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Re: Books for conlangers

From:Julia "Schnecki" Simon <helicula@...>
Date:Monday, September 12, 2005, 6:12

On 9/9/05, ?? (kutsuwamushi) <snapping.dragon@...> wrote:
> I'd like to compile a list of book recommendations for conlangers, and > I could use your help. I'm thinking of two categories: > > 1) Introductions to linguistics for beginners > (General introductions and more advanced introductions to specific > topics like phonetics, case, or whatever you find useful.)
As a general introduction, I'd recommend "An Introduction to Language" by Victoria Fromkin, Robert Rodman, and Nina Hyams. It's not just well written and covers all the basics (and bases ;) ; it's also fun to read because it uses cartoons to illustrate many of the concepts (imagine learning about parts of speech with the Peanuts, or about dialects with Garfield) and still manages to remain serious enough. -- Also, it's the textbook we used in the Intro to General Linguistics class I took all those years ago, so I know from personal experience that it's actually useful. ;-) Someone already mentioned the name Ladefoged, but I don't remember if they also mentioned a specific book. Anyway, I'd like to recommend "The Sounds of the World's Languages" by Peter Ladefoged and Ian Maddieson. It lists and describes pretty much every possible speech sound, and of course also some of the languages that use each point of articulation, phonemic distinction, etc. described in the book. And with the help of the graphics, it's even possible to learn to produce all these sounds! (To a certain degree, at least. YMMV, as usual, but I did learn to produce intervocalic clicks with the help of this book. One of my proudest linguistic achievements. :) (Oh, and of course I *have* to rave about that book, since my old phonetics professor is one of the people whose praise of the book is quoted on the back cover, at least of the edition I have. ;)
> 2) Books that are good for inspiration > (Books like Mithun's _Languages of Native North America_ or _The > World's Writing Systems_, which contain a lot of information on more > than one language. Books that are about specific language families, > like _The Slavonic Languages_, would be good too.)
Ah, the Mithun book. :-D I used to recommend stacks of specific grammars to people -- "read this Georgian grammar to learn about ergative, read that Arabic grammar to learn about verbal aspect, then read this Sumerian grammar to learn about gender-specific language use, and oh, you'll have to go back to the Georgian one to learn about interesting consonant clusters" and so on. But ever since I found "The Languages of Native North America", I can just tell them to read that one instead. It has *everything*. :-) Everything except grammatology, that is; which is where "The World's Writing Systems" comes in. I think others have already mentioned that it's horribly expensive; but it's well worth it (which also holds for "The Languages of Native North America")... Anyway, on to some books that (I think) haven't been mentioned yet. In no particular order: - "Aga Magera Difura: Dizionario delle Lingue Immaginarie" ("Dictionary of Imaginary Languages") by Paolo Albani and Berlinghiero Buonarroti. (For some reason I have a French edition of that one, so I think of it as the "Dictionnaire des langues imaginaires".) It doesn't give much detail on the languages it lists -- well, it has several thousand entries (not just about languages, but also on language creators, conworlds and concultures, etc.), so there's not that much room for every single one of them, and for many of the more exotic ones there doesn't seem to be much information available anyway. The book does contain some pretty arcane stuff, though (Picasso's "Unknown Language" lithographies, anyone?), and should be quite good for inspiration. - "A Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages" by Carl Darling Buck. Excellent inspiration for lexicon building, or so I hope... Each chapter of the book deals with one semantic category ("Parts of the Body", "Dwelling, House, Furniture", "Quantity and Number", "Emotion", etc.) and each subchapter contains the words for a certain concept from that semantic category in several dozen Indo-European languages, both old (dead) and modern ones. Each of these word lists is followed by semantic and etymological explanations (words for concept X are often related, or even identical, to words for concept Y; the words for concept X in languages A and B come from the same root R but language C uses a different root; look, this is how Modern D's word developed from Classical D's word; and so on). The book was originally published in 1949, I think, so don't be surprised if you notice a reconstructed form doesn't fit a more recent sound change theory; but it's still a worderful source for inspiration about semantic relations. (It's also one of those books that you can just open on any random page and expect to find something fascinating there.) The only thing that's missing (or rather: the only thing that I miss) is an index of all the non-English roots and forms listed... - For those who can read German: you should have a look at two volumes from the "dtv-Atlas" series, namely "dtv-Atlas Deutsche Sprache" by Werner König and "dtv-Atlas Namenkunde" by Konrad Kunze. Both contain much information about things like historical linguistics, dialectology, language standardization, language contact and so on -- information specific to the history, dialectology etc. of German, of course, but it will probably be useful when it comes to designing a history (or dialects, or names) for your own conlang. (The Namenkunde book concentrates on the subject of personal and place names, of course, but since most names ultimately come from "normal" words (and sometimes from foreign languages), it has to describe language history, dialectology, language contact etc. as well. The other book, on the other hand, has far less information on names and name-giving but at the same time more on the other subjects.) - For information on some specific fascinating language types resp. phenomena, two books come to mind: "An Introduction to Pidgins and Creoles" by John Holm (an excellent introduction to language contact phenomena and the development of new languages from contact situations; also a few interesting things about typology); and "The Navajo Verb" by Leonard M. Faltz (what can I say -- Navajo verb morphology is quite different from anything I've seen before, and simply fascinating). :-) - Reading a well-written grammar of any language can't hurt either. John W. M. Verhaar's "Toward a Reference Grammar of Tok Pisin" is one of my favorites -- not just because I think Tok Pisin is a fascinating language, but also because it's one of the best grammatical texts I've ever read. (As a linguist-by-training who works in the field of technical documentation, I'm naturally very keen on that kind of thing. ;) The book is well structured, and the author gives many examples for everything (the book is designed as "an experiment in corpus linguistics", so he has a large amount of text sources to draw examples from)... And he somehow even manages to explain things in such a way that interested laypersons should understand what he's talking about, even though he delves pretty deep into TP grammar; but at the same time he avoids slipping into a "pop linguistics, let's make it easy for the interested laypersons" writing style that would make professional linguists feel patronized. :-) That's all I can think of at the moment. Regards, Julia -- Julia Simon (Schnecki) -- Sprachen-Freak vom Dienst _@" schnecki AT iki DOT fi / helicula AT gmail DOT com "@_ si hortum in bybliotheca habes, deerit nihil (M. Tullius Cicero)


Ph.D. <phil@...>