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The Probable End of “The Eljan Experiment”

September 10, 2010

Not long after I started this, I ended up having to go on semi-hiatus for a very long time. And then after that, a real hiatus for nearly a month. As things are now, it would be back to semi-hiatus again for awhile, with who-knows-what afterward. While I have partially resolved some of the earlier issues in developing this language, my heart just isn’t in it anymore. Since I also came up with a possibly better way to develop my primary ConLang, Niyo’a Kwaj, one which doesn’t resort to “scavenging” parts of other ConLang experiments like this one, it would be better to spend my very limited personal time focused on that instead. I won’t get rid of this blog for awhile in case things change and I have a reason to start it up again. But for now, it can be considered defunct.

Numbers Revisited

August 11, 2010

Okay, now the hiatus is over. I think.

Recently I have learned a bit more about the use of numbers in isolated stone age languages. Specifically, they usually don’t. Use them, that is. Not really. Often it’s just “one”, “two”, “many”… that’s it. If they need to keep track of multiple things of the same type, they’d usually just name them. For example, if a hunter who has four spears is asked how many he has, he’d respond with something like “favorite spear, rabbit killer, cousin’s gift, that other one”. (In the case of zero, it would probably be something like “do not have spear”. That’s one sad hunter.) In the rare occasions when naming isn’t practical and they need to be exact about some number greater than two they’d probably do something like holding up the appropriate number of fingers and say “this many”.

Of course not all of them are that limited. But even the ones which have more number-oriented words usually look something like this: “no”, “one”, “two”, “three”, “hand” (4-6), “several”, “a great many”. Stone-age peoples apparently do not need precise counting unless they regularly engage in trade or farming, neither of which is likely for isolated tribes.

Which means my options at this point in regards to numbers are as follows: scrap the base 6 number system and just have 6 mostly imprecise number-based words; drop the “isolated” part and have them engage in regular trade; say “screw realism” and use it anyway; stop at 6 and add one or two more general words for large numbers (it would be very unusual to go above 3, but “exotic” does happen to be a watchword here); or come up with some other very good reason why an Eljan culture would want or need precise counting (at least in the 3-35 range; only worry about larger numbers if that reason happens to call for it).

I’ll be getting into this one last time at some later point once this issue has been resolved.


August 1, 2010

The semi-hiatus should be almost over – but first, more randomly generated words! I’m not going to explain the exact method by which they were generated (only that it was more complex than the first few times) aside from the fact that the last one was completely random.

  • Back / backwards / rear  –  humby
  • Down / downwards  –  ende
  • Front / forward  –  laljjo
  • Left / leftward  –  wybu
  • Right / rightward  –  ida
  • Up / upward  –  ogi
  • (The) directions  –  ojwywajed

Note that some stone-age tribes don’t seem to have words for “left” or “right”, but I included them because we wouldn’t have a set of 6 otherwise. Anyway, it seems that so far there are 30 words total, including a few that I might change later. [Note: I had this posted yesterday but it seems to have disappeared from the blog. WTF?]

The Senses

July 25, 2010

Unexpected real-life issues have made it difficult to keep up the planning work behind these blog entries, so for now I’ll just generate some vocabulary. The main method which I have been doing so, semi-randomly but in a way meant to make all the words within a particular category as distinct as possible (probably to an unrealistic degree) will only be used with things which can be grouped neatly into sixes. For the senses, I’m going with the “classic five” plus “emotion”. For now, I’ll leave it ambiguous whether “emotion” refers to feeling one’s own emotions or emphasizing with others or even both. (This was indirectly inspired by the fact that the ancient egyptians considered “thought” to be one of the senses.) The phonetic  pattern will be randomly matching each non-nasal sonorant with each vowel and each stop, in that order. This resulted in:

  • Emotion  –  jwyb
  • Hearing  –  jan
  • Sight  –  leng
  • Smell  –  hog
  • Taste  –  ljum
  • Touch  –  wid

I particularly like “ljum” and “jan”. Those somehow rather seem to fit “taste” and “hearing” respectively. “Hog” for “smell” seems pretty weird, I’m tempted to break the pattern and replace one of the letters. Might do that later. And then a completely random word for the senses collectively:

  • Senses, the  –  ujwuwineb

I don’t know why, but “ujwuwineb” seems to scream “this word is important!” File that away as a cultural possibility: the senses are particularly important in some manner. Also note that “ujwu” already means “yellow”, but that may not be much of an issue since this is an isolating language (compound words will be rare).


