A Grammar of Ayeri is available from Amazon now, too, so I am assuming you can now indeed order print copies through the regular book trade as well as straight from Lulu.com. 🤓❤️📘
If you’ve visited the Grammar page or the Grammar project’s GitHub page recently, you will have noticed that I finally decided to publish a version 1.0 of A Grammar of Ayeri on October 1st. While this is a big step forward that took me some courage, I didn’t announce it in a big way, because I have reason to make a somewhat bigger announcement still today.
That is, I’m excited to announce that you can now also buy print copies of the grammar! Moreover, this happens to be in time for Ayeri’s 15th birthday in December—something I only noticed the other day. A few people have suggested making print copies available on demand in recent months, so you can now order my Ayeri grammar as a real and full-fledged book from Lulu.com. Since I decided to give the book an ISBN (978-0-359-09583-4), it should also become available to booksellers of your choice sometime in the next 4–6 weeks. Here’s what the beauty looks like:
A Grammar of Ayeri provides an overview of the language’s phonemic inventory and an analysis of its phonotactics, an in-depth description of its writing system, as well as a detailed description of its morphology and morphosyntax. Interstitial chapters try to shed a light on Ayeri from a typological perspective, both regarding morphology and syntax. I incorporated a number of blog articles from recent years, so if you’ve been following my blog, you know what to expect. All discussions contain fully-glossed examples for illustration, especially to help with the more technical parts.
Even though I worked on this book for a little more than two years, there are some topics I mention in the grammar without elaborating on them. Since there is always more to do, I had to draw a line somewhere. Topics left for future consideration will thus probably result in blog articles again sooner or later, so stay tuned. A list of errata may likewise follow.
Besides having been asked for print copies, I’ve been asked why I chose to self-publish, and the main reason is that I don’t really see straightaway which kind of publisher I might want to offer the manuscript of this book to, elaborate as it may be.
For one, it does not fit established paradigms of either fiction or non-fiction publishing. The book’s subject is essentially a work of fiction, yet it’s not narrative, but a piece of formal documentation of a conceived abstract object: a made-up language. Moreover, as I see it, conlangs are up to the whims of their creators (at least while they’re alive) and are thus entirely arbitrary when it comes to documenting and analyzing the diversity of human language from the perspective of linguistics—unless, for instance, you do a study on conlanging as a social phenomenon, study and compare the way individual conlangs are made and what that says about their creators, or utilize them as a didactic tool to teach linguistics. In my opinion, the immediate value of a grammar of a personal artistic language to linguistic epistemology is debatable. Lastly, due to the book’s presentation as a scholarly text, it will only appeal to a small readership, which is not exactly profitable. But mainly, I think, the difficulty is in being this weird hybrid of fiction and non-fiction, or fiction in the guise of non-fiction.
Maybe I’m being overly pessimistic with this assessment. Maybe the very aspect of being fiction in the guise of non-fiction might be a selling point in the future (but again: to what kind of publisher?), provided I could still keep my work online because “selling out” is the last thing I want to do. So far at least, no comparable effort has been professionally published to my knowledge, and there exist a few works with a similar scope as mine that I’m aware of, for instance, Étienne Poisson’s Siwa grammar, Martin Posthumus’ Novegradian grammar, and Matt Pearson’s Okuna grammar.
I wrote earlier this month that I had been revising the index of my Ayeri grammar. I also noticed that a discussion of verbs with predicative complements like tav- ‘become’, maya- ‘feel’, etc. has been missing so far. I completed and added those things yesterday, respectively. This also means that the manuscript is basically finished since it should now include everything I meant to discuss, and it should be rather presentable. However, hold your horses, it still needs another round of proofreading to weed out mistakes that have crept in due to adding and deleting index tags from the source files, as well as mistakes which are due to my not being a native English speaker, or just plain lapses.
Oh wow, it’s been a full hundred days since I last gave a report here about my progress. The project is still going on, in case anyone wondered.
