Monday, October 7, 2013

Five Registers

Chapter Seven of Gary D. Chapman's Covenant Marriage is entitled "Five Levels of Communication".  In it, he identifies five different kinds of interaction, each one involving more intimacy than the last.

1.  Hallway Talk.  As Westerners, we often struggle in English for a way to ask, "how are you?" that is not simply a hollow greeting.  This level of interaction is the lowest, and occurs naturally when you pass a stranger in the hallway.

2. Reporter Talk.  People who know each other well can often fall into a pattern of communication no different than that between people who need to accomplish a simple task together, like a bank teller and a customer.  Chapman calls this "just give me the facts".

3. Intellectual Talk.  Next, we come to sharing our opinions, judgments, and interpretations.  This involves more intimacy and trust, and chance to be hurt.  There is an inherent test here: this level is almost never maintained; they either go up or down.  Every response to a level 3 statement is a test.

4. Emotional Talk.  Here we say "I am" statements, statements of feelings.  Most responses that aren't deliberate here are injurious.  

5. Genuine Truth Talk.   Honest, but not condemning.  Open, but not demanding.  

Now, from a conlang perspective, its impossible to force communication up the levels by any amount of engineering.  However, it is important to plan ahead and not let such important phrases like, "how are you?" be relegated to the dung heap of level 1.    Perhaps, as in English, only certain stock phrases could be associated with level one.  In our time, most interaction is level two, and that's ok.  Perhaps that could be programmed in.  Discourse particles could mark three and four.  Five is not marked by morphology but by the heart.  It's hard to program culture as well!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Argument as Dance

Now, I don't believe in the strong version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, that language dictates thought. I do think, however, that language affects thought, like rocks in a river.  In "Metaphors We Live By", a traditional English cognitive metaphor is exhibited: "Argument is war.  This metaphor is reflected in our everyday language by a wide variety of expressions:

Argument is war

  • Your claims are indefensible
  • He attacked every weak point in my argument.
  • His criticisms were right on target.
  • I demolished his argument.
  • I've never won an argument with him.
  • You disagree?  Okay, shoot!
  • If you use strategy, he'll wipe you out.
  • He shot down all of my arguments.
It is important to see that we don't just talk about arguments in terms of war.  We can actually win or lose arguments.  We see the person we are arguing with as an opponent.  We attack his position and we defend our own.  We gain and lose ground.  We plan and use strategies.  If we find a position indefensible, we can abandon it and take a new line of attack.  Many of the things we do in arguing are partially structured by the concept of war.  Though there is no physical battle, there is a verbal battle, and the structure of an argument – attack, defense, counterattack, etc. – reflects this.  It is in this sense that the argument is war metaphor is one that we live by in this culture; it structures the actions we perform in arguing.

Try to imagine a culture where arguments are not viewed in terms of war, where no one wins or loses, where this is no sense of attacking or defending, gaining or losing ground.  Imagine a culture where an argument is viewed as a dance, the participants are seen as performers, and the goal is to perform in a balanced and aesthetically pleasing way.  In such a culture, people would view arguments differently, experience them differently, carry them out differently, and talk about them differently.  But we would probably not view them as arguing at all: they would be simply be doing something different.  It would seem strange even to call what they are doing 'arguing.'" (p.4-5)

I have decided to take Lakoff and Johnson at their word: "to dance" will be the verb for "to argue" in Weddish.
  • Yiddish: טאַנצן
  • German: tanzen
  • English: to dance
  • Basque: dantzan
  • Biblical Hebrew: חוּל
As I am attempting to be more Germanic, the Hebrew looses out here.  tænts it is.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Grammatical Persons

My current project is called 'Weddish', a conservative Judeo-Christian marriage auxlang.  I'm having a lot of fun designing a grammar that combines Yiddish, Hebrew, English, and then whatever I want!  The first part I want to share with you is the internal debate I had about grammatical person.

At first, I wasn't going to do anything special besides having singular, plural, and dual number.  (Dual would make couples stand out by having their own verb conjugation and pronouns.)  that lasted about five minutes.  On the first day of class, however, my professor went on and on about how "the two shall become one flesh" and how he could no longer think of himself as a (lone) individual, that being married for 40 years had changed his identity.

"Not only are your bank accounts merged, but your outlook on life becomes 'we' not 'I'" Under the Canopy, David & Esther Gross, p.17

So then I thought, This will be a language only spoken between husband and wife, so there will be no first or second person singular -- on the verb or in pronouns of the core cases.  And I went with that up until about an hour ago.  But a language will not live and grow with such severe limitations.  So now I have a new idea.

