Tag Archives: Language

Lexember #9 – ƿabál

Orthography is, in its simplest terms, how you write a language. You probably don’t think of it much, but the written word is in your face all day. It probably becomes invisible to you until confronted with the foreign. Arabic, Hindi, Cyrillic, Greek, Japanese, Chinese characters stand out because they are intrinsically meaningless to a non-speaker, or should I say non-reader. It takes time and effort to learn and eventually see through the new script. But we also rarely think about how even the same alphabet is used for different languages.

For instance, I’ve posted quite a bit of Irish on here. One of the things that makes Irish so strange and so hard to pick up is that it is essentially incompatible with the Latin alphabet. Some things are easy, like mór is pretty easy to figure out. It’s sort of like more in English. What about mhór? Can you figure out that it is like war English? Or are you stuck on that ‘h’ in the middle? What about Maidin mhaith? Maiden wath? What about “mazin wa”?

H does weird things in Irish.

Orthography is also important in translating, specifically in what is called transliteration. Transliteration is taking a language from its native orthography and putting it into a foreign orthography. When I post translations here it is always in two forms of Latin Orthography – the extended and the simplified (basically one that I use when able and one that is better compatible with reddit and this site).

Some languages are easy to transliterate. Usually because they use similar alphabets to ours. Take German, which uses an extended Latin alphabet. Fußball is easily made Fussball. Bäume is easily made Baeume. But what about Chinese? Or Korean? That gets a little harder.

Anyway, Hadysh is pretty easy to transliterate. It uses a very “shallow” orthography. That is to say most letters correspond 1:1 to letters. That isn’t 100% true, but compared to most languages it is. Today’s word is  ƿabál, which can also be written hwabail.  Both are pronounced the same, but I think that the first is significantly more concise.

What does it look like in Hadysh? It looks like this:

Lex_9_2

Hadysh is an alphabet in the truest use of the word. That means individual glyphs (letters) must be combined to create a syllable. This is compared to abjads (like Arabic), abugidas (like Tamil), and syllabaries (like hiragana).

In an abjad the vowel sound is often not written. In an abugida the vowels are marked, but often as a part of the consonants (think Tengwar if you are familiar with it). Syllabaries use a single glyph for each, distinct syllable.

Hadysh started out as a abugida but eventually transitioned to an alphabet (though can easily still be written as an abugida, and usually is for religious and ceremonial reasons). In-world the shift occurred  when writing became cheaper and more in-demand and then was formalized with the creation of the printing press. Basically it was easier to print words when you didn’t have to worry about the placement of vowels over consonants. That explains why vowels are simple (e.g. “=” for /a/ and “v” for /ɛ/) with much more complicated glyphs for the consonants.

Some sounds retain their old abugida versions. Diphthongs and nasalized vowels still appear over the letters “y” and “n” respectively. You can see a diphthong in the example above, the three apostrophes over the long symbol represent the /a/ and /ɪ/ sounds that make up the diphthong.

Like some alphabets it lacks a distinct “upper” and “lower” case.  There are also hand-written versions, though I have yet to work on a cursive script for the alphabet.

Anyway today’s word:

ƿabál (adjective) – gentle

I have chosen this word specifically for its use in a little translation fun I’ve had. I’ve translated the second-ish stanza of An die Freude, the words that go along with Ode to Joy.

Deine Zauber binden wieder
Was die Mode streng geteilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.

So here is An die Freude translated to Hadysh and in the long-form of Latin:

Lex_9

tshathwuzhac donazhulk

din thwoitaut sleid dzhukeguhad

adzhuzax hed pfau’s pfaucalren

um zhe threelin dzhuwelfezh hwabail

Cheers everyone!

Lexember #1 – Haldr

I am not going to post for Lexember everyday, so sorry if you thought I was. I will try to post as often as I can, so don’t worry, but like with NaNo, I don’t exactly need the weight of another month-long project weighing down on top of me.