After littering the LaTeX source files of the grammar with index tags in April, I’ve been working on clearing them up again for the last 3 weeks or so to make the keyword index actually useful. And while I’ve been at it, I’ve been fixing the one or the other issue I’ve come across as well—spelling, formatting, content. I had hoped to be done with this task by June 1st, but just as usual, everything is taking twice as long as expected. Let me tell you, it’s pretty annoying to go through all page references one by one, and to check whether they’re leading to actually relevant information.
I seriously want this off my desk as soon as possible now, even though I’ve learned a lot by writing this book. However, it’s been preoccupying me for long enough—on July 3rd, it’s going to be 2 years. July 1st is the deadline I gave myself, though knowing my perfectionist tendencies, it’s probably rather going to be August: I’ve been considering to ask some native English speakers I know for some additional proofreading.
I also feel a little guilty about spending so much time on writing this grammar instead of working as hard on my Ph.D. project for university: there are about 1,800 commits to the repository (about 1,000 in the last 12 months alone), and if we assume that each one equals about 45 minutes of work on average (reading takes a lot of time, which is balanced by correcting small things), this amounts to 1,350 hours. This, in turn, is about equal to 34 weeks on a full-time job. On the other hand, I suppose I should be fine if I’ll continue working on my thesis with as much zeal as on the grammar, once the grammar book is done for the time being. Blood, sweat, and tears, etc. Anyway, I’ve come so far with this book project, I don’t want to put it on hold indefinitely, especially now that it looks like the end is only weeks away. And then I can hopefully move on.
Incidentally, it was the 600th day since I started working on a refined version of the Ayeri Grammar just yesterday. I’ve spent the last 2 weeks proofreading the chapter on syntax and I’m now ready to go back to the start and proofread the whole book again. You can see the very raw manuscript containing the first round of corrections right after writing the chapters and under it the batch waiting for the second round of proofreading in the first photo. The second photo shows that it’s not an inconsiderable amount of paper—and I printed it as 4 pages per sheet.
I’ve said before that I definitely wanted to have a bound copy of the book myself once it’s done (maybe in summer?), so I’ve looked a little at print-on-demand services recently since I figured that other people might want to have one as well. Apparently, whether you use Amazon’s CreateSpace or Lulu.com, a paperback the size I’ve been considering—15.6 × 23.4 cm with approx. 480 pages—can be produced for about $16, so about €13, which sounds pretty reasonable. You even get an ISBN and distribution included, though I have no idea whether a very small profit margin for the author is already factored in as well (we’re likely talking quarters per copy here). I’m certainly not expecting to sell many copies, since conlangs are a pretty specific thing, but if I made the one or the other buck this way which I could then reinvest in running this site, I’d not be entirely unhappy. Since I like to use print and digital in parallel especially with textbooks, I’m planning to keep up the PDF version of the grammar for free. This is essentially what Language Science Press does, minus the peer review they also provide. If anyone were to want a print copy, they could order it in addition and pay a reasonable price for getting a proper book. I think this is a pretty fair offer.
Just in case you’re reading this after the grammar’s been published and wonder why the finished book costs a bit more than $16: There’s a big bookseller’s margin slapped on top of the production price. If I sell a book directly via Lulu.com, I will get part of that margin. Otherwise I may get up to $1 for a copy sold. In any case, Lulu.com keeps a percentage (I don’t know how much it is exactly) of the revenue as a service fee.
Happy new year, everyone! I suppose it’s time again to provide a brief update on my progress with writing my grammar of Ayeri. The whole last year I’ve been trying to figure out describing its syntax formally. This will continue to preoccupy me for the time being also in the new year because verbs are still not fully described, and complementizer phrases (used for complement clauses, relative clauses and such) are lining up to be next. Then, I will also have to work on correcting some things in the sections on raising and control with regards to syntactic typology (I should have figured out constituent structure first), and also describe pronominal binding. And after this, I will have to go back to the beginning of the chapter and fix things for consistency and do proofreading.
