Theiling Online    Sitemap    Conlang Mailing List HQ   

Dublex Langmaking Game & Contest

From:Jeffrey Henning <jeffrey@...>
Date:Tuesday, November 9, 1999, 17:00
Dublex is a langmaking game -- think of it as Scrabble for people who like
to invent words. Rather than the letter tiles of Scrabble, Dublex has 400
word tiles. You combine the word tiles in as many ways as desired to come up
with new words. For instance:

vocsist /vohk-SEEST/ [voc+sist, "word system"] language -- a systematic
means of communicating by the use of sounds or conventional symbols

jamadbin /zhah-mahd-BEEN/ [jamad+bin, "frozen building"] igloo -- an Eskimo
hut built of blocks (usu. sod or snow) in the shape of a dome

cafazmuh /kah-fahz-MOOSH/ [cafaz+muh, "jumping rodent"] rabbit, bunny,
coney, cony -- any of various burrowing animals of the family Leporidae
having long ears and short tails; some domesticated and raised for pets and

pedmestser /pehd-mehst-SEHR/ [ped+mest+ser, "foot place series"] stairs -- a
means of access consisting of a series of steps

cisdesir /kees-deh-SEER/ [cis+desir, "story desire"] story hunger -- an
emotional need for fulfillment through narrative fiction in any form (book,
television sitcom, movies, etc.)

You can coin as many words as you like. Most of the words will be compiled
into a dictionary and listed on the web site. Whoever coins
the most listed words by January 1, 2000, will win a US$100 gift certificate
to  The final judge of whether words are entered into the
lexicon is myself (though of course I plan on admitting most words).

By submitting words and definitions to, you are
agreeing to place those words in the public domain. The Dublex dictionary
that will be compiled and edited by myself will also be in the public domain
and will be a resource for anyone who wants it. I am planning on writing a
JavaScript application that will prompt you for a list of 400 words in your
own conlang and will then suggest compounds for your language using the
dictionary. This will be a quick way for you to get more ideas for words for
your own language. Additionally, others in the langmaking community are
encouraged to come up with their own uses for the completed Dublex

To participate in the contest, you must submit words and definitions to  You can subscribe to the list at or by e-mailing Its a good idea to see other people's
suggested words -- they may inspire words of your own. However, you can
easily set your subscription to "Web Only" if you don't want to read other
people's suggestions. If you don't want to participate in the contest, but
want to review the Dublex word list and grammar, surf to

All word definitions must be provided in English, and you are encouraged to
adapt definitions from the WordNet database.  It's also completely
appropriate to invent words without any English equivalents, such as
'cisdesir', "story hunger", above. Since the game mailing list is open to
the public, all definitions must avoid obscenity; if you want to define
words about copulation and excretion, please use the Latinate vocabulary of
English to do so.

The heart and soul of the Dublex game is the Dublex language, the language
invented for the 400 word tiles.  Once you subscribe to the mailing list,
you will be e-mailed the Dublex-English lexicon of root words.

The name Dublex is a combination of 'dub' ("to give a name to facetiously or
playfully; to nickname") and 'lex' (from Greek 'lexis', "word", present in
English 'lexicon'). It's also a play on 'duplex' ("twofold; double") since
many of the Dublex words you can create have two parts:  e.g., 'vocsist',
"word system = language";  'sihbin', "health building = hospital"; and
'nassens', "nose sense = smell".


For solitaire play, choose any seven Dublex words at random, then begin to
combine them to form new words.  See the Wordmaking rules below.  The object
is to coin as many words as possible.  You decide what the words mean.  It's
just for fun, but if you want to compete with yourself, keep track of how
many words you can coin from any seven Dublex words and strive to improve
your personal best.  It's not just 7 times 7 or 49 words, since you can
string more roots together ('vocsistlet', "language (diminutive) =
dialect"), apply four built-in infixes, create phrases and even create
acronyms ('vadap' = 'VAtDArtPart', "watery dirt part = mud part = brick").
Please e-mail any words you define to, if you are not a
contestant in the Dublex game (if you are, please e-mail to


Two players each choose seven different Dublex words (at random or by
choice) and try to form the most words from them in a given time period --
say, five minutes.  The winner is the player with the most words coined.


