Category Archives: Soapbox

Thoughts and opinions.

Conlanging and the Real Life

There hasn’t been a lot going on here recently. This is because even though I have accumulated a bunch of papers I want to read for getting inspiration for conlanging, especially regarding the fledgling conlang I sketched out earlier …

A few papers
Some linguistics papers I want to read for conlanging. Currently, there are more important things to do, though.

… I’m currently caught up in the middle of preparing work on my M.A. thesis on adjective morphosyntax in Middle High German as exhibited by a bunch of late-13th-century texts both pragmatic and literary.

I am officially supposed to start working on it on August 18; my thesis has to be submitted in February 2016. It’s probably not like I won’t be doing anything but working on my thesis, but if there’s not a lot of discussion of fictional languages going on here for the next 6 months, this is the most likely reason why. Plus, conlanging is not the only thing I do in my spare time.

Returning to Germany Soon

[gloss]Tadayang nā ya Minkayi panganya-ngas.
time-A 1SG.GEN LOC Canada end-LOC=almost[/gloss]
My time in Canada is almost up.

[gloss]Ang sa-sahāy ya Keynami mangasaha bihanya yo miday.
AT return-1SG.A.T LOC Germany towards week-LOC four approximately.[/gloss]
I will return to Germany in approximately four weeks.

[gloss]Kamayāng mino nay giday yanoyam eng engara kardang edaya pisu-pisu ya Keynami nārya, sa vacyang-mas hati metida enyana palung nay yanoavan veno miday ya Sikatay.
be.equal-1SG.A happy and sad because AT.INAN be.more-3SG.INAN school.T here exhausting LOC Germany although, PT like-1SG.A=kind.of ambiance relaxed everything-GEN else and landscape.T beautiful around LOC Victoria.[/gloss]
I am both happy and sad because although school here is more exhausting than in Germany, I kind of like the relaxed ambience of everything else and the beautiful landscape around Victoria.

[gloss]Bimakanganjas-kay nā matayena
photo-PL.P=some 1SG.GEN summer-GEN[/gloss]
Some of my photos from the summer

Greetings from Canada

Manojas-ikan na Minkayi.

[gloss]Mano-ye-as=ikan na Minkayi.
greeting-PL-P=many GEN Canada[/gloss]
‘Many greetings from Canada.’

Ang yomāy edaya kardangirayyam ya Desember pesan.

[gloss]Ang yoma-ay edaya kardangiray-yam ya Desember pesan.
AT exist-1SG.T here university-DAT LOC December until[/gloss]
‘I’m here for university until December.’

Koronoyyang, ang gamaray gumoas-ikan yam Ayeri, yanoyam deng-ven kihasreng kardang nā.

[gloss]Koron-oy-yang, ang gamar-ay gumo-as=ikan yam Ayeri, yanoyam deng=ven kihas-reng kardang nā.
know-NEG-1SG.A, AT manage-1SG.T work-P=much DAT Ayeri, because full=quite plan-A.INAN school 1SG.GEN[/gloss]
‘I don’t know if I manage to get much work done for Ayeri because my schedule is quite full.’

Some Legal Ponderings

If you look at the “Media” page, there hasn’t been much new material for 2013 and none so far for 2014. This is for one due to my university studies (graduating from my undergrad studies and starting work on an M.A.), but also because I had been working on and off on a partial translation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic novella Le Petit Prince into Ayeri for the past year, consisting of the first two chapters. I’ve long had an itch to try this, especially since Le Petit Prince has been translated into over two hundred languages already. However, it turns out that a publication of such a translation here raises some legal questions. Note: I am not a lawyer!

Saint-Exupéry went missing on a flight in July 1944, which is almost 70 years ago. Now, according to German copyright law at least,[1. I am German, living in Germany. However, since this website is hosted on an American server, the question is if German law applies at all, or possibly both American and German law.] an author’s work becomes Public Domain 70 years after an their death, calculated from the end of the year of their passing away (cf. Urheberrechtsgesetz, articles 64 and 69, in German). However, I’ve only recently learnt from Wikipedia that

[d]ue to Saint-Exupéry’s wartime death, his estate received the civil code designation Mort pour la France […]; thus most of Saint-Exupéry’s creative works will not fall out of copyright status in France for an extra 30 years. […] Note that although Saint-Exupéry’s regular French publisher, Gallimard, lists Le Petit Prince as being published in 1946, that is apparently a legalistic interpretation possibly designed to allow for an extra year of the novella’s copyright protection period […]. (Wikipedia, “The Little Prince”)

This means that contrary to my assumptions of when I started out translating with bold enthusiasm last May, Le Petit Prince is not strictly in the Public Domain yet, though the question is whether this only applies to France or in general. Furthermore, there is an estate administration to capitalize on Saint-Exupéry’s literary inheritance by licensing any derivative works. On their Twitter, they show off fan-created artwork, but as I see it, my translation of about six pages of the original text including the images from the book may well exceed the status of fanart and the bounds of Fair Use, in spite of scholarly annotation consisting of the interlinear glossing for everything and no expressed commercial interest.

Of course, I would like to avoid getting into legal trouble if I were to publish my efforts here, especially since I’d really like to include the illustrations from the book, which really are an intrinsic part of the text. However, at least as far as German law goes, I would only be able to put my translation online in January 2015 anyway, otherwise only in 2047.