July 22, 2010

Hmmm. When it comes to the vocabulary, it looks like I’m going to have to put a lot of work into designing the culture behind the language. Simply saying “isolated stone age culture” isn’t going to cut it. Well, I mean, I could simply create a broad variety of generic terms that would be useful for a broad variety of generic stone-age peoples, but that wouldn’t be realistic. People need specialized terms for survivng in and interacting with their environment. But even if I say, screw realism, there’s still usually considerable cultural influence on the generic level. For example, is there a generic word for “animal”? Would they count insects as “animals” or something else? If there isn’t one, how do they divide different kinds of animals into broad categories? (In western societies, it was usually “birds, beasts, fish” where fish is anything that lives in the water. Don’t ask me how they classified frogs.) Do they have any meta-categories which all things fall under, like the gendered languages (male, female, sometimes neuter) or more exotic categories (women, fire, dangerous things? No, I haven’t read the book by that name). And so on.

I’m tempted to divide everything into 6 very broad categories (you were expecting some other number?) and having a different ergative article for each instead of a single, generic article. And set the culture in my native pacific northwest USA (even though, historically, that makes no sense for an isolated culture, as the original locals were anything but) just so I can apply my own knowledge of survival in this region.

Ah, I’ll figure it out eventually. This is what happens when you try to plan things rather than doing them haphazardly.. Meanwhile, this is a good time for any readers to comment.

Some Corrections and Miscellanea

July 18, 2010

After some consideration, I decided to change the pronunciation of y so /ʏ/ is the preferred pronunciation, but /y/ is still an allophone. /ʏ/ is basically “ih” as in bit except with rounded lips, much like /y/ is to “ee”. This is because sometimes I have been slipping up and saying /ʏ/ when I meant /y/.

Apparently there will be dipthongs and consonant clusters, but not that often, and probably not in common words. The randomizing charts have been adjusted to accomodate these possibilities. Three of each: au, ei, oy, nd, mb, ljj. Okay, that last one looks weirder than it sounds. I’m tempted to use dl, but I already use that a lot in language experiments.

“Au” is sort of like the sound in “cow”, but the vowels blend all the way from /a/ to /u/ instead of stopping short at /ʊ/ (which is like in book). “Ei” is much like weigh except it blends from “eh” to “ee” rather than “eh” to “ih”. “Oy” is like “boy”, only the lips are kept rounded all the way through. Or you can pronounce them like cow/weigh/boy if it’s too hard to get it right. See if I care.

In addition: Step 10: Adjectives and Adverbs

It seems like the best way to deal with this is to put both the adjectives and adverbs after the words they modify. And as a “simple” isolating language, to use the exact same words for both adjectives and adverbs without modification when the general concept makes sense as either one. For example, “Quick rabbit runs quickly” = “Quick rabbit runs quick”. Or in Eljan’s word order, “Runs quick rabbit quick”.


July 14, 2010

So long as I’m semi-randomly generating things – let’s do colors! That’s another thing which can be easily numbered in sixes. Actually, from what (admittedly little) I know, 6 might actually be a bit high for a stone-age tribe. Some have only 3 or 4. Anyway, the linguistic relativity theory of color states that in languages with 6 colors, it’s most often black, white, red, yellow, green, blue. Good enough. Again using random word generation, I chose to pair off each color with each vowel, each non-nasal sonorant, and then 50% chance of O or U, in that order. And then a word for “color” which is completely random. Let’s see how that ends up…

Black  –  ylo
Blue  –  owu
Green  –  ajo
Red  –  ihu
Yellow  –  ujwu
White  –  elju
Color  –  ljiluly

“Ljiluly” feels like kind of a strange word – like the word itself has substance and I’m pushing it forward through my mouth. I don’t know if it’ll be kept it or not. While these words were “rolled up” earlier, I just realized that perhaps I should have done a word for “number” for the last post. Heck, might as well come up with a word for “word” too, just ‘cuz.

