Alleged Beliefs

On my Twitter timeline, a link to an article by Katy Steinmetz at the TIME magazine’s website, titled “Elvish, Klingon and Esperanto—Why Do We Love To Invent Languages?”, came up several times this evening. In this article, Steinmetz interviews Michael Adams, professor of English at Indiana University, on conlanging. I left the following comment:

“Are invented languages better designed than natural languages?
— That’s what their inventors believe.”

Invented languages better than natural ones? Well, I suppose that’s an idealist view. They will probably never be as complex, for one, as natural languages if that’s your criterion of measuring quality. Natural languages grew and changed and diversified by means of being spoken by hundreds to billions of people over the course of millenia – a process which a single creator or even a group can never fully immitate – leaving us with a wealth of forms to explore and build our own languages on, and be it just for the love of tinkering. On the other hand, do invented languages need to be as complex as natural languages, being consciously modelled after existing languages, in order to be of good quality? Not necessarily, I think. It’s about exploring possibilities and watch how things work or play together. That’s why you build models in the first place.

And actually I’ve only now realized that the question was whether constructed languages are better in their design than natural languages, not just objectively better, as I assumed in my reply was the question. 😕 Certainly constructed languages are usually designed more consciously than natural languages, which underly an evolutionary process that’s at least partly blind (or even for the most part?). But whether design decisions by authors make constructed languages inherently better than natural ones I have doubts about. They’re the results of different processes, so it’s hard to compare.

However, just for fun and because of a couple of rather elaborate sentences and vocabulary that seemed challenging, I spent the 1½ hours after writing my comment translating the whole shebang into Ayeri, minus the quotation from the article at the beginning:

Sa
PFOC
engyon
exceed-3PN
narānjang
language-PL.A
vehisa
build-CAU
ban
good
narān
language
suhing?
natural?
Māy,
Well,
neprayang
suppose-1S.A
adareng
that-A.INAN
paranas
opinion-P
sempayyanena.
idealist-GEN.
Menanyam-ikan,
one-NMLZ-DAT=very,
sa
PFOC
kamatong
be_as_as-3PN
tadoy
never
kamya
complex
narān
language
suhing
natural
bata
if
ang
AFOC
perava
measure-2S
bananley
quality-P.INAN
ada-yenueri.
that=category-INST.
Ang
AFOC
nakasyon,
grow-3PN,
ang
AFOC
tilayon
change-3PN
nay
and
sa
PFOC
palungisayon
different-CAU-3PN
narānye
language-PL
suhing
natural
naramayari
speak-AGTZ-INST
menang
hundred
yonangya
billion-LOC
pesan
until
manga
MOT
ling
while
sinkyanyēa.
century-PL.LOC.
Adareng
That-A.INAN
macamley
process-P.INAN
si
REL
ang
AFOC
ming
can
kusangisaya
double-CAU-3SM
ikan
completely
tadoy
never
tianya
creator
kebay
single
soyang-nyama
or=even
yenu.
group.
Eng
AFOC.INAN
hapangisāra
rest-CAU-3S.INAN
eda-macam
this=process
mahaley
treasure-P.INAN
dahasyena
form-PL-GEN
dilānyam
explore-NMLZ-DAT
nay
and
ling
top
sinaya
REL-GEN-LOC
sa
PFOC
ming
can
vehnang
build-1P.A
narānye
language-PL
sitang-nana,
self=1P.GEN,
nārya-nama
CONC=just
cānyam
love-DAT
veha-veha.
build~DIM.
Palunganya,
Difference-LOC,
ang
AFOC
​ilta​
need
kamayon
be_as_as-3PN
kamya
complex
narānjas
language-PL.P
suhing
natural
bananyam
quality-DAT
ban
good
narānye
language-P
vehisa
build-CAU
sang
REL-A
ri
INSTFOC
vehtos
build-3SN.P
miran
way
narānyena
language-PL-GEN
suhing?
natural?
Paronyang,
Believe-1S.A,
adareng
that-A.INAN
rapōy.
necessary-NEG.
Ri
INSTFOC
ming
can
dilavāng
explore-2S.A
mimānjas
possibility-PL.P
narānvehyaman
language-build-PTCP-NMLZ
nay
and
ming
can
silvvāng
see-2S.A
miranyam
way-DAT
sirī
REL-DAT-INST
mirāra
function-3S.INAN
linyayereng
thing-PL-A.INAN
soyang
or
kayvteng
together-3P.INAN
sitanyaley.
each_other-P.INAN.
CAUFOC
tiavāng
create-2S.A
menanyam-ikan
one-NMLZ-DAT=very
kusangan-kusanganyeley
double~DIM-PL-P.INAN
eda-yaman.
this=reason.

Observations:

  • Causative marking on verbs and the resulting meaning is still nicely irregular: Sa palungisayon (PFOC different-CAU-3PN) is supposed to mean ‘they are differentiated’, while ang ming kusangisaya (AFOC can double-CAU-3SM) is supposed to be ‘they can copy/immitate’.
  • Reduplication is fun.
  • I think I’m going to allow concessive adverbials in sentence-initial position, like English does.
  • Numbers still are a bit odd for me to work with: menang yonangya pesan (12² 12⁸-LOC until) ‘hundred to billion’ as an attributive phrase, with yonangya, although not nominalized, marked for the locative case demanded by the postposition. If I did nominalize it, the resulting meaning would be ‘billionth’.
  • The question pronoun for ‘how, in which way’ (simin) should not be used as a relative pronoun, at least not in more formal language. Instead, use miran sirī (way REL-Ø-INST) ‘the way in which’, which is also how I arrived at simin.
  • Adams, Michael. Interview by Katy Steinmetz. “Elvish, Klingon and Esperanto—Why Do We Love To Invent Languages?” TIME. 2011. Time, Inc., 16 Nov. 2011. Web. 16 Nov. 2011.