Long Time No Talk

It occurs to me that I really should do some more with Kalis, my triconsonontal-root language.  It’s up to translating short sentences; there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to polish it up a bit and have it up to snuff relatively quickly.

I should migrate its old posts over here, too, while I’m at it.

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Questions and Negatives

Negatives are easy; prepend “nen-” to the verb, before the argument prefix.  So nenpéergòl, he doesn’t see her.

Yes/no questions use the interrogative particle “ash”: Ash péergòl?, does he see her?  Note that negative yes/no questions are not handled quite the same way as in English; if you didn’t go, the correct answer to Ash kall nensúebwàt?, Didn’t you go? is “Edh”–Yes, you’re correct, I did not go.  Conversely, if you did go, the right answer would be “Nen”, meaning “No, I did go.”  It’s probably easier if you think of the question as meaning “Did you not go?”.

(There’s also “kall”, the second-person pronoun.  Like the first-person “doz”, it indicates that the subject of the sentence is not in the default third person.)

Informational questions also begin with the interrogative ash.  The part you want to know is replaced by an appropriate word and assumed to be the object of the sentence. Ash monid péergòl? is “Who (feminine, singular) does he see?” (or perhaps “He sees who?”); if you want “Who sees her?” you’ve got to phrase it as Ash monid záathergal?.  Note that with “za” the being doing the seeing is assumed to be epicene and singular, and that the literal translation is closer to “She is being seen by who?”

monid: who; thokis: what (animals); poliy: what (things); wodhiv: where; zofill: when; gozhib: why; lorin: how

Argument Prefixes

So the way this works is, the verb has to have a prefix indicating the gender and number of the subject and object (this is a nom/acc language, by the way).  Basic word order is SOV, leading to rather more prefixes than suffixes.  There are four grammatical genders: neuter, epicene, masculine and feminine.  These pretty much follow the natural gender of the referent: a generic animal is epicene, a tree is neuter (unless it’s a ginkgo), a mare is feminine, a father is masculine, etc.  People insisting on referring to cars and boats as feminine are to be humored.

Here are the tables of argument prefixes:

singular object

  none masc. fem. epi. neut.

singular subject

none

ve

shi

go

wed

dhu

masc.

mis

dhi

pe

yu

da

fem.

lla

te

with

za

ni

epi.

su

bin

zha

mo

li

neut.

ya

no

thu

lle

sa

plural object

 

none

masc.

fem.

epi.

neut.

singular subject

none

ve

fal

thi

sho

ru

masc.

mis

ze

fu

ro

zhi

fem.

lla

shi

ven

tha

na

epi.

su

la

ri

fe

mip

neut.

ya

so

ma

bet

vi

 

singular object

 

none

masc.

fem.

epi.

neut.

plural subject

none

ve

shi

go

wed

dhu

masc.

dizh

re

the

me

fa

fem.

zu

wa

fo

si

kag

epi.

le

lo

llag

mu

ri

neut.

ka

fer

za

zho

lli

plural object

 

none

masc.

fem.

epi.

neut.

plural subject

none

ve

fal

thi

sho

ru

masc.

dizh

llu

zha

se

yi

fem.

zu

ra

ne

zi

llod

epi.

le

lu

sha

way

zhu

neut.

ka

tu

sut

va

fi

 

So you decide on the gender and number of your subject and object, and attach the appropriate prefix to the verb:

John Mary péergòl: John sees Mary.
Dómìll yodis waergòl: Women see a man.

If you do this without any nouns, you get the implication of pronouns:
Péergòl: He sees her.
John péergòl: John sees her.
Mary péergòl: He sees Mary. (“Mary sees him” would be “Mary téergòl”)

More notes on the specialness of the null subject-null object “ve-” later.

Kalis Stuff

Paradigms I still need:

  • profession
  • disease
  • reflexive for verbs?  This may be handled with argument prefixes, I need to go through an example to decide.
  • objective?  Most likely an affix would handle it OK.
  • intensive?  Unless my ba- and ti- affixes already handle this, which I think they do.

i12o3 – profession: ibrot, arborist

lla11i2a3 – disease: mlb “sugar”, so llammilab “diabetes”

Verbs

There’s going to be some polysynthesis at some point in the future, so this is not a complete overview of Kalis verbs.  But it’s as close as we’re going to get without 4 25-entry tables of irritating “little words”, so this will do for now.  The root will be bolded for convenience, and keep in mind that capital letters have phonemic significance.

