Tag Archives: derivation

Natlang Attestation of Ayeri’s Strategy of Forming Ordinals

I was actually reading one of the papers I was intending to read tonight and came across this, on (Classical) Tibetan:

The suffix -pa forms a noun from another noun, meaning ‘associated with N’ (e.g. rta ‘horse,’ rta-pa ‘horseman,’ yi-ge ‘letter,’ yi-ge-pa ‘one who holds a letter of office,’ cf. Beyer 1992: 117). When suffixed to cardinal numbers this suffix forms ordinals (e.g. gsum ‘three,’ gsum-pa ‘third’; bcu ‘ten,’ bcu-pa ‘tenth’). — Chung et al. 626

Ayeri does basically the same thing with -an, cf. First, at First, Once, First Time:

    1. rig- ‘draw’
    2. rigan ‘drawing’
    1. avan ‘soil, bottom’
    2. avanan ‘foundation, base’
    1. men ‘one’
    2. menan ‘first’
    1. ito ‘seven’
    2. itan ‘seventh’

Chung et al. don’t say whether Tibetan treats these derived forms as nouns or as numerals or whether it makes that distinction at all, unfortunately. In Ayeri, however, ordinals are basically nouns due to the derivational suffix -an forming nouns, typically from verbs and adjectives, but also from other nouns.

  • Beyer, S. The Classical Tibetan Language. New York: State U of New York P, 1992. Print.
  • Chung, Karen Steffen, Nathan W. Hill and Jackson T.-S. Sun. “Sino-Tibetan.” The Oxford Handbook of Derivational Morphology. Eds. Rochelle Lieber and Pavol Štekauer. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2014. 609–650. Print.

Imperial Messages IV – “Nay marin yenuya silvayana ikan …”

This is the fourth posting in a series on the process of translating the short story “Eine kaiserliche Botschaft” by the Praguer writer Franz Kafka (*1883, †1924). The individual installments will go through the text mostly sentence by sentence, quoting from the German text as well as a translation of it into English. Following these quotations, I will discuss and comment on newly coined words and thoughts I had on grammar while doing the translation.

The text

Und vor der ganzen Zuschauerschaft seines Todes – alle hindernden Wände werden niedergebrochen und auf den weit und hoch sich schwingenden Freitreppen stehen im Ring die Großen des Reichs – vor allen diesen hat er den Boten abgefertigt. (Kafka 1994, 281:6–11)

And before the entire spectatorship of his death – all obstructing walls have been torn down and the great figures of the empire stand in a ring upon the broad, soaring exterior stairways – before all these he dispatched the messenger. (Kafka 2011)

Nay marin yenuya silvayana ikan tenyanena yana – manga adruran merengyeley-hen bidis nay ang manga bengyan nyānye tiga similena hicanya ling rivanya ehen, siya lingreng iray nay apan – sā tavya mayisa ya ninayāng marin enyaya-hen.

Interlinear glossing


‘And in front of the whole group of spectators of his death – all obstructing walls were being destroyed and the honorable persons of the country were standing in a circle on top of the mountain of stairs which ascended high and wide – in front of everyone of them he dispatched the messenger.’

Notes on translation

Few new words needed to be coined here: one is bidis ‘obstructing’, which I derived from the previously existing verb bidisa- ‘to block, obstruct’, which seems to be a causative derivation of the noun bidan ‘block’. Also, there was only a word for ‘stair in a staircase’ in the dictionary, ehen, but I discovered the lack of a regular way to derive sets of things. I left the word as ehen in the text, but made a compound with rivan ‘mountain’ as its head, since the setting Kafka describes reminds me strongly of Mayan pyramids or similar religious architecture with long and high-climbing stairs found in Asia. It should be noted that the compound is rivanehen ‘stair-mountain’ as an individual word, but the compound, headed by a noun, is regularly split after the the head for case marking: ling rivanya ehen ‘on top of the stair mountain’. Tiga ‘honorable’ was derived as an adjective from tigan ‘honor’.

One striking thing in the German text that has not been translated in the same way into English is the change to present tense in the parenthesis: the walls “werden niedergebrochen” (Kafka 1994, 281:8) in present tense, dynamic passive, while in English the walls “have been torn down” (Kafka 2011) in present perfect, stative passive, although the great ones “stehen” (Kafka 1994, 281:9) as well as they “stand” (Kafka 2011). Since Ayeri uses morphologic tense rather sparingly and does not employ an epic preterite like German and English do, I used the progressive marker manga to achieve a similar effect of immediacy.

