Conlang Ideas For November

I’m publicly posting my notes for my November conlang, which will be called the November conlang until I have a more appropriate name. Let’s hope that doing this in public will help me actually finish before December 1st.

Icelandic phonotactics.
Easy because materials to listen are readily available. Few people can pronounce strange sounds without hearing it. Even with IPA, intonation, sandhi and other things that make a language sound good are missing from a typical conlang definition. It is easier to borrow the phonotactics.

-Apriori. Outside of phonotactics, the language is apriori.
-500 root words plus derivational mechanisms. The shear number of words makes a conlang hard. 125 is too few (toki pona), 3000 is too many (tlIngan).
- Extensible. Community extension points should be clearly marked. Some word classes are open, others are not. Klingon is open enough, but the root words are too closed and result in weird circumlocutions. Toki pona leaves only proper modifiers open, but the roots are generative enough to keep phrases short, reusable and transparent. Of the 120 2 word phrases you can create with kala, only a few immediately seem to correspond to something in reality. I presume the situation is worse with Klingon, where many base words are hyperspecific, like a kind of knife, a kind of fictional gun (phasers), and not especially generative without a really flexible imagination.

Emphasis on easy, not on primative.
- Subordination makes certain things easy. But they aren’t common in languages of non-modern cultures (including Sumerians, who could write!)
- Primative societies needed to farm, hunt, gather and they needed basic root words for that. We don’t farm, hunt or gather (at least not as much) and we need words for other things before these 2ndary concerns.

Don’t rely too much on universal relationships.
This has to do with phrase building and compound building. For example, sun-circle, if it were a word, covers a lot of ground. We know that sun is the head, and circle is dependent. But beyond that, sun circle could be a day, a year, or any other concept that has the sun a main player on the stage and circle as less important player on the stage. This makes derived phrases opaque. Another example, it is better to have a word or morpheme that means “one who engages in the practice or profession of X” than to have “work + X” related by juxtaposition or some semantically weak particle and just hope that people know that you mean “one who engages in such work as a profession”

Strict Bounds on using negation as a word building device.
Un-, non- works best when there are polar opposites. It works worst when there are multiple qualities, a plausible complement meaning or is just too clever– e.g. maltrinki (undrinking, pissing, which doesn’t even make sense, since reversing the process of drinking is probably puking).

Interesting metaphysical obsessions. Interesting distinctions.
Time, degrees of completion, number of people are all interesting, but there are so many other interesting metaphysical obsessions. Edibility, movability, etc.

No conculture.
Certainly not in the sense of the conculture that might be used in a novel. I’m not a novel writer and have no interest in writing a fictional ethnographic report. Concultures are time sinks and make it more difficult to learn a language as one has to come to terms with what to do with the conculture (ignore it? role play it? write fiction that draws upon it? assimilate with it and live as if you really were a Wookie?)

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2 Responses to Conlang Ideas For November

  1. Damon Lord says:

    Interesting! I’ll be following this with interest. Could this be considered as a linguist’s version of National Novel Writers Month?

  2. Dave Raftery says:

    Why are you using Icelandic phonotactics, aside from the widely available listening materials? Won’t the use of diphthongs, make learning your language more difficult? And the accents over some letters will make it harder to write.

    I like the number of root words set at 500.

    I look forward to following the progress of your language.