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Holic and other languages

From:Ian Spackman <ianspackman@...>
Date:Thursday, June 5, 2003, 14:55
Well, here's a little bit on "Holic", as promised.  As I have said before,
it's still very early days, not least because I am taking a historical
approach and working (at least some) things out from proto-Oigulao-Holic
forward; I'm afraid I haven't much interesting to share yet.  I'll start
with a real-world history.

A number of years back now I had a good idea for a fantasy short story (or
first chapter of something longer) after years of writer's block.  It was
very important to get the whole thing written right away - while I still
had the motivation and self-confidence to do so - and so I couldn't take
time to work out the language for the names first, much as my instincts
tell me to do so. :)  And so I came up with a few quick rules for names:

syllable structure CVC (from CVCV, historically); most names have two

Phonemic inventory
p  t  tj  k        i     u
b  d  dj  g        e     o
f  s  sj  x  h        a
v  z  zj  q
m  n  nj  c
    l  lj
       y   w

(The series followed by "j" I refer to as the palatal series, though its
exact place of articulation varies with dialect.)

I wanted something that could be rendered in the roman alphabet without
need for diacritics: this was after all intended as the main culture of the
book, and I didn't want it to look too "foreign".  On the other hand, I
didn't want it to look particularly familiar, as it is not meant to be the
"reader identification" culture.

(Incidentally, I have since had objections that using q for the voiced
velar fricative and c for the velar nasal is just too weird.  Other
proposals have been to use sx zx nx or sq zq nq for x q c.  I'd vaguely
like to hear opinions on the matter.)

In the years since then I've toyed with the language a few times and
written a couple of more chapters, but I kept sinking back into despair
and/or procrastination.  I did more work on the culture, actually.  I did
come up with a fun idea or two in that period, but I'll save those for some
other time and describe what I've been working on lately.

My emphasis has been on nouns because the most urgent need is for names
(which are always nouns or noun phrases in Holic, and when noun phrases
usually abbreviated to the head noun) - since all other Holic in the book
will be rendered as English.  (Of course, this means that working out the
rest is a "waste of time", book-wise, but what the heck.  Actually, it's
arguably important as the native language of the narrator....)  So the fun
stuff in the verbs has to wait.

I'll now go through the language historically, mentioning some of the stuff
I've already worked out - and mentioning other languages I intend to work
on to at least some extent on the way.

proto-Oigulao-Holic (PrOH)

I don't know yet where this language was spoken exactly; it's probably off
my map. :)  Or it may be that the ancestral home is indeed the Hol Valley
itself; certain the inhabitants have no stories of ever having lived
elsewhere.  The reason I decided to start here was that it is the ancestral
language not only of "Holic" but of the language of Oigulao - a
now-destroyed civilisation which nevertheless had a great cultural and fair
linguistic influence on "Imperial" (see below) and hence on modern Holic
(somewhat comparable to the effect of Greek on English).

Now, I had always imagined that Oigulaoan(?) had a CV syllable structure,
and the CVC of modern Holic I had always imagined to have been from CVCV
historically, so I was quite surprised to "discover" that PrOH had CCVC,
though with strong restrictions on what can occur in the coda (either
semivowel, a nasal consonant or a segment that typically assimilates to the
following segment).  Roots had a tone accent on the first syllable.  The
language may have been mora-timed (or at least it probably became so in PrH).

There seem to have been two "major" parts of speech: verbs and
nouns.  Verbs had various suffixed inflections which I haven't worked out
much yet.  Nouns had six inflectional classes (neutral, feminine,
masculine, deverbal, nonhuman plural, human plural - yes, the singulars and
plurals divide differently) and eight cases (ergative, absolutive, locative
(which had absorbed a dative, I think), allative, ablative, translative,
modive, and genitive).  (I made up the term "modive", and welcome
suggestions for a better term - essentially, it is an adverbial case, "in
an X way".)  The language can still probably be described as agglutinating.

Nouns could be use adjectivally, in which case they took the inflectional
class of the modified noun.  Moreover, starting in late PrOH they took a
different stress pattern - the accent fell on the class inflection.  (I
think this was originally a marked form, perhaps used when the adjective
and noun were in the reverse of the usual order, and then got generalised,
but I haven't really touched syntax yet.)

proto-Holic (PrH)

In this period the language entered the Hol valley  (the Hol (< PrOH *?OnrE
"river") is a very long, wide, navigable river which for sake of ease you
can imagine being about where the Mediterranean is on Earth), if they
weren't there already.  During this time various sound changes left the
syllable structure almost CV, a process complete in the OH period.

At this time certain politeness markers, which reflected the three social
classes of the time, entered the language (no details as yet).

The feminine noun class is reinterpreted as neutral class (with a certain
ending on the root); and the non-human plural is reinterpreted as
neutral/feminine.  At some later stage, when the deverbal class begin to
take plurals, they happen to take the human (now masculine) plural.

At the end of the period an event of great significance occurred: the gods
turned up in person and took up residence in a city southwest of the mouth
of the Hol.  Needless to say, the resulting theocracy had a deep impact on
the local culture and language.  Linguistically, the notable effects were
(1) the retroflex series which had resulted from cluster reduction became a
palatal series (most likely the gods substituted palatals for retroflex
consonants they found difficult, and then were imitated); (2) the tone
accent become a strong stress accent, which was to have a profound effect
in the OH period.  There are doubtless also a number of borrowings from the
divine language, but given that I do not expect this language or any of it
relatives to be relevant I have no plans to develop it as yet.

