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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *