gwalla: (language buff)
A recent discussion about the grammatical terminology regarding adjective comparison on Conlang-L has got me thinking that, instead of giving Ilion adjectives distinct comparative and superlative forms, I should give them an elative that does double duty. This goes against my usual pattern of adding one more distinction to a category than an English-speaker would expect (e.g. adding a distinct iterative aspect, which English expresses sometimes with the perfective and sometimes with the progressive) and my (already rather loose) "rule of three", but it does add an interesting twist that isn't terribly hard to understand, and works well with other parts of the grammar, particularly unadorned nouns in the oblique case as adjuncts to adjectives.
gwalla: (language buff)
for [ profile] padparadscha, [ profile] stormeteller, et al.: LoCoWriMo

(I won't be participating. None of my conlangs have enough lexicon to write a sentence, let alone a story, no matter how crude.)
gwalla: (language buff)
The first verb: yseul, "to commit adultery, cheat on, cuckold". Yeah, I know it's an odd choice, but I couldn't resist the cross-linguistic pun (slightly more obvious with the imperative ending -t).

Yes, this means that <y> is now a vowel. Specifically, a compressed (semi-rounded) central close vowel. Orthography and phonology have been in flux recently. I've reluctantly dropped <rh>, for various reasons: differentiating between two rhotics is a bit tough; the approximant is probably easier in clusters, but letter groups like <drh> are awkward and don't look right for the language, and the alternatives of neutralizing the /ɹ/-/ɾ/ distinction in clusters or swapping the spellings around would just get confusing; and it turns out that <rh> isn't an "Irish-like" spelling at all, but rather Welsh and Greek (this is not so important, but the others are deal-breakers). On the other hand, I'm trying to find a use for <bh>, which does look appropriate, but I've already got <v> for /v/; I'm vaguely leaning towards using it for /w/, like Irish Gaelic, but I'm not totally sold yet. Not sure how I want to spell /j/: <j> is already taken (/ʤ/, under the Naïve Anglophone Won't Mangle It principle), but I also don't want <y> to do double duty as vowel and consonant.

Still not settled on how I want to use diacritics.

Prosody has gotten some attention. Syllables can be light (one mora), heavy (two morae), or superheavy (three morae): a short vowel is one mora, a long vowel or diphthong is two, and a consonantal coda adds one (whether a single consonant or cluster); an onset consonant or consonant cluster has no effect on syllable weight. Current thinking is that stress falls on the syllable containing the third mora from the end. In other words: if the last two syllables are light, the antepenult is stressed; if the final syllable is heavy, or the penult is heavy or superheavy, stress falls on the penult; if the final syllable is superheavy, it takes the stress. This rule is actually the same as Latin, except that there are no superheavy syllables in Latin. The only problem I have with this is that I've gotten used to the name "Ilion" having a stressed first sylable, but this would mean that stress would actually fall on "io" if it's a diphthong or "i" if the vowels are in hiatus. Bumping it up to fourth-mora-from-the-end would mean that the final syllable couldn't take stress, though. And I want stress to be regular. It's frustrating.
gwalla: (Default)
Okay, last time I said I'd post about some grammar fundamentals. No more putting it off.


Ílion has 7 lexical categories ("parts of speech") currently, although I'm not sure where to put some things so this may change:
  • Nouns represent "things"*. They inflect for case and number. They also have gender, which is lexically determined (some nouns are masculine, some feminine, some neuter). It is an open class.
  • Verbs represent "actions"*. They inflect for tense, aspect, mood, and voice. Also an open class.
  • Adjectives represent "qualities" of things*. They are like a cross between nouns and verbs: they inflect for tense, case, number, and gender (agreeing with the head noun in all but tense). Open as well.
  • Prepositions do not inflect. They are capable of limited compounding but are otherwise a closed class.
  • Degree modifiers show the extent to which a modifier applies to a head: words meaning things like "very", "much", or "little". They can modify pretty much any word, except for nouns in the primary case, conjunctions, and particles. The negative (equivalent to English "not") falls into this category.
  • Complementizers. Function words used to nominalize verb phrases, which inflect as nouns. A very small closed class: there are only two.
  • Particles. This category is a bit of a cheat: it's a catch-all for various non-inflecting function words, like conjunctions and subordinators. Nothing like Japanese particles, sorry folks. A closed class.
Pro-forms are considered subcategories of the main categories (e.g. a pronoun is a type of noun).