A while ago I posted about my conlang, Hadysh, and we covered some basic form and grammar that existed in the language. We also went over IPA and how to read the little squiggles that help us read a foreign language.

I scrapped all that work, so don’t count on understanding where I’m coming from now, however, this new iteration is just as much fun and just as crazy looking. I hope those of you who enjoy languages and learning languages will enjoy this as well.

I will provide translations for sentences, as in the past these will constantly be in flux, so while I desperately hope they remain consistent they might not as my ideas evolve and smooth out. This is a work in progress.

However; I will avoid breaking things down – maybe in time you can see the method to the madness, maybe you won’t. Grammar and quirks will get discussed in later posts, potentially in more detail.

Today’s word is haldr.

Haldr (masculine noun) – heart

Dual – haldr; Plural – halds

Object – haldẽ

Genitive – haldrd

Instrument – amaldẽ

 

Sentence:

Eb̌ažūv gen ž̯om hed agamaldẽ.

Mobile friendly: Ebvazhuuv gen dzhom hed agamalden.

(I love you with all my heart)

NaNoWriMo and Lexember

Not that I posted about it at all or anything, but I partook in NaNoWriMo. I say “partook” because I finished back on 24. November. I’ve written on and off since, with Thanksgiving being my only full day off, but none of my days have been much more than 600 words.

NaNo, for me, is both a great month and a terrible month. Often times my competitive and obsessive natures take over and turn the month into a long, dark, maddening thirty days that constantly threaten to force me into the hateful arms of depression. It can be very damaging to my social life and to my self-esteem.

But I get a LOT of fucking work done. A lot. 50,000 words isn’t enough for anything I’m writing but it essentially meant I doubled the length of the Sun-King sequel in 24 days. That means it is about 2/3rds the way through.

Is it worth it?

That’s where I’m not so sure.

The last time I did NaNo was back in 2012, the year we moved to Detroit. Since then, while I try to write a lot all year round, I never gave any special attention to November. 2014’s November was mostly a dead month waiting on first readers to get back to me with their feedback.

This is quite possibly the last time I do NaNo. It will certainly be a while before I consider doing it again.

It’s a big reason why I wasn’t here much. I didn’t even open the page between October and a few nights ago (when I was scrambling to make sure my email servers were working – they are thankfully).

So, on top of NaNoWriMo, I will also be attempting to do LEXEMBER. I’m sure you’re all extremely excited.

Lexember, for the uninitiated (i.e. everyone), is a month-long challenge for conlangers to invent and then post a new word for their conlang.

Since scrapping my work on Hadysh earlier this year, I’ve started anew. You can find me talking on /r/conlangs in the 5 minute challenges. Hadysh has new life, an “official” transcription, and a lot more. I’ve really enjoyed bringing it back to life so hopefully for the linguistically-minded of all you out there, you’ll also enjoy a month of vocab and some chatting about how and why languages are so fantastically strange.

Hrol, everyone!

Anarcho-Linguist

I have a soft spot for dialects and minority languages, languages that might be on the brink of forever falling out of us. Not sure what drives me to this, why I feel a kinship of sorts with people I’ve never met and who’d probably not like me much if we did because I’d be asking them stupid questions about their language.

Recently I’ve seen an increase in posts about “good grammar”. What makes writing effective and there seems to recently be a huge focus on minute details and spelling, as if there is a standardized form of English, which there is not, actually. There isn’t a standard dialect of English written or spoken.

And that’s a cool thing.

When you read about France French being “correct” and Quebec French being “wrong” it comes from this standardization. France controls French and therefore is able to classify the Quebecois as essentially outside the Francophonie.

But we can’t do that in English… usually. There are exceptions to this, one of which I actually plan to share some thoughts on (knowingly as a well-off white boy).

I saw a post the other day that said “I don’t judge people on their age, nationality, or race… I judge them on their grammar.”

News flash… that means you judge people on their age, race, nationality, region, and class.

