Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Apple unveils iPhone 5 at Super Bowl

This article's title reads like a newspaper headline, doesn't it? But guess what. It's not. I'm serious here.

One thing I've noticed about Apple's recent unveiling of the New iPad (I call it the iPad 3, so there!) and the hodiernal unveiling of the iPhone 5 is that Apple has an aversion to the English definite article "the". That's right, they purposefully (read: vulgarly and maliciously) drop the article. "The unveiling of iPhone 5". It's a hipsterish move to make, and it doesn't surprise me that the cult--er, Cupertino-based tech company is butchering the language like this. Truthfully, it does make sense, but only if you say it with a thick Russian accent.

As far as I know, the Russian language has no definite article. Being no speaker of Russian, I can't confirm this firsthand, but I've heard it from somebody who has studied Russian. I would assume that Russian dialects of English reflect this. But what about American dialects of English? The article, believe it or not, is salient in regards to the meaning of the word. You wouldn't say, "I have car!" If you did, you'd sound like a two-year-old.

In searching my brain for possible rationalizations of this strange article-dropping, I find that the only time that English does it is when it deals with abstract nouns. What is an abstract noun, you ask? Here's a list: love, hate, happiness, sadness, anger, government, ideology, religion, and so on. They are nouns that you can't interact with using your five senses. And they all drop the articles (maybe "abstract noun" is a morphological category like "strong verb", but with some additional semantic meat to it). For instance, if I were to say, "I have love," it would be perfectly fine, whereas "I have car" would not be (unless you say "I can has car", which is perfectly grammatical).

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Voice and applicatives in Hra'anh

I'm really having fun using applicatives in Hra'anh. It currently uses three, though two of them work more like oblique particles.

First off, I need to start by explaining myself. A lot. Let's start with some terminology. First off, you should have learned in school the difference between a transitive verb and an intransitive verb. If you didn't, here's the difference. "I ran" is intransitive; it has only one argument, called the subject. "I ate the sandwich" is transitive because it has two arguments, the subject (I), and the object (the sandwich).

Let's go now to a little thing called voice. This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. A lot of that is probably because voice is the underdog of English class. Every teacher I've ever had has said, "Don't use the passive voice. It is weak and useless." This, of course, is hogwash. English has two voices, though I would argue that certain constructions have what's called the middle voice (e.g. "How do you feel?" and "I feel fine.") But that's a different post for a different time. We use the active voice ("the horse kicked the man") and passive voice ("the man was kicked by the horse"). Hra'anh adds the antipassive voice, which English doesn't really have. I'll explain why voice is important later.

Now let's cover what an applicative is. Some linguists argue that the applicative is in fact a voice. However, I would be inclined to agree with conlanger William Annis in that applicatives are really valence-changing operators. Valency is a quality of a verb that indicates how many arguments it takes. In English, some take zero arguments ("it rains"); some take one ("rain fell"); some take two ("rain hit John"); some take three ("I threw John the football"). In some engineered languages, verbs can take five, possibly more (!) arguments.


 The obliques

I'm not talking about those dastardly oblique abdominal muscles that I can never seem to work. I'm talking about the applicatives ke [kʼɛ] and doke [do.kʼɛ]. These are the passive and antipassive oblique applicatives respectively.


How voice works in English

Why do we have voice? It's all about keeping the most important (salient) things in the foreground of the discourse. Language is biased toward human beings. That's why we have constructions like "I was hit by a car." The whole "by a car" thing is what's called an oblique argument. It can be taken out of the sentence, and it still makes perfect sense. "I was hit." The car, which is the agent, isn't as important as the fact that I was hit. In fact, if you use the active-voice version, "a car hit me," it almost seems ungrammatical. 


How voice works in Hra'anh

Voice is ever more important in Hra'anh because Hra'anh is unlike English. Verbs in English are happy to switch valency, e.g. "I ate" vs. "I ate the sandwich." Verbs in Hra'anh can migrate downward in valency, but NOT upward, at least not without special marking (enter the applicatives!). Many verbs that are in English transitive are in Hra'anh fixed semantically at the intransitive level, and voice shuffling must be used to introduce a new argument.