The compiled PDF is now close to 400 pages (in A4 format, but with generous margins because LaTeX) without frontmatter, appendices and backmatter, and 400 pages is what I had wanted the main part to be at most once everything is done. The section on the syntax of verbs alone is already almost 100 pages long currently, though granted, verbs are probably the most complex part of the language (or any language?), and all those diagrams take up an awful lot of space. I will definitely have to shave some pages off after writing will be done hopefully some time later this year, though, and especially the argumentative parts are probably predestined for some literal cutting to the chase in spite of my trying not to ramble unnecessarily. The description of Ayeri’s alphabet might also rather go in the appendix. Years at university have taught me that good writing can’t be produced on the spot, anyway.
Honestly, sometimes I wish I had an editor to look over my writing to guide me with it. With the syntax chapter especially, I wish someone could check the plausibility of my hypotheses and analyses once writing is done, too. And then, there’s still proofreading of the whole grammar to do. My English may be pretty good overall, but I’m always somewhat distrusting my abilities as a non-native speaker. Proofreading one’s own writing is generally hard in my experience, though, even in one’s native language.
A problem I have recently come to see with conlanging is that while a whole number of people may research a natural language at any time, each researcher contributing to scholarly discourse from their area of expertise, your typical conlanger is working on their fictional language all by themselves. I’m no exception with regards to this. This also means, however, that only you are acquainted with your conlang, which also means that while fleshing it out, you have to be a kind of jack-of-all-trades if you want to do it well. On the other hand, a single person does not have talent for or interest in all areas of a field to the same degree, nor can you know everything about a field as variegated as linguistics. In addition to this, acquiring some deeper knowledge and experience just in a part of a field takes time.
While writing my new Ayeri grammar, describing phonology at least roughly, and morphology with a little more attention to detail seemed fair enough.1 Describing a language, however, doesn’t end at elaborating on how to form words. Syntax is just as important, as it describes how to form larger units of meaning, which is certainly no trivial issue either. Since Ayeri’s structure departs from English in some basic ways, it definitely warrants more serious attention.
Most conlangers I know seem to be mainly interested in morphology, and may even go so far as meeting formal syntax theories with suspicion. Moreover, I have never had a proper introduction to syntax myself either, for instance, in class at university. However, since Ayeri is rather different from German or English, I have long had an itch to figure its syntax out in a more structured way, in order to find out and describe in standard terms what I have been doing so far without giving it too much of a second thought. Since I’ve been trying to keep up a certain level of seriousness in the grammar, simply stating that Ayeri is VSO and heads mostly go first, and treating everything within 5 pages won’t do. Dealing with such a complex topic this superficially does not seem satisfying to my own curiosity and ambition. I am hoping that finding out more about Ayeri’s syntax will uncover more remaining blank spots, the filling of which would allow me to add yet more depth.
A colleague of mine had suggested to get acquainted with Lexical-Functional Grammar, actually with regards to my day job as a grad assistant. Describing Ayeri in this framework, however, might be interesting as well, since LFG was developed with flexibility in mind so that configurational, non-configurational, and mixed languages can all be dealt with in a straightforward manner. With its VSO constituent order, Ayeri may fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, though this needs further analysis, which I can’t provide just yet. I have been trying to work through Bresnan et al. (2016), but I realized that trying to study these things on my own is no adequate replacement for correction by teachers, since it’s too easy to accidentally gloss over important details by reading a textbook without discussing its contents. Furthermore, this book presupposes familiarity with common structuralist paradigms, such as Generative Grammar (Carnie 2002/2013 seems to be a popular introduction), Government and Binding, and X-bar theory, which it seems reasonable to acquaint myself with before I continue.
Yet, I am impatient to keep on writing, since I really don’t want to let the grammar drift off into negligence again this time. I had written some 20 pages on syntax earlier this month, however, I realized that much of what I had written is probably wrong, since, for example, I disregarded lexical integrity as a fundamental principle with regards to what I assume to be clitics, simply for the reason of not being aware of this principle for the lack of formal training in a very formal discipline. For the time being, I have deleted what I wrote about the phrase structures of DPs/NPs and AdjP/AdvPs from the PDF in the main development branch on Github (‘master’) to not spread misinformation. Once I know more and have reevaluated some things, development on this part will go on in the ‘trunk’ branch, which I will merge back into ‘master’ once I am confident enough that my analyses are at least not completely off.