When you have three or more players, there's an even better way to play
(come on, play Dublex with a few friends and spread the joy of conlanging!).
Choose seven Dublex root words at random.  For five minutes, everyone tries
to coin words from these roots.  When the five minutes are up, each player
reads his list.  Any time two or more players have the same word form with
the same basic meaning, they each get one point.  Whoever has the most
points wins the hand, and you can play up to 50 points a game.  The goal is
to create as many consensus word compounds as possible with your fellow
players.  Whoever succeeds in this best wins.  In effect, you and your
fellow players are creating a common language together.


To spur initial interest in Dublex, I'm offering a US$100 gift certificate
to to the person who submits the most words to the list before January 1st, 2000.


Dublex, as a language for use in a game, has a simplified sound system that
should be easy for you to learn. Dublex has just five vowels, each written
by a single letter.

a - as in 'father'

e - as in 'pet'

i - as in 'pizza'

o - as in 'Poe' or 'poet'

u - as in 'tutu'

Whenever two vowels occur together, they are pronounced as separate
syllables: 'moap' ("male parent, father") is pronounced /moh-AHP/.


            Voiceless               Voiced

Stops       p - as in 'pot'         b - as in 'bought'
            t - as in 'tot'         d - as in 'dot'
            c /k/ - as in 'cot'     g - as in 'got'

Fricatives  f - as in 'fought'      v - as in 'vote'
            s - as in 'sought'      z - as in 'zit'
            h /sh/ - as in 'shot'   j /zh/ - as in 'de jure' or 'pleasure'

Liquids                             l - as in lap
                                    r - as in rap

Nasals                              m - as in map
                                    n - as in nap

As an experienced English speaker, you will need to get use to the

The letter 'c' is always /k/. In English, 'c' has several different sounds
associated with it, the most common of which is /k/ as in 'cat' and the next
most common is /s/ as in 'city' or cent. In Latin, 'c' was originally always
pronounced /k/, but over time (certainly by the time of Medieval Latin) 'c'
came to be pronounced /s/ in front of /i/ or /e/; English borrowed this
pronounciation when it borrowed Latin vocabulary. The Dublex way is simpler,
but requires a bit of unlearning.

The letter 'h' is always /sh/. This is odd, certainly, but Latin lacked the
/sh/ sound altogether and the 'sh' way of writing it was cobbled together by
Norman monks. Since the /h/ sound itself does not occur in Dublex, this
letter was adopted to represent /sh/. So when you see the Dublex word
'hazar', "tree", remember that it is pronounced /shah-ZAHRR/.

The letter 'j' is always /zh/ as in de jure. The /zh/ sound does occur in
English, but it written many different ways -- none of them 'zh'! The
regular /j/ sound, as in English 'just', is in fact actually a /d/ sound
followed by /zh/, a combination rarely permitted in other languages. Since
the /dzh/ (English 'j') combination isn't used in Dublex, the letter 'j' has
been pressed into service for /zh/ (which, like /sh/, never occured in

The letter 'r' is actually a trilled /r/ as in Spanish. If you pronounce it
as in English, though, your fellow Dublexians are not likely to be bothered.

Stress & Syllables

If a Dublex word ends in a consonant, its last syllable receives the stress.
If a word ends in a vowel, its next-to-last (penultimate) syllable receives
the stress. So 'comun' ("communication") is pronounced /koh-MOON/, with the
emphasis on the final syllable, and 'comunu' ("to communicate") is
pronounced /koh-MOO-noo/, with the emphasis on the penultimate syllable.
This keeps the basic sound of the root word the same, regardless of the
part-of-speech ending.  (Please note that the final consonant always begins
the syllable with the part-of-speech ending.)

Part Of Speech Endings

The part of speech of almost all Dublex words (except for a few particles)
is indicated by the final vowels, if any.

unmarked - noun
-a       - noun modifier (adjective)
-e       - verb modifier (adverb)
-i       - multiword compound
-o       - preposition
-u       - verb
-ie      - adjective modifier (adverb)
-io      - clause modifier

All Dublex roots are nouns.

Word Patterns

The most important goal in creating a lexicon for Dublex was to have it
always be obvious when a word is a compound form or a root form.  To this
end, almost all Dublex words begin and end with consonants and exclude
consonant clusters from the beginning of syllables. So words are of forms
like CVC (Consonant-Vowel-Consonant) 'muh' /moosh/, "rodent"; CVVC 'poer'
/poh-EHR/, "man, male person"; CVCC 'sist' /seest/, "system"; CVCVC 'catoh'
/kah-TOSH/, "cat"; CVCVCC 'malact' /mah-LAHKT/, "milk" . A root like *plant
is not permitted, since initial consonant clusters are not allowed, and the
word 'campus' /kahm-POOS/ could not be a root but would be a compound of the
roots 'cam'+'pus' ("shirt" + "usage"). The word patterns make it easy to
tell where one root begins and one ends (for instance, 'duvsir' is clearly
'duv'+'sir' and 'mentvoc' is clearly 'ment'+'voc'). Of course, all final
vowels make up their own morpheme, marking the part of speech (for instance,
'vissensu' is 'vis'+'sens'+'u').

