NANP: Word, Weird, Wyrd

Awesome. Names are important, y’all.

Shadowhawk's Shade

Stopping by the blog today for the first Names: A New Perspective post for June is Elizabeth Bear, author of numerous fantasy novels of all varieties and also the winner of a fair few awards, the kind that make you go all “I wish that I was that good”. We can all dream right? Anyway, Elizabeth is an author that I’ve been wanting to read for a while now, and her The Edda of Burdens trilogy is on my reading list this year, since I put it on my “Top 25 Series I Want To Read In 2013” earlier this year. I will hopefully be getting to it either in July or August, and I’m looking forward to it. Also Range of Ghosts at some time, which has one of the most beautiful covers on a fantasy novel I’ve seen in a long time. Amazing stuff. In the meantime, here’s…

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Some Thoughts on Onomatopoeia and Conlanging

Okay so I have found out I’m terrible at learning to code from books and will have to ask a real live person to teach me some rudimentary things until I can learn from books. Before that happens, have some thoughts on onomatopoeia as it relates to conlanging.

(onomatopoeia: “a word that phonetically imitates or suggests the source of the sound that it describes”, or this particular property in itself. That is to say, words like quack, hiccup, creak, but also the kind of stuff you find in the background of comic books: ka-tchunk, bam, etc.)

Early Batman is infamous for ridiculous onomatopoeia.

Early Batman is infamous for ridiculous onomatopoeia.

Every language has different onomatopoeia. This is because of the same reason languages sound different from each other. The same Latin letters might have different sounds coded into them depending on your language, so when you’re describing the sound a pig makes when you feed it, it can sound very different. There’s of course the option to just imitate the noise and make a gruff inhalatory sound at the back of your throat, but chances are you can express pig-ness better with noises that are further from what an actual pig makes. If the culture your language is associated with has dealt with pigs it will probably have at least one word for the noise that pigs make (when you feed them (they make these noises in other contexts too)). In English, it is ‘oink’. In Swedish and Finnish it is ‘nöff’ (The Finns probably got it from the Swedes). Japanese: ぶひぶひ (buhibuhi). Dutch: knorren. Et cetera.

The onomatopoetic sounds that accompany a language are connected to the resources available in the language itself: the collections of vowels and consonants, the common combinations, and so on. If you’re going to construct a language, you’d be a fool to miss out on the excellent opportunity to see if you can imitate or suggest the sound that a pig makes. Or, if your made-up culture (every language should have at least one made-up culture attached to it) doesn’t have pigs, the sound that lalks make. In English, perhaps the lalk sound would be croo but I guess we’ll never know since they don’t exist.

There are interesting things to be done with this. Once you’ve made up a good vocabulary of onomatopoeia you can start attaching value to the different sounds and then develop other words from them. Like how quack can mean the sound ducks make, but also someone who is exploiting people by pretending to be a legitimate doctor (coming from the tendency of ducks’ bills in 18th Century Britain often being sold as a panacea in the form of a salve, along with snake oil and rhinoceros farts.) Okay, that etymology isn’t actually true, it’s from old Dutch quacksalver, hawker of salves, but there’s no denying that the word quack evokes ducks. People make buc-buc-puckaaaaw noises when shaming someone because they’re a chicken, and they aroo like wolves when someone else is the dog. In Scanian (skånska), a dialect of Swedish, you can ask someone if they are completely ‘nöffed’ if they are as stupid as a pig. One can play on these themes and make it awesome.

In most cases, you shouldn’t consider your conlang near completed unless you have down the sound of the wind and the animals your culture surrounds itself with.

A Thing What Might Prove Useful

So in addition to the Java book, I have now downloaded RunRev’s LiveCode, Which should help me understand programmey things.

The link is here:

Currently I don’t really know what to do with it but there are exercises and stuff in the Java book and I will attempt to do them in both LiveCode and Java, if that seems doable.

Tomorrow might get swallowed up by university work or I might post some assorted thoughts about English as a Lingua Franca, or the results of the first exercise. Either way, exciting things abound? Hopefully.

Why Hello

So this is the mission statement post. Here I will lay out the plans.

The purpose of this project is to have created a language rich enough to  write in, to translate, say, Kallocain in. The end goal is a manuscript of roughly 70,000 words which shall be at least two, hopefully all three, of these things: coherent, entertaining, pretty. The method I will use is explained in the quote below, as told on my other blawg:

This is the fun method. Credit for this idea goes to my good friend @kerastion (Rob Mitchelmore) who is full of various and great ideas, as you can tell from his contributions to the Glossary.

What you do is that you define a morphology. I probably need to learn some coding to do this but that’s fine. We can get the morphology in a few steps, and for simplicity’s sake we’ll do this with Latin letters. First we generate some syllables and double-syllables that we think are nice. Say, 150 of them or so, for a modest number. These are our base words or something. It is important to not give them any meaning. Then we define a few rules for gluing the words together, for putting words after each nother, and for morphing the words – adding and removing sounds, changing sounds and so. We do a test run of generating these words, say a hundred words, and read it aloud to make sure it sounds like something that could be an actual language.

When that is done, we generate about a book’s length of these and start interpreting what they mean, wildly. Have you made a tourist guidebook to a foreign planet? Have you written a compelling romance novel? A monster manual? We don’t know until we start picking it apart. And, in picking it apart, we create a language that is probably not complete but there can be communication in it.

I’ve no idea how long such a project would take, but I am thinking of starting one and seeing where it leads me.

So, in order to accomplish this I will need to start somewhere very close to scratch. There are questions like “will I use Latin characters?” and “what rules will govern the morphology” but we can’t talk about those things yet.

In order to create a language I must first learn a language (is there some poetry in that? Probably). Because I need to learn coding to generate huge portions of made-up words that can later be picked at. Currently the most codey thing I know is how to add tags to WordPress and maybe, uh, write something in LaTeX. Thankfully, Rob gave me this book in addition to some great ideas:


With it, I shall learn Java and then decide whether Java is good enough to generate stuff with, or if I need to learn another coding language after this. This will be known as Objective One: learn enough Java to decide whether another code language is needed or not.

In past times when I’ve tried to learn coding I have become easily frustrated. “Teaching you how to code” stuff is usually geared toward, written, proofread, recommended, etc, by people who have been coding since they grew teeth. So there are huge gaps in knowledge. I spent an entire evening once trying to embed an image of Jesus riding a dinosaur into a LaTeX paper and all the advice just said “just embed it, yo”. Turns out that you have to put stuff in the same folder? That is not obvious.

Anyway. So here we are. This book is geared toward my people and I will read it and it will teach me stuff! I will post my progress on this here blog, woo!

Cool stuff.

I will attempt to post something substantial here on this placeholder blog some time soon.

TED Blog

There are seven different words in Dothraki for striking another person with a sword. Among them: “hlizifikh,” a wild but powerful strike; “hrakkarikh,”a quick and accurate strike; and “gezrikh,” a fake-out or decoy strike. But you won’t find these words in George R. R. Martin’s epic series A Song of Ice and Fire, which is where Dothraki originated as the language of the eponymous horse-riding warriors; rather these and more than 3,000 other words were developed by David Peterson, the world’s authority on Dothraki.

At TED2013, Peterson gave this fascinating TED University talk on the process of creating Dothraki for the TV series Game of Thrones. Based on Martin’s books, the HBO series premieres its third season on Sunday.

Peterson, who has a masters in linguistics from UC San Diego, was teaching English composition at Fullerton College when he heard that HBO was hiring someone to develop Dothraki for Game of…

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