When we make fun of southerners for their dialect, we are making fun of them for being the other and oftentimes for being uneducated. We are usually making fun of them for being poor. Or for being “belles” who are haughty and above us, shallow or back-stabbing. How many times after the Kim Davis bullshit did you see a comic with her speaking in a stereotypical southern dialect? How many? Because I can nearly guarantee 100% of the time it was to make her seem simple and uneducated. Beneath us.

Where we are born, what language we learn first, and the dialects that we pick up around us govern to a large degree how we speak English. It could take years to pick up Scots or Ulster-Scots. I don’t use the word “treelawn” because I chose to. I don’t end sentences with prepositions because I want to. And I certainly don’t pronounce “water” as “wader” like every other American because it sounds prettier.

I speak the dialect of English I grew up with.

And here’s where the problem begins to arise: We don’t chose our dialects, but we are judged by them. And no dialect of English is judge more than AAVE (African American Vernacular English), sometimes poorly referred to as “Ebonics”, a word which will ne’er again appear in this post.

The lack of understanding of AAVE, what it is, how it works, and exactly how prevalent and self-consistent it is leads to people making very rash, very harsh judgement on its speaker for nothing but their language. All of this is very touchy, and honestly it is often impossible to have this discussion and walk away with any friends left.

AAVE is a self-consistent dialect/creole/language prevalent in the African-American community. It is the result of many pressures ranging from economic, racial, to historical. It is mutually intelligible with English but sits on a fence with dialects like Scots on whether or not it is a language and calling it a language has repercussions to it. Calling it a language might legitimize it. Calling it a language would shed light on the difficulty that kids growing up speaking exclusively AAVE have transitioning to a setting where only AmE is acceptable.

But it also would act to further isolate its speakers from work and opportunity. The way I see it is this: the second we call AAVE a language hoping to achieve progress someone will use it as an excuse not to hire someone based off language aptitude but deep down it is because of race. The second AAVE becomes a minority language things change and it isn’t predictable.

We’ve long equated adherence to a non-existent set of rules to education and mobility. Whether consciously or subconsciously the effects are real and it impacts people day in and day out.

Watch a video of a British comedian making fun of an American accent. Now imagine the the punch line was, “So that’s why I didn’t hire him.”

Good thing you learned the right dialect, I hope.

 

 

Anyway, I had a point but in writing this I started to get pissed. So I’ll end it there. Stop judging people on their grammar. It makes you a twat.

English is Dead, Long Live English

The English language has died.

Time of death? Probably sometime in the 1100s.

Cause? Sudden Influx of Normans Syndrome (SINS).

Next of kin? English.

Wait. What?

I’ve decided, rather willingly to become irate about pedants bitching about the “devolution”, “worsening”, and nearly literal “death” of our wonderful, beautiful, resilient language because people say “literally” to mean “figuratively”, “irregardless” instead of “regardless”, and “who” instead of “whom.”

Madness!

Anarchy!

Fucking teenagers and their 133t-sp34k and their iPhone9s and their having of the pre-marital sex!

Blasphemy!

Simple and true, our language has died and it was slain by… pedants who insist on made-up rules drawn from Latin, long-winded explanations of how to use what should be simple words, and a need to correct people on when to use specific spellings or “well” vs “good.”

Language, I will and have argued, are not owned by editors, pedants, professors, or teachers. They are not owned by dictionaries or websites. Languages are owned by their speakers going so far to say that there is no correct way to truly speak a language.

English is a prime example of this because it has so many speakers both native and those who rely on it as a lingua franca. It also has a very high percentage of speakers who are well educated and productive members of the so-called first or developed world. It means we have a lot of free-time to bitch about how English is used and spelled.

Only rarely though are the pedants, though, discussing grammar. Often “Grammar Nazis” are really “Writing Nazis”. They’re focus is not the correct use of are language, rather the adherence to spelling and the proper use of commas, and apostrophe’s. Only really rarely do they try to dig any deeper then that and the two big times its they whom are wrong.

me-fail-english-thats-unpossible_605

 

“Don’t end a sentence with a preposition.” Okay, that is some real grammar. Why? “Uhh… because it is a rule.” No it’s not. “Yes it is.” No it’s not, it comes from Latin. Do we speak Latin? “No…” Fine, then it isn’t a rule for English.

