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Unrealistically unbalanced phonologies (was: Re: Using word generators (was Re: Semitic root word list?))

From:Lars Finsen <lars.finsen@...>
Date:Tuesday, January 9, 2007, 22:35
Den 9. jan. 2007 kl. 15.19 skrev David J. Peterson:
> > The only problem I have found with this approach is that it can > lead to an unbalanced phonology.
I've had some unbalanced phonology problems with my conlangs as well, although I don't use machinery to create words. Urianian is the result of fitting an IE etymology to the names I invented for my conculture in my youth, and when I finally felt I was arriving at some useful phonetic laws I found that I had no 'o', a vowel that's pretty common in most languages. Indeed, o's were relatively scarce in my onomastic material (a fact which I suppose is the reason for my result), but not totally absent. Particularly it's more frequent in the initial position. What I have done in trying to rescue my language is to allow the diphthong au to develop into a o. A promising candidate, as it often occurs initially. I have also tentatively allowed labiovelars to round following vowels on their way to become fricatives so that 'a' becomes 'o' for example. Still it feels awkward that the o should bypass the normal chronological process this way. Yet all the names I have analysed so far have given pretty satisfactory results. (There are many left still.) For example I recently arrived at the place name Oznan and immediately thought of the IE root au-dh-. Extending this with a -no- nominaliser we get a web, and with the plural genitive -an we have 'place of webs'. I'm happy with that. In Gaajan I had other problems in that I initially gathered up as many European pre-IE words as I could from various places because the material I had from my youth was relatively poor. The phonology got pretty unbalanced to be sure. Recently I have used proto-North East Caucasian as my main source. I've gotten a few new words, taken out some old ones, adjusting others. The language has begun to get a feel to it, and since I mapped out the chronological paths during a frenzied week last summer I have a kind of a machine producing words that sound Gaajan. Yet there are a few problems left. The rarity of long vowels for example. The aa in Gaajan is one of a relatively small selection. And Gaaja is one of the oldest words I have, with no NEC etymology. Rare sounds like sh, p and f, should I cut them out altogether? Most noun roots now end in a, most adjectives in e or i, whereas verbs have a multitude of different finals. Does this mean that I should adjust nouns or adjectives to fit the majority, or should I allow a few exceptions - perhaps not as many as I have now. The exceptions could possibly be borrowed words from some source or other. It's interesting that we all want our words to feel right. Words are surely not merely arbitrary symbols but shaped by something inside us, a process that acts when a language is developing too. I have some Urianian words developed from IE with regular shifts, but which I don't like. I think a real population of speakers would have exchanged them. I am thinking to put in some more Gaajan substrate words in their place. Anyhow the question is: Is this right-feeling only related to shape, or do we have an undiscovered inherent semantism inside us, and will we be able to express *everything* once we discover it? What? Me crazy? LEF ...P.S.: A little bit of advice: I got stuck in the middle of this post, forgetting what I meant to say. But I knew what to do: 1.Eat some sweets. Sugar gets the brain wheel running. 2. Put on some Celtic music, particularly of the dreamy type, like Alan Stivell's "Chemins de Terre" or similar. Anyhow, here we are...


Henrik Theiling <theiling@...>
Herman Miller <hmiller@...>Unrealistically unbalanced phonologies