Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Build-Yer-Own Language (Recap)

Part 1 (phonetics and phonology) Part 2 (more phonology) Part 3 Part 4 (both morphology) Part 5 (syntax)

It's been a while since I wrote Part 5 of this series, so before I launch into Part 6 (Examples of Syntax in Use), I should probably do a quick recap. I know I've got more readers now than I did the last time.

The goal of this series is to cover each subfield of linguistics as it relates to creating fictional languages. I know it probably doesn't seem so all the time, but it's all useful information, really. Once I'm done with the more technical aspects, I'm going to be discussing "soft" subfields like sociolinguistics, acquisition, cognition and psycholinguistics, and elicitation.

The fields I've covered so far are:
  • Phonetics, the study of how we make and perceive speech sounds
  • Phonology, the study of how individual sounds become syllables and how the sounds vary depending on what other sounds are beside them
  • Morphology, the study of how syllables are given meanings and made into words. 
  • Syntax, the study of how words are put together into sentence
More details are naturally available if you click the links above.

I've been using a fictional language, Pamak, as my main example language in this series. So far, I/we have established the following rules for it. (Yes, this post is intended as a reference for later posts. As much for me as for you guys.)

Rules for Pamak
  1. Pamak has the following consonants: p b t k m n f v s x l
  2. Pamak has the following vowels: i e a o u
  3. Pamak syllables fit one of these molds: CV CVC CCVC CVCC CCVCC (repeat all with VV)
  4. Vowels will be nasal before nasal consonants.
  5. A nasal consonant will always be produced in the same spot as the consonant that comes after it, if there is a consonant.
  6. No other consonant needs to match for place of articulation. (This isn't a rule in the linguistic sense, but I'm writing it to remind myself.)
  7. Any consonant preceding a high vowel (/i/ or /u/) will be palatalized, meaning that a faint y (/j/) sound gets added. Think "cute" [kjut].
  8. If two adjacent consonants are made in the same spot, but one is voiced and the other is voiceless, then the second consonant will change its voicing to match the first, unless the second consonant is a nasal. If the second consonant is a nasal, the first consonant doesn't change.
  9. Unstressed vowels should be dropped if the word is 4+ syllables and dropping the vowel won't result in a non-syllable. 
  10. If two adjacent syllables result in a very awkward consonant cluster such as xpxm, add /e/ in the middle of the cluster.
  11. Pamak is an agglutinative language.
  12. Adjectives will be made from nouns and verbs by adding -mis to the root
  13. Adverbs will be made from adjectives by adding -san to the root
  14. Words become verbs when you add -mifs
  15. Words become nouns if you add vlan-
  16. The information we put in pronouns will be indicated by prefixes, not separate words. 
  17. pa-, tuk-, and klen- give us 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person, respectively. 
  18. bal- means "plural". 
  19. There is no grammatical gender.
  20. The prefixes in 17 and 18 can be put on nouns to signal possession, or verbs to signal subject and object.
  21. fa- is past tense. Future is signalled like in English, with a separate verb.
  22. -ba makes nouns plural.
  23. Compounds can be formed from noun+noun, noun+verb, verb+verb, or verb+noun.
If you're going to take away one thing from that list, it's this: languages have a lot of rules. And we're not finished with rules yet. There's still syntax to get through, and then some niggly things as we get into semantics, pragmatics, tense, aspect…

I/we have also come up with the following words and syllables:

Nouns (N): snopt vlant snaif tlant mamf vlask vlaxt
Verbs (V): xmal flaxin natuft laubu pavbam xoiktap
Affixes: pa tuk klen mifs bimf plan san mis bim fa bal ba vlan
Unassigned: bimf plan bim ba

We haven't given meaning to all of them yet. More meanings will come later on, during the Syntax in Practice post. However, in Part 4 I did do up the following, to demonstrate the word-formation rules in action.

to sit - xmal
seat - vlan-xmal
my seat - pa-vlan-xmal
I sit - pa-xmal
s/he sits - klen-xmal
you sat - tuk-fa-xmal

boy - laubu
his/her boy - klen-laubu
their boys - klen-bal-laubu-ba
boyish - laubu-mis
boyishness - vlan-laubu-mis
to become childish - laubu-mifs

And to give a hint at the syntax lessons, I wrote some simple sentences.

  • Your boys sit - klen-bal-xmal tuk-laubu-ba
  • They become childish - klen-bal-laubu-mifs

Yes, that last sentence is also one word. One of the coolest things about agglutinative languages is that they can do that and nobody blinks.

I'm hoping to get Part 6 up sometime next week, and then keep up a semi-weekly schedule. Hope you keep reading!

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