Thus, for the time being, the grammar will have to pause at morphology, and hopefully not for another 5 years. Alternatively, I may need to find a way to adequatly describe how to form clauses and sentences without getting too deeply into theories, at least provisionally, if that is possible.
Bresnan, Joan et al. Lexical-Functional Syntax. 2nd ed. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2016. Print. Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics 16.
I will still have to rewrite some things with regards to cliticization, though. For instance, I am not quite sure whether manga with verbs is inflection or rather a special clitic; the term ‘bound word’ from Zwicky (1977) I used in the grammar hasn’t stood the test of time. I’m currently reading up on more recent research and positions on clitics in Spencer & Luís (2012), so corrections to the morphology chapter will follow eventually. ↩
At the moment I’m still working on rewriting the grammar. It’s at about 150 pages of content proper now (at regular copy paper size, no less) and I’m working on describing the morphology of the verb right now. Much more still needs to be written, for instance, the chapter on syntax. It’s proven useful to some degree that I’ve already written blog posts detailing the one or the other issue in the past. In these cases, I could simply adapt what I had written before, which sped up the writing process a little. Other than that, I’ve more or less come to mostly ignore what I had written some 5 years ago, since most of it was not very detailed anyway. The new grammar will thus be completely rewritten for the most part, not merely adapted to LaTeX and with extended contents.
For the past four months I’ve tried to basically return to the mode in which I worked on my MA thesis last winter, which involved writing at least 1–2 pages every day. This seems to be the most workable way for me, since taking too long breaks has proven deadly with regards to motivation before. Thus, permanence is probably a virtue with such things, at least as far as I’m concerned, and seeing things grow in manageable increments effectively counters the paralysing fear of the whole mountain of work. Since life is life, however, I have not managed to keep this schedule up very strictly, but I’m still trying to do my best.
At the top of this article, you can see a front cover draft I’ve come up with some weeks ago. My current motivation is to finish writing this thing this time, and to then print out a full copy and have that bound as a reward to myself. It won’t be quite like a real book, of course, but it will still be something I can proudly put on my shelf as an Achievement. I’ve already written an 80-page MA thesis before, so I know I can manage this as well if I want to, even though this time it’s likely going to be three times as long. Plus, if I manage this, I suppose a PhD thesis will also be manageable.
You can still find all the source files in my GitHub repository at https://github.com/carbeck/ayerigrammar/. There’s also a PDF of the most recently compiled version of the grammar there, as well as an overview of the topics covered so far.
CLARIFICATION: David J. Peterson contacted me about providing an image featuring Ayeri’s script for his book in fall 2014, and it has subsequently appeared in the book (see the blog post of October 1, 2015, “You’ve Got Mail”). As a contributor, I received a signed specimen copy of the book after it had been launched in late September 2015 and decided myself to review it; all of the below is my own opinion. Even though I can’t be fully unbiased in my judgement anymore due to contributing to the book and receiving praise in it, I have still tried to be as fair as possible by highlighting both good and bad characteristics of the book in a constructive manner according to my own experience after over a decade in the community. I urge you to also read other reviews for a more balanced view.
From Horse Lords to Dark Elves to the language-affine TV watcher – David J. Peterson’s personal behind-the-scenes of language creation. A review.
Why is it that we make up languages, of all things? Why not write? Why not draw, paint or sculpt? Why not compose? For me at least, this recent tweet summarizes it nicely (although I also do photography):
Making up languages is maybe not a mainstream hobby (and that’s not necessarily a bad thing in my humble opinion), but it’s still a valuable creative outlet for a good few people, and also for me. And for David J. Peterson, who gained his laurels in the community with his creating the Dothraki language for the wildly popular HBO series Game of Thrones, based on the novel series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin.
In his freshly published book, The Art of Language Invention: From Horse-Lords to Dark Elves, the Words behind World-Building (292 pages, Penguin 2015, ISBN 978-0-14-312646-1, $17), David J. Peterson explores how the Craft came into being, from the 12th century German nun Hildegard von Bingen to today’s sprawling online community, additionally drawing on a stockpile of anecdotes from the early days of the internet and his own experiences with creating languages both for fun and for money, which form the heart of the book. The meat, then, is a basic introduction to linguistics for those interested bystanders and fans who want to make their first tip-toe steps into deeper waters.