Your basic verb, made from one of the paradigms, is in the progressive aspect, present tense, active voice, and indicative mood.  Hence, péergol, he is seeing her.  (The pe- is not part of the verb; I dunno what you actually call these things, so I’m going to call it an argument prefix.  It tells us that the subject/agent is singular and masculine, while the object/patient is singular and feminine.  Yay little words…?)  To make it perfective, you put a low tone on the last vowel of the root: péergòl, he sees her. 

To put a verb in the past tense, you lower the final vowel (i>e, e>a, u>o, o>a).  If you can’t lower it, you back it instead (a>o).  péergal, he was seeing her; Láargòl, she was visible. (La-, singular feminine subject, no object; argul, “to be visible”)  For the future, you raise or front the vowel (a>e, e>i, i>i, o>u, u>i).  péergèl, he will see her

For passive voice, infix -aT- between the argument prefix and the root: LáaTergal, she was being seen.  Kalis does not have the middle, anti-passive or inverse voices, but an equivalent effect can often be accomplished with the appropriate argument prefixes as in Laergòl, she sees.  This sentence contains no information about what she sees, much like an anti-passive.  You could even have véergol, “there is seeing” or “seeing is happening”; this says nothing at all about either the viewer or the viewed.

Finally, Kalis has four moods: indicative, subjunctive, potentive, and hortative.  The subjunctive is used for hypotheticals, wishes and hopes, and situations contrary to reality.  The potentive indicates what can or may be done; the hortative what should be done.  They are all expressed with suffixes, subj. -aya, capt. -ewi, hort. -ula; hence, péergòlaya, if he sees her/if he were seeing her/he might see her/he should[is likely to be able to] see her; péergòlewi, He can see her/he may see her; péergòlula, he should[is obliged to] see her

Later, more on argument prefixes and what they’re for.

Oh, the Heck With It

I lurve triconsonontal roots, hereinafter ‘3C’.  I tried to deny it, but I just can’t anymore.  I’m still going to use that other phonology for something, but I’ve gotta have me some of that consonontal action.

Arabic, Hebrew and Egyptian, the three best-known 3C languages, are all pretty heavy on the kinds of sounds Tolkein put into the Black Speech.  Lots of velars and glottals, lots of weird consonant combinations.  So I’m going to dump all that.

What sounds do I like?  T and D are neat, also S and Z.  In which case I should have t d s z as well.  M and n. R, the tap rather than the English retroflex.  I have a sneaking fondness for retroflex t’ and d’, but I think I can live without them.  L and K, the “Welsh double-l”.  I’ll live without the voiced version of the lateral fricative.  If I’m going to have p and b I should have f and v.  Also j, which I am going to depart from X-Sampa in spelling y, and w.  And some of my legacy roots need k and g.   I think that’s enough consonants: 9,261 possible roots should be plenty.  Consider the scary fact that your average person uses something like 1500 different words for a day’s conversation–and that, yes, that includes all conjugations of “to be”.  I’m going to use 5 vowels rather than the Semitic 3, and possibly tone distinctions.  Could be fun if weird to have the difference between, say, singular and plural be the difference between á and à.

For my paradigms, I am going to use a format whereby 1, 2, and 3 represent the three consonants of the root.  Therefore, in the root kls “language, speaking”, k is 1, l is 2, and s is 3.

I’ve got three roots to play with, one “nounlike”, one “verblike”, and one “adjectivelike” in English: brt “tree”, kls “language, speaking” and nfr “beauty”.

1o2i3 – basic noun related to the root: borit, tree; kolis, word; nofir, beauty  While we’re at it, augmentive prefix “ba-” and diminutive “ti-” for baborit, huge tree and tiborit, sapling or dwarf tree.

1a2i3 – instrument: kalis, language; nafir, cosmetic  I can’t think of any particular use for an instrument related to trees, but I’m open to suggestions.  A seed/acorn, maybe?

ik1u23 – agent, one who Xs: ikkuls, speaker; iknufr, beautiful person  Again, tree problem, though there’s potential for RPGs: “He’s an ikburt!”  “Hell, more ents.”

1u2u3 – the act of Xing: kulus, the act of speaking; nufur, the act of being beautiful.  Son of tree problem.

e1a2a3 – product: ebarat, wood; ekalas, a speech; I can’t really see a use for beauty considered as a general substance, but if there were one it’d be enafar.