What if there were a full system of first, second, and third person, and a full set of numbers -- singular, dual, and plural, but one has to refer to oneself and address other people with the singular for the unmarked and the dual for the married.  Like my second idea, married people can still refer to themselves singularly in cases other than the ergative and absolutive.  But as in Israel today, which has gendered forms of the second person, it would be hard to answer the phone politely in Weddish, because you don't know the marital status of unfamiliar callers.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


I have no idea why, but the urge struck me to write Ancient Hebrew in Hangul.  I miss Korea sometimes.

Modern Hebrew has erased all the distinctions between emphatic and non-emphatic consonants, so there may be some surprises for you there.  I tried to keep things as close to Hebrew and Korean as possible, but the palatal series has to become pharyngeal.  The alveolar fricative series needed an emphatic and the palatal didn't, so ㅊ got stolen to become /ts/.  The labials stops don't need an emphatic in Hebrew (unlike Ge'ez) so ㅍ became ש.  I would've prefered the + under the ㄹ to be joined to it, but I was already stretching Unicode far beyond what it was intended to do.
י and ו got their own special treatment a la Hangul: the ø onset consonant marker (which I'd already hijacked to be the glottal stop) doubles as the place-holder for the Korean way of indicating diphthongs.  Fortunately, I didn't have to worry about /wu/ and /wo/ coming up in Hebrew, so the lack of forms in Korean didn't hurt me any.  /ɰi/ became /wə/ and I had to add slashed to create /ji/ and /jə/.  Otherwise, it should all be pretty intuitive.  I'm too tired to figure out how to add dageshes, sin and shin dots except by hand!  Reduced vowels and full-vs.-defective spelling rules need not apply.

Here's Genesis 1:1 in Hebrew:

בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ.

and here it is in Hanbrew:

쁘랭핃 뻐렁 에로̟힘 앧 하퍼마임̅ 의앧허어렟.

(I included the coda glottal stops because I think they were pronounced in Paleo-Hebrew).

Saturday, February 23, 2013


I've recently joined the Language Creation Society, and I hope to have a website up soon, though I have very much enjoyed Frathwiki's hospitality.  The size of this undertaking is quickly getting away from me, to the point where I don't think I would've begun, had I known!  Let me bring you up to speed on the ever-blurring line between fact and fiction.

First, what is true.
The Hebrew Bible - as we have it in the Massoretic Text tradition - is a hypothetical reconstruction of what actually pronounced.  This is not to say that we don't have an accurate transmission of the original text.  But the Semitic abjads until ca. 700 A.D. are just that, adjads.  That is, they record the consonants and not the vowels.  The Massorites (that school of copyists who follow Ben-Asher and his particular system of vowels and other marks) did their best guess as to what had been pronounced by their ancestors before Aramaic had swept in an irrevocably altered their language.  Even stranger, there are historical layers and dialects preserved in the original consonantal text which even different original speakers would've found perplexing.  Also, as the Dead Sea Scrolls have shown, tiny variations in spelling had crept in from the exile until the foundations of the various schools of pointing arose.

All of this intrique leads to a great deal of difficulty in reconstructing what Paleo/Proto/Early Hebrew sounded like.  This is layer of Hebrew is (consonantally) preserved in Genesis 49, Exodus 15, Numbers 23-24, Deuteronomy 32-33, Judges 5, Psalms 18 and 68.  The next layer - called Early Biblical Hebrew - comes in two flavors.  In the North of Israel, there is greater preservation of the spoken form of the common people, but uncommon influence of Phoenician.  In the South of Judah, there is a great literary style which perserve older form, but is influenced by literary styles of the upper crust societies from around the Fertile Crescent at the time, especially Akkadian.  Here, the Psalm of Habakkuk is exhibit A.  Next, as the exile(s) began, Aramaic became entrenched as the lingua franca of the day and all the Jews/Israelites were bilingual.  Unfortunately for our reconstruction, the Aramaic idea of mater lectionis becomes very prominent now, at the same time as a plethora of sound changes are modifying the Hebrew of the people's faulty memory.

