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Round Robin Transcreation

From:Gary Shannon <fiziwig@...>
Date:Tuesday, December 14, 2004, 20:35
Here's an idea for a conlang "game": Round Robin

The moderator has a list of graded sentences starting
at the most elementary level (e.g. "See the girl." or
"John has a book.") and working up, over the course of
a few hundred sentences, to a more spohpisticated
level (e.g. "Are you seriously suggesting that we just
sit here in the dark until somebody gets around to
rescuing us?")

Participants sign up to join the game and once a month
or so, when their turn comes around, they get a single
sentence to translate, so the burden of participation
is not exactly onerous. But what do they translate
that sentence into?

The first player gets a single sentence and nothing
more.  That player may create any translation
whatsoever that he or she thinks fits that sentence.
(e.g. "See the girl" -> "Suve kiru.") But the
translator does not get to say anthing beyond that
translation. It's not allowed, for example, to say
"kiru means girl", or to give any hints about how the
grammar works (like saying "Stuve is the imperative
form of stuvin").

The second player gets the first sentence with it's
translation and the second sentence (e.g. "I see the
boy."), and nothing else. This player's task is to
translate his sentence in any way he sees fit, as long
as it is reasonably consistent with the translation of
the first sentence.

The third player gets the entire corpus up to that
point (i.e. two sentences and their translations) and
is called upon to translate the third sentence (e.g.
"The boy has a book.").

Each subsequent player receives the entire corpus of
translated sentences and is called upon to translate
only one more sentence and add that translation to the
growing corpus.  When every player has translated one
sentence the next sentence goes back to the first
player again, and so on around the circuit.

Players are not to discuss grammar rules or vocabulary
among themselves. Instead, it is up to each player to
make what they will of the grammar and vocabulary
entirely from the existing corpus and to apply that to
the translation of their own assigned sentence for the

What makes this "game" interesting (in my warped
opinion) is the task of figuring out the grammatical
and lexical rules from the corpus, creating something
new to fit within those rules, and finally, to see
what kind of novel conlang emerges from such a joint,
but non-colaborative process. No one player has the
power to dictate the direction the conlang takes, yet
each contributes something to the mix.  In the end it
would probably become a conlang that no one player
would have created on their own.

Finally, when the game had gone twenty rounds and each
player had translated his or her 20 sentences over the
course of a couple of years, and the two hundred or so
sentences were completed, then it would be interesting
to sit down with the corpus and describe the grammar
that had emerged.

I have a hunch the resulting conlang would not be
particularly "exotic", and in fact, due to having 20
players pulling it in 20 different directions, it
would probably end up being a semi-Germanic,
semi-Romance-with-a-touch-of-Slavic, Frankenstein
monster that was, in spite of being somewhat ugly and
unpleasant to the ear, very ultilitarian and easy to

P.S. The competative version would assign the same
sentence to two players at a time. Then the remaining
players would vote on the two contributions to decide
which translation to admit into the corpus and the
winning transcreator would be awarded the point for
that round.



Sally Caves <scaves@...>