Re: CONLANG Digest - 12 Sep 2004 to 13 Sep 2004 (#2004-256)
|From:||Jim Henry <jimhenry@...>|
|Date:||Wednesday, September 15, 2004, 17:47|
Tamara Woodcock <tamara@...> wrote:
> I'm working on my first conlang. I write sci-fi as a hobby, and I
> decided that my xeno civilizations simply must have languages to go
> with the cultures. So this will be the first of a few languages for
How humanlike are these aliens? Are they distant kin to us,
like the various humanoid aliens in Ursula Le Guin's future history,
or completely unrelated? If the latter, you probably want to violate
some human language universals in your alien languages. If the former,
you should probably stick to human universals, at least mostly.
> symbolized as h, k, l, m, n, p, w, v, and a stop symbolized as `
> that acts as a consonant in syllable formation. These are
I suppose your ` is probably glottal stop, symbolized as
/?/ in IPA X-SAMPA. It is a stop in the same position as the
fricative consonant /h/, and occurs in some English dialects in
a few positions (between vowels) where other dialects have /t/.
> The stop and v can never start a word, but can start a syllable.
> Basic syllable formation is (C)V.
By "The stop and v" do you mean any stop consonant (/k/, /p/, /?/
in your language) plus any vowel, or the glottal stop plus /v/?
By either interpretation, a word can't begin with /?/.
Can a word begin with /k/ or /p/? What about /kv/ or /pv/?
> What I need to learn to create is the rest of the grammar structure.
> Would it make sense to have verbs to be also simply compounds of the
Several conlangs have all verbs derived from noun roots by adding
one or more affixes. I don't know offhand of a natural language
that does that, though (I mean, consistently deriving ALL verbs
from noun roots; obviously many languages derive SOME verbs from
>Is it necessary to have pronouns or indicators for
> adjective/adverb, tense, etc.
Tense is certainly not necessary; lots of human languages get by
without it. Such languages typically indicate relative time
of action with optional adverbs or adverbial phrases.
You could make your language more alien by marking tense
on the subject noun or pronoun _instead of_ the verb.
I am not sure if pronouns are generally thought a
human language universal or not. In any case, if they were,
that has been challenged recently by Daniel Everett's suggestion
that Piraha~ may have recently borrowed all its pronouns
from another language, and previously had none. Certainly,
a language with no pronouns would be fairly unusual even
if it did not actually violate a universal.
If your language has no true pronouns, would its speakers use some kind of
abbreviation (ad-hoc pronouns, perhaps) to refer back to
previously mentioned things, or always repeat the name of the referent
Alternatively, perhaps you could make the language alien and exotic
by giving it a much _more_ complex pronoun system than the typical
human language (though some human languages have a large set of
pronouns for different uses).
Adjectives/adverbs: certainly you don't have to have two
different word classes for these. German gets by with a single
modifier class. You could have nouns modifying nouns (following
or preceding, as you prefer) and not have a separate modifier
word class at all.
Many languages express things English uses "to be" + adjective
for with stative verbs.
>How would a langauge that is context
> driven (without these written indicators) evolve to be used by a
> high-tech society, with a rich written history? I'm familiar only
If the language has neither pronouns nor other abbreviation/
anaphora methods for shortening references to previously
mentioned entities, it suggests the speakers have a lot
of time on their hands and care more about precision than
concision. (Think of Tolkien's Ents.) That's not inconsistent
with writing or high technology, but it might take them longer
to develop it than humans similarly situated would require.
Lack of tense inflection, or separate word class(es) for
adjectives/adverbs, is certainly no obstacle to writing
or high technology. Lack of any way to indicate relative
time when it's relevant, though...
If the language not only lacks tense inflection,
but also has no adverbs like "now" and "later", or prepositions like
"during" and "after", or temporal case on nouns or ... anything,
that could be a problem re: developing technology. It
might suggest the speakers experience their entire lives
simultaneously, like angels or the aliens in Ted Chiang's
"The Story of Your Life". Or it might suggest they have poor
memory and are aware of nothing but the now; I doubt such
creatures would develop any technology to speak of, and
I question whether they would really have much use for
language or abilitity to use it.
Or maybe their ancestors developed high technology,
but they have developed endemic genetic amnesia.
If you are looking for some exoticities to make your language more
alien, here's one.
Most human languages either don't mark number on nouns,
or mark it as singular/plural or singular/dual/plural.
An alien language might inflect nouns for such numbers as
So in "I read a book" and "I read three books"
the word for "book" would be the same, but
in "I've only read half that book" the word
would have a different form (maybe an affix,
maybe a vowel or consonant mutation).
"I earned fifty credits" would have "credits" in
a positive number inflection, while in "I paid fifty credits"
the word would have a negative inflection.
- Jim Henry