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How do diacronic conlangers work?

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  • Benct Philip Jonsson
    I have been thinking lately about how historical conlangers go about their work, and am thinking of eventually turning the thoughts into some kind of essay.
    Message 1 of 4 , May 8, 2007
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      I have been thinking lately about how 'historical
      conlangers' go about their work, and am thinking of
      eventually turning the thoughts into some kind of essay. I
      would appreciate what others who are into that line of
      conlanging think of what I've come up with so far.

      Apologies to those who get this message multiply, but I want to
      reach as many as possible.

      - People usually have one language or dialect which was
      there first in real time, and which often remains central
      to the whole edifice, from which various imaginary
      ancestors, daughters and siblings (what I call "stages" or
      "nodes") radiate.

      - It is notably often *not* the protolanguage (the highest
      node in the linguistic family tree) which was there
      first in real time, but some later form which gets
      labeled "classical" or some variety thereof.

      - I make a terminological distinction between 'versions' in
      real time and 'stages' in imaginary time meant to provide
      orientation when exploring the development through real
      time of the imaginary history of imaginary languages,
      where one has to deal with two dimensions of time:

      - Effectively any piece of linguistic creation by an
      historical conlanger has to be placed on a coordinatde
      system where one axis is the conlanger's lifetime and
      the other axis the history of the imaginary universe
      where the stages are spoken.

      - It is not necessarily or usually the case that what I
      call a later version of one language represents a break
      or fresh start relative to any or all earlier versions.
      A new version need not be a rewrite, but probably a
      conscious revision as opposed to a tweak or a bug fix.
      :-) Changes and differences may be gradual, cumulative,
      abrupt or whatever.

      - "Stages" may go through various "versions" or
      "revisions", often without all the stages being
      revised at the same time, although a revision in some
      place in the family tree -- especially a major one --
      may of course have larger or smaller repercussions
      throughout the tree.

      - Some stages are revised more often and/or more
      extensively than others.

      - The "central" stage tends to undergo less revision
      than other stages.

      - Changes to the "central" stage are likely to have more
      and heavier repercussions on other stages.

      - The protolanguage, being primary in imagined time but
      secondary in real time actually tends to get revised
      more, usually with a view to make it more plausible as
      a common ancestor of sibling nodes lower in the tree.

      - Unlike real language history the protolanguage is a
      secondary product made to fit its daughters.

      - Should I use the term "node", as on an imaginary family
      tree, throughout instead of "stage". What do native
      English speakers think of these terms (stage, node,
      version) as I use them?

      Thanks in advance for your comments!
    • Christian Thalmann
      Funny that you should address that particular topic. I ve started reading The Children of Húrin, and my age-old urge to create an original, non-trivial
      Message 2 of 4 , May 8, 2007
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        Funny that you should address that particular topic. I've
        started reading The Children of Húrin, and my age-old urge
        to create an original, non-trivial fantasy world of my own
        awoke again. In fact, I have this day-dream about making
        language sketches for several peoples, and have them be
        related among each other (in particular, the "elemental"
        species, though very different in lifestyle, habitat and
        magic, would share a common ancestor language,
        "Proto-Natural", if you wish).

        Contrary to your generalization, however, I would create
        those languages in parallel, making up roots in the
        protolang as I went along.
      • Jan van Steenbergen
        ... Interesting ideas, Bengan! I ll try to comment as faithfully as I can, although I am aware that my languages are perhaps not the best example of what you
        Message 3 of 4 , Jun 2, 2007
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          --- Benct Philip Jonsson skrzypszy:

          > I have been thinking lately about how 'historical
          > conlangers' go about their work, and am thinking of
          > eventually turning the thoughts into some kind of essay. I
          > would appreciate what others who are into that line of
          > conlanging think of what I've come up with so far.

          Interesting ideas, Bengan! I'll try to comment as faithfully as I
          can, although I am aware that my languages are perhaps not the best
          example of what you have in mind, as you know well!

