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Glossotechnia, the card game

From:Jim Henry <jimhenry1973@...>
Date:Thursday, January 18, 2007, 0:04
Some years ago my brother and I, and some friends,
played a conlang party game that went like this.  Each
player, on his turn, would coin a word in the game-language
and demonstrate its meaning to the other players with
charades, drawings, pointing out examples in the
environment, etc. -- no use of English allowed, or
English allowed as a last resort (the rules varied).
There was a short translation challenge sentence
and the first player to express it in the game-language

The main problem with it was that linguistically
unsophisticated players (all of us, in some sense,
or all of us except me, perhaps) tended to
follow English too closely in the phonology
of the invented words, the syntax, and perhaps
the semantics.  I've recently thought of a way to
recreate it as a card game, with more structure
to guide players in creating a language that
hopefully doesn't relex English, and perhaps
demonstrates some mechanisms of language
change, as well -- at least as far as phonology
and grammar are concerned; I haven't got
so good a handle on the semantic relex

My basic notion for Glossotechnia (my tentative new name for it)
as a card game is this: there would be two decks.  The main deck
includes cards like Phonemes (k, t, p, a, i, u, etc.), Syllables (CV,
VC, CVC, etc),
and Syntax cards (Subject-Verb-Object, Verb-Subject-Object, etc.).
When you play a Phoneme or Syllable card it
goes face-up in the middle, in a kind of phoneme table
arrangement, and you're helping define the phoneme
inventory and phonotactics of the game-language.
When you play a syntax card (like "VSO" or "head-modifier"
or "prepositional") you help define the syntax of
the language.  You can play a new syntax card that
replaces a syntax card of the same kind already
in play (e.g. "SVO" replacing "VSO").

The Phoneme cards consist of most of the phonemes
of English, plus a few like /y/, /2/, /e/, etc., which many
Americans will have a nodding acquaintance with
from high school German, French or Spanish classes.
If I were making a deck to take to the Conlangs Conference,
of course, I would include more exotic stuff. :)
Some of the most common phonemes in the world's
languages occur more than once in the deck,
as do the three most common word orders and the
CV and CVN syllable shapes.

Then there are Sound Change, Grammar Change
and Meaning Change cards (also part of the main deck,
shuffled in with the Phonemes, Syllables, and Syntax cards).
They let you do things like split a phoneme by context,
drop a phoneme (merging it with another already in
play), replace one phoneme with another; add
or drop inflections; extend or restrict meanings of words.

Then there is be the translation challenge deck -- a
collection of translation challenge sentences; everyone
would draw one at the start of play and translating that
sentence into the game-language would be their goal
to win the game.  There is another challenge
card set face-up in the middle and no one can win
with their private challenge until the group challenge
has been translated.

If there are at least two phoneme cards and at least
one syllable card in play, a player can also coin one
or more words on their turn, using the old rules
(demonstrate the meaning with charades, pointing out examples, drawing
pictures, using previously coined
words of the game-language etc. but no use of English).
But you can only use the phonemes  in
play and the syllable shapes in play.  So if e.g. it's
the second round and people have played the k, t, i and o
cards and the CV and CVC cards, you could coin words
like "kito", "tok", "tiki", etc.

If later on the "e" card is played and then someone plays a "phoneme merge"
card to discard the "i" and say that /i/ merges into /e/, then words already
coined with "i" in them change it to "e".  "keto", "teke", etc.

Maybe there is a time limit on coining your word(s) -- if you
can't make the other players understand you within, say,
2 minutes, the next player gets to start their turn.  But if you
can demonstrate the meaning of two or more words in the
time limit, fine.  (Maybe it's easier to coin words like "this"
and "that", or pronouns, in groups than one at a time.)

Maybe if you manage to define your word just using
the game-language, with no charades or drawings
etc., you get to draw another card at the end of your
turn (increasing the size of your hand); but when
your time is running out and you have to resort to
English to define your word, you have to discard
a card at the end of your turn, reducing the size of
your hand.

There is a similar bonus for the player who first translates
the group's challenge sentence -- they get to draw an extra card,
increasing their hand size.

There are a couple of "new mission" cards that let
you discard your translation challenge and draw a
new one, or swap your challenge card with someone
else, and some other Action cards -- one lets you
draw four, play one and discard three,
another gives you a free pass to define a word in
English with no penalty, etc.

I've started making the main deck, but haven't done
much on the translation challenge deck yet.
Probably I'll be play-testing it with my brother and
some other friends in a couple of weeks.

Any comments or suggestions -- especially on how
to use card-game mechanics to prevent or
discourage semantic relexing of English?

Jim Henry


Chad Oliver <sintau.langer@...>