A nifty feature of Ayeri comes into play in this sentence: usually, verbs have agreement in person and number with the agent of the clause, however, in “manga adruran merengyeley-hen bidis”, the verb adru- ‘to destroy’ has third person plural inanimate agreement (-ran), which refers to “merengyeley”, from mereng ‘wall’ + yePL’ + -leyP.INAN’, which is itself marked as a patient so that the clause does not contain an agent and thus is in passive voice.

What’s more, the German text has an adverbial clause right at the beginning of the sentence that is picked up again for emphasis after the parenthesis. However, usually Ayeri requires the verb phrase to come first, with the verb phrase here marked for location focus, since this seems like the prevalent perspective in the original. Still, for stylistic purposes, I think it might be better to keep the original structure, so that the constituent order of the sentence becomes marked in the face of this epic moment.

An issue I found problematic is that in the original, the circle of dignitaries is so strongly emphasized, while the structure in the last part of the sentence, “before all these he dispatched the messenger” (Kafka 2011) is translated in the most straightforward way by using a causative construction again (“sā tavya mayisa ya ninayāng”), thus the locative topic that should have been used must be replaced with the causative one out of syntactic constraints. I tried to compensate by overspecifying enya ‘everyone’ with the quantifier -hen ‘all’, which basically results in the meaning ‘all of them all’.

  • Kafka, Franz. “Eine kaiserliche Botschaft.” Drucke zu Lebzeiten. By Franz Kafka. Eds. Wolf Kittler et al. Frankfurt a. M.: S. Fischer, 1994. 280–82. Print.
  • ———. “A Message from the Emperor.” Trans. by Mark Harman. NYRblog. The New York Review of Books, 1 Jul. 2011. Web. 9 Feb. 2012. ‹http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2011/jul/01/message-emperor-new-translation›


I’ve not posted anything in a couple of weeks now although I’ve been meaning to. In fact, these things are still on my backburner of topics to think and write about, some of them more within reach than others:

  • Compounding – ZBBer Tom H. Chappell asked me about it last winter and I’m still owing him an answer.
  • Derivational strategies
  • Syntactic alignment of Ayeri, especially in comparison to the original Austronesian Alignment as present in Tagalog that inspired its slightly weird strategy of subject/topic/definiteness marking (cf. Schachter/Otanes 69 ff., Kroeger) (see post of 2012-06-27)
  • Sharing of determiners and prepositions in coordinated clauses, also in comparison to Tagalog because of syntactic similarities (at least originally intended thus; cf. Schachter/Otanes 113–16, 540–45)
  • Read up on pragmatics, figure out how the language could be used in conversation (sometime)
  • Read up on historical linguistics, finally make Proto-South-West-Kataynian (sometime if ever)

And then, of course, there’s the Grammar that I’ve not been working on anymore since the beginning of this year, sadly, because either I didn’t feel like it or when I did, there were more important things to get done first, e.g. term papers. Since the Grammar is the second most popular page of the last 6 months, I should definitely continue to work on it sometime soon. Including all the things I’ve posted about in blog articles. It’s embarrassing to me at least that I’ve not worked on it for so long.

Unfortunately, however, I don’t see myself getting much work on Ayeri done before the Christmas holidays because — as before — there are many important things to do for university in the next couple of weeks and conlanging is not the only thing I’m spending my spare time on.

  • Kroeger, Paul R. “Another Look at Subjecthood in Tagalog.” Philippine Journal of Linguistics 24.2 (1993): 1–16. Pre-publication Draft. Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics, 21 Apr. 2008. Web. 6 Nov. 2011. ‹http://www.gial.edu/personnel/kroeger/Subj-PJL.pdf
  • Schachter, Paul and Fe T. Otanes. 1972. Tagalog Reference Grammar. Berkeley: U of California P, 1983. 69 ff., 113–16, 540–45. Google Books. Google, 2011. Web. 6 Nov. 2011.

Ceci n’est pas un mot

In my introductory posting to this website I wrote, “Another new thing I’ve included is a blog category on ‘Grammar musings.’ […] [They] will hopefully give you some insight into the process that is behind conlanging.” Here is one such insight, and a very basic one at that.

The other day I remembered an episode from when my dad learned – fascinatedly – that I’m doing this language inventing stuff. He asked me first, what e.g. the word for ‘house’ is (nanga) and then, why it’s not something different. The same question also comes up in the forums every now and then.

