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Daily exercise

From:Herman Miller <hmiller@...>
Date:Sunday, August 8, 2004, 2:45
I've been busy at work lately and haven't had much time for conlanging;
what little time I have is quickly taken up by trying to figure out
notations for new musical temperaments and catching up on email. It's
been a while since I've done any real music or substantial conlanging.
So I've given myself a new project of translating one sentence each day,
and I'm creating a new language from scratch for the exercise. I don't
even have a name for it yet, but I'm informally calling it "Monvi" from
the title of what I'm translating (the introduction to the "Mammals"
chapter of the _Macmillan Illustrated Animal Encyclopedia_). The Monvi
word for "mammal" is "ma(w" (imagine the '(' is a Polish nasal hook),
pronounced [mQ~v], pl. "ma(wy" [mQ~v1].

I haven't quite been keeping up with translating a sentence every day,
but I've already got 5 sentences done. Things are starting to fall into
place. There's a danger in being too literal, running across a word like
"adaptability" and coming up with an equivalent by translating each
part, "adapt-abil-ity" = /lepS/-@m/-at/, but on the other hand it's not
something I want to spend a lot of time on taking it too seriously. The
language will probably end up being unnaturally simple and regular,
without some of the naturalistic elements like gender and long tables of
inflected verb forms, but it's not a goal of the project to be realistic.

In any case, it can be an interesting exercise to decide how much of
English makes it through the translation and how much is original. I've
decided to let some words through in distorted but recognizable form:
"Monvi" might be related to a form of English or other familiar
languages that arose in an alternate universe. So there's "hl/egla"
[xwEGla] for "whale", "sia(gla" [SQ~Gla] for "seal", "nimla" [Jimla] for
"animal", and so on. But in general I try to come up with words that
aren't much like English, especially the idiomatic uses.

Practically every sentence has these kinds of issues: take the title of
the chapter: "Mammals -- the peak of vertebrate adaptibility". Maybe
some other language can use "peak" in this sense, but would another way
of translating it be more appropriate? I settled on using "head" in the
sense of "front", or metaphorically as "leader". I could probably have
thought of something better, but I figured it was better to get on with
sketching the language; nothing at this stage is fixed and it's easy to
change things.

I suppose I might as well give the translation of the title:

Ma(wy, jaze( rast lepsie:matu wle:bron (e: is e with dieresis)
["mQ~v1 jazE~ "rast lEpS@"maTu "vl@BrO~n]

ma~v  -1      jaz-e~   rast-0   lepS -@m  -at -u   wl@br     -on
mammal-ABS:PL be -PART head-ABS adapt-abil-ity-GEN vertebrate-GEN:PL

ABS:  absolutive
PL:   plural
PART: participle
GEN:  genitive

In Unicode for Unicode-enabled browsers:

Mąwy, jazę rast lepsiëmatu wlëbron
[ˈmɒ̃vɨ jazɛ̃ ˈrast ˈlɛpʃəmaθu ˈvləβrɔ̃n]

As you can see, the spelling makes it look a little bit like Polish, but
only at first glance: the frequent e-trema, the dots on c and g (as in
Maltese, pronounced [tS] and [dZ]), and occasional w-acute (representing
a palatalized w, pronounced [H]) give it away. Originally [v] was
spelled "v" and [w] as "w", but as it was starting to look a little like
Polish with the acute accents on s, z, and n, I changed "w" to the
Polish barred l and "v" to "w" to make it look even more like Polish.

The full inventory of sounds thus far:

p b   t d   tS dZ   k g
   m     n       J
   v   s z    S  Z   x
   H             j     w

(Stops also have fricative allophones.)

i i~  1   u u~
E E~  @   O
a           Q~

Here's the sentences that I've translated so far:

Zidia( ma(wy la ti(zion 4,008, jaze( ne:j we:bron tes'pa lepsie:mi ly
sie(wi panu( nia nieptu ruju jelu(. Jaza( hl/egly lelpy li sia(gly de
le(diy wi(zi( kunymu nimlon wa(l sia(zon, kui suza( myrgy sike c'l/ason
ga webron nej hewron hrusiu. Kl/a niomu zyrju, suza( kiusiy ma(won la
sie(wu goziu pa(l wu(ru, nia wu(ru niomu, ly te:l hrynon ly mepsienu
lukiu. Me:nzeka( giru( ma(wen sim la myrgu wespon, jaze( jedza(ky
wiekton luilo ty zielu. Kl/a kiusiy se nari(, bynuwyt wo ma(won hrawylat
ksius'te pielnic'on jedza(ku.

Another thing you might notice that gives it away as being not Polish is
the "iy" combination: palatalized consonants followed by "y". I keep
telling myself that this shouldn't look weird if "y" is just another
vowel, but it does seem to look better with an acute accent on the
consonant instead of using "i" to mark the palatalization. And I can't
bring myself to write [w] as slashed l after l: "luilo" should really be
"ll/ilo", but that looks weird. Maybe I should go back to using "w" for
[w] and "v" for [v]. Here's what it looks like in Unicode.

Zidią mąwy la tįzion 4,008, jazę nëj wëbron teśpa lepsiëmi ly sięwi panų
nia nieptu ruju jelų. Jazą hłegly lelpy ly siągly de lędiy wįzį kunymu
nimlon wąl siązon, kui suzą myrgy sike ċłason ga webron nej hewron
hrusiu. Kła niomu zyrju, suzą kiusiy mąwon la sięwu goziu pąl wųru, nia
wųru niomu, ly tël hrynon ly mepsienu lukiu. Mënzeką girų mąwen sim la
myrgu wespon, jazę jedząky wiekton luilo ty zielu. Kła kiusiy se narį,
bynuwyt wo mąwon hrawylat ksiuśtę pielniċon jedząku.


Daniel Baisden <derelictdan@...>