The passive voice in Hra'anh works much the same way it does in English. "E khoite pep topoka" (the book hit him) goes to "Topoka pep ke e khoite" (he was hit by the book). Notice the use of the passive applicative "ke". The passive sentence could be said "Topoka pep" with perfect clarity. What hit him? Nobody cares. But if you must ask, the book hit him: "ke e khoite."

Enter the antipassive voice. It's hard to explain in English, but here's how it works: the passive voice demotes the agent (the book in the previous example); whereas, the antipassive voice does the opposite and demotes the patient or object. Again, we don't have this voice in English, so let's use a verb that's happy with or without an object, "to eat". If I were to say, "I ate," Hra'anh would be perfectly happy translating that directly: "Ier amira." Because this verb, kiamir, is one of the semantically intransitive verbs, in order to include an object, an applicative must be used: "I ate the sandwich" is "Ier amira doke e sandoesh." If you were to say "Iok e sandoesh amira," you'd be wrong because that sentence is badly formed. It may be perfectly correct syntactically, but it would be like saying "I fell the cliff" instead of "I fell off the cliff."

Notice that both the passive and antipassive voices in Hra'anh use word order shuffling to indicate which voice is used. The default word order is SOV (subject-object-verb). In passive and antipassive clauses, the order is shuffled to SVO, which is evident with the antipassive's omission of the object, SV(O). Passive clauses omit the subject, which then further fudges the word order to VO(S). Hra'anh has a highly configurational syntax, despite it being an agglutinating language (i.e. it uses bound morphemes to mark case).


The instrumental

Now we have the all-powerful instrumental applicative, felo. While there is no formal animacy hierarchy, Hra'anh is highly resistant to low-animacy and inanimate subjects in transitive clauses. For instance, if I wanted to say, "The knife cut the bread," I would have to switch to passive voice and use an instrumental applicative: "Sefa e alom felo e epun." To say "e epunek e alom sefa" would be ungrammatical.

Also note that the syntax for the instrumental applicative varies based on voice. In the active voice, it is postpositional; in the passive voice, it is prepositional.


Strange musics

One notable verb that throws every applicative rule out the window is fola, "to sing". It is the only musical verb in Hra'anh (you don't play an instrument; you sing with an instrument). Not only that, but it is also semantically intransitive.

This is how music works:
  • I sing. "Ier kifola."
    • This is the indicative form, morphologically identical to the infinitive form.
  • I sang a song. "Ier folaa doke iah loime." (1SG sing-PST ANTP a music)
    • Perfectly normal, right? Well, for Hra'anh, at least.
  • I played a guitar. "Ier folaa doke iah kitara." (1SG sing-PST ANTP a guitar)
    • Wait, what? This literally translates to "I sang a guitar". Shouldn't it use the instrumental applicative? This doesn't share the same semantic map as the English equivalent.
  • I played a song on the guitar. "Ier kitara felo folaa doke iah loime." (1SG guitar INST sing-PST ANTP a music)
    • There's that instrumental. Literal translation: "I, with guitar, sang a song."
  • I played the guitar while I sang. "Ier kitara felo folaa."
    • There it is again. As you can see, using the instrumental applicative demonstrates concurrent action. It's an edge-case example and a fairly strange construction.
  • I sang a song while I played the guitar. "Ier folanh felo folaa doke iah loime momo folaa doke kitara." (I.ABS voice INST sing-PST ANTP a music while sing-PST ANTP guitar)
    • Beware! This is a very strange construction. While it is technically grammatical, it is not pragmatic, and using it will get you labelled iah faila, a foreigner. Don't go into that much detail; just say, "Ier folaa doke iah kitara." Nevertheless, it demonstrates the use of an adverbial phrase.


 Other uses for the applicatives


The applicative doke must be used to elevate postpositional phrases when motion is involved. Some good examples are found in my fandub of the "eagle running scene" from Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. I had to translate the following sentences: "I ran with the eagle. I danced in the wind." 

The first sentence I translated, "Ier chtena doke e iekol ahrem." I could have said, "Ier e iekol ahrem chtena," but that would have a different semantic map: "I ran in the same place as the eagle." In this case, proper semantics can be achieved only by using the applicative to elevate the postpositional phrase.

In the second sentence, the semantics are nearly identical with or without the applicative. "Ier selema doke e khush ail" (which I chose) and "Ier e khush ail selema" both mean "I danced in the wind." I chose what I chose for poetic reasons. The example with the applicative means that Spirit danced in concord with the wind, whereas the example without the applicative means that Spirit danced while the wind swirled around him, as if the wind was a container.