You may have noticed that one familiar category in English is not included: adverbs. Degree modifiers are typically considered adverbs in traditional descriptions of English grammar, but they're a closed class and considerably more specialized (they really only cover "how much"). Ílion uses nouns to cover most of the territory that adverbs do in English. I'll go into this a bit more when I write about nouns and cases.

Now that we know the building blocks, we can go on to how they're assembled. Without further ado, Ílion word order:
  • Noun phrases are head-first, meaning modifiers (such as adjectives) follow nouns. If you consider prepositions to be the heads of prepositional phrases (rather than just extending noun phrases), then PPs are also head-first.
  • Verb phrases and adjective phrases are head-final.
  • The one exception to verb phrase head-finality is imperatives, which are usually fronted.
  • The core arguments to a verb are in descending order by degree of agency: subject, then objects. For ditransitives, the primary object (recipient) precedes the secondary object (patient).
This is actually a lot like Latin unmarked word order, but while Latin can shift things around because agreement and cases can keep things straight, Ílion cannot.

Next up: nouns and cases.

*More or less
gwalla: (Default)
Consonants: labial dental alveolar post* dorsal glottal
stopp bt dc/q g
affricateçh j
fricativef vth dhs zsh jhqh gh

In this table, as usual, when consonants appear in space-separated pairs the first is unvoiced and the second voiced. All flaps and approximants are always voiced (in earlier stages I included unvoiced <wh> and <yh>, but I'm currently leaning against them), except for <h>, which is always the unvoiced /h/.

/h/ always appears alone, never in clusters. The digraphs with <h> are therefore unambiguous.

I'm calling the final column "dorsal" because it encompasses both the (dorso-)palatal and velar places of articulation: Ílion makes no phonemic distinction between them. The stops are more often velar, but may be palatal when juxtaposed with front vowels (depending on dialect), while the fricatives are more often palatal, and the voiced fricative is always palatal (I just don't like the sound of the voiced velar fricative, really; it just sounds gargly and kinda makes my throat hurt). There is no phonemic dorsal nasal, although /n/ before a dorsal may be pronounced as such.

I decided against using the letter <k> because I felt that it looked too angular and "hard" to fit in with the aesthetic I was going for (I rejected <x> for the same reason). The unvoiced dorsal stop /k/ is instead spelled with <c> and <q>, depending on context: as an onset consonant, if it is followed by a front vowel (/i/ /e/) or /w/, it is spelled <q>, while if it is followed by any other vowel or approximant, it is spelled <c>; if it falls at the end of a word or is followed by a consonant, the spelling is determined (in the same way) by the preceding vowel. This was to avoid situations that might result in confusion or mispronunciation on the part of English-speakers, particularly the hard/soft c problem (e.g. how many people pronounce Celeborn as "seleborn", even though <c> is always hard in Tolkein's languages) and <qu>. It also gives me an excuse to throw in the letter <q> without making spelling less than round-trip phonemic or introducing something like uvulars.

My "in-world" rationale for the c/q thing is that originally they denoted distinct consonants (palatal for C, possibly uvular for Q), but palatal stops before front vowels became fronted from dorso-palatal to lamino-palatal (postalveolar), becoming <ch> and <j>, and the uvulars moved forward, merging C with Q. This nicely explains why <c> is dorsal but <ch> is laminal, but unfotunately doesn't really explain the independent existence of <j>. I'm not sure if I'll expand on this; it's really only an excuse for a weird bit of spelling, and I'm not going to bother seriously creating a proto-language and deriving the modern tongue from it.

The c-with-cedilla is only used in the digraph <çh>. It's there mainly because I wanted to have a cedilla. It's silly but I like it.

Phonemically speaking, there are two kinds of R sounds in Ílion: the alveolar flap <r> (the "Spanish" single r, /4/ in CXS), and the rhotic approximant <rh> (the American English r). Phonetically, there's more like three: the trill (Spanish "rr") also appears, but is not phonemic. When two /4/ appear in sequence (which can only happen across a syllable boundary), they are pronounced as a trill. Predictably, this is spelled <rr>.


