so it seemed like a good opportunity.
  • I merged the plural and collective for spirit nouns, since apocope had essentially done that for me right out of the gate.  In cases where the collective form causes o>u mutation (particularly in oral ~ uro > oral ~ urz), I kept the mutated form as the plural/collective form, though analogical flattening in some roots isn't ruled out.
  • All verbs had the non-past positive and negative forms merging, while the past forms remained distinct, so I extended the past tense negative forms to cover non-past as well (essentially creating a tenseless negative form and avoiding the need to create a negative particle.


There are still a few cases where forms are identical, but for the most part those are quite regular.  One issue I have with verbs is that they are merging in different and interesting ways depending on the root, which is making it hard for me to decide what forms to keep.  For instance, often the potential and optative moods are merging in both positive forms but not the negative:

Indicative Potential Subjunctive Optative Necessitive
Past khon khonrz khonm khonrz khoŋrz
Non-Past khonv khonrz khonai khonrz khoŋrz
Negative khongui khonrui khonmmoi khonzui khoŋgrui

However, there are cases where it does not merge:

Indicative Potential Subjunctive Optative Necessitive
Past adeh adez adem aderz adegrz
Non-Past adev adez adei aderz adegrz
Negative adekui aderui ademoi adezui adegrui

And there is one rare case where the necessitive also merges in with potential and optative (again, only in positive forms):

Indicative Potential Subjunctive Optative Necessitive
Past per perrz perm perrz perrz
Non-Past perv perrz peroi perrz perrz
Negative pergui perrui permoi perzui pergrui

I probably will apply some sort of analogical flattening for the last case, since it requires such a specific initial configuration (an Aeruyo verb root CVrV-), though the more common merger of potential and optative is quite interesting.  Should I just completely merge one to the other (the pronunciations are quite close, after all), or should I say, keep the distinct optative negative form for some vestigial usage?

From Aeruyo to Malviz: Starting with Sound Changes

It's been a while since I did any significant conlanging, so I thought I'd share some of my most recent efforts.  Some people may be familiar with Aeruyo, which has a grammar posted on this site.  Within the same world that Aeruyo and its speakers, the etherial Aeruro, exist, there are also the Malviz.  The Malviz are another group of spiritual beings who split off from the Aeruyo in time immemorial and cover and are essentially the "dark" version of the air spirits.

Malviz speak a decendant of Aeruyo, the conceit being that Aeruyo did not actually change much because its primary speakers are immortal and have separated themselves more from the physical realm, whereas the language of the Malviz has changed slowly but surely due to their constant interaction with the changing world through possession of undead.  This may be a very flimsy hand-wave (and may need beefed up in my stories), but it allows me a nice sandbox to play with historical changes before I get serious about working out the human languages of my world.

My process for making the sound changes to Aeruyo to Malviz went somewhat backward.  I had a couple of names that I wanted to fit into the ending Malviz language -- namely Kavrz [kʰavʐ]* "Malviz incarnate of wrath" < kafira "anger" and Malviz [malvɪz] < malefiri.  After building the sound changes that would result in those two forms, I built out a couple more changes.  Here's what I came up with:

  • V > 0 / _#
  • stress shift to first syllable
  • a, e, o, u > ə / [-stress]
  • i > ɪ / [-stress]
  • [-aspirated] > [+voice] / V_
  • j, w > 0 / [-continuant]_
  • ɾ > ɻ
  • V > 0 / [+stress]._
  • ɻ > ʐ / _#
  • [+aspirated] > [-aspirated] / ._[-stress]
  • w̥ > ɸ

There are no strict time frames here -- again, I am building these languages kind of in a sandbox, taking advantage of the conceit that they are spoken by immortal spirits who reject influence of mortals, etc etc.  I may add a few sound canges (I'm looking at diphthongization) or rejigger the order, but so far this seems to be a good start for me.  I feel the next step is to use these and run my inflectional paradigms through Zounds and then work out what additional morphology changes follow from that.  I already know that I'll be losing the negative verb forms to that very first apocope, so I'll need to make a negative particle -- I plan on using men "never".


*Yes, these are phonetic transcriptions.  I will have to work out allophony after I have figured out precisely how the sound changes are affecting everything.

