Why my conlangs SUCK!!!
|From:||Gary Shannon <fiziwig@...>|
|Date:||Wednesday, January 21, 2004, 21:27|
Here's something that explains why my own conlangs
have not been very "real". The answer lies in looking
at what is broken in English. For example, the chaos
that is English spelling!
In trying to get rid of the final silent 'E' in my
English mutation conlang project, I began to realize
that the silent 'E' is like that one little thread
that sticks out from your sweater. You know the one I
mean. The one that when you pull on it the whole
sweater falls apart.
In school I learned that silent 'E' makes the vowel
before it long. Well, that's simple. I can get rid
of the silent 'E' by finding another way to make
vowels long, like moving the silent 'E' up next to the
vowel itself. Then 'lake' -> 'laek' and the problem
is solved. NOT!
What's the difference between "tens" and "tense"?
Here, the silent 'E' has nothing to do with vowels.
Instead it prevents the 'S' from being voiced and
sounding like a 'Z'. And what about the difference
between 'zinc' and 'since'. Here the silent 'E'
prevents the 'C' from turning into 'K' and makes it
turn into 'S' instead. So before you can get rid of
the silent 'E' you also need a way to explicity voice
and unvoice 'S' and to decide which of its many
schizoid personalities 'C' is going to manefest.
But wait! There's more. In the word "rice" the
silent 'E' does double duty, lengthening the vowel AND
preventing the 'C' from turning into 'K'.
Ok, does that cover it? Nope. Along comes "come"
where the silent 'E' doesn't do a damn thing! And if
that isn't bad enough, the silent 'E' in "machine"
instead of turning "bit" into "bite" wants to turn
"bit" into "beet". Shouldn't that be "machene"? (Or
is that "machean"?) And if I made up a word like
"Manderine" (a Manderine orange tangerine) how come we
know to pronounce it "Mandereen"?
Oh, and did I mention "orange"? The silent 'E' is
really showing off it's talents here. It turns "rang"
into "range" by both lengthening the vowel two
consonants away (is that a new distance record?) and
by altering the 'G' from hard to soft.
So about a million years ago some spelling challenged
fourth grader decided to fix the silent 'E' probelem
for the letter 'I' by using "gh" to mark the long 'I'.
That's easy. We just wright "light" and "bight" and
if Igh don't lighk it Igh can go fligh a kight.
But wait, weren't we talking about silent 'E', how did
we end up in 'I'. Because the 'I' thread's connected
to the 'E' thread, and the 'E' thread's connected to
the 'C' thread, and the 'C' thread's connected to the
'S' thread, and that's why pulling on one makes the
whole sweater fall apart.
And of course the silent 'E' thread is connected to
the double consonant thread as well. We write
"difference" instead of "diference" because the second
spelling wants to sound like "DIE-ference" because 'I'
thinks it's got a silent 'E' assigned to it.
So from the conlanger's persepctive, is English
spelling something broken that needs to be fixed?
In fact, I am coming to believe just the opposite. It
is the very regularity and logical consistency of my
own conlangs that have made them seem so aritficial
and non-organic. Isn't it better that all verbs are
regular and congugate in the same way? Well, maybe
not. But if not, why not?
The chaos of English spelling is rather like the
genetic diversity of an ecosystem. Do we "fix" the
forest by exterminating those life forms that aren't
orderly enough? Heaven forbid! This diversity
provides material for variety that can be exploited by
the poet and the author (ode to a flea), as well as
providing a springboard for future mutations and
And will the future evolution of English be in the
direction of simplifying and regularizing the
language? I seriously doubt it. We'll probably
borrow some more Japanese words and absorb a little
bit of Japanese grammar and spelling in the process.
Then we'll absorb some more Russian vocabulary and
borrow more words from Italian and Finnish and Urdu
and Icelandic, and bring their spelling peculiarities
right along with them.
No, the chaos of English is not something that's
broken, or that needs to be fixed. It's something
that's lacking in my own conlangs. Via la chaos!
That puts my project to mutate English in a different
light. Instead of starting out by simplifying and
regularizing English and destroying its diversity and
richness, maybe I should begin by building on the
diversity that is present, and end by mutating English
into something that is not only unique and
non-English-like, but is also rich and organic.
What I have in mind is to start out by mutating
English in the direction of Latin, and then about
halfway there hanging a sharp right turn and making a
beeline toward Bantu and Swahili. But before I make
landfall on the East African coast I'll make a tight
turn to the southeast and head straight for Polynesia,
picking up floating bits of grammar whenever they fall
into my net. Then I'll come back home by way of
classical Sanskrit and see what the language looks
like after that kind of random messing about.
Whatever it becomes, it won't be English and it won't
be simplistic, and it will have the chaotic richness
of a natural language. I hope.