Tag Archives: opinion

Some Criticism From Japan

  • As it turns out, the mini review of Ayeri I’m quoting from below was actually crossposted from 2chan to the blog I got traffic from. I don’t know if the blog author is also the author of the 2chan post, so sorry for any unjust allegations. Also, for having been butthurt about my conlang essentially getting dismissed as trash (apparently under the errorneous impression that it’s somehow supposed to be an auxlang) when I wrote the below post.

The other day, there were visitors from a Japanese blog1 dropping in according to my site statistics, and I was curious what someone from “the East” would write about my little project here, since the communities I have participated in are dominated by people from “the West” – that is, we don’t get a lot of people from East Asia on the forums I’m on, which are mainly populated by Europeans and North Americans. However, there’s certainly people interested in linguistics and conlanging in Asia, too. Unfortunately, I don’t speak any Japanese, so I piped this through Google Translate and tried to make sense of the output as well as I could.

First off, this guy, who calls himself “Kakis Erl Sax,” appears to be involved in a Japanese community conlanging project called Arka, one of whose members we got into a serious flamewar with on the ZBB due to his missionary zeal of converting us all into followers of what seemed to us like an elitist gig taking itself far too seriously (discussion thread). Since the guy on the forum claimed Arka and the Japanese conlanging community as superior to anything Europe and the US have ever produced in terms of artistic languages, touting Arka as the one and only good model to follow in order to achieve artistic merits in Conlangia, my curiosity immediately became rather ambivalent with the discovery of K.E.S.’s background, not saying that everyone in their community is like that, but first impressions etc. etc. The guy on the ZBB admitted to trolling in the end, basically in an attempt to use any publicity as publicity since he could not get anyone’s interest by just posting site updates for a year, confined to a single dedicated thread. However, his general behavior still left a bad taste in my mouth.

In the following I will quote what was written about Ayeri2 and give the machine translation respectively.

Conlang Ayeriは知らないね。
I do not know Conlang Ayeri is.

Well, it looks like it’s my fictional language project, and this person has chanced on its website on which I present theoretical backgrounds on its being created as well as assorted materials I made using the language over the course of the last couple of years.

みた感じ、音韻体系は中途半端なポリネシア風CV音節で、
I feel, is a phonological syllable CV Polynesian-style half-baked,

If you interpret the overall esthetics of words as inspired by Polynesian languages, it’s no surprise you will find Ayeri “half-baked.” Rather, its esthetics are inspired by Austronesian languages such as Malay and Tagalog, since I somehow like the look of those languages. It is no surprise, thus, that language-guessing algorithms frequently analyze Ayeri as one of Indonesian, Malay, Tagalog, or Cebuano. To me it seems here that the person who wrote this assumes Ayeri was intended to exclusively allow simple CV syllables (almost like Japanese), and in so far I am indeed not very consistent in that many words differ from this pattern. However, all the example texts should suggest that an exclusive CV structure is probably not the basis for my language’s word structure. Thus, the reproach of half-bakedness of my phonotactic system is ungrounded, since Ayeri otherwise appears very consistent in its look and feel.

文字システムはアブギダ、
Abugida character system,

Yep, that’s how I like it.

語彙の借用元は不明、恐らくアプリオリ、
Yuan borrowed vocabulary is unknown, perhaps a priori,

I don’t know where they got the assumption from that Ayeri would not be a priori. I have always assumed that there were enough clues everywhere on the site that Ayeri is fictional, in so far a missing list of loan sources would indicate that there is no external relation. However, since Ayeri’s phonotactics are very similar to those of Malay or Tagalog, it is to be expected that identical words appear with different meanings, but this is mostly just coincidence. In fact, I really wonder how Ayeri looks like to a speaker of the previously mentioned languages.