Conlang Language Options in Minecraft?

While looking over the patch notes for Minecraft 1.2.4, I noticed a section under the known bugs labelled "Translation Related".  There, in addition to a lot of notes about Spanish translations that mostly seemed to involve correcting names (including some interesting juggling of the terms castellano and español that might be deserving of its own post), I found this curious and rather amusing line:

The translation [Quenya (Arda)] has "Lever" labeled as "Mechanic Pen*s"

A quick check reveals that Minecraft is actually available in three constructed languages: Esperanto [listed as "Esperanto (Mondo)"], Quenya ["Quenya (Arda)"], Klingon ["tlhIngan Hol (US)"] ...  Why Klingon's listing is US and not some term for the Klingon Empire or their homeworld Kronos/Qo'noS I wouldn't know.

The trivia on Minepedia's Language* page does not redact the term, so I presume that some joker did indeed name the Lever element "Mechanical Penis" (Minecraft uses a crowdsourcing site for translations, and it has gotten them in bigger trouble than this.), however, the problem was apparently fixed, as when I jumped in the game using the Quenya UI and made a lever, the mouseover text read "Turolwen" as shown in the image below.

I can't vouch for the accuracy of any of these translations of course, though the Quenya is obviously incomplete, as a few English words and phrases are still being used.  Of course, I'm sure that many of the words Minecraft needs would not be in any canonical Tolkien source, and I think the Elven language people tend to be a little touchy about coinages -- it's just one of the things that can get them arguing.

In any case, it's cool to see people having fun with some conlangs.  In addition to the proper conlangs listed above, there is also a hilarious joke language called Pirate English in the options, and it's pretty much exactly what you would expect it to be.  And of course, there are a wide array of natural languages, too, which will of couse benefit Minecraft a bit more.

*Which, as I write this, does not list Esperanto, though I'm sure that will be corrected.

From My Conlanging Past

I was cleaning out my room today and found an old binder done up as a "spellbook" in Aerol (the predecessor to my constructed language Aeruyo -- which I am in the process of putting finishing touches on a grammar for).  It's been so long now that I have trouble deciphering the old Aerol script.  It doesn't help that I created a horrific featural monstrosity that I hope no one with dislexia would attempt to learn -- literally distinguishing characters by rotation.

But anyway, I thought I'd share some images:


I believe this cover reads "Sagal tan Hatal", roughly "Summonings and Wishes" or some such nonsense.  The small text might mean "Written in the Aerol Language, by Fondor", Fondor being a pseudonym I used to use (what's here is the Aerol reflex of "Fondor", of course).  The following are the spells I wrote that for the life of me I cannot read right now, and I don't feel like taking the time to decipher them (I lost the key to this script a long time ago, and it will take some time to figure it out.

Design Parameters for Romanization

As some of you may know, I am one of those übergeeks who actually likes to create languages for fun.  I even produce and host a podcast about the art of creating languages.  During that podcast, one particular topic has come up tangentially more than once.  That topic is romanization.  Many of the constructed languages I have seen have quite odd romanizations, though most have been understandable.  Of course, an odd romanization scheme is not necessarily a deal breaker:  Indeed, quite a few natural languages have quite annoying problems with romanization -- particularly those language for which the Latin alphabet simply isn't well suited (and there are a great many of those.

It has struck me that there are four competing design goals that a language creator (or indeed, a field linguist) needs to consider when creating a romanization scheme.  I will do my best to explain them: 