This also appears in the last sentence, "Feri fetekhuza za doke zuthire zek ahrem," which is translated, "But responsibility came with this honor."



The applicative ke is used to relativize verb phrases in some passive constructions. This is also seen in my Spirit dub. The first sentence is translated back to English as, "So I grew up." The sentence: "Thele chreka ier ke lelvakh za." A word for word translation would be, "Then I was made to be an adult." This is because Hra'anh has no verb for "become". (This will be delved into more when I talk about reflexives in Hra'anh.) The verb ze agrees with the verb kichrek in its tense inflection. The applicative elevates "lelvakh za", describing what Spirit was made to be. The applicative is not an oblique when it comes to this verb! In fact, when using "kichrek", which means "to do/make", in the passive voice, the subject is forbidden. I would argue that this usage is not in fact the passive, but rather the middle voice, yet another voice that English doesn't really have.

This applicative also appears in the next-to-last sentence: "Esi siro ioz bun ier shasa, chreka ier ke e shana taia horositoz za," translated, "Like my father who came before me, I became the king of all horses."

Hra'anh: New Directions

Tizik bender.

No, I did not wish for you to go on a bender. That's how you say "buenos dias" in Hra'anh, and it's pronounced [ˈti.zik ˈbɛn.dɛɾ]. It literally means, "Good day to you." I thought that today I would talk about the new directions I'm planning on taking in the development of Hra'anh.

First of all, inspired by David J. Peterson, I'm going to be doing some diachronic historical linguistics to help make it more naturalistic. I'm not going to change the obviously early-stage borrowings from the Indo-European Sprachbund (most notably from the Romance family), but I am going to start creating some roots that I'm going to evolve. I've already got some related words: fetek (tail) is related to feteko (dignity) and fetekhuza (duty/responsibility). I'm going to contrive some reverse sound changes from modern Hra'anh to proto-Hra'anh. I'm also going to do some spelling reforms. This will enable me to branch Bosk'e, the Nomads' language's ancestor, off of the protolanguage.

Secondly, I'm going to start creating a traveler's kit. I'm going work on creating documents, in English, about how to visit Hra'anh as a tourist, including visa applications, a phrasebook, and more. This seems to be somewhat of a trend in conlanging, and it'll give me good practice in things like desktop publishing (grief, that's a dated term). I'm also going to work on doing fandubs and original dramas in Hra'anh, which will wind up being pretty much monologues or soliloquies unless I can get others to work with me in their creation. I'm also going to be doing lessons at some point, but I need to get an idea of what format I should do.

I've already got the script together for a fandub of a scene from Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. It was all inspired by this thread on the CBB, which is one of the three big conlang-oriented gathering places (the others being the ZBB and the conlang listserv). The script is as follows:
Thele chreka ier ke lel'vakh za. Ier esi e pom shaloz, ier utho za, ih ier tekai maiat za. Ier chtena doke e iekol ahrem. Ier selema doke e khush ail. Shom ier siet chreka? Ishe ih ishe, iok siete'chrekoi hrusima. Esi siro ioz bun ier shasa, e shana taia horositoz chreka ier. Feri fetekhuza za doke zuthire zek ahrem.
I'll be recording it and trying to cobble together a dub using whatever software I can find. I'm still mad at Microsoft for gutting Windows Movie Maker a couple of years ago, and I don't know if they're going to put stuff back in, or if they already have. I'll have to look at it.

Until next time.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Syntax and Semantics

These topics makes me cry. But I still need to go over them, especially for Hra'anh. Hra'anh is a bloody mess right now.

Hra'anh is horrible partly because I have been translating dialogue from English, and truthfully, Hra'anh is semantically and syntactically different from English. I need to just scrap the current translations and start over. I'm also going to use the 218 Sentences to Test Conlang Syntax. Interestingly, Hra'anh happens to be the only aspect-oriented language I have; the others are mood heavy. I like moods for some reason.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Word of the Day #4

Xoxoiaqanaimoie' - "Some of the people shouted more than once."
Literal translation: "Person no person shouted more than once."