“Well, as long as you don’t split the infinitive.” There, another grammar point. Why? “Hey, don’t start with me, pal.” No. Why? Why can’t I split the infinitive? It’s two words: to go. To play. To read. To snore. Again, it is a fake rule ripped from other languages. The infinitive in Latin (and in most languages) is one word. GehenSpielen. Lesen. Schnarchen. I can’t split the German infinitive because the infinitive is one word.

Well, technically I could it is called infixing. But we don’t have infixing in English which is fan-fucking-tastic.

O. SNAP!

When people often talk about the “death” of English it is either the so-called misuse of common words or people spelling things strangely, often more phonetically. Neither of those is hugely indicative of the health of our language. Vocab is to a language what wall paper is to a house.  Replacing words only yields an encryption, not a new language, unless enough people replace all the same words the same way… and then you get a dialect. Unless those people have an army, then you have a language.

Languages are deep. They have winding, unique histories and they are forever changing. Vocab is the easiest to change because the spoken-word is so very prevalent. Languages are primarily spoken, thought, shared. Even writing like this is more of a conversation, it is more spoken than written – because I don’t edit it, I don’t follow stupid conventions, I literally literally write as I think and that yields a very natural flow of the language rather than some APA approved bullshit.

Vocab changes all the time, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, sometimes dramatically, sometimes it makes sense. “Knight” and “Knave” share the same etymological root, but are in many ways opposites. “Faggot” and “Fascist” are similarly linked (they both come from “a bundle of sticks”). “Boy” meant “servant” and “girl” meant “child” regardless of gender. “Hot” can mean temperature hot, it can also mean “sexually attractive”. German has an example of the opposite, geil means “horny” but young people often say it to mean “cool”.

The word “fuck” comes from the Proto-Indo-European word that meant “to strike”. The Latin word for “fist” pugnus shares that root as well. The word “poke” does too, (probably).

So that basically comes to the crux of my problem. Pedants never seem to want to turn back the clock farther than when they were in High School. There is no pedant on the internet seriously arguing that English was best in 988 or that we should really be speaking Proto-Indo-European because that was when language was “best”.

None of them argue to bring back grammatical gender to English, which English had two (Masculine and Neuter).

None of them argue to bring back all of our missing cases. We all know the subject, the direct object… the indirect object. What about the instrumentitive case (which was already dying by the times the Normans showed up)? The genitive? What if I told you that English completely lacks declination. Do we want to bring back fucking declination? Or more complicated conjugation?

No.

No one in their right fucking minds wants to bring back any of that. Because it is complicated and insane.

What English needs, what English has direly called out for these last two centuries has been spelling reform. Our spelling is no longer phonetic. Sure it isn’t as bad as Irish, but our language is hanging onto spelling rules and functions from the 1300s and 1400s because of pedants who cling to the glorious past (and realists who don’t want to replace a billion street signs). All those extra Es on shit? All those extra letters were probably pronounced – because we had no formal spelling rules (remember dictionaries are a modern invention) so people wrote words like they sounded.

Shakespeare wasn’t adding that “e” on the back of his name out of boredom. It was probably literally literally pronounced “Shaykes-peereh”.

So you want to know what? I don’t fucking care that teenagers misspell words. Let them. Maybe they’ll be open to the idea of finally instituting an English spelling reform.

So the next time you see someone chatting in slang or simplifying the spelling of words remember it is they, not you, who is ensuring that English reaches the next generation of users. And hopefully the find it stronger and more useful than ever.

The English language has died and it was killed by pedants.

Long live the English Language.

ɸat æsð, de?

I’ve been wasting a lot of time lately thinking about language. The result has been a great deal of work going into my Hadysh conlang. The big thing I’ve worked on lately was dialect. The reason is that two of the main characters of Sun-King speak Hadysh natively: Einar and Rozenn, but they speak different dialects. In the book this is represented with Rozenn speaking in an accent.