Number  –  oneb
Word  –  yji

Those seem fine. Now let’s hold off with any further words until I’m absolutely certain whether or not there will be any dipthongs or consonant clusters.


July 13, 2010

Now this is the part where it is explained why “doing things in sixes” was part of the plan, as stated in the introduction. While it’s the most common, and has largely become standard in the modern world, not every language uses a decimal (base-10) system for counting. There are or have been languages which use(d) base 4,5,6,8,12,15,20, or 27 instead, and possibly others. If you count “double-radix” number systems (for example, later in their history the Sumerians used a counting system which alternated in base 6 and 10, for a pseudo-base 60)  then there are even more. By accident and for reasons which had nothing to do with this project, I found some benefit in counting in base 6. (If you use the fingers of one hand as the digits 0-5, and the other hand for another digit in the “6’s” place, you can count to 35 instead of 10… that’s the simple version. I also came up with a way which allows you to easily count up to 46655 on your fingers. In yo’ face, decimal system!) With some experimentation, I also found some reasons to favor using base 6 in math over base 10. So I figured, as long as I’m doing an exotic language, I might as well make use of this. I should also give the hypothetical speakers of this language, at least on an unconscious level, as many reasons as possible to think of six as being some kind of universal basis for everything. Of course it’s possible that most of my “coincidental” (read: deliberate) insertions of 6 wouldn’t really affect people in that way. But even so, it gives some structure to work with if nothing else.

(Also, I worked out that Pi to the first 12 decimal places is 3.050330051415 in base 6. Because I’m insane. I also figured the 13th digit just to make sure the 12th doesn’t round up. It’s 1, so no.)

Now it wasn’t until later that I realized, hey, if I’m going to be doing the letters in groups of sixes, then it’s possible to generate random words using charts and a six-sided die…! That would certainly be away of avoiding my usual word-making tendencies. Of course, I reserve the right to throw out any random constructions which don’t seem to work well or are already being used as another word. Also, the system of charts I designed ended up being fairly complicated, partly to make the phonetics use “unbalanced” (not every sound is used equally often in a language). So for the names of the numbers, I decided to randomly match each of the numbers from 1-6 with each of the vowels and each of the stops in V-C order, then use the full charts to completely randomly generate a word for zer0. This should make these words as distinctive from each other as possible. It ended up with:

  • One  –  en
  • Two  –  om
  • Three  –  ing
  • Four  –  ab
  • Five  –  ug
  • Six  –  yd
  • Zero  –  ijahed

Possibly amusing side note: I had to throw out the very first randomly generated word for zero because it came up as “ab” – which is already being used as four!  Yeah, that’s not gonna work. Anyway, if we use a fairly simple way of stating larger numbers, one can count higher using these:

  • twelve  –  om yd
  • eighteen  –  ing yd
  • twenty-four  –  ab yd
  • thirty  –  ug yd

There’s some question whether “yd” should be pluralized in some manner, and /or if there should be some kind of equivalent of “and” or “with” or suchlike between the sixes and the ones. An example of both at once would be the decimal number 26 (42 in base 6) being spoken as “four sixes and two”. That’s something to deal with later, I guess.

Phonetics, Part 2

July 11, 2010

Step 7: Vowels

On the other hand, having  6 vowels is quite reasonable. On this, I decided to take the really lazy way which makes things easy to type, which is probably fine because I haven’t used this particular set of vowels in any of my other experiments:

  • a  –  /a/  (“ah”)
  • e  –  /e/ or /ɛ/  (“eh”)
  • i  –  /i/  (“ee”)
  • o  –  /o/ or /ɔ/ (“oh”)
  • u  –  /u/  (“oo”)
  • y  –  /y/  (“ee” except with lips rounded, like “oh” or “oo”)

When working things in my head or on paper, one doesn’t need to worry about typing issues. While I could have just spelled some vowels with two-letter combinations, I don’t yet know if Eljan will be using dipthongs (two-sound “blends”, usually 2 vowels, as opposed to a single sound which is sort of partway between things) and don’t want to limit my options at this point. Or I could have used otherwise unused consonant letters, but spelling things something like “xljcn” looks rather strange. (Accent and/or diacritic marks don’t count. I’m using an American keyboard, so that would be no easier to type than phonetics symbols.)