While the word patterns ("morphotactics") of Dublex may seem artificial,
many languages have much greater restrictions on possible word forms than
English. For instance, Polynesian languages typically allow only V and CV
syllables; Chinese syllables are typically CV or CVC. This means that when
roots are borrowed into these languages, they undergo a lot of change, such
as when English 'pocket monster' becomes Japanese 'pokemon'. In Dublex,
English 'plant' (from Latin) is present as 'palt', since both *plant and
*palnt are invalid roots.

Which brings us to the primary design tension of Dublex. On the one hand,
root words must fit strict syllable patterns, but on the other hand root
words should be as recognizable as possible to speakers of any language.
Since it was not feasible to analyze thousands of languages for common
forms, Dublex focused in on words from six of the most spoken languages in
the world: Arabic, Chinese, English, Hindi, Russian and Spanish (called the
six cardinal languages). The primary source of these natural-language words
was the Lojban etymological dictionary, which presented phonetic information
about over 1200 words. Where possible, forms in other languages were also
considered, especially forms in German, Dutch, Italian, Esperanto and
Novial, as derived from the Universal Language Dictionary.

How recognizable are Dublex words? It is rare that you will have a Dublex
word like 'motor' /moh-TOHRR/, "motor", which -- as a technical term derived
from Latin -- has found its way into all the cardinal languages (though, in
Mandarin Chinese, it takes the form /mada/). More typical is something like
'cafaz', "jump", from the Arabic /kafaz/, a form which won out because it
fit the word structure of Dublex best and because its initial /k-/ was
reinforced by Hindi /kud/. Matching the initial sound was considered quite
important, as it has been demonstrated to be a strong mnemonic, and a high
correspondence of word-initial sounds from Dublex to the speaker's native
tongue makes Dublex appear "more natural".

While early attempts were made to systemize word formation, these methods
were rejected and it was done on ad hoc basis. The priority was to take any
form more or less as is, if it were present in two of the cardinal
languages. If it were a particular high-frequency form, it might be
truncated to one syllable, such as 'per' from Latin 'persona', extant in
Romance (Spanish, Italian, et al), Germanic (English, German, et al) and
Russian, and reinforced by Hindi /puruc/. If no forms matched, but some
matched on an initial letter, one of those forms was chosen.

In some cases, conflicts with other words changed the available form: 'cat'
in Dublex means "cut" as this form is supported in more cardinal languages
than the form 'cat' for "cat"; therefore something longer than /kat/ was
needed for "feline" and the selection was 'catoh', taking the /-osh/ from
Russian /koshk/, with the -ato- reinforced by the Romance form 'gat(t)o'.

While word forms could have been generated randomly by computer, looking to
natural languages for inspiration provided some needed realism to the
language -- and makes remembering the vocabulary a little easier, especially
for English speakers.


You can coin new Dublex words using the following techniques:

* Simple compounding
* Suffixing
* Applying infixes
* Coining phrases
* Forming acronyms

Simple Compounding -- The simplest method of word creation is simply to
place a modifier before the word being modified.  Thus 'darg'+'vic' =
'dargvic', "road vehicle, car", and 'fon'+'sens' = 'fonsens', "sound sense,
hearing".  You can string together as many compounds as is reasonable, as in
'lun'+'col'+'vic' = 'luncolvic', "lunar wheeled vehicle, lunar rover".  As a
result, you can incorporate other people's coined words into your own words.

