by Lars Nordquist '21
As might be known from the fact that I take both Latin and Greek, I have a fascination with language. My progression into the world of linguistics for the most part has been spurred on by my sister, beginning with her encouraging me to take Latin and continuing with me stealing her linguistics books. One of the most interesting facets of the linguistics is the ‘conlang’ (constructed language) community, where people invent their own languages, for various purposes and in various ways, including famous languages like Esperanto, Klingon, or Tolkien’s Elvish. As my fascination with ‘conlanging’ grew, I decided to create a language myself with the help of my friend Augie Spendley, and while it is not much more than an outline at this point, general interest in it has led me to write this article explaining in more detail its general structure.
The phonology of the language is fairly broad in that it contains 29 consonants of a wide variety; however, in a fashion similar to natural languages it heavily favors some over others. For the most part, the nitty-gritty of this is unimportant, other than that it includes several sounds hard for English speakers, kh, gh, lh, and rr, in the International Phonetic Alphabet x, ɣ, ɬ, and r, and several hard for native speakers of other languages, th, dh, and wh, which in IPA are θ, ð, and ៳. Contrastingly, the vowel system is limited to three vowels, a as in ‘father’, i as in ‘free’, and u as in ‘boot’, much like Classical Arabic or Inuktitut, in contrast to a more typical five vowel system of a, e, i, o, and u like in Japanese or Spanish. This decision has led to quite a few three way distinctions being made throughout the language, such as between the three grammatical genders, three verb tenses, three sets of cases with three cases apiece, and so on.
Moving on to general grammatical features, this language has what linguists would call ‘agglutinative’ or ‘synthetic’ characteristics: it heavily features sentences built of words made of smaller parts, each chunk representing one part of the meaning, which tends to lead to very long words complex in meaning. English itself is fairly ‘analytic’ in grammar, meaning that on the whole it tends to express meaning through a series of short words, each contributing to the meaning of the whole.
Starting off with verbs, the language has a complex system of voices, tenses, aspects, moods, modes, persons, and numbers. Starting off with tense, shockingly given its elsewhere complexity the language features a mere three: future, present, and past, each formed with one of the three vowels. However, the aspect system adds some more complexity, with the simple (‘I go’), continuative (‘I am going’), perfect (‘I have gone’), and iterative or habitual (lacking in most dialects of English, but in AAVE ‘I be going’). For an even more ridiculous system, these aspects can be combined in any way, with the exception of the simple, giving four more compound aspects, three double and one triple, for a total of eight. In addition, there are three voices, active (‘I eat’), middle (‘I eat [myself]), and passive (‘I am eaten’), which for obvious reasons cannot be combined. Next, there are two moods, indicative and subjunctive, used in similar ways as to Spanish, with the indicative reflecting facts, and the subjunctive reflecting the uncertain, hypothetical, or opinions. These can be combined with nine modes, a list far too long to include in detail, but needless to say these can imply complex things about the meaning of each word. For example, the optative expresses the subject’s wish to carry out the verb; the imperative is a direct command, whereas the obligatory is a more polite version of the imperative, used for suggestions and obligations. Each of these ‘modes’ can tentatively be strung together, with some exceptions. Finally, there are four persons and two numbers, depending on how they are counted: the first person (I and we), the second person (you and y’all), the third person (he, she, it, they), and finally the ‘fourth’ person, used for mass nouns. As you might be immediately be able to tell, the combination of these leads to an absurd number of distinct verb combinations.
The noun system is much more simple compared to the verb system. There are three genders, animate, inanimate, and abstract, each taking one of the three vowels. There are three numbers, single, plural, and ‘collective,’ which is hard to explain, but essentially reflects a unified mass made of many very small parts, like water or sand. The complexity is brought in by the case system, which has ten cases. For those unfamiliar, ‘cases’ are different forms of a noun which change form to reflect their role in the sentence. Generally, English lacks these as distinct endings, other than a rudimentary possessive, formed by ’s, and in pronouns, and instead uses prepositions. Here they are formed by endings put on the end of a word after the gender and number markings. Aside from the nominative, which is used for subjects and the objects of linking verbs like be, there are three classes of cases. First are the ‘basic’ cases, which are most the commonly used, including the genitive, dative, and accusative, the first two represented in English by ‘of,’ ‘to’ or ‘for,’ and the last one unrepresented other than in pronouns. The next three cases relate to location, the ablative, locative, and allative, represented in English by ‘toward,’ ‘at’ or ‘in,’ and ‘from.’ Finally, the last three cases are the least common and refer to more ‘advanced’ relationships of nouns, including the causal, instrumental, and associative, the first one represented in English by ‘because of,’ and the last two represented by ‘with’ in different meanings.
While many aspects of this language have not been hammered out, including extremely important things such as its name, a massive amount of vocabulary, and a writing system other than Latin characters, I think that all in all attempting to create a language of my own has taught me a great deal more about linguistics than I would have otherwise found out on my own. My fascination with language continues to grow, and I hope in college I will be able to take courses that deal with more advanced facets of this fascinating study.