語彙数ははっきりしないが200以上、
More than 200 the number of vocabulary is not clear,

There are currently about 2,300 entries in the dictionary. From the flamewar mentioned above it became clear, however, that the Arka community very much emphasizes the importance of having as many words as possible, and that the dictionary must have topmost importance in fictional languages: if languages have fewer vocabulary items than Arka, they’re supposedly not ‘elaborate’ enough to be any good. I disagree – partially. It is certainly worth putting effort into a dictionary so that it does not become just a bland copy of your native language, however, if this is your only priority, other parts of your language will necessarily starve from neglect instead, so the location of blandness will simply shift elsewhere. Personally, I am more interested in morphosyntax than lexicography, so my dictionary will likely show some traces of neglect, while more interesting aspects will be found in the interplay of syntax and morphology. Since word creation and grammar creation inevitably go hand in hand, I think what is most beneficial is finding an equilibrium you can work with. A single person can only do so much at a time anyway.

VSO NA 合成語もオランウータン式
Word Orangutan formula also VSO NA synthesis

Asking a friend of mine who studies Japanese what this means, he told me that he was not sure what “orangutan” is doing there. In idiomatic English, the sentence runs as “The VSO/NA/compound word is ‘orangutang style'” according to him. Since orang hutan, lit. ‘man/person forest’, is a right-branching compound and Ayeri tends towards being head-initial, i.e. right-branching, it might be that they used that word as an illustrative metaphor. Alternatively, taking the racism that was exhibited by the guy from the forum into account, it might also be a slur referring to perceived primitivity. Japanese, as Wikipedia informs, prefers a strongly head-final word order, so my language would essentially appear like Yoda-speak to him.

格助詞使用・人称代名詞は補充式で激しく屈折
Personal pronoun use and case particles are violently refraction formula supplementation

Another sentence mangled beyond recognition by automatic translation, this reads more idiomatically as “Case particle usage and personal pronouns are ‘replenish-style’ and considerably distorted,” according to my friend. I have frankly no idea what this could mean other than that they are confused by the case particles and personal pronouns, maybe in so far as there is a large number of either of them, due to there being eight cases, while there is little irregularity that might otherwise be expected.

助動詞後置
Postfix auxiliary

Auxiliary verbs hardly exist in Ayeri. Modals come first in verb phrases and there is no overt copula. Tense is expressed mostly optionally by tense prefixes, mood by suffixes. By now I really think they have just flicked through the grammar quickly and mindlessly while picking on some random aspects.

動詞の人称・数による曲用あり
There are songs by number, for a person of the verb

This looks like it refers to person marking on verbs, and indeed Ayeri has verb agreement.

数は12進法
Decimal number is 12

True.

とか、色々みればわかるけど、目的ははっきりしないね。
Or, I’ll understand various, the goal is not clear it.

Another case of not paying attention here. It clearly says what my goals in creating Ayeri are on the Behind the Scenes page.

芸術言語にしてはオリジナルコンテンツが乏しく、国際補助語にしては中途半端に難解な仕様だし、工学言語かな。
To the original content artistic language is poor, then it’s an international auxiliary language specification halfway esoteric, Engineering language or not.

Ayeri is neither supposed to be an IAL, nor is it an engineered language in so far that engineered languages (for short, engelangs) are based on an engineer’s approach so that optimization towards a certain goal forms the premise on which the language is constructed. Instead, Ayeri is an artistic language. Since this person seems to measure my work by his own preformed premises of how things should be done, I think it is no surprise they think Ayeri lacks ingenuity, especially since the only parts they consider are morphology and lexicon. On the other hand it was suggested to me that the judgement of lacking originality might also stem from another thing that is of utmost importance to the Arka community: paraphernalia of world-building, as well as lessons, and published works of fiction featuring the language. I must admit that Ayeri is terribly lacking in cultural background, which is often emphasized as crucial for naturalism, but my main interest in this work is linguistics after all, much more so than anthropology or history. However, scarcity of work that puts my language to use is really not a concern – there is a whole bunch of translations to look at and to listen to on the Examples page. I am not aspiring to get published in whatever domain right now, so chances to see or hear Ayeri in the mass media are low.

アブギダ文字が綺麗と言う以外に特に引かれる要素はなかったよ。
Element is drawn in particular to say except I did not clean abugida character.

This sentence seems like they disliked everything they could glean from my site, but according to my friend, this rather says that they disliked everything except for the script. Oh well.

