23 December, 2014

A Fox's Guide to Conlangs (Party 6) - Expanding the Groundwork

Thanks to Scott Hamilton, I’ve been pointed to quite a few conlang resources. My first delves into the conlangs of Okuna, Ithkuil, and ámman îar have been quite the eye opener. You could easily spend years, if not decades, working on a language, refining it, and evolving it. Personally, I’m a jack of all trades, I draw, I sculpt, I write games, I create fonts, I devise imaginary worlds, I program, I run multimedia LARP extravaganzas. Often my interests overlap and I can pull skills from one field into one of my other endeavours, occasionally a few of my interests bring elements to the table on a specific project, and I can achieve momentary awesomeness (but it never lasts). On the downside, my artistic wanderlust keeps leading me in new directions, never to master any one thing. I like to think of myself as a modern day renaissance man, and that’s how I’ve ended up looking at conlangs at the moment. I don’t know that I’ll ever produce something as complex as the conlangs Okuna, Ithkuil, and ámman îar, but I’m just looking at the design of languages from a very specific purpose in this blog series…namely, creating a language that adds depth to a setting by reflecting historical changes in a culture, and by showing in a distinct way the alien thought patterns of a fantasy culture.

I’m not just trying to devise something that sounds pretty or exotic, I’m try to create something that embodies a thought pattern. I’m certainly not the first to do this, and I’m glad to find out that there is more to depth to conlanging than I’d first encountered. I’ve seen heaps of people write “their perfect roleplaying game” after only playing D&D, I certainly don’t want to be the kind of person who tries to “write the perfect conlang” after only reading through a couple of them. I’ll be continuing to research the world of conlangs while I write this series, so I might change things around a bit as the series progresses.

For the moment we’ll continue on our way.

The culture we’re describing through this language is vaguely human, even if it isn’t of our world. It has a humanoid form and jaw structure, capable of producing any of the sounds that we can make. It exists in a time continuum, constantly moving forward in much the same way we do. In it’s primitive prehistoric state, the culture attributed things it did not understand to supernatural forces (where I’m taking “supernatural” to simply mean things unable to be seen or understood by the natural senses), the culture didn’t necessarily believe in “gods” but elements of supernatural inspiration certainly contributed to the formation of the language.

If time is perceived normally by members of this culture, and specific moments in a cycle’s progress are marked by specific monophthong vowels, then it makes sense for time’s progress to appear in words through diphthong vowels. In this way, forward natural progress might be represented by pairs of vowels consecutively appearing in the cycle (a-u, u-o, o-i, i-o, o-e, e-a). That which is unnatural might instead be represented by the natural order of things depicted in reverse (u-a, o-u, i-o, o-i, e-o, a-e).

We could look at tense in the same way. The immediacy of present tense might be defined by a repetition of the same cyclical vowel (short vowels: a-a, u-u, o-o, i-i, o-o, e-e). Eternal concepts existing separate from the element of time, might do the same thing using long vowels (A-A, U-U, O-O, I-I, O-O, E-E). Beyond present tense, we get the opportunity now for four additional tenses, distant past tense, near past tense, near future tense and distant future tense.

In distant past tense, we’d start with the short form of the current vowel then move on to the long form of the vowel two steps backward in the cycle (a-O, u-E, o-A, i-U, o-O, e-I). Thus we see the immediacy of the present short vowel, followed by the eternal concept (a long vowel) of a period quite distantly removed in the past of time’s cycle.

In near past tense, we’d start with the short form of the current vowel then move on to the long form of the vowel one step backward in the cycle (a-E, u-A, o-U, i-O, o-I, e-O). Now we see the immediacy of the present short vowel, followed by the eternal concept (a long vowel) of a period not so distantly removed in the past of time’s cycle.

In near future tense, we’d start with the short form of the current vowel then move on to the long form of the vowel one step forward in the cycle (a-U, u-O, o-I, i-O, o-E, e-A). The immediacy of the present short vowel, followed by the eternal concept (a long vowel) of a period not so distantly removed in the future of time’s cycle (we have expectation that the cycle will move that way).      

In distant future tense, we’d start with the short form of the current vowel then move on to the long form of the vowel two steps forward in the cycle (a-O, u-I, o-O, i-E, o-O, e-U). The immediacy of the present short vowel, followed by the eternal concept (a long vowel) of a period quite distantly removed in the future of time’s cycle (again, we have expectation that the cycle will move that way)

These vowel structures don’t form the entirety of the word, they just form the basis of sound in the word’s dominant syllable. In addition to this, there will certainly be consonant sounds attached to the syllable(s), except in the case of the six words defining the eternal purity of the sixfold concepts (the 6 long vowels) and the purest manifestations of those concepts (the 6 short vowels).

Beyond tenses we might also start looking at gendered forms. Quite a few European languages use gendered forms for nouns, and this seems especially common among the Romance languages, but appears in some Germanic languages too (but notably not English, which has enough complications, so we can be thankful we don’t have that one added in). I’ve had a few thoughts for gendered forms of nouns, and even gendered forms of verbs, but before I’ll consider adding these notions into the language I want to make sure that I can justify the way such features would have appeared in the language through “historical precedent”.  


We may not have any words yet (except the sixfold core), but we’re starting to develop a coherent structure that might be used for hanging our linguistic forms on.   
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