1e2o3 – collective: berot, collection of trees, also tiberot, grove and baberot, forest

Plurals…hmmm.  For now, I’m going to go with “penult vowel gets a high tone, last vowel gets a low tone”. kólìs, words; ebáràt, woods (as in “different kinds of wood” rather than “collection of trees”)

Arabic has a pattern for “profession related to X”, but I’m going to have to think about that for a while.  It’s probably useful enough to include.

a12u3 – infinitive of a verb describing a state: abrut, to be a tree; anfur, to be beautiful.  You can use ti-and ba- here too, for things like tiabrut, to be a little like a tree and báanfur, to be very beautiful. Note that the first A gets a high tone; this always happens when two identical vowels are stuck together.

e12o3 – infinitive of a verb describing an action: eklos, to speak.  I don’t think there’s a useful distinction between “being beautiful” and “beautifulling”, but I may be wrong.  The latter implies a more active role, I guess, and might be useful for literary purposes. 

1u22e3 – infinitive, “to make something X”, and note the 2nd C is doubled: barret, to make into a tree; kulles, to cause to speak; nuffer, to beautify

1i2a3i – infinitive, “to become X”: birati, to become a tree; nifari, to become beautiful

sa1a23 – adjective: sabart, treelike; sakals, speaking; sanafr, beautiful  Voice the s to a z to make an adverb: zanafr, beautifully

1u2o3 – combining state for compound words: drw black and pst bird, so durowposit, blackbird.

12e3 – construct state.  Yay obscure grammatical stuff. kles pósìt, the language of birds

I am sure I’ll think of more paradigms eventually, but that should do for now.

More roots: rrk, angry; kLS, stubborn; kln, dog; Skn, random; lrs, music

Verb conjugations tomorrow maybe.

Talk Like a Girl

Consider Láadan, a conlang created by Suzette Haden Elgin. The grammar starts out with an essay that I find frankly laughable: that women can’t talk in English, essentially. The idea is that it’s too hard in pretty much any natural language to express the things women find important.

For one thing, it annoys me that what Elgin seems to think is important to women is primarily emotion and God. Then there’s the comment that, for “female” concepts, one must use a phrase instead of a single word, e.g. “sadness for good reasons, but about which nothing can be done”. So what? There are “male” concepts aplenty that need phrases (to make something up that she’d likely think appropriate, “the annoyance of being attracted to a woman who belongs to a more powerful man”), but that doesn’ t make it harder for men to talk about them. She then moves on to the blindingly stupid idea that, merely by learning to speak Láadan, women will change themselves so thoroughly that they’ll change the world too.
I’m not joking; she uses the idea in her series Native Tongue. Being able to speak the “womanlanguage” (no, I’m not omitting a space) makes the grindingly opressed female linguists so nifty that they can manipulate their husbands in the same invisible way their husbands manipulate non-linguists. From there they go on to a series of increasingly silly exploits such as planting undercover agents in nunneries, which end, in the completely incoherent Earthsong, with them discovering how to feed the world on music.

I wish I were exaggerating.

But back to Láadan itself. Having given us the idea of a nigh-mystical power inherent in her language, Elgin goes on to present us with something pretty pedestrian. It’s well enough done, as conlangs go; there are a number of ideas in it that are handy, like a particular sound, the lateral fricative lh (or ll, if you’re Welsh) that can be attached to any word to make it pejorative: with, woman; withelh, contemptible woman (which example, by the way, I have picked because it’s the only word I am sure of, being without my book). But then as one goes through the grammar one begins to notice the weirdnesses. “There’s no word in English for what a woman does during sexual intercourse.” Hell there isn’t; she fucks, or has sex, or makes love, just like her partner. The word in the lexicon with a three-paragraph definition that discusses the “average woman”–a sad sack who refuses to take responsibility for her own life, bewails her lack of control, and overeats to compensate. That the word for ‘cradle’ is derived from the word for ‘vagina’. That Elgin’s taken the good old Newspeak way of making antonyms: there’s no ‘young’, only ‘not old’, and ‘cold’ is ‘not warm’, and so forth. This isn’t to say the problems are unfixable, but I’m not personally all revved up to learn something that’s less useful than, say, Klingon. It may be a fine idea and a decent implementation, but I really can’t see anyone getting past the feminist-dichotomy “we’re utter victims who have the power to change the world” mindset to actually learn the language.