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Update on the Romantic Lang

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  • Logan Kearsley
    I have been more productive in conlanging in the last month than I think I have in the last several years put together, and most of that in the last week and a
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 3, 2012
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      I have been more productive in conlanging in the last month than I
      think I have in the last several years put together, and most of that
      in the last week and a half. I've managed to generate a vocabulary of
      ~250 words in less than a week (depending on what you count as a
      separate lexeme... it could be as little as 20, if you're really
      conservative, but I prefer the bigger estimate), and though this is
      partially due to motivation to work on this particular language, it's
      more the approach taken to it, I think. So, I wanted to give a little
      overview of the process, and then some of the new features that have
      come out of it.

      I am trying to ensure that I don't think about any decision longer
      than it takes to get to a point where the results of that decision are
      needed to say something. So, wherever I or my fiance have existing
      opinions about something, or come up with neat ideas ahead of having
      to actually use them, those things get decided a-priori, which
      provides a good deal or planning and guidance to the development of
      the language. However, if we want to say something and don't know how,
      it gets made up on the spot. So far, we've been conscientious enough
      not to accidentally introduce horrible inconsistencies that way, but I
      suspect that will start happening as we try to develop fluency.
      Already, I introduced one bit of grammar in the dictionary, and then
      noticed a couple of days later that I had been consistently saying it
      "wrong", so I just changed the documentation, 'cause actual usage is
      canonical. We've made one retroactive change so far, as a matter of
      aesthetics- through an accident of derivational morphology, the word
      for "romantic love" (a very important word in this language!) ended up
      sounding just absolutely horrible to my ear, so the relevant paradigm
      slot got updated.

      I'm quite convinced that part of the reason this works so well is that
      we've got a very powerful derivational morphology to work with right
      off the bat, so it's fairly easy to think up a word that you need
      without having to think up a whole new root; and, when you do think up
      a whole new root, you get up to 20 additional words "for free" (though
      some of those have very confusing or not-obviously-useful literal
      meanings, and it takes some thought later to figure out what those
      words actually should be used for; e.g., [j\eK\asa] "the good place
      for cuddling" == "couch")

      Among the non-pre-decided issues is pretty much everything about
      phonotactics. While there are a-priori rules about how to resolve
      disallowed consonant clusters that result from derivational
      morphology, there are no a-priori rules about what constitutes a
      disallowed cluster. Prosody and allophony are also being left up
      entirely to what happens to fall out of our speech. I'm thinking in a
      couple of months (or whenever we get sufficient fluency that I feel
      like the data is worth something), I'll go ahead and do a formal
      analysis of what the rules have turned out to be.

      This langue-based approach is not something that is available to the
      typical conlanger, and I feel like it's even significantly different
      having two people negotiate the language than the few instances of an
      individual going with the "once I write it, it's canon" approach. The
      distinction between internal history and external history is
      effectively dissolved- the history of whatever changes we decide to
      make to the language is the same as the history of how the language
      develops internally.

      Some of the interesting things that have cropped up "on their own", or
      as a result of spur-of-the-moment decisions:

      The clusters /tk/ and /kt/ are disallowed in the same syllable (or
      possibly the same word; for now it's ambiguous whether the relevant
      environment is syllable boundaries or word boundaries). This doesn't
      seem to apply to /gd/, though. That might just be due to lack of
      examples, though; voiced consonants are rarer than unvoiced
      consonants.

      Stress is not lexical, nor is strictly phonological; stress mostly
      falls on the first syllable of a root. This has a tendency to break
      down only for instrumental nominatives, which flip-flop between normal
      and terminal stress. I'm not sure how that's going to work itself out.

      There's some complex vowel allophony going on (probably a result of
      the fact that we're both native English speakers), such that while
      there are only 5 vowel phonemes, there are at least 12, possibly 13,
      vowel phones so far. Basic allophony is conditioned by being in a
      stressed open syllable (the environment for canonical pronunciation)
      vs. not, but there's some additional stuff going on to distinguish
      sequences of vowels that have been reduced to diphthongs from vowels
      followed by underlying glide consonants.

      One interesting bit of prosody is the tendency to lengthen (with no
      change in quality) vowels in clause-terminal syllables. This turns out
      to be a redundant marker, along with the verb-phrase-terminating
      particle "des", for valency-changing operations.

      In the lexicon, we've ended up with 5 different words for "love"
      (loosely based on C.S. Lewis's classifications), 4 different ways to
      say that you miss someone or something with shades of meaning that are
      really difficult to explain in English, a set of interrogative verbs
      (which allow you to ask things like "what did you do?" with a single
      word), and only two interrogative pronouns, with the rest being
      rendered by prepositional phrases (though I'm feeling a bit of
      pressure to eventually insert some more basic interrogatives). Also,
      while there are verbs meaning "to be an example of a set" and "to be
      equivalent to", there's also a zero-copula construction. Since there's
      no verb there, if there's no other sentential particle to mark the
      start of a clause, a last-resort complementizer "at" was introduced.
      Unlike the English complementizer "that", though, "at" can be used on
      top-level clauses just to clarify that this is in fact a clause, and
      not just a noun phrase.

      Nouns have inflections for singular, plural, negative (no or none of),
      and non-particular, inspired by the particular / non-particular
      distinction in Blackfoot. This is similar to definiteness, but not
      quite exactly the same- it depends only on the speakers knowing what
      he's on about, nothing to do with the discourse.