I suppose that if I really want a definitive answer, I’ll have to write to Gallimard’s licensing department. For the time being, as much as I’m sorry about it, I will not make my Ayeri translation publically available out of caution about copyright issues.

Happy 10th Anniversary, Ayeri!

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

One day in December 2003, in the week just after the 1st Advent,[1. That is the 4th Sunday before Christmas.] 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:

[gloss]Ayevhoi agiaemaesim coyaielieðamavir vhaieloyaŋaiye.
Ay-evhoi agia-ema-esim coyai-el-i-eðam-avir vhai-el-o-yaŋa-iye.
‘He reads a book on the bed.’

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

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

[gloss]Ang layaya koyaley ling pinamya.
Ang laya-ya.Ø koya-ley ling pinam-ya.
AT read-3SG.M.T book-P.INAN bed.LOC[/gloss]
‘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.

Blogartikel auf Deutsch?

Seit geraumer Zeit frage ich mich, ob ich vielleicht ab und zu hier im Blog auch auf Deutsch posten soll. Zwei Artikel habe ich ja bereits ins Deutsche übersetzt, jedoch habe ich es bisher immer vorgezogen, hier auf Englisch zu schreiben, der Internationalität halber. Meiner Erfahrung nach stellt Englisch für die meisten Deutsch sprechenden Sprachenbastler nicht wirklich ein großes Problem dar, was sich vermutlich auch in den zehn häufigsten Anfragen bei einer großen Suchmaschine im vergangenen Monat spiegelt, für die der Sprachbaukasten als Suchergebnis angezeigt wurde:

Suchanfrage Impressionen Klicks Durchschn. Pos.
vokaltrapez 250 <10 20
elbisches alphabet 250 <10 45
elbisch alphabet 150 <10 66
anatomie mund 70 <10 20
elbische schrift alphabet 70 <10 38
zunge anatomie 70 <10 56
sans titre 60 <10 14
mund anatomie 35 <10 9,6
klingonisches alphabet 35 <10 44
koreanisches alphabet 35 <10 160

Natürlich würde ich zu jedem deutschsprachigen Blogartikel jeweils eine englische Übersetzung zusätzlich anfertigen. Die Suchanfragen oben zeigen jedoch, dass beispielsweise “Sprachen erfinden” oder ähnliche Begriffe gar nicht gesucht wurden und selbst die Ergebnisse derjenigen eingegebenen Suchbegriffe, für die eine Seite des Sprachbaukastens zurückgeliefert wurde, weniger als zehnmal angeklickt wurden. Bedarf an einer deutschsprachigen Einleitung zum Sprachen erfinden besteht also wohl nicht. Sich doppelte Arbeit mit Übersetzungen zu machen, wäre demnach nicht nötig. — Die Kommentarfunktion für diesen Aritkel ist im Moment freigegeben.

For the English version of this article, see the next page:

The Name of the Game (Literally!)

Today, I sent the following message to CONLANG-L:

On Fri, 8 Mar 2013 13:36:27 -0300, Leonardo Castro wrote:

On Fri, 8 Mar 2013 01:00:54 -0300, Leonardo Castro wrote:

A. “language-spoken-by-people-X”: English, Français, Português, tlhIngan Hol (?), etc.

* “language of linkers”, “language of community”, “language of this group”… “linker” has two senses: people who link themselves to others and the “verbs” that link a noun to another ;

And then, there’s German, whose self-designation, Deutsch, just meant ‘people-ish’ originally, from Germ.-MLat. theodiscus ‘belonging to one’s own people’, cf. PG *þeuðō ‘people’ + -isk- ‘adj. related to’ (OHG thiutisk, MHG tiutsch), according to the entry for ‘deutsch’. It’s of course also the origin of the word Dutch.

I have nothing figured out yet for my own conlang, but it’s been peeving me for some time already that I made the name in -i, since -i is not a derivative morpheme in this language. People have suggested that it might be an exonym. OTOH, the people’s endonym might be Ayer, though that’d be an unusual word in the language, since only few words end in -r. I don’t remember if I coined aye ‘people, crew’ from that consciously; a word for ‘people’ I coined later anyway and which I used more frequently is keynam. As alternatives based on what was listed here before, there would be narān ‘language’ (< nara- ‘to speak’), narān ban ‘good language’, narān biming ‘understandable language’. ‘Language of the people’ would be narān keynamena.

I’m really tempted to pick one from the list of noun-plus-adjective phrases and make that an endonym right now, maybe with some wear and tear added. Having a proto-language to derive a term from and pipe that through the customary sound changes would certainly come in handy here. But how about Naramban, or Banaran (with inverted order for euphony), or just Bimingan ‘the Intelligible’?[1. Note that the Slavic word for ‘German’, PSl. *němьcь, originally meant ‘dumb, mute’ and, by extension, ‘foreigner’ according to Wikipedia.] Since I also mentioned German, another route to follow would be something like ‘our’s’, possibilities for which include sitang-nana ‘of our own, ourself’s’ (nominalized sitang-nanān, could be shortened to just Nanān), da-nana ‘that of us’ (nominalized da-nanān). I think I like Bimingan and Nanān best.

  • Co-conlanger H. S. Teoh notes that names tend to fossilize and reflect older stages of the language, so that it wouldn’t be a problem to have Ayer or Ayeri even as the native name for the people and their language. Hadn’t thought of that, but yes.