I chose a light, lowland Scots accent for her because there is some baggage that goes along with it. Semi-foreign but not in an exotic way, working-class, poor, tough, ready to rumble. I wanted that baggage to come along. However, Einar speaks a more “proper” dialect. His dialect is closely related to the “proper” dialect with only a few differences in the position of certain vowels.

All told there are nine dialects not including the “perfect” form I’ve been presenting here. No one speaks that dialect, just like no one speaks dialectless English. There is a dialect considered “proper” and a dialect considered “free” of regional variation, but that is a dialect – just the dialect we expect to hear on the radio.

There is a dialect that is closest to “perfect” and it actually considered by the characters of this world as a mark of low status – it is the language of those who live on the frozen edge of civilization. But that is true in most languages. The “correct” or “proper” forms are rarely chosen for their actual closeness to any proto-language. “Received Pronunciation” (Queen’s English) is no closer or further from Shakespearean English than any other – and that assumes we take Shakespearean as “proper” itself.

It’s not.

Languages are not proper – they are arbitrary. We assign everything through baggage. I would assert that “whom” is not correct English. If you use “whom” you are being a dick. You are trying to speak above people. Normal people speaking normal English do not use “whom.” Ergo, “whom” exists in a smart-ass dialect.

Apologies to any speakers of dialects that still natively contain “whom.” Also, we’re coming for you.

Like French, Hadysh uses the dialect of the capital as “correct”. I call this “Waldish” after the capital – Waldenhof. Just like “Hadysh” this is an English word to represent a foreign tongue.

So, in my interest, I’ve written up some phrases and how the two characters would say them. Most of this was to facilitate the creation of new grammar and vocabulary.

All of these are written in IPA, if you are interested in conlanging I strongly, strongly suggest you write in IPA for purposes of communicating your work and leave your self-created alphabet at home. A) IPA works on computers B) People will get it. Hadysh has some sounds that are weird, lets go over some of them:

/ç/ – This is like the “ch” in the German “ich”. It is similar to the “ch” in the Scottish “Loch” like Loch Ness, but it is devoiced so don’t let your vocal chords vibrate.

/x/ – This is the “ch” in Loch Ness. It is NOT a /k/ sound. It isn’t Lok Ness.

/ɹ/ – This is “r” as nearly every English speaker will say it.

/ɹ̝̠̊/ – Start with /ç/, now move your tongue closer to the roof of your mouth and begin to constrict airflow. Close enough.

/ʍ/ – Remember the “cool hwip” gag from Family Guy? That “hw” sound is /ʍ/ and used to be very common in English. It’s why “why” is spelled with an “h” in the middle.

/ɸ/ – Start by making /f/, now part and round your lips. Close enough. This should be like a controlled way of blowing out a candle.

/ð/ – It’s the “th” from “breathe”.

/θ/ – It’s the “th” from “thin”.

/j/ – The “y” in “yes”.

Learn the vowels on your own. They are going to get a bit complex and can be very, very dialect dependent. I generally refer to the German examples because High School and Uni forced “perfect” German on me, but my English is native, so I speak with a “strong” dialect.


I am [NAME]

[ɸat a (NAME)] – You

/ɸɛt ɛ çɪɹiə/ – Rozenn

/fat a nafjelən/ – Einar


What is your name? – Single, Informal “you”

[θjelg æs, de]? (Literally: How will I call you?)

/θjɪlk ɛs’d/? – Rozenn

/θjelg as, de/? – Einar


How are you? – Single, Informal “you”

[ɸat æs, de]?

/ɸɛt ɛs’d/? – Rozenn

/fat as, de/? – Einar


I am fine, thank you. – Single, Informal “you”

[ɸat a lʌx, jʊga ɪ æs]

/ɸɛt ɛ lʌx, jʊkɛ ɪ ‘s/ – Rozenn

/fat a ləç, jəga e as/ – Einar


Good morning.

