Today, We Feast; Tomorrow, We #Lexember

Tomorrow is #lexember. I’m not a #NaNoWriMo person because, as an academic librarian, my achievable word count the month I write an academic article column for a science librarian journal is more like 20-30K. I’ve never understood why #NaNoWriMo is during peak academic output season.

This year, my word count was even lower because I was suffering from the Cold from Hell for most of October, which impacted my to-do list in November. I usually don’t get sick, especially not for three weeks, but 2017 is the year I started submitting short stories and poems to lit mags again. People handle rejections in a variety of ways, but my brain does it by having vivid flashbacks to every bullying event I experienced between second grade and my junior year of high school, which raises my anxiety, cortisol, and loneliness, which all depress my immune system. Anything my brain processes as social ostracization/rejection can trigger that.

Moving on from darkness, #lexember will be fun this year. I started conlanging in my teens. It’s actually how I learned English grammar and usage. When I was sixteen or seventeen, I spent an entire summer glued to Wikipedia’s linguistics pages. I took both Old English at Smith College and a class on Tolkien and Old English while studying abroad at Royal Holloway for a semester junior year. I took French all four years, and I actually skipped from intensive elementary to literature courses because my professor flagged me as a student who would be bored in the intermediate class.

A lot of this early stuff influenced how I wrote Tveshi, which has a sound pattern like the bastard child of Latin, Old English, and something vaguely Japanese. Google Translate usually tries to autodetect it as Indonesian. But the other effect of Tveshi being so old is that it was my most developed language and is the brutal survivor of WordPerfect and a variety of other file formats before I discovered the LaTeX linguistics packages. Tveshi is in pain.

Tveshi dict example. My dictionary is in pain!!!
A screencap of my Tveshi dictionary. The blue entries are ones that are complete. The black entries are the ones that I have not edited. If I scrolled up to B-D, I’ve done a much more comprehensive job of fixing this, but I wanted to show you the Worst Case Dictionary Page.

For #lexember, my plan is to work on the Tveshi lexicon by fixing and expanding the dictionary and the word usage examples so I can eventually put this online with my other constructed languages. Tveshi needs so much TLC that it’s ambitious, too, to think that I can finish it in just one month — realistically, this probably won’t be a reality until February.

But Tveshi is my fuzzy child blanket language, the one I started out with, and it deserves to be recognized and not forgotten while I work on my newer conlangs like Mamltab, Narahji, and Classical Atarahi. Even if the people who speak it have a brutal history.

And I’ll leave you with a piece of Epiphany that is translated into Tveshi (with some Narahji sentences):

Mė ni ai sinnah kin tai aråhit liju mė modahem helai kefu Sapaji ni hasė tauhuoć peshė. Mė modahetaio Narahjiyui, Xai ku tsekto xikanosaịrru tsurhjas tsansakssa. Ueileluyuo, so narahịptis åsseka nia feasåć nia ratịtuć, sakit va koushesu moda aushi nia tsekto va thåtosui lithi moda aushi lo nia lė da jinnahio lir rer hjakait.

I dont know how to translate what I said next because the Sabaji dont have a way to say it. In Narahji, it reads, Xai ku tsekto xikanosaịrru tsurhjas tsansakssa. For the future, if this goes into an archive, sakit is a very specific word for apologizing, and tsekto is a form of alienation, both for people who have been left out.

Linguistic Beauty Can Be Hard to Podcast

To conclude, we believe views about the beauty and ugliness of languages and dialects are built on cultural norms, pressures and social connotations. […] Most listeners know of linguistic varieties that they do not like, but we should appreciate that these feelings are highly subjective and have no basis in social scientific fact.

From Giles, H. & Niedzielsky, N (1998). Italian is beautiful, German is Ugly. In: Bauer, L & Trudgill, P (Eds)., Language myths. London: Penguin, pp.92.

This was going around on Tumblr a while ago, via original quote-poster linguisten.

As part of my efforts to move over interesting stuff about constructed languages to Pangrammatike, here’s what went through my head when I was making Narahji — what I posted in response to the thread when it went through my Tumblr feed. I’ve added a bit to it because this is no longer on Tumblr:

Narahji can be very consonant-clustered, and it’s actually very hard for me as an English-speaker to do a sentence in Epiphany in that language on a first take. Not only do I need to speak an intact, decently-pronounced Narahji sentence, but I need to rapidly switch from English to Narahji and back again. It’s really hard. Narahji has a regular stress on final syllables, except not. It stresses the final consonant sans suffix, except for personal name suffixes, which are stressed. Here’s a set of examples where stress appears. I’m simplifying it by marking stress with an acute accent.