A thing I really liked about Peterson’s book is that Peterson is very honest from the get-go: you will not find quick success if you seriously intend to make up a language or several and want to do it well. It takes time. It takes work. And it’s totally worth it getting engrossed in descriptions of the myriad of fascinating twists and turns that languages make to get meaning across. A sense of the joy of building up, destroying, improving, and also of solving puzzles can be deeply felt especially in the “Case Studies” after every main chapter of the book, in which Peterson discusses his own approaches to the respective topics while creating his languages. These are also the parts that contain background anecdotes about his work with TV producers and are probably the most entertaining parts of the whole book, for seasoned language tinkerers and people interested in some insider information on the TV shows’ production alike.
But even in the ‘meat’ chapters and in spite of linguistics being a rather academic topic with lots and lots of technical vocabulary, you will find Peterson’s original humor breaking through even the most dire technical discussions by referencing Harry Potter, Soundgarden, Michael Jackson, werewolves, cranky printers, and discussing the absolute and utter awfulness of onions among other things. Oh, and cats. This is 2015, after all, and we all love cats on the internet. Needless to say, since this is an introductory book, discussions of more complex aspects of language are sometimes a little simplified, though usually in a reasonable way that allows you to expand on later. There is only so much information you can put between the two covers of a 290-page book, anyway, and Peterson says so himself. For the $17 the book sets you back, you will get a whole lot of information, though.
Another aspect worth noting from a long-term hobbyist’s point of view is that Peterson never fails to make it clear that English is not the standard average language, but that it has its own peculiarities (apart from its infamously baroque spelling system) which everyone who is serious about creating languages needs to take into consideration lest he or she unwittingly rip off English. In a similar vein, Peterson frequently encourages his readers to do their own research into languages both natural and artistic in order to broaden their understanding and to develop a feeling for what is natural and possible. After all, a master needs to know his or her tools, and for a creative use of linguistics, it’s no different.
While Peterson’s book is not the only guide to creating languages for beginners – the other big one is Mark Rosenfelder’s Language Construction Kit – he covers some crucial aspects that Rosenfelder only touches on briefly, if at all, with a good amount of depth for the purposes of this introductory book. These topics are, for example, syllable structure and language change regarding semantic drift and grammaticalization. Moreover, Peterson presents some basic considerations on the development of writing systems and the effects different writing implements crucially have on their evolution.
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Language is devilishly complex. This cannot be denied, and especially the first chapter drives this point home with its insane density of information that would probably cover the contents of a few weeks of an Introduction to Linguistics class. It is not easy ploughing through this even as a seasoned conlanger, though things get more digestible once the reader has made his or her way through. Promised. Interestingly, the chapter on phonology is the longest of the book, taking up about twice the amount of pages of each the morphology-and-syntax chapter and the one on language change. Strictly speaking, the latter two are no less complex and interesting topics to explore, and I wonder if things could have been balanced better if the phononlogy chapter had been thinned out a little for better legibility. Sounds and sound structure are important to give a convincing impression, since that is what people will hear on screen or, by proxy, read on the page, but it’s by far not the only important part in language design. I think what the book would have generally benefitted from to keep a balance between information density and readability is more suggestions for where to read more on a given topic.
As far as clarity of writing goes, I think it’s fair to say Peterson writes as eloquently as he speaks in front of audiences. However, it is slightly peeving nonetheless that he regularly uses terminology like “subject” and “object” or “causative” but only introduces the respective concepts several to dozens of pages later. The book is equipped with a small glossary at the back (besides phrasebook sentences from his conlangs and a page index), but that unfortunately does not contain all technical terms he uses either, making the text a little hard to follow at times for those readers who have never had any formal training in language.