Yeah, it's just the five cardinal vowels. Back vowels are rounded and front/center unrounded. Nothing too special here, really, but that's fine. Mid vowels are more close-mid (/e/ and /o/) rather than open-mid (/E/ and /O/). I'm not sure whether <a> should be /a/, /6/, or /A/. I'm kind of leaning towards the last (it has a smoother sound, to my ears, and euphony is a goal here), but the phoneme seems to pattern with the front vowels more than the back, so I'm kind of torn.

I know I want diphthongs, but haven't decided on any yet. They will be spelled as digraphs, I know that. <eu> and <au> are likely, <oe> or <oi> possible, <ae> maybe more likely than <ai>. Not sure if I want more, or how exactly they'll be pronounced.

In earlier drafts, I had an explicit schwa, which I was spelling ÿ. This was mainly an excuse to use the Latin-1 character set's y-umlaut, because it's a pretty absurdly showy symbol for a vowel that so rarely takes stress. It had some interesting features, for example being pronounced with breathy voice (the glottis partly closed but lax) after fricatives and approximants (or in some drafts, always) and being unvoiced between unvoiced consonants like the Japanese /u/ and /i/. I still kind of like that idea, but I don't think it fits with this language, particularly the goal of being able to explain basic pronunciation and grammar in a page. The schwa still survives, barely, but is epenthetic, appearing only when a proclitic ending in a consonant fuses to a word beginning with a consonant, and not within words. It doesn't have a letter, although the apostrophe used when attaching clitics could be considered such sometimes.

Phonotactics are still a little sketchy. Syllables may end with a single consonant, never a cluster (the affricates <ch> and <j>, which act like clusters in some respects, are also verboten), and open syllables (ending in vowels) abound. The muta cum liquida rule, which means that a stop followed by an approximant must be part of the same syllable as the approximant (a syllable break cannot fall between the two) is in effect. It sounds right, and I think it's common in natural languages for articulatory reasons ([ profile] padparadscha, am I off base on this?). Allowed consonant clusters will probably be restricted to a stop or fricative followed by an approximant.

Syllable accent will be regular (I think), but still marked orthographically with an acute accent. I don't know why the Ílion people would explicitly mark something they could always predict anyway, but I can always fall back on the old "spelling rules don't always make sense" excuse if pressed. With diphthongs, the accent mark would fall on the first letter of the digraph. Ílion has pitch accent rather than stress accent, which I think would provide a bit of a sing-song quality.

Vowels can occur in hiatus (that is, a syllable break may occur between vowels). When it does, the second vowel is marked with a diæresis, unless the second vowel is a diphthong, in which case the first vowel is marked, or the second vowel is stressed, in which case the second vowel is only marked with the acute accent. Word-final <e> is always marked with a diæresis, even when it is not in hiatus (which would actually be rare, I think). This is to prevent English-speakers from interpreting it as a "silent e"—a trick I stole picked up from Tolkein.

Any questions?


May. 24th, 2006 11:24 pm
gwalla: (magma)
I've been intending to post about my conlangs for ages now. About time I did so.

My most active conlang project is Ílion, and is for a setting/story project I've been calling Galiant, a space opera/fantasy/mech warfare comic idea. It's the language of a humanoid alien race, the dominant civilization in the solar system in which the story is set, and as such is also the lingua franca of interplanetary trade and diplomacy. Most characters are humans and speak something rendered as English natively. Ílion dialogue would appear as Ílion, but would be translated in captions. In the back of each issue/collection would be a Ílion-English dictionary containing all of the Ílion words used in that issue, plus a page explaining the grammar and pronunciation. The one-page limit for the grammar is a tough constraint, although I'm cheating a bit by letting myself put grammar words in the dictionary part.

It's also supposed to be aesthetically pleasing. This is pretty subjective, but I'm taking as my visual model French and Irish Gaelic. The orthography is meant to evoke these languages by containing a lot of letter combinations typical of them: e.g. "ll" and "nn" from French, and lots of consonant-"h" digraphs from Gaelic. The spelling is much more phonemic than either of those arcane orthographies, however.