      The initial idea for a possessive ended up only being used with
      personal relationships at first, which left the door open to
      introducing a second genitive construction and re-analysing the first
      as strictly relational or associative, thus providing a distinction
      between "my" as in "I actually own it" and "my" as in "I have some
      relationship with it". The addition of an objective marker to handle
      topicalization and valency changing operations then pretty much gave
      us a genuine 4-case phrase-level case system; all of the markers are
      phrase-level clitics, just like the English possessive.

      As with the copula, while there is a verb for "to possess something",
      the verb "to have" is more easily expressed with a zero-verb
      construction and one of the possessive cases:
      Mi - amriwa. -> "I am (someone's) fiance" / "I'm engaged."
      Mir amriwa. -> "My fiancee."
      At mir amriwa. -> "I have a fiancee."

      On that note, this language seems to be absolutely clitic obsessed.
      About half of all grammatical features are indicated by things that
      I'm pretty sure are clitics.

      Interpreting those as cases allowed for preposition-multiplexing, so
      we've managed to get by so far with a grand total of 2 prepositions,
      adding logically-connected meanings to them distinguished by object
      case.

      Another very productive clitic is "ni" (pretty much stolen wholesale
      from Russian, but with somewhat different usage). Attached to the
      beginning of an interrogative phrase, it forms indefinites
      ("something(s)" for singulars and plurals, "nothing" for negatives,
      and "anything" for non-particulars, though the semantic spaces
      correspond closer to Russian pronouns than to English). Attached to a
      verb phrase, it turns the whole thing into an adverbial phrase where
      any interrogatives can be replaced with the equivalent "-ever" forms;
      or, if there are no interrogatives present, it forms the subjective.

      E.g.,
      Res vu ki? -> "Whom do you love?"
      Res vu niki. -> "You love someone (and I know who)."
      Res vu nikin. -> "You love someone (I don't know who)." / *"You love anyone."
      Ni res vu ki. -> "Whoever you love..."
      Ni res vu niki. -> "You would love someone."

      As for those valency changing operations:
      The basic word order is V-S-(O1-(O2))
      All verbs have lexically determined valency, but the language allows
      for free pro-dropping. Since subordinate clauses typically have a null
      complementizer, some indication is needed that a clause has terminated
      so you don't accidentally think the next clause in the discourse is a
      complement to the previous verb. That's usually handled by
      clause-terminal vowel lengthening,as mentioned, or with an explicit
      verb-phrase-terminal particle "des". In a totally unmarked sentence, a
      single missing argument must be the subject ( V-(O1-(O2)) ), and two
      missing arguments must be the subject and first object ( V-(O2) ). For
      most cases, depending on the derivational class of the verb, there
      will be a corresponding lower-valency form that could've been used,
      but the higher-valency with pro-drop implies that referents for the
      missing roles do exist and are simply unstated, while the
      lower-valency verb does not.
      The first object, however, may be marked with objective case; in a
      marked sentence, the word order gets much more complicated, and allows
      for fronting for topicalization and dropping of things out of order.
      Possible arrangements include:

      (S)-V-(O1-(O2))
      O1-V-(S-(O2))
      O2-V-S-O1

      When an argument is fronted, this can result in ambiguity about the
      clause boundary, requiring the usage of "at" to resolve that
      ambiguity.

      Additionally, the reflexive can theoretically be used as a
      sort-of-passive to promote second objects to subject position; this
      ought to be useful since there are no verbal derivations that produce
      a verb with a thematic focus as a subject, so this basically allows
      for promoting focuses in ditransitive sentences, though I've never
      actually used the reflexive yet.
      If the original subject role is indicated by an oblique argument
      (prepositional phrase), then the subject will be re-interpreted as
      solely having the role indicated by the position of the reflexive.

      E.g.,
      Vadu mi vu yerrasa. -> I show you the couch.
      Show me you couch.

      Vadu yerrasa vu se iza mi. -> The couch is shown to you by me.
      Show couch you REFL. because-of me.

      Yerrasa vadu mi vug. -> *The couch*, I show you.
      Couch show mi you-OBJ.

      Yerrasa vadu vu se iza mi. -> *The couch* was shown to you by me.
      Couch show you REFL. because-of me.

      And without the oblique agent:
      Yerrasa vadu vu (des). -> *The couch* catches your eye.

      The reciprocal has turned out to be more common so far than the
      reflexive and thus has a single-segment representation in the form of
      a verb suffix.

      Tense and aspect are kinda neat, too. There's a basic
      perfective/imperfective distinction that's lexicalized and can be
      altered with prefixes, much like Russian. However, unlike Russian, the
      present-tense interpretation of a perfective is not implied future,
      but rather emphatic "right now! and only once."
      There is the capacity to distinguish perfect and imperfect as well,
      but that turns out to be very very tensy and not aspecty at all,
      unlike English; and it come with prospectives as well as
      retrospectives built-in, so I've taken to calling them "spectives" in
      general. A set of 5 sentence-initial particles (derived from
      contractions of phrases meaning "It was that...", "It is that...", "It
      will be that...") indicate spectives in different tenses, and the
      actual tense of the sentence tells you whether its retrospective or
      prospective. These aren't used as frequently as the English perfect
      construction, though, because you get much the same effect by assuming
      the the temporal reference for an embedded clause is the time of the
      matrix clause, not the time of utterance (that is, after all, how the
      spective particles were derived).

      -logan.
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