Old Holic (OH)

The Old Holic period begins with the first writing, which was a gift of the
gods, though there are not many surviving OH texts.  (It is also the time
at which the name "Holic" ceases to be accurate: I should be using names
reflecting certain areas or states within and near the valley.)  The
language changed drastically during this period because of loss of
post-stress syllables.  By the end of the period, only one post-stress
syllable survived, which had various consequences:

(1) verbs had lost (this is an estimation, I haven't handled verbs yet) all
personal information and  (except in the case of monosyllabic roots) modal
information .  I'll treat how this loss was handled at some later date when
I've handed verbs in more detail.

(2) Nouns had lost almost all case marking, except in the case of
monosyllabic roots.

(3) Adjectives, however, with their postposed stress, keeping the
inflections intact.

(4) These massive reductions result in great numbers of homophones.  The
general solution is disambiguation through compounding (as the most
productive word-formation method of the time.)  This explains why most
Holic nouns are CVCCVC (from CVCV+CVCV).

I am currently trying to figure out what impact all this has on the
declension system: whether the monosyllablic nouns keep their declensions,
and whether or not they do, how many cases survive.  My current thought is
to expect the locative, ablative, allative and translative to be lost in
favour of the genitive + postposition (where often the postposition is
etymologically a monosyllabic noun that retains its cases).  (Hm, but as I
write this I recall that I had previously intended to distinguish inherent
and accidental possessives in this language; that means I'll either have to
forget that idea or rethink the case system. :(  )  My intention, in any
case, it that by Modern Holic nouns are mostly or entirely uninflected, but
adjective may show some case and certainly reflect gender and number.

Middle Holic (MH)

Middle Holic is reckoned from the time the gods went away again, leaving
the scriptures engraved on the sapphire walls of their palaces.  This
pretty well fixed the writing system (as well as many other things)
firmly.  The writing is a cuneiform syllabary; although it has since been
adapted for other writing media, and allographs are acceptable, the
addition of any new graphemes is considered blasphemous.  Fortunately, new
positional use of existing graphemes is acceptable, which has expanded the
effective inventory enough to allow the representation of any languages yet
encountered.  Orthography was also fixed by this, but spelling is not yet
intolerably complicated.

Two other languages had an impact on Holic in this period.  The first
belonged to a people who raided and invaded in boats from the north, and
eventually settled in the coastal areas around the lower Hol valley, and
have largely been absorbed into the population.  Their influence was
largely in the field of nautical terminology, but in a certain area
northwest of the mouth of the Hol (which I shall call the Principality
until I name it properly, and which is the area the book starts in) they
settled in larger numbers and the effect was much greater.

More significant still was the arrival of the Empire (again, awaiting a
proper name).  Without going into historical detail, basically the lower
Hol Valley was conquered by a large empire from the south, and became a
sort of unofficial hereditary fief of the conquering general (and was never
fully brought into the empire, culturally speaking).  When the rest of the
empire collapsed to invaders a century and a half later (IIRC) the  Hol
Valley section gained its independence and rapidly became the most powerful
kingdom left in this part of the world.  There was also a great influx of
refugees of the middle and classes from the empire, who settled chiefly in
Olgul (a great city at the Hol delta).

Modern or New Holic (NH)

This all meant a great influence of "Imperial" on Holic, of course, with
borrowings in many fields.  I suspect it was also the source of the stress
patten that caused every other vowel to be weakened and ultimately
lost.  Most of the NH sound changes are sanddhi resulting from the new
juxtapostion of consonants.

The kingdom (which for cultural reasons I won't go into is expansionist by
nature) has brought back a number of words from its colonies, but to
nothing like the extent of the MH period.  There is some greater influence
in the later NH period, but talking about that would give things away since
the book is set in the early NH period. ;)

The dialect (or better dialects) of Olgul are most influential in this
period.  Though the courtly speech of the royal seat has an influence, the
dialect of Theopolis (or Godbury, if you will) has not been significant
since the Patriarch moved to Olgul, and the influence of the imperial-style
guilds of Olgul on the middle classes everywhere is great.


Of the languages mentioned: Imperial I really should work out sometime, as
something I may want to construct sentences in for my book (it has
something of the same importance as did Latin in the Middle Ages, for much
the same reason).  The northern languages could also quite possibly occur
in more than just names.  Oigulaoan I might be able to do without, but I
hope to get around to it sometime.

And then there are two more languages which could prove important.  One is
the philosophical language of the wizards, and one I can't mention because
it might give things away. :)  But then I won't need it for the first book
(quoth he, still pretending he'll actually get around to writing some of
this some day).

Anyway, that's about it for now.  Perhaps if I can sort out my few
remaining problems with nouns (and, I'm now thinking, add a few NH-period
sound changes) I can actually start producing some vocabulary before long. :)



James Worlton <jamesworlton@...>
Andreas Johansson <andjo@...>
JS Bangs <jaspax@...>
Ian Spackman <ianspackman@...>