Step 8: Syllable Structure

Long story short, I eventually decided on this pattern for most of the words:

[C1]-V-[C3]  or  [C1]-V-C2-V-[C3]  or  [C1]-V-C2-V-C2-V-[C3]  or  [C1]-V-C2-V-C2-V-C2-V-[C3]

  • Where V is any vowel (also any dipthong if it ends up using those),
  • C1 is any consonant but is more often a stop, but is quite often not present (hence the brackets)
  • C2 is a consonant which is not a plosive stop, and quite often not a nasal stop either. If it’s not a nasal stop (that is, one of the non-nasal sonorants) then it usually flows from one syllable to the next, without clearly being the beginning or end of either. If it is a nasal stop, then it ends a syllable.
  • C3 is a stop consonant, either kind. It’s not always present either but more commonly so than C1.

This kind of pattern, combined with all the consonants being voiced by default, might end up sounding rather sing-songy most of the time. Well, why not?

Step 9: Tonal or Atonal

Hey, do you know what would make it even more of a sing-songy language? Make it a tonal one! Plus that’s more exotic too. That would be absolutely perfect for…


No, wait, I can’t distinguish tones. Like, at all. People tell me I normally talk like a robot with a slightly odd accent. I might be able to figure out a half-decent way to design a tonal language anyway, but then after the next few posts I’d probably have to go on a 3 or 4 month hiatus to figure things out. So atonal it is by default.

Phonetics, part 1

July 9, 2010

There’s more grammar issues, but they’re still work in progress. Besides, even if they were nominally finished, I’m not posting things out of sequence even if there’s considerable delay between the finished parts and the actual posting of them.

I’m basing things around the number 6, but 6 is probably too few consonants to work with. So instead I’m going with 2 sets of very restricted categories of consonants, and 6 of each per category. My first few attempts to work out some possibilities ended up with things that tended to result in words that sounded like crap or were too hard for me to pronounce personally. Eventually I ended up with:

Step 5: Stops

One of the two sets is 6 “Stop” consonants. This is further evenly subdivided into 3 voiced plosives and 3 nasal stops. The plosives are /b/, /d/, and /g/. These are pronounced like one would expect. Their unvoiced counterparts (/p/, /t/, and /k/, respectively) are allophones in Eljan, meaning that they’re treated as the same sound for the purpose of word comprehension (so, for example, saying “tet” will be understood as “ded”, assuming such a word existed). Either is fine, it’s just that the voiced versions are the preferred usage when both are equally easy to pronounce. Which is probably most of the time.

The nasal stops are /n/, /m/, and /ŋ/. The first two are also pronounced like one would expect. The last one is sort of a hybrid of /n/ and /g/, like the end of the word sing. For convenience, this will be simply written as “ng” like most languages which use the latin alphabet do.

Step 6: Non-Nasal Sonorants

Here’s where things get a bit exotic (well, exotic from the perspective of a typical English speaker, anyway). The other set of consonants consist of /l/, /j/, /w/, /ɦ/, /ʎ/, and /ɥ/. So…

/l/ and /w/ are, again, expected sounds given the letters.
/j/ is actually equivalent to the english y, like in yes. (/y/ represents a vowel sound in phonetic notation.)
/ɦ/ is the voiced counterpart of /h/, which are nearly as different from each other as /t/ and /d/. Both /ɦ/ and /h/ are also allophones in Eljan, and again the voiced version is preferred. This sound will be spelled “h” for convenience.
/ʎ/ is pronouned like /l/, except the tongue is further back when it touches the roof of the mouth, at about the position where it would be if one were saying /j/ instead (except the tongue doesn’t actually reach up that high when one says /j/.) It can sort of be considered a hybrid of /l/ and /j/ but closer to /l/. Again for typing convenience, this sound will be spelled “lj”.
/ɥ/ is exactly like /j/ except you also simultaneously move your lips like you were trying to say /p/, /b/, or /w/. Apparently a possible alternate way of writing this sound in phonetic notation is /jʷ/, so “jw” will be the spelling convention.

There you have it, the 12-consonant inventory: b, d, g, h, j, jw, l, lj, m, n, ng, w. Which apparently uses only 9 letters. Huɦ.