  • Elegance:  One of my priorities is to have as elegant a romanization scheme as possible.  This means trying my best to keep to a ratio of one grapheme per phoneme, minimize the number digraphs of diacritics, and over all make the romanization as simple as possible while expressing all the necessary information.  Certain aspects of your language's phonology can affect just how elegant your romanization can be.  For instance, if you have a large vowel inventory, you will have to resort to digraphs or diacritics.  If you have a three-way voiced-voiceless-aspirated distinction, you are probably going to have to use digraphs for one part of that, and if you make any significant use of tone you are almost certain to use diacritics.  This is also the pressure that militates against unnecessary apostrophes that have no phonetic use.  Ultimately and elegant romanization will have as few graphemes as possible while still leaving the phonemes of any given word explicit and unambiguous.
  • Accessibility:  If you want your conlang to be appreciated by people who are not linguistically savvy (an uphill battle at the start) or use it in a context where non-linguists will need to read the words, such as in fiction, then your romanization needs to be accessible.  This means that the graphemes you use should be easily understood by the target audience's language.  For instance, and English speaking audience should fairly understand that <kh> represents /x/ or something like it, and will be less likely to make a mistake than if you use <ch> or <x>.  However, for a Spanish-speaking audience, <j> is an even better choice, as it is used in Spanish exclusively for /x/.  Accessible romanizations, like elegant romanizations, will try to reduce ambiguity, but for accessibility one needs to consider not only the ambiguity among the language's own phonemes, but with the target audience's language as well.  Thus, languages that would use <c> for /k/ in all positions lose some accessibility with an English-speaking audience (though Welsh speakers would have no problem).  I should note that accessibility need not militate toward giving readers the correct native pronunciation, which is often not possible purely through orthography (how do you tell an English speaker there is an ejective in a word without some explanation?).  They merely need to be able to produce a passable approximation, or an appropriate Anglicization/Hispanicization/etc, particularly where proper names are concerned.  How often do you hear a news announcer pronounce a foreign name in a non-Anglicized manner?  How about when those names are not Spanish or French in origin?
  • Aesthetics:  Many language creators will use certain artistic preferences when designing an orthography.  For instance, someone may not like the letter <y> and prefer to use <j> or <i> for all instances of /j/ for no other reason.  In my experience, aesthetic considerations are among the most frequent reasons for language creators to make odd choices in romanization.  Why else would Teonaht use <ht> for /θ/ if not for an odd aesthetic preference on the part of the author.  And since artistic preferences are all over the map, a priority placed on aesthetics can lead to some pretty strange orthographies.
  • History:  This is not actual history, but world-internal history.  Some conlangers derive their languages from real world languages written in the Latin alphabet, and thus understandably derive their spellings from those real world spellings.  Others develop complex histories for their languages, and thus may decide to make certain choices based on spellings that would have made sense in earlier forms o the language, particularly when such choices jive with the native script.  This seems much less common in constructed languages than in the real world, though part of that may come from the fact that many real-world romanization schemes were actually created at an earlier stage of the language (think of the Postal Map romanization of Chinese, which uses <k> for both /k/ and /tç/ because the sound change that produced /tç/ was still in progress when the romanization was devised).

 The above design goals are by no means the only factors involved in creating a romanization.  Obviously the phonology of a language is a key factor.  As I mentioned above, many phonological choices can severely limit how elegant you can make your romanization, and it also can put a limit on how accessible it can be made.  Certain phonological features might be treated differently depending on priorities, however.  For instance, a conflict between elegance and accessibility to English speaker seems to be the reason some romanizations of Japanese represent /si/ as <si> and others write it as <shi> (though differing opinions on how to analize Japanese [ʃi] may also come into play -- romanizing natlangs is soo much more complicated).

 Think of a language with heavy lenition.  A conlanger who prioritized elegant romanizations would likely represent the lenited consonants the same as the underlying phonemes in all cases.  Someone concerned with accessibility would probably represent the various lenited forms differently from the underlying phonemes.  Someone interested in aesthetics would choose whatever they felt looked better, perhaps even creating a deliberately obtuse system for denoting lenited forms because they felt like it.  And the historical conlanger might decide to represent them according to the older forms, perhaps before the sound changes leading to lenition occurred, thus producing something similar to the schema used by the elegant conlanger.

 Some language creators may apply different design priorities in different areas.  For instance, Tolkien bowed to aesthetics over accessibility when he chose to use <c> for /k/ in nearly all positions in his Elven languages, a fact known painfully by any fan who mistakenly pronounced Celeborn as /sɛlɛbɔ˞n/ and was corrected for it, but he admittedly introduced the dieresis for reasons of accessibility, saying it was to disambiguate vowels that could be interpreted by English speakers as part of a digraph, part of a diphthong rather than a sequential vowel, or silenced -- such as <e> at the end of a word after a consonant. (How successful he was is hard to say, given that English speakers often ignore diacritics.).  I doubt that anyone could really be described as relying purely on one design parameter.  Even someone who cares only about aesthetics might need some way to break a tie between two graphemes they like equally for a given sound.

