Happy 10th Anniversary, Ayeri!

Birthday cake (Photo: Will Clayton (spool32)/flickr.com
Happy Birthday! – Bahisley vesang mino! (Photo: Will Clayton (spool32)/flickr.com, CC-BY)

One day in December 2003, in the week just after the 1st Advent,1 the idea for a new conlang was born. An idea that turned out to stick with me for already 10 years now. You guess it: it’s Ayeri’s 10th birthday. Yay!

At that time, my 17 years old self was still fairly new to this whole making-up languages business, read things about linguistics here and there, and wasn’t shy to ask questions about terminology (and, looking at old mails, a little impertinently teenager-like so – sorry!), for example on CONLANG-L and the Zompist Bulletin Board. One thing seemed to catch my interest especially: syntactic alignments other than the NOM/ACC of the few languages I was familiar with, that is, German, English, and French. Apparently this curiosity was big enough for me to grow bored with my second conlang, Daléian (declared “quite complete” after maybe half a year of work or so), and to start something new from scratch in order to put newly acquired knowledge to test. I had read about “trigger languages” on CONLANG-L and wanted to try my hands on making my own. I can’t remember how long it took me to come up with a first draft of an Ayeri grammar, however, I do remember having been told that a good language can’t be made in a summer. Of course, I still didn’t really know what I was doing then, even though I thought I had understood things and authoritatively declared “this is how it works” in my first grammar draft when things sometimes really don’t work that way. But at least an interest had been whetted. Even now, after 10 summers and with more experience, I still come across aspects of my language that can use some work, clarification or correction, as the ‘blog’ page you can find on my website since March 2011 proves over and over again.

Just for fun, slight embarrassment and nostalgia, I went through some old backups contemporary with the very early days of Ayeri. Here is a sentence from the oldest existing document related to it, titled “Draft of & Ideas for my 3rd Conlang” – the file’s last-changed date is December 14, 2003, though I remember having started work on Ayeri in early December. I added glossing for convenience and according to what I could reconstruct from the notes. This uses vocabulary and grammatical markers just made up on the spot and for illustrative purposes; little of it actually managed to make it over into actual work on Ayeri:

Ayevhoi
Ay-evhoi
3SG.ANI-SUB
agiaemaesim
agia-ema-esim
read-VERB-SUB.A
coyaielieðamavir
coyai-el-i-eðam-avir
book-NOUN-ANI-INDEF-P
vhaieloyaŋaiye.
vhai-el-o-yaŋa-iye.
bed-NOUN-INAN-on-LOC

‘He reads a book on the bed.’

According to the grammar draft of September 5, 2004, this would have already changed to:

Ang
Ang
A.SUB
layaiyạin
laya-iy-a-in
read-3SG.ANI₁-a₁-SUB
mecoyalei
me-coya-lei
INDEF.INAN-book-P.INAN
ling
ling
top.of
*pinamea.
*pinam-ea.
bed-LOC

‘He reads a book on the bed.’

Pinam ‘bed’ was only (re-)introduced on October 24, 2008. In the current state of Ayeri, I would translate the sentence as follows:

Ang
Ang
AT
layaya
laya-ya.Ø
read-3SG.M.T
koyaley
koya-ley
book-P.INAN
ling
ling
on.top
pinamya.
pinam-ya.
bed.LOC

‘He reads a book on a/the bed.’

You can see, quite a bit of morphology got lost already early on, especially the overt part-of-speech marking (!) and animacy marking on nouns. Also, prepositions were just incorporated into a noun complex as suffixes apparently. Gender was originally only divided into animate and inanimate, but I changed that sometime because speaking European languages, it felt awkward to me not to be able to explicitly distinguish “he”, “she” and “it”. A feature that also got lost is the assignment of thematic vowels in personal pronouns to 3rd-person referents: originally, every 3rd-person referent newly introduced into discourse would be assigned one of /a e i o u/ to disambiguate, and there was even a morpheme to mark that the speaker wanted to dissolve the association. Constituent order was theoretically variable at first, but I preferred SVO/AVP because of familiarity with that. Later on, however, I settled on VSO/VAP. Also, I had no idea about “trigger morphology” for the longest time – I’m not saying that I know all about it now, just that I have a slightly better understanding … Orthography changed as well over the years, so 〈c〉 in the early examples encodes the /k/ sound, not /tʃ/ as it would today; diphthongs are spelled as 〈Vi〉 instead of modern 〈Vy〉. What was definitely beneficial for the development of Ayeri was the ever increasing amount of linguistics materials available online and my entering university (to study literature) in 2009, where I learnt how to do research and where I have a huge library available. Now I only wish I had the time to read all the interesting things I’ve downloaded and occasionally photocopied over the years.

One of the things people regularly compliment me on is my conlang’s script – note, however, that Tahano Hikamu was not the first one I came up with for Ayeri. Apparently, I had already been fascinated with the look of Javanese/Balinese writing early on; this file is dated February 9, 2004:

First Design for an Ayeri script.
First designs for an Ayeri script.

However, since the letter shapes in this looked so confusingly alike that I could never memorize them, I came up with this about a year later:

First draft of Tahano Hikamu.
First draft of Tahano Hikamu.

What is titled “Another Experimental Script” here is what would later turn into Tahano Hikamu, Ayeri’s ‘native’ script. According to the notes in my conlang ring binder, the script looked much the same as today about a year from then, but things have only been mostly stable since about 2008.

So what’s on for the next 10 years? For one, I’m still kind of embarrassed that I haven’t managed to provide a full-fledged reference grammar in all those years – what you can currently download from my website has been left unfinished for about 3 years now, since working on that grammar always becomes tedious again after newly found enthusiasm typically ebbs after a few weeks. Also, I have long meant to figure out either a proto language for Ayeri, or maybe daughter languages or dialects. However, I don’t really have any schedule or agenda, so I’ll continue to tinker on whichever aspect of Ayeri seems right at the time.

  1. That is the 4th Sunday before Christmas.

One thought on “Happy 10th Anniversary, Ayeri!

  1. Congrats! It was really interesting to see the development of Ayeri, which is one of my favorite languages. I like how the look has simplified over time; visually, it feels cleaner and more inviting. I’ve also learnt a lot about trigger morphology through reading your posts on Ayeri, which are very entertaining and informative. I can’t imagine what Ayeri might look like 10 years from now!

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