Now, for the fiction.
I am imagining a group of mixed people from the Levant  - but predominantly Hebrews - leaving ca. 1000 B.C. for the Philippines.  There are several waves of immigration before a Hittite and a Sabean scholar show up.  The people are in danger of being completely assimilated into the Proto-Malayo/Austronesian language around them.  But some of them remembered the old ways and speech, but these two rallied them around the cause of written language, a unique claim-to-fame for these workers in an illiterate society.  These two "crafted" a language pastiche that could be understood by all the people together.  Then, a curious thing happened: the prophet Jonah came to them and reunited the people around YHWH, the god of non-Hebrews too.
Through the end of the 8th century B.C., this community received news from as far afield as Spain, copying and redacted Scripture to suit their brand of theology.  They played a crucial role as Scribes to the balangay of the Philippines, keeping all records carved on bamboo and tree-bark.  Only in a secret cave did they write on clay, and even that wasn't fired.  Only a collection of tablets and ostra from the end of their time (near 100 B.C.) survived, vast though it was.

So, my task is vast.  Reconstruct what I think the Paleo-Hebrew texts of the Bible were, transmogrify them into an Ancient Filippino setting, write them in Japanese characters.  Awesome!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Vocalic Roots

So, I'm attempting to conceive of a proto-lang that is completely nuts. Basically, I want to start somewhere very unnatural and make it as natural as I can. Semitic language begin with tri-consonantal roots. What if some kind of tri-vocalic root system arose? What would the inherent properties of the vowels be? What would left open for completion in the verbal and nominal systems? The easy way would've been to just come up with more than 20 vowels (plain, nasal, long, unrounded, etc.) and less than 10 consonants, to parallel the 30ish consonants and 10ish vowels of Proto-Semitic. But taking a step back towards the naturalistic, I saw vowels don't behave like that. Vowels affect thing around them (assuming they're in charge) or they get affected by the consonants around them. So I looked into vowel harmony, and I thought, "I should have consonant harmony" and not just of the mutational variety either. The next big decision is to make everything voiced. Most likely, this is because my biggest conlang is all unvoiced, but I also think the language is pro-singing, i.e. pro-voiced. The four biggest categories for consonants that we would want vowels to spawn are
  • nasals
  • stops
  • fricatives
  • approximants
'''Nasalization''' is easy enough to understand. (Pre-)'''Glottalization''' might explain stops. Approximants are often co-articulated, e.g. /j/ is just palatalization, /w/ is labialization, etc. '''Fricitivization''' is not a word, but Chinese linguists were so eager to add ɿ, ʅ, ʮ, and ʯ that there must at least be some linguistics who think it ought to be. /i/ and /j/ are related, as are /u/ and /w/. It is disputed, but rhotic approximants come from rhotacized vowels, and /e/ might be related to /l/. I am pretty good at a Chewbacca impression, and I get it by co-articulating everything with a uvular trill/approximant. This can be done with any other voiced approximant and will all the vowels (though /i/ is most difficult). Lastly, some consonants can only be made by getting the tongue all the way out of the mouth. This could be called (and I'm totally making this up) '''Advanced Tongue Tip'''. This could be thought of as having two degrees, one dental and one alveolar.
Nasalization Glot. Fric. Labial. Uvuv. Velar. ++ATT +ATT +RTR Palat.
Glottalization No
Fricitivization No No
a.k.a. Rounding
m b v
Uvularization ɴ ɢ ʁ
a.k.a Velarization
ŋ g ɣ w ɣʶ
++ATT ð Yes ðʶ ɫ̪
ATT n d z Yes ɫ
RTR h ʔ ž Yes ř Yes
Palatalization Yes ɴʲ ŋʲ ʎ
Ø No No No Yes ʀ ɰ Yes Yes ɻ j
"Yes" means a consonant is underspecified. Considering only RTR for a minute, here are the basic vowels (ATR on the left, RTR on the right):
Front Mid Back
High i ↔ ɪ ʊ ↔ u
Mid e ↔ ɛ ə* o ↔ ɔ
Low æ ↔ a ɐ ↔ ɑ
Nasalization and rounding will be considered separately. Rhotacized will be the same as "schwa-ified".
Finally, a Ph.D dissertation I found delineates articulation thusly:
  1. Front
    1. Suction
    2. Continuant
    3. Strident
    4. Lateral
  2. Labial
    1. Round
    2. Labial
  3. Coronal
    1. Anterior
    2. Distributed
    3. Coronal
  4. Dorsal
    1. High
    2. Low
    3. Back
    4. Dorsal
  5. Back
    1. Nasal
    2. ATR/RTR
    3. Radical
    4. laryngeal (creaky voice)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Snake Phonotactics

In my version of Parseltongue, here are the phonotactics:

(The tap is the alveolar flap and the click is dental.  ugh.)  You can start anywhere.  There is no boundary between words.  Epenthetic 'a's will probably abound.  I need to wrap my head around 's' being the resting sound, like 'uh' in English.