Language: Cradle Kuti wane
Cradle Kuti wane is the oddball in the Kuti wane family. Not only does it retain the original click consonants from Mikutiam wane, which went away in all of the other daughter languages. It's also a synthetic language, whereas its siblings are all fairly isolating. Also, its syntax is SVO instead of VSO. It has, though, lost case marking, just like its siblings, making it an analytic language.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Word of the Day #2

Krika /ˈkɾi.kɑ/
An undesirable person, often used to denigrate one's character or intelligence. It is frequently used like the English "jackass", but it has a much stronger connotation.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Word of the Day #1

Aklak /ˈɑ.klɑk/
1. A vessel used for the temporary storage of large volumes of drinking water; a Camelbak
2. A plastic cup or bottle of water kept by the bedside for the purpose of quenching midnight thirst

1. Pepek ipfzik e aklak pepoz komea.
2. (spoken by a disrespectful toddler) "Esh e aklak ioz kikome!"

Mouse over the examples for glosses!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Mi lernata Esperanto.

The title translates to "I am learning Esperanto." And really, that is what I've decided to do. I chose Esperanto as a focus over, say, Italian for a couple of reasons. First, Esperanto is a language that is said to be relatively easy to learn as a second language, and I plan on using the experience as a gateway to learning other languages. I eventually plan on becoming a polyglot, with Spanish, French, Italian, German, maybe Russian and maybe Mandarin Chinese on the docket.

I would also like to afd thst I have not forgoten my own conlang. I have one thing to say: "Iok hra'anh chrekete." This translates to <I (am) creating Hra'anh.> I have been working on translating dialogue from Solitude in recent days, and it has been quite the experience. I suppose that I should at some point get around to translating The North Wind and the Sun, which isn't too long of a text to tramslate, no matter what the folks at Conlangery say.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Tonight I set about translating some of the dialogue in my current novel project, Solitude. I now know that the best way to develop your conlang is to translate. Some of the stuff I did tonight:

* I created a bunch of new words.
* I created a genitive case marker.
* I created an infix that marks reciprocity.
* I created a question particle.

That was from translating only four sentences. Doesn't sound like much, but the translation, glossing and IPA, as well as the research I did, took me the better part of an hour for just those four sentences. I anticipate that I will get better as I go along and run out of features and words to add. And maybe the notes I keep adding to my grammar will out a significant dent in things.

Examples to come.

(posted from my phone, so lack of formatting)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Introduction: My Language and Me

First, a little bit about me. I've been conworlding for...holy cow, 7 years now. I've been conlanging for probably 4 years, and my language has gone through many changes as I continually develop it. I am a professional student even though I'm not currently in school, and I'm working on a music degree. I have written several novels and short stories, which are the primary reason for my interest in conlanging. I got into the Conlangery Podcast a few weeks ago, and in listening to it, I've learned mountains that I wouldn't have before I discovered the podcast.

As far as languages, I'm a native English speaker, and I've studied Spanish through Rosetta Stone (which I highly recommend). I'm far from fluent, and my grammar is a wreck. A woman asked me the other day, "¿Hablas español?" Crestfallen, I replied, "Me no hablo español muy bien. Un pocito, pero no bien." I intend to change that. I currently want to learn the following to some degree of usability:
  • Spanish (fluently)
  • Italian (fluently)
  • French (conversationally)
  • German (conversationally)
  • Esperanto
  • Mandarin
  • Russian
A tall order, I know, but I would love to have some facility in these languages if for no other reason than to make it easier to sing in foreign languages.

Now for a little bit about my conworld and its conculture. The world's name is Hra, and it is a planet located approximately fifteen light years from Earth. I started developing the language to some degree on the same day that I started developing its speakers, the hra'vakh. The first thing I developed was the script. I started playing around with the phonology, but it was awful to pronounce for the longest time. As I started creating words, things changed and I made it easier to pronounce. A couple of years ago I finalized the script and started on the syntax.

I put it away for a while, but after hearing an interview with Karen Traviss about Mando'a, the language of the Mandalorians in the Star Wars universe, I became intensely interested in finishing Hra'anh to the point that it was actually teachable and speakable. I currently have almost 200 out of the 2000 that Traviss suggests for minimum conversational capability.

I keep changing the grammar, syntax, word order, etc. But it's good that I'm moving away from relexing English, i.e. keeping the grammar, syntax, etc. and just coming up with new words. If all goes according to plan, I'll have my children speaking Hra'anh and English.