[ʍæmli lʌx]

/ʍɛmli lʌx/ – Rozenn

/hamle ləç/ – Einar


Good afternoon.

[lælxwændʊ lʌx]

/lɛlxwɛndʊ lʌx/ – Rozenn

/lalçandə ləç/ – Einar


Good evening.

[lælɔðɹ̝̠̊en lʌx]

/lɛlɔðɹɪn lʌx/ – Rozenn

/lalɔðɹ̝̠̊en ləç/ – Einar


Good night.

[ɔðɹ̝̠̊en lʌx]

/ɔðɹɪn lʌx/ – Rozenn

/ɔðɹ̝̠̊en ləç/ – Einar


Cheers!

[kæk]

/çɛç/ – Rozenn

/kak/ – Einar


I am Rozenn, daughter of Leofric and the Great Sword of Macenburgh.

[ɸat a çeɹiə, tatiə jan pænðmʌhiɹd pe ɪlpæzɑxt jan zeʍədɹədʌɹɔɸə]

/ɸɛt ɛ çɪɹiə, tɛtɪə jɛn pɛnðmʌhɪɹd pɪ ɪlpɛzɔxt jɛn zɪʍədɹʌɹɔɸə/ – Rozenn


 

Nothing wrong with a bit of fun on that last one, aye?

Some interesting grammar bits to note:

First, even I screw up. I did on a previous post. I labeled “hunter” as [bʊfəd] but it is actually [bʊvəd].

Second, the copula does not conjugate. It is always [ɸat] regardless of the subject. This means it is always followed by a subject.

Third, questions follow the sentence they modify. So it would be a statement + , + question word. For example, in English, it would look like “You are, how?”

Fourth, Hadysh, from my first post, has shifted from SVO to VSO. Correct sentences from older posts as needed. As stated this is a growing and changing project that I do for fun instead of eating or writing. Both things far beyond fixing at this point. So I’m going to make some quick food and call it a night.

ɔðɹ̝̠̊en lʌx or oíche mhaith, motherfuckers.

 

 

Conlanging (Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck)

Son of a bitch, I told myself I wouldn’t do any conlanging for this series.

I told myself and for some reason I have the wikiarticle to the International Phonetic Alphabet open in one tab and a multitude of grammar articles open.

Last night, filled with some ideas, I started writing in my little gridded notebook some notes that to the unenlightened would look little different than Quenya.

[hjmi njfɔlm] “I had a dog”

[mia njfɔlm] “We have a dog” (We here is inclusive, meaning the listener is included)

ɪmiga e mjfɔlwð] “He will have the dogs”

So that is about all the language has right now. I have a verb for “to go” as well and some pronouns, though as you can probably notice the subject is optional when made obvious by conjugation (e.g. “I” is made obvious because it uses the first person singular conjugation, but he/she/it use the same conjugation and therefore need it).

Conlanging then, if you didn’t get it, is the art/science/past time of making up languages. There are lots of ways to do it, it is a ton of fun for those of us with a background in linguistics or a pretty alphabet. It can be as simple as Pig Latin  or as complex as Ithkuil. It can be as realistic as Quenya or as simplistic as Esperanto.

Right now the language as it is is strongly rooted in the languages I speak or have been studying: English, German, Irish, and Esperanto.

So shall we deconstruct things a bit? That’s sort of what I want to do because talking about it with you will help me think about it as well. All these examples are, therefore, works in progress. In two weeks none of these things might exist. They might all be different. So grain of salt and such.

Okay, so we are going to take a step back. Of the three sentences two of them have only two words. I’m going to shorten them into something I can write with only my keyboard and not copy-pasting. By the way, things in //s are theoretical and things in []s are in practice. So let us transcribe these three sentences.

“hmi nfolm” I had a dog

“mia nfolm” We have a dog (inclusive)

“thmiga e mfolwth” He will have the dogs

So, between sentences 1 and 2 the change is “hmi” to “mia” and the changes in English are “I had” to “We have.” So we can guess that “nfolm” means “a dog.” This mostly implies that the language is either VSO or SVO (Verb-Subject-Object) or (Subject-Verb-Object).