So all in all, what I received is a slam, but a rather badly done one, since the critique at best only hints at things its author judged poor work, based on not paying attention to the matters as they present themselves. And while our friend here raised a few valid points (at least by proxy of my interpretation of their allusions), most of their reproaches are nonetheless unsubstantial: They do not present any concrete evidence or argumentation as to why they think certain aspects of Ayeri are poorly done, so they are in no position to make serious judgements other than “Not my taste.”

  • Edited bits of text for clarity and also marked linkrot.
  1. This link is dead. —CB, 2014-12-05
  2. This link is dead, too, although it appears to have been crossposted to from a 2chan thread where some people from the Arka community sketch out highlights and low points of different conlangs on the internet as far as I could gather from Google Translate. —CB, 2014-12-05

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.

“The Problem with Conlanging” – A Response

[Dieser Beitrag ist jetzt auch auf Deutsch zu lesen, nämlich hier. — 20.08.2011]

Fellow conlanger Vecfaranti wrote a thought-provoking posting on the ZBB some weeks ago. Unfortunately I’ve only managed to read it now, and I would like to share it with you, and also answer with my own thoughts and experiences. Please be so kind not to necromance the thread, if the current date is months past May 24, 2011. What I am doing here is quoting passages from Vecfaranti’s forum posting and comment on them below. So, without further ado —

Conlangs require context. Some conlangs are created for the modern world, although those are becoming less and less frequent. Most conlangs made by ZBB members are artlangs meant for conpeople. But for a lot of us, creating the language is much more fun than creating the […] people.

Ayeri, too, is a language that is supposed to somehow be linked to an imaginary world not much unlike ours. Nonetheless, I can say that it’s also become kind of a personal language to me, so it also contains words for things that may or may not exist in this world my language’s speakers are supposed to live in, such as television, internet, or car. The necessity for this has arisen from writing the one or the other journal entry in the language, as well as doing Translation Challenges at the ZBB that I did not bother to somehow adapt culturally. Whenever I can, I try to either metaphorically extend the meaning of already existing words1 (natural languages also seem to do this a lot!), or I calque these words,2 and as a last resort borrow them. However, this borrowing mostly happens from the language I mainly work in: English. Even “in-universe” borrowing is a problem, because, as Vecfaranti observes, conlangs require context, and I don’t have much.3 Ayeri is the third language I am working on technically, but I’ve completely given up on the “Nameless Language” and Daléian, both of which I created in my first half year of language tinkering back in 2002. Also, I must say, that my interest in languages as such is bigger than in the people who speak them. Cultural Studies, history and sociology simply are not my primary interest. Trying to create a believable, naturalistically complex culture around my conlang and doing that on top of trying to create (an) artificial language(s) in depth seems quite “taxing” indeed to me, and frankly I have no idea where to start, hence my reluctance to come up with at least some kind of setting.

Are you going to make a book using it? Are you going to make a movie? A game of some sorts? Or are you just making it for the sake of making it and presenting it on a website in encyclopedic format? Which brings me to the other problem. No one likes reading grammars. […] And most people don’t have in depth knowledge to critique aspects of grammar besides phonology and maybe rudimentary morphology. […] Which is why most threads about in depth grammars do not get many responses around here.

My work on Ayeri is kind of a purpose to itself, though it also helps exploring Linguistics as a discipline, thus helping me to learn more about things as I go. Personally, I must admit that it’s no joy for me to sit down and read grammars – whether “nat” or “con” – cover to cover. Exploring bits and pieces here and there is more interesting, though it takes me conscious effort and concentration to sit down and read linguistic papers, and I don’t feel like doing that all the time. Also, I naturally have knowledge holes in areas I didn’t do any reading in for my own conlang, since I’ve never learnt Linguistics formally. In my experience, posting things on small issues you come across and want to hear others’ opinions about is far more successful in terms of response than just posting a link to your grammar, and say “Discuss.” For the same reason I’ve started this blog, more or less: I can write short articles about things, which helps working out details, and I can utter my thoughts so that people maybe can look into my reasoning and the way in which I create grammar, or decide on how to proceed. If they’re interested. However, all bite-sized, if possible.4

For context, we must work and work and work tirelessly. And the process usually ends up being private. This board is good for quick questions and socialising, but deep questions require outside research. For presentation, we must either have a lot of work already done, in order to get away with the website approach or we must set a goal for ourselves that goes beyond conlanging (and conworlding) for conlanging’s (or conworlding’s) sake.

