Theiling Online    Sitemap    Conlang Mailing List HQ   

Language Lessons (long--YHL rambles)

From:Yoon Ha Lee <yl112@...>
Date:Tuesday, July 31, 2001, 5:40
On Tuesday, July 31, 2001, at 04:31 AM, Damon M. Lord wrote:

> One of the biggest problems I have found with constructed languages > is that the guides to them are hardly user friendly. To clarify what > I mean, I looked at the "chapter" titles of a few conlangs - they are > scary to the non-dedicated linguist, e.g. it was stuff like "more on > adjectives", "use of the dative", etc. This is sure to to scare off > all but the most dedicated of linguists and conlangers. >
<laugh> I think the *best* thing taking Latin did for me was to learn things like "dative"! I loved Wheelock. And I loved my prof. And I've probably forgotten 80% of it by now :-( but it was a great experience.
> To compare, I looked at mine - mine's hardly attractive - > "Mutations", "Verbs", "Pronouns", etc. So I looked at what was > attractive, by pulling a few "Teach Yourself" language books off my > shelf - the chapter titles are much more attractive (no scary > grammatical words for the non-linguist/non-conlanger!!), laid out > with such titles as "greetings", "shopping", etc. Perhaps by putting > conlangs into situations like that into the mouths of imaginary > speakers would assist making langs more fun? >
My _Living German_ book by R.W. Buckley (which is great for learning though culturally dated) does both: each chapter starts with a passage, so the chapters have both a name for the passage--things like "Das Dorf Miesbach" (the town Miesbach), "Im Restaurant" (in the restaurant)--and a grammatical subtitle (e.g. "comparison of adjectives" or "genitive case"). The passage-title is therefore "friendly" (and useful for finding phrases by situation), while the grammatical subtitle lets you search for grammatical topics if you want to brush up on the genitive or whatever after you've gone through (some of) the book and recognize the terminology. :-) One thing that I like about the passages are that taken together, they form a sustained (if somewhat stilted <wry g>) narrative about a fictional "typical" German family. There was a point when I had "Der Bauchredner" (the ventriloquist) practically memorized since the story was pretty amusing. For me, tying things in with the culture is one of the most interesting parts of conlanging, so such a grammar would be Really Fun to produce. I' m also in a teacher education program (albeit in math), making it Doubly Fun; and I should ask the foreign language teachers-to-be (there are 4 in the program) how a good reader/grammar ought to be written (especially if no "native speakers" are available).
> The great difficulty with creating a course is sustaining its > creation - I have seen conlangs that peeter out after lesson two or > three, with no further additions. Is there a template for writing > courses?
<sigh> My problem is sustaining the creation of the *conlang* so I have something to write a grammar/reader *about.* Teaching is great! and this program is quite fun, but unfortunately it leaves me barely enough time to get classroom prep/homework done, let alone anything entertaining. Plus, I am starting to feel damn incompetent at "evolving" a conlang grammatically from a protoconlang. It took me something like 6 mos. before I even felt I had phonological evolution that looked remotely plausible, and I despair of figuring out how to evolve the grammar. I just don't know enough linguistics, and I bit off more than I could chew with triconsonantal morphology. :-p I may end up ditching what I have altogether and starting anew. :-) I am probably one of the least conlang-experienced people on the list, but I do love collecting foreign language grammars. By now I also have a decent idea of what kind of grammar works and doesn't work for me in self-teaching (others' preferences will, of course, vary). But here are some characteristics of grammars I found to be useful *and* interesting: 1. Reading passages or sample conversations for each "section" or "chapter." I have to confess some of the "practical" stuff bores me to death (that was the great thing about Latin--*loads* of bloodthirsty military-related passages!), but even a *little* bit of humor will get me to pay attention. (My reasoning? I am probably never going to get to travel to anywhere but Korea--my parents insist that I visit and pay for it--anytime soon, so what good is it knowing how to get a hotel room in German?) Variety is good: fables, sustained narrative about a "typical family" or whatever, sayings, etc. 2. Pronunciation guide preferably in "English terms" *and* IPA: the former for those who don't know IPA and just want a rough guide (and hell, *I'd* speak my conlangs with a foreign accent, so who am I to expect perfection of anyone quirky enough to want to learn mine? 8-) ) and the latter for more precision. Notes on things like stress or pitch or spelling/punctuation conventions are also helpful. 