It is also very nice that the book contains a whole lot of examples, though experience has shown that even a minimal amount of glossing is very helpful in understanding what is going on, especially for created languages whose grammar is usually only known to their creator. Peterson dutifully urges his readers in the introductory chapter to remember that when they develop their own languages and want to discuss them with others. Unfortunately, though, he does not follow his own advice for the greater part of the book. Thus, it is sometimes hard to quickly glance the phenomenon he is referring to in his explanations of language examples just from the phonetic (or phonemic?) transcriptions of lines in foreign scripts he gives along with English translations, especially when the differences between two example sentences are subtle.
It would also have been very nice if more examples in the morphology chapter had come from reasonably accessible and well-documented natural languages instead of almost only Peterson’s own. I know that this is a book on constructed languages from Peterson’s point of view, but he mentions himself how it’s always good to look at what natural languages do. This point of criticism goes hand in hand with my request for more reading recommendations above, basically, since an absolute newcomer would probably first go and look up the referenced languages to learn more. At the very least it would have been helpful to name-drop these languages in the descriptions of phenomena; you often wouldn’t even have to resort to very exotic ones.
Another thing that slightly peeved me is how the morphology chapter makes it seem a little as though languages always morphologically express case and gender. It is not uncommon that they do, but it’s not always the case (Nice to meet you, English!). You don’t need tables upon tables of declensions and conjugations, and a fair share of the world’s languages doesn’t even make use of the concept of gender or noun classes. For a first step, it may be reasonable to not go wild immediately (from a Eurocentric point of view), but at least it should have been said more explicitly that not all the world’s languages work like classical Indo-European ones with maybe some feature erosion for modern descendants. I also missed a reminder that languages tend to leave holes in paradigms and that syncretism is most definitely a thing (for example, the difficult thing about German definite articles is that six word forms cover sixteen paradigm slots, not that articles decline as such).
A thing that conlangers go into much too rarely is writing systems like Chinese, and while Peterson touches on that topic, a little more in-depth explanation about phonetic parts and semantic parts of Chinese characters in the fashion of Mark Rosenfelder’s page on ‘Yingzi’ would have been helpful, especially in comparison to the attention given to other kinds of writing systems. Korean presents the very interesting case of a featural alphabet made to mimic Chinese characters, but has unfortunately been omitted completely.
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So, what is the takeaway of my ramblings? For one, you get a whole lot of bang for the buck. Peterson’s book is chock-full of information and a good way to get you going if you’re interested in creating your own language. For everyone else, it’s a nice round trip through the engine room of language, though for this purpose it’s maybe a little too technical at times. As a seasoned conlanger, I was more interested in the anecdotes behind Peterson’s work than the actual explanations and definitions of linguistic concepts, though, and would have liked more information in this regard, for example about George R. R. Martin’s reactions to Peterson’s work and the slight changes Peterson made to details in Martin’s work. The book could use some more clarity in places and more suggestions on literature, but should overall be a good toolbox that nicely complements similar works, such as Mark Rosenfelder’s Language Construction Kit, which is also recommended reading for fledgling conlangers.
Peterson, David J. The Art of Langauge Invention. From Horse-Lords to Dark Elves, the Words Behind World-Building. New York: Penguin Books, 2015. Print.
A while ago, David J. Peterson – prolific creator of languages for Hollywood – asked me about maybe providing him with a sample of my fictional language’s script for his new book, The Art of Language Invention. Since I’ve known David from fictional-language venues on the internet for a while and admire his relentless spreading the word that languages are fascinating things to explore (and also to build), I was happy and flattered about his request and sent something. And look what arrived in the mail today! In his book, David found some very kind words on Ayeri (among others):
To date, the best languages ever created were not created for television series or movies, but were created just for the joy of it – languages like […] Carsten Becker’s Ayeri […] — Peterson 15
Goes down like oil, as we say in German … (Heads up conlangers: any idioms in your languages that express feeling flattered?) And on Ayeri’s script, Tahano Hikamu, he writes:
I was aiming to create something that could sit alongside some of the other outstanding conscripts that had been created by conlangers, like Carsten Becker’s Tahano Hikamu […] — Peterson 249
Athdavrazar, David, thanks a ton!
Peterson, David J. The Art of Langauge Invention. From Horse-Lords to Dark Elves, the Words Behind World-Building. New York: Penguin Books, 2015. Print.