          > - People usually have one language or dialect which was
          > there first in real time, and which often remains central
          > to the whole edifice, from which various imaginary
          > ancestors, daughters and siblings (what I call "stages" or
          > "nodes") radiate.

          Well, in the case of Wenedyk, that proto-language is obviously an
          existing one - Vulgar Latin. You could say that perhaps even more
          central is Proto-Northeast-Romance, as the direct ancestor of your
          Slvanjek and my Wenedyk and Slezan, but of no other language.

          > - It is notably often *not* the protolanguage (the highest
          > node in the linguistic family tree) which was there
          > first in real time, but some later form which gets
          > labeled "classical" or some variety thereof.

          Well, in real time Vulgar Latin comes definitely much earlier than
          either PNE or Wenedyk or whatever. :) However, if we'd take PNE as
          the proto-language instead of Latin, then we might easily say, that
          Wenedyk and Slvanjek came before PNE, although not much.

          Of course, PNE is not a real language. All we know about it is how
          far the sound changes had gone by then, but none of its grammar or
          vocabulary seems to have cristallised. That's something I intend to
          change, though. I plan to make a few text in different stages from
          the development of Wenedyk, starting with PNE, but also incorporating
          Old Wenedyk and later stages of the language.

          Speaking for my other language: in 1996 I started working on both
          Hattic and Vozgian. Hattic derives from a proto-language, a stage
          between PIE and modern Hattic, something akin to Proto-Germanic or
          Common Slavic, and the two where developed simultaneously. In other
          words: before coining a Hattic word I created a word in what I would
          later call "Proto-Khadurian". With Vozgian it was essentially the
          same thing: it has three sister languages (now defunct), and all were
          based on a "Proto-North-Slavic" language. The current version of
          Vozgian has little to do with this earlier version; in fact, it's a
          completely different language that just incorporates some features
          from all four North Slavic languages created back then.

          > - I make a terminological distinction between 'versions' in
          > real time and 'stages' in imaginary time meant to provide
          > orientation when exploring the development through real
          > time of the imaginary history of imaginary languages,
          > where one has to deal with two dimensions of time:

          That difference is quite essential, yes. Note that conlangers go
          about that different. Someone, IIRC Nik Taylor in his Uatakassi, uses
          earlier versions of the language as dialect, and I vaguely remember
          that someone else uses different versions of the language as
          different stages in its con-history.

          That is something I have never done myself. Older versions of Wenedyk
          or any other of my languages are just older versions, now incorrect
          and no longer valid.

          > - Effectively any piece of linguistic creation by an
          > historical conlanger has to be placed on a coordinatde
          > system where one axis is the conlanger's lifetime and
          > the other axis the history of the imaginary universe
          > where the stages are spoken.

          Quite so!

          > - It is not necessarily or usually the case that what I
          > call a later version of one language represents a break
          > or fresh start relative to any or all earlier versions.
          > A new version need not be a rewrite, but probably a
          > conscious revision as opposed to a tweak or a bug fix.
          > :-) Changes and differences may be gradual, cumulative,
          > abrupt or whatever.

          Absolutely. My languages has gone through all kinds of changes.
          Wenedyk, the way it looked like in 2002, is something completely
          different from Wenedyk the way it looks like now. The funny thing is
          that - except for one very major revision of the GMP - the changes
          came so gradually that I hardly noticed them myself.

          On the other hand, any revision of the GMP has some impact on
          virtually all words affected by it.

          In the case of Vozgian, you can hardly call it versions. The current
          version of Vozgian borrows only the name of its predecessor (because
          I liked it and still do), as well as a few features and some words,
          but it is essentially a completely different language. As far as
          you'd want to treat them as versions of the same language, it's
          rather call them "incarnations" or something similar.

          > - "Stages" may go through various "versions" or
          > "revisions", often without all the stages being
          > revised at the same time, although a revision in some
          > place in the family tree -- especially a major one --
          > may of course have larger or smaller repercussions
          > throughout the tree.
          >
          > - Some stages are revised more often and/or more
          > extensively than others.
          >
          > - The "central" stage tends to undergo less revision
          > than other stages.
          >
          > - Changes to the "central" stage are likely to have more
          > and heavier repercussions on other stages.

