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My Digression from Boreanesia

From:Kristian Jensen <kljensen@...>
Date:Tuesday, March 21, 2000, 13:58
Last week I lost my files on Boreanesian phonology. So while
I was waiting for people to send me their copies Boreanesian
phonology back to me, I decided to fool around with another
conlang - something I have not done for a long time.

I decided to create a language spoken by primitive hominid
species that have just acquired the gift of utilizing speech
for communication. This speech is combined with signs and
gestures in their overall communication system.

From what I know of what Bonobos and Chimpanzees (our closest
relatives), the sound they make with their speech organs show
that they have a very limited control of their speech organs
compared to humans. I know that an ape's tongue is not as
flexible as ours since the root of its tongue is not as far
back in the throat as ours. Thus the inventory is:

             Labial   Lingual
     Oral    /B/      /j/
     Nasal   /m/      /N/

There is free variation between stop, affricate, fricative,
and approximant variants of /B/ and /j/. A similar thing can
be stated for the nasals /m/ and /N/. The lingual sounds are
produced with the body of the tongue, but because of their
oral anatomy, it is extremely difficult for them to produce
velar sounds consistently. The most common variants range from
laminal postalveolar to palatal.

             Labial   Lingual
     Close   /o/      /e/
     Open    /O/      /a/

Nasalized vowels exist. But these only occur after nasal
consonants. Nasality can therefore be interpreted as a
suprasegmental feature. If done so, then the consonantal
inventory can be reduce to only two consonants: labial /B/
and lingual /j/.


Surface tone appears to be affected the quality of the vowels.
Labial vowels are lower than their lingual counterparts.

Syllable Structure:
Always an underlying CV structure.

On the surface, some syllables are realized as beginning
without a consonant (e.g. V). But these result when Cs and
Vs are homorganic. That is, when a labial consonant precedes a
labial vowel, the consonant is dropped. Similarly, when a
lingual consonant precededs a lingual vowel, the consonant is

The syllable structure gives a total of 32 possible syllables -
not enough for a completely oral speech. These syllables are
mainly used as bound 'morphemes' with signs and gestures. The
language is therefore mostly a sign language.

Ideophones utilizes other speech sounds such as hoots and

It has not been proved with satisfaction that genuine symbolic
behaviour exists among apes. However, I am going to assume that
this exists among primitive hominids.

Note in the description of syntax below, speech is given in
/slashes/, signs are given in <arrows>, and the English
translation given in 'quotes'.

Due to the nature of sign-language and combining it with speech
sounds, syntax is extremely loose. For instance, 'mine' can
be given as:

   <1> /GEN/   or   /GEN/ <1>

Word order is not that important. The only important this is
that morphemes associated with each other must be next to each
other. More commonly, speech and signs are given simultaneously
when associated with each other. The principles behind
suprasegmental phonology can thus be applied to the syntax of
this language where speech symbols and sign symbols exist in
two separate tiers. E.g.:

   Speech   /GEN/
   Sign     < 1 >
   Meaning  'mine'

Several speech morphemes can be uttered together with one sign.
Word order within the speech element is not important. E.g.:

   Speech   /GEN/ /plural/   or   /plural/ /GEN/
   Sign     <     1      >        <     1      >
   Meaning  'our'

Alternatively, several sign morphemes can be given with one
speech morpheme. E.g.:

   Speech   /   plural    /
   Sign     <bird> <lizard>
   Meaning  'birds and lizards' (perhaps 'lizard-birds')

Verbal phrases do not exist. Only nominal phrases. The idea of
verbs and nouns in human languages is given as events in this
language. Events are classified according to permanence. Events
range from being instantaneous to permanent:

   /event1/  'instant event'
   /event2/  'event lasting half a day or less'
   /event3/  'event lasting from a half day to a full day'
   /event4/  'event lasting more than a day but less than month'
   /event5/  'event lasting a season'
   /event6/  'event lasting a year'
   /event7/  'event lasting a generation'
   /event8/  'event lasting a life-time'
   /event9/  'non-permanent event lasting longer than a life-time'
   /event10/ 'permanent event'

Pronouns are inherently event8 and remain unmarked. So a sentence
like 'We few went nut-gathering after the typhoon' can be
rendered as:

   /GEN/ /few/ /event2/ /GEN/ /temporal-LOC/ /event3/ /augment/
   <    1    > <gather> <nut> <   after    > <      rain      >

'Our gathering event of nuts (lasting less than half a day)
after a strong rain (that lasted the whole day)'.

Another example 'I stomped on the gecko and ate it'

   /  event1   / /GEN/ /GEN/ /diminutive/ /event10/
   <stomp> <eat> < 1 > <         lizard           >

'My stomping and eating event (which I did instantly) of the
little lizard (which is, otherwise, always a lizard)'

What do you guys think?

-kristian- 8)