We can confirm the word order with sentence 3, where we go from “mia” to “thmiga e”. We are assuming that the words “hmi” and “mia” are verbs that imply pronouns, something that is common in languages. Since “thmiga” has that “mi” base, we can take “e” to mean “he.” So the language is VSO, and uses conjugation to imply pronouns.

Now we only have three sentences, which makes data gathering hard. Lets add some more.

[ɹ̝̠̊en] “hren” – I go

[ɹ̝̠̊en] “(h)hren” – I went

ɪɹ̝̠̊en] “thhren” – I will go

Oh no, things aren’t getting easier. Two of those are pronounced the same! Well, as the language’s creator I can tell you the theoretical pronunciation of sentence 5:

/hjɹ̝̠̊en/

Which is very difficult to pronounce, in real life it would be realized as the given sentence 5.

We can combine 1, 2, 4, and 5 and see that going from present to past tense adds a /h/ at the head of the word. In the same way we can use 2, 3, 4, and 6 to say making present to future tense adds /θ/ at the head of the word. Using English words it would look like:

(I) Go – I go

(I) Hgo – I went

(I) Thgo – I will go

So if “hmi” is “I had” and “mia” is “We have” we can subtract the “h” to get “I have” (“mi”), which means that adding an “a” at the end changes the plurality of the person (“I” becomes “we”). Same Idea as above:

(I) Go – I go

(We) Goa – We go

So, what about the end of that? “Thmiga e”. If we know “e” is “he” and the “th-” is future tense, that makes “-ga” the third person singular conjugation.

It is going to get a bit harder with “nfolm” and “mfolwth.” The word for “dog” is “folm.” In my work so far “n-” is the indefinite article and “m-” is the definite article. The plural is “-th” but it also mutates the consonant before it. /M/ just happens to mutate to /w/ in this particular case (funnily when /m/ undergoes lenition in Irish, it turns into /w/, that is why “good” is “maith” and “good night” is “oíche mhaith”).

Anyway, I am rambling and I am actually going to do some editing tonight. This is a pleasant distraction to me and I’ve enjoyed sharing a slice of madness with you.

Oíche mhaith! [ihə wa]

Ĉu vi parolas Esperanton?

Language has been on my mind a lot. I’ve recently taken to a website to try to finally buckle down and learn Irish Gaelic. While I have a good foundation on the language, it is only a foundation and I want to move up with that. Gaelic, to me, represents some small connection to a past long before I was alive. The Celtic languages are of particular interest to me. They seem so foreign and yet so familiar to me as a speaker of other Indo-European languages.  I love what I know about them so I push on.

But this isn’t a post about Gaelic. It is a post ostensibly about another language close to my heart. It is about a strange connection I made at my first job out of college. And then I’ll wrap up with some more stuff about my book.

Let me set the stage.

We all knew we were going to get let go. It wasn’t a question of if, but when. The office was getting tense. The big-wigs got their raises and bonuses but many of the supervising engineers did not and everyone knew something wasn’t right. Every week we had a meeting that could be summed up as: “You aren’t getting laid off, everything is fine. Promise.”

Our company had fucked up big in another division and the whole place was hurting. Apparently someone really burned a bridge with a major client – a client my job security rested on. I only found this out later.

One day, when avoiding my desk for fear of my idle web surfing  attracting attention (there was literally zero work), I headed into the kitchenette to make some tea and perhaps steal a few more cookies or something before we got the boot. Walking in I found an older co-worker sitting down and quietly contemplating life after work.

He was very well accredited. A PhD level programmer and aeronautical engineer. But he was much older than most (my guess in his 60s) and his English wasn’t great. He spoke with a very thick Russian accent and stuttered as he tried to translate everything from the language he thought in to the language we all spoke.