          Well, Benct, you know the history of both Wenedyk and Slvanjek all
          too well, don't you? ;) In our case, it completely depends on what
          you define as "central stage". All I can say is that Wenedyk has
          always been deeply affected by any new discovery I made regarding
          Vulgar Latin and, more in particular, regarding the chronology of
          sound changes in Slavic/Polish.

          As far as I have ever given any thought to PNE as a language, I can't
          say it was affected by my thoughts about Wenedyk. Except, perhaps,
          for the choice of certain words instead of others.

          > - The protolanguage, being primary in imagined time but
          > secondary in real time actually tends to get revised
          > more, usually with a view to make it more plausible as
          > a common ancestor of sibling nodes lower in the tree.

          N/A, in this case.

          > - Unlike real language history the protolanguage is a
          > secondary product made to fit its daughters.

          I think that completely depends on the conlanger in question. I've
          never made up anything similar (Hattic comes closest, I feel), but if
          I would ever go for such a thing, I would definitely start with the
          proto-language and base its daughters on that language, not the other
          way round.

          BTW, one reason why I abandoned my previous North Slavic project
          (Vozgian, Motyak, Slopik and a fourth one of which I can't even
          remember the name) was, that working on four daughter languages at
          the same time gave several undesired results. In short: the languages
          started looking like bad copies of each other. At last, I wasn't
          satisfied with any of them. That's why I started a new project from
          virtually zero. My thought, but not really developed yet, was to
          "revive" the old four languages somewhat as dialects.

          > - Should I use the term "node", as on an imaginary family
          > tree, throughout instead of "stage". What do native
          > English speakers think of these terms (stage, node,
          > version) as I use them?

          I'll leave that to the native speakers!

          Cheers,
          Jan


          __________

          "The future is all around us, waiting, in moments of transition, to be
          born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future
          or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain."
          — G'Kar quoting G'Quon, Babylon 5

          http://steen.free.fr/



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        • Henrik Theiling
          Hi! ... That would be me for some languages, e.g. Fukhian. For others, ... For me, it mostly has to do with the way of writing and revising the documentation:
          Message 4 of 4 , Jun 2, 2007
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            Hi!

            Jan van Steenbergen writes:
            >...
            > > - I make a terminological distinction between 'versions' in
            > > real time and 'stages' in imaginary time meant to provide
            > > orientation when exploring the development through real
            > > time of the imaginary history of imaginary languages,
            > > where one has to deal with two dimensions of time:
            >
            > That difference is quite essential, yes. Note that conlangers go
            > about that different. Someone, IIRC Nik Taylor in his Uatakassi, uses
            > earlier versions of the language as dialect, and I vaguely remember
            > that someone else uses different versions of the language as
            > different stages in its con-history.

            That would be me for some languages, e.g. Fukhian. For others,
            e.g. Þrjótrunn and Qþyn|gài, I follow your approach:

            > That is something I have never done myself. Older versions of Wenedyk
            > or any other of my languages are just older versions, now incorrect
            > and no longer valid.

            For me, it mostly has to do with the way of writing and revising
            the documentation: most newer conlangs with a reasonable grammatical
            complexity have a Lisp-written grammar and all texts in the
            documentation source code are represented as an abstract declaration
            which is converted into the conlang by the Lisp grammar (which also
            does the lexicon lookups via SQL). This makes revisions easy: all
            texts change immediately without the need to edit old texts. For
            such conlangs, the only old texts appear outside the
            scope of the main document, say in Relays. These are then tagged as
            old language versions.

            However in Fukhian, for example, the documentation itself contains
            unrevised, old examples, because I found it hard at that time to keep
            in sync with the current grammar definition. Because I don't like
            outdated documentation, I simply defined the sentences to be older in
            conhistory. You could call it cheating. :-) OTOH, some interesting
            conlang changes are still documented and did not silently disappear,
            e.g. the drop of one of the case endings when postpositions are added.

            **Henrik
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