Working tirelessly? Well yes, creating a whole world on your own must be very tiresome and takes ages if you want to arrive at a high level of depth. People say they admire my work, however be aware that I guess it could only achieve a certain level of quality because I’ve been working on this for about 8 years. Which goals beyond “conlanging (and conworlding)” should I pursue, though? I guess one I’ve already mentioned above: self-education, and releasing the little scholar in oneself to satisfy one’s curiosity.

Once I make a conlang, relatively in depth, I’m not easily willing to just discard it and not put it to use.

What Vecfaranti writes above I can affirm. And it’s also why I’m stubbornly clinging to Ayeri, although others have suggested to start a new thing, e.g. to make a parallel language or several less in-depth parallel languages to borrow words from. Maybe if I come round to make up a diachronic history of my conlang I will derive some sister-languages. But so far I have been very reluctant to try even that. It’s definitely a goal of mine, though, even if another 10 years have to pass (and should I still be interested in this kind of thing then).

  • Vecfaranti. “The Problem with Conlanging.” Zompist BBoard. 8 May 2011. Mark Rosenfelder, 2002. Web. 4 Jun. 2011.
  1. E.g. bukoya ‘library’ → ‘web server’
  2. E.g. narakahu ‘telephone’ ← nara- ‘speak’ + kahu ‘far’ (cf. German legalese Fernsprecher ‘far-speaker’)
  3. I drew a map some years ago, but not much has come of that. Also, the level of technology of my con-people varies a lot.
  4. This and the last couple of posts on Ayeri grammar have become quite lengthy, however…

Wait – isn’t it me who made that?

An internet friend of mine notified me today that a recording (of the “Babel Text”) and a picture (of the text of Conlang Relay 15) from this website was reposted on Youtube without any indication of source. And it’s been sitting there for about half a year already. Of course, I could have gone mad and reported it as a copyright violation immediately, since according to the terms of use of this site, all contents are copyrighted by me as far as not indicated otherwise, and reposting content you did not create yourself without consent is also against Youtube’s terms of trade. However, I find it silly to slap a watermark on anything I put up here. After all, I’m not making any money from this, it’s just a thing I do as a hobby. Still, I put work into things, and I’m grateful if people acknowledge this by stating who made it.

As far as content on the internet goes, I believe it’s an illusion to keep 100% control of how and by whom your content is used, since – as I see it – it is in the nature of the internet for content to get reposted elsewhere, even without your expressed consent, sooner or later. Viral campaigns essentially build on this behavior, as far as I know. This is by no means meant to be an invitation to ripping me off, however! My reply to said video:

Hi, I’m the creator of Ayeri and I was just notified by a friend you put this up here. While it’s nice to see that people like my stuff and while it’s clear to me that things one puts online are likely to end up elsewhere sooner or later, you could’ve easily dropped me a line, or at lease given credit. I’m not gonna have this removed, but please at least state your source.

I’m usually not against people using my things as long as they ask. I mean, if content you made gets reposted – that is, shared – by others, so that people who follow them are made aware of your work’s existence, that’s certainly nice, in and of itself. Everyone likes recommendations, and a large part of the internet builds on recommendations these days. And judging from other videos posted by the user, this is also what happened in my case: reposting what you appreciate or find interesting. However, what I’m allergic against is not giving credit. I don’t care too much about sharing the media I publish on Ayeri, however, I think it should still be a generally accepted habit to state the original source if you repost content for the purpose of sharing it with others. It’s egotist not to do so, and not very “Web 2.0” either in my opinion, as recommendations usually include giving the original source so that other people can find more interesting things there.

A positive surprise when reading the comments to the video was, however, that some people actually recognized this as Ayeri, that is, they did not mistake it as the poster’s creation. I’m curious how this will turn out.