I asked, expecting a simple answer like “Moscow” or “Leningrad,” where in Russia he had been born. He said he had been born and raised on the Kamchatka Peninsula, far from anything most westerners would deem “civilization.” I chuckled and said as much. He agreed, and rambled something I only half-understood and now is lost to me.

He asked, perhaps realizing the trouble I was having, if I spoke anything besides English. I told him, in my awful half-Swabian dialect that I spoke German and as a joke I added:

Mi parolas Esperanton. 

Ĉu vi parolas Esperanton? was his surprising retort.

Jes. 

Kafo?

Ne, me havas tason de teo. 

Esperanto was always a curiosity for me. Simple, effective; it embodied many of the beliefs of a young man. It was a language for everyone and yet I had never met another Esperantist before. I had and still have met many detractors of Esperanto. Some, like my wife, see it merely as a simplistic conlang, lacking anything that makes a language natural or interesting. Others, like a co-worker I spoke to a week or two ago, it represented some over-arching communist or “academic” attempt to dismember western civilization.

Yet, for a brief moment a few days before we were all let go, I and a co-worker held a brief conversation in Esperanto (likely one of a few outside of Esperanto conventions and meetings). For a few minutes we were once again Esperantistoj – those who hope.

See, every language has an endonym . And every endonym has a meaning, though it might be buried deep in the history of a language.

The English are the Angelcynn – Kin of the Narrows

Esperanto in Esperanto means “one who hopes.” It comes from esperi – to hope. To many Esperantists it is more than a language – it is a hope of a more united and understanding world.

Maybe that day we were hoping that a week from then we’d still be in the office. We’d still be able to having little conversations in our shared love of a dreamed-up language.

It was not to come to pass. We were let go and dispersed to the winds. It was August of 2013. During the free time I had I started writing what will become my first novel (hopefully in only a few short months). Language plays a roll, sort of in the background, between the characters. They live in a world where language matters. A language defines what a person can or cannot do, and who they can or cannot be.

Though all dialogue is written through the veil of English (as I have neither the time nor the effort to devise several conlangs for each to feature briefly or uselessly), I do try to make sure it is in languages that suit the character’s station and place. Languages either build bridges or barriers.

They can mark someone as part of the tribe, or outside it. And using one other than your mother tongue can imply servitude, defeat, education, or worldliness.

So when you have some time tomorrow think about that. What does the ability to speak English and have it spoken all around you mean both in a personal and historical context? Were you born into it? Did you adopt it for convenience or to get an education? Was it forced on you? Was the alternative to live in poverty?  Does it empower you to chase your dreams?

Those shouldn’t be easy questions to answer, even for native speakers. Because once it was considered low to speak English. The educated spoke French or Latin. Are you okay with English’s status because you were lucky enough to speak it natively?

A tale of two co-workers: one who shared the dream of L L Zamenhof and one who thought that languages lived and died purely out of usefulness’ sake.

And if you are a writer brought here by my tenuous-at-best use of the #amwriting tags, what does the language or languages your characters speak say about them? If the whole world speaks one language, why? What killed the teeming thousands of languages once spoken? Market capitalism? Socialistic unity? Feudal oppression? Or did language simply resist the natural tendency to evolve?

Lastly, December 15th is Zamenhof Day. I ask that you consider, even for a brief moment, getting on Google and learning a few phrases in Esperanto. You never know when it might crop up. 800px-Vestaĵoj_MalnovajOld Clothes 

Or what other hoping people you might run into. Ĝis revido!

“Ni konsciu bone la tutan gravecon de la hodiaŭa tago, ĉar hodiaŭ inter la gastamaj muroj de Bulonjo-sur-Maro kunvenis ne francoj kun angloj, ne rusoj kun poloj, sed homoj kun homoj.”

“We should be well aware of the full importance of this day, because today, within the welcoming walls of Boulogne-sur-Mer, there meet not Frenchmen with Englishmen, not Russians with Poles, but people with people.”

  • Ludoviko Lazaro Zamenhof, 5th of August, 1905 to the First World Conference of Esperanto in France.