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.
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 dip their toes 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 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.
If you’re following this blog, you will have noticed that I haven’t posted anything for some time. This is mainly due to not having had much time to work on Ayeri for much of the past 12 or so weeks because real-life work obligations like writing a term paper, doing an internship, and writing a report for that internship were much more important. And soon, there’ll be my BA thesis to work on.
There is a list of topics to think about on my backburner still, and in addition my interlinear glosses plugin, my font, and the dictionary query scripts used on this site could use some improvement – and, alas, the big grammar file. But right now, I don’t really feel like tackling any of those issues.
In order to hopefully get my creative juices going again (creativity always kind of ebbs and flows for me), I thought why not have a kind of AMA. Ayeri’s been around for so long, maybe there’s things you people want to know that have not yet been dealt with on this website, or that are hidden away so well you’ve never noticed.
So: Anything you’d like to know about my work? Comments are open again for once.
I’m excited to announce that I’m going to be a guest in the first half of Episode 50 of the Conlangery Podcast, which will be released on May 14, 2012 – that is, next Monday, if the regular schedule is followed. Thanks again to George and William for having me as a guest!
When I read in the comments to Episode 47 that there was going to be a scripts-related episode soon, I decided to ask whether they’d be OK with having me as a guest. Script-related things like writing systems and typography are a topic I’m interested in and fascinated by (you guess where my perfectionist obsession with my con-scripts stems from), so I was curious to join the discussion. Who would have thought it was up for recording the very Sunday (late) night of that week! However, it’s not actually about writing systems themselves, but mainly about prerequisites and tools for writing and literacy. Very interesting!
NB: I haven’t heard the edited episode yet myself, so I’m just as curious for it.
Got a mention by fellow conlanger David J. Peterson (along with a few other Conlang-L/LCC4 people) in his reply to the recent New York Times article on his inventing Dothraki for the Game of Thrones TV series and the hobby of “con-langing” (their spelling), which I found both to be good reading. Also, since Simon Ager of omniglot.com kindly updated some information about twoscripts of mine – which was more than overdue after (I think) about 7 years – I uploaded a translation (PDF warning) of the first article of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights to serve as an example on Simon’s page on Tahano Hikamu.