    • Manbezúrozaịrruịts. You yourself brought me.
    • Manbezúrozaịrra. You will bring me.
    • Fyúrbas manbezúrozaịrra. You will bring me accompanied by them.
    • Rúrbas manbezúrozaịrra. You will bring me accompanied by lim (note lack of gender in third person singular).
    • Ku sabí bezúrovịrra. We (inclusive) will bring potable water.
    • Ku sabí bezúrovịrrakịb. We (inclusive to the listener) will bring ourselves potable water. Could also mean, We (inclusive to the listener) will ourselves bring potable water.
    • Ku sabí kị́rhjas bezúrovịrra. We (inclusive to the listener) will bring ourselves potable water. An alternative way to do that sentence.

I wanted a language where consonants clustered like grapes caught in the mouth. When I learned that many conlangs spoken by villains (e.g., in Tolkien) had that clustering and strong agglutination, I took that as a challenge. I wanted to make a language that did it — a language not for villains. I clustered consonants a lot in Narahji, and I made it OVS — object, verb, subject.

Its earlier versions were more clustered than the one I decided on, and it has a lot of fricatives and vowel aspiration. It doesn’t actually sound that harsh now, I think — but I love the sound of Narahji, so I’m a bit biased.

I learned a while after I created Narahji that Klingon is also OVS with some consonants that also sound harsh to American English speakers. So I went in that direction while thinking, “I’m so fed up with you people who say languages like this are ideal for orcs and villains,” and (apparently) the creators of Klingon were like, “Let’s make something super alien and harsh because Klingons.”

Perceptions of beautiful dialects/languages are biased, just as Giles & Niedzielsky said. I actually think that Narahji is quite beautiful when it appears in sentences.

Insults in Narahji: The Noun Class Edition

(A partial repost from Tumblr with some new content.)

The Narahji spoken in Epiphany is not always internally consistent because it’s the Narahji of a changing time. Salus is navigating a complex world of formal, standardized Narahji and informal Narahji. In 1865 Standard Count, the year Epiphany takes place, language activists are working hard on a referendum that won’t make headway until the 1880s to recalibrate official Narahji based on outside-of-the-office usage.

When I say “Narahji,” I also mean the Narahji that is taught in schools — this is a canyon region over a thousand kilometers across and several hundred kilometers top to bottom on a map, so there are a lot of small dialects and regional languages.

Kati and Salus have an exchange in Entry 39 in which Salus is offended by Kati’s use of slang for the word family. In pre-reform Narahji, the word is ku bvyadö, a noun in the animate class. It will become ku pho, the slang term Salus dislikes, once reform takes hold. Ler distaste for the slang term mirrors common discomfort among speakers who feel ownership of a language when that language changes. Like many speakers, Salus is complicated — le also picks and chooses which linguistic innovations le’s comfortable using in writing.

Regardless of whether one uses ku bvyadö or ku pho, I’d like to talk about the noun class system, AKA the linguistic gender applied to nouns in Narahji. When I developed the disrespect system in Narahji, I had an exciting opportunity to apply something I found interesting in Aikhenvald’s How Gender Shapes the World. Outside of Indo-European languages, many will employ gender inversions when disparaging a noun or the thing the noun represents.

This is the pronoun system for modern Narahji. The most important bits of it are the animate/inanimate pronouns.

Refl./Emph. Subject Direct Object Indirect Object Possessive
1s -ịm man- mur momu
1pincl. -kịb kịn- kịr åskị
1pexcl. -bė byan- byur åbhi
2s -ịts tsan- tsur åtsu
2p -kė kyan- kyur åku
3s -ịr ran- rur moru
3sanim -kus san- sur mosu
3sinanim -ron nan- rur årur
3p -fė fyan- fyur mosfu
3panim -kyus syan- syur åsyu
3pinanim -lyon ñan- ñur moñu

Note that this is post-1880s Narahji — the slang possessive pronouns have been adopted into the official grammars taught in schools, whereas before there was a prefix, mos-, that glommed onto the indirect object pronoun.

Narahji, as part of the Ịgzarhjenya language family, divides the non-human world into animate and inanimate noun classes. All animals and plants take the animate class, as do things that are considered living things. Inanimate things will often be referred to using the inanimate class. Nouns that denote abstract ideas and concepts, such as families, mistakes, honor, &c., have irregular noun classes that need to be memorized by nonnative speakers. The articles used are ku (animate) and i (inanimate).

Native speakers may refer to things in the inanimate class with the animate class article when emphasizing the noun’s importance. This usually only happens once in the sentence, after which the native speaker will revert to the accepted noun class.