I'm trying to balance ease of learning with introducing concepts that English speakers may find unfamiliar (but not too alien). Since English has a lot of binary distinctions, there ends up being a lot of "threeness" to the grammar: three noun cases (primary, oblique, genitive), three genders (masculine, feminine, neuter), three verb moods (indicative, subjunctive, imperative), three aspects (perfective, progressive, iterative), "three" tenses. It has strict SOV, head-final word order (although verbs are fronted in imperative sentences).
gwalla: (Default)
I'd been wanting to see a live taiko performance for a long time, so when I found that the S.F. Taiko Dojo was selling tickets to the U.S.-Japan Taiko Festival I snapped up a few when I went to the Cherry Blossom Festival last weekend. So this Saturday I took my folks to it, and had a blast

Taiko, if you're not aware, is a Japanese form of ensemble drumming. It also includes some elements of dance, with stylized swings of the drumsticks, and players sometimes moving from drum to drum. It had actually become neglected in its country of origin (it was traditionally an art of the lower classes, and therefore never gained the esteem and preservational interest given to, say, the koto), until grandmaster Seiichi Yahata moved to San Francisco and founded the S.F. Taiko Dojo, basically rescuing the art form from destruction. The S.F. Taiko Dojo's touring and advocacy rekindled interest in taiko in Japan, and since then many groups have been formed, including some who tour worldwide such as Kodo and Soh Daiko. It uses a wide array of drums and percussion instruments, including a pipe-like cylindrical bell, a marimba-like instrument, frame drums, and small tom-tom-like drums, but is most closely associated with very large drums: an ensemble will typically have several kettledrum-sized drums, and a very large two-headed drum that frequently takes center stage and can be played by two people at once. A taiko group going full-tilt can make one hell of a noise.

First up was Akita Tensho Taiko, an all-female(!) taiko group from Akita Prefecture. They were quite good. Then the S.F. Taiko Dojo did a very high-energy set of three pieces, including a new composition by grandmaster Seiichi Tanaka, and a Japanese-style lion dance by a lion dance master (who was a riot to watch). I was a little disappointed that they didn't do their big number, Tsunami. After an intermission, they had a performance by asian new age superstar Kitaro on bamboo flute backed by synthsizer. The flute playing was good but over-amplified, and overdrive did not improve the tone. The synth was better when it sounded like an asian string instrument rather than generic synth washes. Part of that set included additional backing by Yahata on a frame drum and the lion dancer on Buddhist bells, and a butoh dancer. That part, frankly, nearly put me to sleep. The dancer had a neat costume and makeup, at least. After that, the Taiko Dojo returned for a final piece, which was Tsunami. I should have realized that they weren't done since the big drum was on the side of the stage but had not yet been used. They dedicated the performance to the victims and survivors of recent natural disasters, including of course the hurricanes in the gulf states, the south asian tsunami, and earthquakes in the middle east. It absolutely brought down the house. Even Kitaro got a guest solo on the big drum—while his movements were clearly not as graceful as the regular drummers, his sense of rhythm was surprisingly good, and he really pounded that thing. I didn't know he had it in him. Afterwards, the performers were given plaques commemorating the event (although the Akita group did not come out for theirs for some reason). While leaving the theater, my dad commented that Tsunami made him want to "tear something down or build something up". It made me want to go to a taiko group and take classes, because it looks like a blast.

I thought that the performance was going to end at 10, but fortunately the Cherry Blossom Festival schedule was wrong about it and it ended earlier, which gave us time to get some dinner (theater popcorn doesn't cut it). We went to a Juban, a Japanese BBQ (actually pretty indistinguishable from Korean BBQ) place on the ground floor of the Kinokuniya building. The food was excellent, capping off a great night of entertainment.

Sunday morning I got up early (well, early for a Sunday), still unsure whether I wanted to go to the final day of the Cherry Blossom Festival or to the first ever Language Creation Conference at Cal. I planned to go to the conference, stay for maybe the first talk, then take BART to SF and see the parade, and finally BART back and catch the last bit of the conference. However: I'd stupidly left my camera on and drained the batteries, and no place carrying that kind of battery was open that early; it was rather dreary out, which made the parade seem a lot less appealing; that plan would have involved spending a lot of time I could have been at either event riding around on or waiting for public transit, which seemed like a waste; I'd probably miss the kendo performance anyway; and frankly the first couple of talks were so interesting that I didn't want to leave. So I wrote off the Cherry Blossom Festival parade and just spent the whole day at the conlang con. I don't regret it, either (there's always next year for the festival—but I do really want to see it sometime).