Suffixing -- A small set of Dublex words follow the word they modify.  Most
of these are scalars, which are words that describe an end point on a scale,
such as 'term', "hot", and 'dens', "dense".  So 'vattermmest',
'vat'+'term'+'mest', is "hot water place, hot springs", and 'furtcisid' is
'furt'+'cisid', "acidic fruit", which might refer to the lemon, lime or
kumquat.  All the scalars are marked in the Dublex root-word dictionary.
Five suffixes that aren't scalars are 'ses', "female"; 'mas', "male"; 'ton',
{augmentative}; 'let', {diminutive}; and 'con', "opposite".  Sample words
are 'tigerses', "tigress"; 'bacarmas', "bull"; 'lunton', "full moon";
'lunlet', "crescent moon"; and 'succon', "unhappiness".  The advantages of
having a few of the most common roots be suffixes including having
alphabetical lists with related terms close to one another (e.g., 'bacar',
"bovine"; 'bacarmas', "bull"; 'bacarses', "cow") and having clearer
structure in words with three or more roots.

Applying Infixes -- Six of the most common suffixes can be inserted as
infixes into the last syllable of a root.  For instance, the augmentative
'ton' has the corresponding infix -u-, and the diminutive 'let' has the
infix -a-.  So 'perton', "augmented person, giant", can be written 'puer',
and 'perlet', "diminutive person, dwarf", can be written 'paer'.  The
infixes -i- and -o- have different meanings depending on whether or not the
root modified refers to a person or animal;  if it does, then -i- indicates
female, 'baciar', "female bovine, cow", and -o- indicates male, 'bacoar',
"male bovine, bull".  If the word does not have animality, then -i-
indicates opposite, 'lium', "light opposite, darkness", and -o- indicates
abstraction, 'loum', "light abstraction, luminosity".  The infix -e- is used
when the infix matches the final vowel of the root, so *luun is invalid,
with the correct form being 'leun', "full moon".

Coining Phrases -- English and many languages have set phrases, called
idioms, whose meaning is not obvious from the words used.  For example, the
White House is not just a house that is white. Dublex phrases are formed
using the part-of-speech marker -i, which means, in effect, that this word
idiomatically modifies the word after it, so "White House" might be 'nieri
fambin', "white(black+opposite)+{idiom} house(family+building)".  You can
also simply write this 'nierfambin', of course, but marking words as
idiomatic modifiers is useful for indicating the scope of a modifier:
'nieri', "white", clearly modifies 'fambin', "house", where 'nierfambin'
could be read as "white family's building" or "white family-building".

Forming Acronyms -- Really long phrases or words can be truncated into
acronyms.  For instance, 'vatdartpart', "watery dirt part = mud part =
brick", could be shorted to 'vadapart' or 'vadap' ('VAtDArtPart'). The rule
for forming acronyms is that you use only the CV from each word except the
last word, which you can either append in full (as in 'vadapart') or
truncate to the initial consonant (as in 'vadap').  However, acronyms can't
conflict with one of the 400 roots or 3 pronouns ('von', 'nin' and 'tan',
the first-, second- and third-person pronouns, respectively);  therefore,
'voltdarg', "electric road, monorail", can be shortened to 'vod', which is a
root meaning "body of water", but would have to be shortened to 'vodarg'.

Happy Langmaking!



Leo Moser - Thanks to Leo for sharing generously of his research for his
Acadon system and for his detailed feedback on the internationality of
proposed root words. It was at Leo's passionate suggestion and insistence
that 'c' was adopted in all places for the /k/ sound.

Lojbanistas - Thanks to all the Lojbanistas who contributed to the
six-language etymological lexicon.

Rick Harrison - Thanks to Rick for designing the Universal Language
Dictionary, and for overseeing the compilation of it, which proved an
invaluable reference for coining Dublex words and for deciding which core
concepts needed to be included in the Dublex dictionary.

Ivan Derzhanski - Thanks to Ivan for his comments and corrections on natural
language sources of Dublex vocabulary.

Ray Brown - Thanks to Ray for his suggestions for simplying the sound system
of Dublex, specifically his critism of separate /w/ and /v/ sounds, of the
presence of the /h/ sound, and of using the digraph 'ch' to represent /sh/.
Inspired by this, /w/ and /h/ and /y/ were eliminated and 'h' was instead
used for /sh/.

Rick Morneau - Thanks to Rick for his article on morphotactics, which
prompted me to design the morphotactics of Dublex, and especial thanks for
his magnum opus, "Lexical Semantics", which influenced the grammar of Dublex

John Cowan, Mark Shoulson, BPJ, et al -- Thanks to everyone who helped me
refine the Dublex vocabulary and provided valuable feedback.

Others -- If I left you out, please forgive me -- and gently remind me.

This work is placed in the public domain by Jeffrey Henning,  However, Dublex is a trademark of, used
to describe the Dublex game and Dublex software.