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
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
<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
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
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
Yoon Ha Lee