The real highlights of the conference were Sally Caves (creator of Teonaht, and also Star Trek character Reginald Barclay) talking about conlanging and the Internet, Ithkuil creator John Quijada (who looks like he could be The Rock's older, less-athletic brother) talking about cognitive linguistics and how ideas from it can be applied to conlanging, David "too many conlangs to name" Peterson's introduction to word-and-paradigm morphology (which more or less abandons the entire concept of morphemes in favor of relations between words), and lojbanist John E. Clifford's introduction to the concept of semantic primes. Clifford's talk was quite a bit more interesting than I expected, since I don't normally mess with philosophical languages, but he made a good case for its applicability to all conlangs, especially with regards to teaching them. Matt Pearson's talk on cases and argument structure—actually more on using cases for things other than just labelling the participants in an event, through split ergativity and such—was also interesting but I was running out of gas by that point. All of the talks were good, really. The only problem was that Jeff Burke, who was scheduled to give a talk on diachronic linguistics and conlanging (which sounded interesting) never showed and was unreachable on his cel phone.

Quijada's and Peterson's talks were particularly interesting, because the things they were talking about were totally new to me, and were about things going on "under the hood" of language, which among other things make sense of seeming irregularities or at least make them easier to deal with. For example, Quijada talked about how English uses the preposition "out" for both "the fire went out" and "the sun came out", even though they have opposite results (after the one, you cannot see the fire, but after the other, you can see the sun), and why. And while I'm still rather attached to morphemes (and have been known to invoke the dreaded "null morpheme" on occasion), I can see how word-and-paradigm can in some cases make things easier to explain. I'll have to play around with it a bit. It helps that both of them are very engaging public speakers.
gwalla: (lon chaney)
Ômoto-kyo, the Shinto sect (with Taoist influences) that Aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba was a member of, considers Esperanto inventor L. L. Zamenhof to be a deity.
gwalla: (magma)
gwalla: (evil mickey)
Jst plāyŋ r̈ʊnd wð mī Ŋ̀lʃ Φn̊ēmk Æbjæd prajkt. Ī wund˞ f n̈ēwn kn figy˞ t ʊt wðʊt mī telŋ ðm hʊ t w˞ks.
gwalla: (magma)
I'm a bit blocked with regards to Ílion, the conlang I've been giving the most attention recently. I've already established that the Ílion people (a humanoid alien race in a space-fantasy universe I hope to use in a comic someday) have a thing for threes, which is reflected in the language: three verb voices, three noun genders, three moods, three tenses, three cases. It's the three cases that are bothering me. My original idea was to have an objective case (subject and objects--differentiated by word order), locative (location and direction of action), and oblique (for pretty much everything else). Possession would be marked by deriving an adjective from the possessor, which would modify the possessed. There would be several different adjectival derivations, for different forms of possession: ownership, part-of, comitative ("with"), association, etc. Clauses and verb phrases could be nominalized and put in any case: the objective for verb complements, the locative to show simultaneity of action, and the oblique for manner (like Latin's ablative oblique) and various other subordinating constructions.

Lately, though, I've become a little dissatisfied with the locative. It's really not all that useful as a separate case. So I've been thinking of dumping the possessive adjectives and replacing the locative with a good old-fashioned genitive case. Directions and locations would be expressed by the oblique with prepositions. The genitive could take prepositions to show different kinds of possession. Some prepositions could take either an oblique or a genitive, depending on whether it applies to the verb or another noun (e.g. the Ílion for "at" could be used with an oblique noun to show the location of the action, or with a genitive to show where a certain participant is located)--here, the genitive would be more of a general "noun that modifies another noun" case rather than a possessive case. I really like this idea.

However, I can't think of what a nominalized verb phrase would do in the genitive. Here's where my preference for symmetry kicks in--I want it to be possible to put a nominalized clause in any case and have it be usable. It annoys me that I can't make this fit, especially since one of my goals with this language is for it to have a fairly small, regular grammar that can be summarized clearly in about a page or two. I don't want many exceptions and special cases. I'm already kind of fudging things with the verb voices and tenses.

Decisions, decisions.


gwalla: (Default)

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