Thus, to say, A (goddamn) fire burned lim. It (emphatic) happened at the dock, one might say, Rankunælaịrru ku besun. I febiyxoho gådzælaịrruron. Fire, i besun, is transformed into ku besun. The speaker uses the correct pronoun suffix, -ron, for inanimate nouns in the second sentence.

The opposite might happen for nouns classed as animates. This is one way to code disrespect in Narahji.

Ogekowælaịrrabæn i pho åbhi. Our (shitty) family will not cooperate. A listener might respond, Ogekowælaịrrabænsæ̈ ku pho aku? That is a yes/no query that correctly uses ku pho.

Starting Pangrammatike

2016 and 2017 have been draining years. The social media cycles of alarm help us build coalitions, beg for basic rights, and describe injustices carried out by people in power. At the same time, they are designed to sap our energy and create fatigue so we don’t have the energy to build good things up. If we open our Twitter accounts, we all have maelstroms of things in our feeds that will keep us anxious and prevent us from connecting with one another.

I fell in love with grammar — quite literally — as a small child. Making constructed languages has always felt soothing. I’m the kind of language-learner who loves conjugating because it relaxes me. Sometimes, when people speak, I start to focus on the sounds that they don’t realize they’re making — the way that the j sound in English becomes a ch in some places, like a delicate chocolate bonbon — and on the sensation of sound in the mouth, as when the tongue clips forward from y to l in the second person innovation y’all. Language is a beautiful thing. Languages do beautiful things.

One of the most beautiful things about languages is how they change and become new things. They are like rivers, meandering in their valleys. Languages are galaxies, dialects rotating around a common center of gravity where the unseen things before the protolanguages lurk. They merge like galaxies, too — in conquest contacts and in trade partnerships spitting out their words and grammatical pieces like stars in a collision trail.

The concept for Pangrammatike started when I decided that grammar needed its Devil’s Battalion — named for the World War II battalion that tried innovative methods during the war — #grammardevils who care about Future English and ensuring that it is inclusive, that progressive grammar nuts like myself have a voice that is loud enough to matter. It takes a Greek prefix that means all- and the word grammatikê, for grammar, and gloms them together. I worship Hermes, who rules over liminality and things like language and prose, so it’s also a really convenient nod at him.

Conlangs

I want a place where I can talk about conlangs, worldbuilding, and the intersection between them in ways that are not relevant to my podcast Epiphany or the 100 million other stories I write set in the Seven Gardens. (I’ve had a Tumblr for a while, but as I start to figure out what’s important to me, I’m moving more towards using a desktop-based feed reader.) As a #grammardevil, some of this will be sociolinguistics — the Seven Gardens have a somewhat realistic set of conquest contact countries where languages and dialects compete and are under/over-resourced. The science fiction I write is deeply rooted in linguistics and library/information science, and there’s a lot of interplay between the two.

In addition, it’d be cool to actually review recently-published short stories and novellas that actively use conlangs. Because I use my own conlangs in my work, it’s good homework for me; but also, as a fellow conlanger, I think my perspective is relevant.

#grammardevils

As an example of why we need #grammardevils, the gender inflection in English’s third person singular pronouns is not working for everyone, and this is a problem. Pronouns exist to refer to an antecedent in an easy, grandparent’s-kitchen-secrets-for-the-best-gluten-free-cinnamon-buns sort of way. The fact that a piece of grammar designed to make life easier for speakers of a language is instead a stressor for a large group of English-speaking human beings is absurd and troubling. The fact that we haven’t standardized a neopronoun makes my ENTJ head spin. It is nearly 2018.

A well-known science fiction reviewer decided to include intolerant comments in ler reviews, and as a cis person who is pro-neopronoun, that bothers me because it (a) reinforces the stigma that grammatical innovation is bad and (b) tells large groups of people that they don’t matter and are not seen.

It’s also annoying because analyzing how people use neopronouns and singular they to see how they are navigating antecedents and innovating in style is profoundly more interesting, positive, and forward-thinking. Stylistic conventions are still evolving because language evolves, and any reviewer is living at a unique moment. Grammar eventually standardizes. We can watch major changes in queer linguistics and queer usage in real time. If I ever do a second master’s degree, unlikely in this political climate and with the 1.3-million word story I’m writing, it’ll probably be in sociolinguistics so I can study pronouns and queer linguistics professionally.

So. When I see things online that are grammatically awesome, I’m going to talk about them like the #grammardevil destroying English from the inside I am. When I do cool usage things, I’m going to share them because positivity pays forward. Beyond gender-neutral pronouns, I’ll also link to other cool things I love about grammar.