Theiling Online    Sitemap    Conlang Mailing List HQ   

class conlang project

From:JOEL MATTHEW PEARSON <mpearson@...>
Date:Friday, April 9, 1999, 22:26
Hi folks,

As some of you know, I currently attempting to finish my PhD in
linguistics at UCLA.  This quarter I'm the teaching assistant for a
class called Honors 56, "Language as a Window on the Mind".  For our
study sections this term, my students and I will be engaged in a
project which might be of some interest to this list, to wit: we
will be constructing an invented language.  The purpose of this
"class conlang" is to illustrate various features of human language
that we are learning about in lecture.  For example, this week's
lectures were devoted to phonetics, so today we spent class deciding
what phoneme inventory our language will have (see below).  As the
course progresses, I will be giving the students homework assignments
where they have to make up vocabulary for the language (which I will
compile in dictionary form).  They'll also be given in-class assignments
where they're asked to translate sentences into and out of the language,
and there will even be a problem on the midterm which involves analysing
data in the language.  It should be an extremely fun project, and
hopefully educational as well.  (Personally I've learned a LOT about
language through conlanging, and I'm hoping to pass this on to others...)

The methodology is as follows:  We have a large wooden wheel which
spins, very much like a roulette wheel.  To this wheel are attached
various circular sheets of paper marked out like pie charts, with
different possibilities for structural features that this language can
have.  I then invite one of the students to come up to the front of the
class and spin the wheel, and whatever feature is selected will go into
the language.  For example, in my first section, we spun the wheel
to determine what kind of vowel system the language will have.
The choices were:

(1) A three-vowel system:  a, i, u
(2) A five-vowel system:  a, e, i, o, u
(3) A six-vowel system:  a, e, i, o, u, and a central vowel
(4) A seven-vowel system:  a, E, e, i, o, O, u
(5) A five-vowel system with phonemic length contrasts
(6) A five-vowel system with phonemic nasalisation contrasts

The winner was number (5).

Here's the complete phonemic inventory for the language, in
case anyone's curious:


voiced stops:           b, d, g
voiceless stops:        p, t, k
nasals:                 m, n
fricatives:             f, s, z, S (sh), h
lateral fricatives:     lh
affricates:             tS (ch)
approximants/liquids:   j (y), w, h


        a   e   i   o   u
        a:  e:  i:  o:  u:

Not too exotic, unfortunately, except for the lateral fricative,
the contrast between long and short vowels, and the absence of
certain sounds which are common in English (/v/, /r/, /N/, etc.).

I'll report on the other features of the language as they are
decided in coming weeks.  Coming soon:  Syllable structure,
phonological rules, and some basic vocabulary.  Stay tuned!