3. Sustained and integrated vocabulary in connection with the readings. I am capable of just memorizing lists of words, but it's more interesting (and easier) when I can tie it to a context. In Japanese when I get "kyoo" and "kinoo" mixed up I just look at the verb to check past vs. present (I think the first is "today" and the second is "yesterday," but I won't swear to it). The grammars I like best in this regard tend to introduce vocabulary in such a way that you can guess the meaning from context to begin with. 4. Grammatical explanation, preferably with both linguistic terminology and a layman explanation. I don't really have preferences on what *order* to introduce grammatical material because I suspect it will depend a lot on what language it is. I do like it when from the very beginning you are given the tools to create your own sentences, however rudimentary, even if it means you have to explain things later. In chapter 1 of _Living German_ (sorry, it's one of the two grammars I have on hand) you learn a bunch of nouns and how to use "ist" (is) so you can construct things like, Die Sonne ist warm (the sun is warm). Der Seemann ist alt (the sailor is old). Not very exciting, but at least you can *do* something. 5. Useful phrases introduced in appropriate sections. "Im Restaurant" models how to order dishes, (try to) get the attention of the waiter...I'm sure it's terribly outdated and I doubt any waiter would understand my German, but it's the theory of the thing. :-) 6. Ongoing cultural notes, if appropriate (for some conlangs it may not be relevant). I grant you that *everyone* groaned when we hit the little sidebars in French about patisseries vs. boulangeries, etc. but people who aren't interested can skip 'em (at their own peril), others can read 'em and be enlightened. For natlangs, notes on potential pitfalls (Japanese honorifics, German "du" vs. "Sie"--_Living German_ doesn't introduce "du" or any of the associated conjugations, etc. until halfway through!) are also nice, and even in a conlang it's interesting knowing what *not* to say! Colloquial expressions, swear words...all these things are fun (and my non-language-oriented friends generally want to know a swear word in language X before anything else...). 7. A grammatical summary or recapitulation at the end when you're *just* looking for an overview (usually after having learned everything in the book). Tables of things like declensions or irregular forms are really nice; Wheelock's Latin was quite helpful that way (though to this day I still can't remember the !@#$ forms of the verb that has things like ii, eo, or whatever; maybe I'm conflating two troublesome verbs?). 8. A two-way glossary, e.g. English-Latin *and* Latin-English. I *hate* flipping through the entire !@#$ book trying to figure out where the word for "happy" (or whatever) was introduced when my memory lapses. And with a conlang especially, it seems far less likely that there will be some commercial dictionary you can turn to as an alternative. =^) 9. If relevant or possible, pictures! :-) I *hated* vocabulary items for clothing in French/German because I wasn't even sure what the English translations meant, let alone the French/German word. (It took me the longest time to learn what a "windbreaker" was because I learned nonbasic clothing words from my mom--who speaks Korean, not English....) Or for things like national/folk costume; if you don't know what a (Korean) "hanbok" looks like, it's probably harder to remember the word at all. Pictures might be particularly helpful for those with alien/other-nonhuman conlangs. 10. Usually these only show up in those overcolorful newer textbooks, but cartoons/jokes are an interesting way to end a chapter (and shed light on more culture). OTOH, 6th ed. Wheelock's Latin has these incredibly cheesy "Lati:na est gaudium--et u:tilis!" sections at the end of each chapter involving bad puns and multiple exclamation points (which, until I saw them, I had thought were solely the domain of excitable emails and [badly proofread] PTA newsletters). === Sorry to ramble on for so long...I have had practically no opportunity to work on conlang-stuff since I did my relay translation, and I'm bursting! :-p Yoon Ha Lee


Sally Caves <scaves@...>