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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 > roots?
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 nouns).
>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 in full? 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 integral/fractional/infinite/negative... 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