Case 1: Make up a word from scratch

As I found out in an analysis of my dictionary that I did last year, Ayeri has a number of phonotactic constraints that restrict words considerably. Some of them arose purposefully, others accidentally. Based on this analysis, I programmed a script to make up words for me. However, this does not mean I simply take those generated words and fully randomly assign a meaning to them. Technology and statistics aside, I have an idea in my mind about how the language should sound like and all analysis was done in retrospect. In fact, I often only take my list as a way to help me find a suitable word if I can’t think of one offhand. For example, right now I still need a word for ‘poison’ and don’t feel like duplicating German Gift, lit. ‘something given’ (with some semantic drift …). Using my list for inspiration, I find that I somehow like mikam. There is no word that begins with mik- in the dictionary yet, so I don’t need to tweak it further. But how and why? Why not kotas or desay? I don’t know! Incidentally, I think kotas has something piercing that fits ‘thorn’ (k-t-s sounds hard and pricky) and desay sounds like it could best be an adjective, by analogy with other adjectives in -ay (atay, dakay, gibay, kebay, …).

Case 2a: Extend an existing word’s meaning

This is something I find myself doing a lot, because it’s boring to have 1:1 equivalents to German-English-French words. As an example, take sihiru- ‘to translate’. I wanted to translate ‘to adopt’ the other day and was thinking about whether to coin a new word, or to reuse an old one. I decided for the latter strategy and after a little brainstorming, I thought that translating is also a way to ‘adopt’ a text into one’s own language, thus another possible meaning of sihiru- could be ‘adopt’.

Another example is pray ‘smooth’. When I made that word for Conlang Relay 18, I had to make it up from scratch. I also used it when I needed a word for ‘even number’. ‘Smooth’ and ‘even’ seem to be very English-y by being synonyms, but ‘odd number’ does not re-use the Ayeri word for ‘odd’. Instead, I chose baras ‘rough’ for consistency.

Case 2b: Extend an existing word’s meaning by changing its noun class

Ayeri distinguishes two noun classes, animate and inanimate. Sometimes it’s neat to add a meaning to a word not simply by extending it, but by also by changing its noun class. One such example is the word for ‘navel’, terpeng. This word existed previously as the inanimate terpeng ‘middle’. However, body parts are animate neuter in Ayeri, since they are things that are associated with living entities, thus asking for a category switch. A change in animacy can thus be used to derive a new meaning, whether motivated by grammatical constraints or freely.

Case 3: Derivation from existing words

Take the word minjisān ‘candidate, electee’ for example. I used it in a previous posting and commented on how unwieldy I found it. Nonetheless, let’s have a look at how I made it. First of all, I needed a word that means ‘candidate’. A candidate in this case was someone who is set up as an electable person. Someone to choose, one could say. Searching my dictionary for possible words to derive this from, I found mindoy- ‘to choose’ and mindoyam ‘choice, option’. Since the choosing is applied to someone, I added the causative suffix -isa to the verb, which is a valid way in Ayeri to derive a non-noun with a resumptive meaning – English would make that ‘chosen’ as an adjective. This results in mindoyisa, which then got nominalized to mindoyisān. Since that’s a mouthful at four syllables, I applied reduction and got minjisān.

Case 4: Nick etymologies, but reasonably so

So you have a word, say, ‘bunch’. A ‘bunch’ in English can refer to a number of things, but let us focus on this meaning:

A collection or cluster of things of the same kind, either growing together (as a bunch of grapes), or fastened closely together in any way (as a bunch of flowers, a bunch of keys) (OED, “Bunch.”)

I suspected that ‘bunch’ is maybe somehow related to ‘bind’, as it’s the case in German:

Bund […] ist eine Bildung zu dem unter binden behandelten Verb und bedeutet eigentlich “Bindendes, Gebundenes”.2 (Duden Herkunftswörterbuch, “Bund.”)

Upon further investigation, though, I found out that it is of unknown origin and possibly onomatopoeic (cf. OED, “Bunch.”). But anyway, the German etymology doesn’t seem unreasonable for other languages to come up with independently, so let’s simply look whether there’s a word for ‘to bind’ already. And indeed, there is: disy-. Thus, applying regular nominalization, the word for ‘bunch’ in the meaning above is disyan. And it is probably best categorized as inanimate, since it does neither refer to a living thing, nor would I associate it with one off the top of my head (food is inanimate). There should also be a possibility to pluralize it.

  • “Bunch.” Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OUP, 2011. Web. 28 Jun. 2011.
  • “Bund.” Duden Herkunftswörterbuch. Etymologie der deutschen Sprache. 3rd ed. 2001. Print.
  1. Even in my Introduction to Literary Studies class it was!
  2. Bund ‘bundle’ (…) is a formation belonging to the verb discussed under binden ‘to bind’ and in fact means ‘binding thing, bound thing.'”