My own preferences hew toward prioritizing elegance and accessibility, with English speakers as my target audience.  Thus, I try to represent as many phonemes as possible with a single letter, never use <c> for /k/, only use <'> for the glottal stop, etc.  As for the lenition example above, I would represent them as their underlying form except where the lenited forms also exist as phonemes in the language, in which case I would represent those phones as the phoneme associated with the lenited form.  Thus, I strike a balance between elegance and accessibility.  I don't necessarily advocate that position, as I cared much more about aesthetics and very little for elegance when I started conlanging, and I don't find a particular problem with it, despite my tendency to have negative feelings toward <c> for /k/.  I hope that people who read this might simply use it to better understand people's romanization choices, or even as a way to think about their own choices, since, in my opinion, mindful art is often better art.  And romanization really is an art, particularly in the world of conlanging.

EDIT:  I made an error in the previous version of this post, claiming that Wade-Giles uses <k> for /tç/.  In fact it actually uses <ch>, making it more-or-less up-to-date. If anything, Wade-Giles is simply less elegant than modern pinyin (with some attempt to be accessible, though it's difficult to make a Chinese romanization truly accessible).

Podcasting ...

So, some may know that I have started my own podcast about constructed languages.  It's a limited audience granted, but it was a niche that I felt needed to be served.  So far the response has been much greater than I expected: as of now 130 listens since I posted the podcast yesterday, and it isn't even available on the iTunes Store, yet.  That's not huge compared to Frogpants or TWiT or NPR, but it was better than I expected.  Plus, responses on the ZBB and CBB (popular conlanging forums) are very positive.  I'm looking forward to keeping this thing going.


Last weekend I finally got a chance to see Avatar.  The film had been delayed in China until January 2, and from what I hear about it, it's unlikely that I would have been able to see it at that time, if I had tried (as it was I just waited until I was back in the states.

I'd already read a few reviews of it, both positive and negative, so I knew what to expect.  The story was actually a bit better than I had thought from the reviews, but it was still very much suffering from the noble savage and white guilt tropes (those aren't necessarily bad, though), and I do see why people have objected to the hero being a white American who not only assimilates into Na'vi culture but becomes better than them at everything they do in a very short time (the second bit is the key to the objection).  However, I had to agree with my brother who mentioned the Avatar body as being "liberating" for the paraplegic protagonist.

I was impressed by the depth of the world and the alienness of the creatures living there.  The world of Pandora is beautifully rendered and at no time did I detect a flaw in the CGI -- in fact, I didn't even think about it most of the movie.  Like others, I noticed the conspicuousness of the humanoid Na'vi on a planet where all other land animals have six limbs, a second pair of eyes, and breathing orifices on the underside of the body, particularly when much of the world uses realistic science to make fantastic landscapes (those floating mountains are not magical in the least).  I do, however, think it is a good alien design for the purpose -- there are a few things that will take people out of their comfort zone (the neural link takes on a whole different meaning when you find it not only links to other animals, but is also used during mating -- though in my mind it makes it more plausible as far as evolution goes).

Plus, too much alienness in the Na'vi could have messed with one of the reasons I saw the movie: the language.  I've tried creating languages, or conlanging, a bit myself, and when I had read that a linguist consultant was hired to construct the language I knew I wanted to see the movie, and I think this language could possibly achieve its goal of "out-Klingon Klingon". I have tried to find as much information about it ever since.  The consultant, Paul Frommer posted a sketch of the language at Language Log, and I know of a fan site that is trying to make sense of what materials have come out.  Certain bits of the romanization (which I hear were decided from above) irk me, (x marks ejectives when ' is being used for the glottal stop?) but I do think that the language has a beautiful sound to fit the beauty of the Na'vi while still being somewhat unconventional.  I would like someday to see a developed constructed language for aliens that actually used some non-human sounds, but I can understand Cameron's desire for actors to perform their lines without manipulation.  In any case, don't be surprised if you hear me calling someone a "skxawng" (if I can get the pronunciation down, that is :P ).