Six Keys Phrases for Testing Your Conlang: Ubese!

I wanted to test out the 6 Key Phrases on the Ubese (Star Wars) conlang I have played with in the past.

Oh by the way, in a previous post I remarked that it seemed silly to not have the B sound in a language called "Ubese," but these kind of things happen all the time in the real world. Germany vs. Deutschland vs. Allemagne - all names for the same country! Ubese could have been said to some explorers as "Uhheesh" but those explorers, due to their own phonology, could only say it as "Oobeez(and spell it as Ubese)." Maybe Ubes means "quiet" or "few words" in their language, and this attribute becomes the name of the people? Or the person that discovered them might have been called Ub? There are definitely some ways you can have some fun with this, as you pick names in your con.

In order to speak this correctly, keep your jaw closed but part your lips. Do not move your lips!
Phonology: t, sh, ch, k, n, l, hh (a harsh H sound made back in the throat), y (semi-vowel), ee, ay, aw, i, o, a, u
Morphology: CICV(T) (Consonant, Inflected-vowel, Consonant, Vowel, Optional-Tense-vowel)
Inflections: I=ee, you=a, it=aw, he=o, she=e, we=ay, they=u,
Grammar/Syntax: SOV
Vocabulary (inflected vowel shown as aw for neutrality): red=kaunee, John=Chawnaw, give=kawshee, want=yawkay

Other points to remember: this is an extremely simple and context-sensitive language! The inflections are vague but they kind of have to be with such a simple structure. The order of the words makes a big difference.

The apple is red.
It (pointing at or holding the apple) red is-being.

It is John's apple.
It (pointing at or holding the apple) John's is-being.

I give John the apple.
I-am-giving it (the apple) to-John .
Keeshee Chawnaw 

We want to give him the apple.
We-are-wanting it (the apple) to-him-give.
Yaykay koshee

He gives it to John.
He is-giving it-to-John.
Koshee Chonaw

She gives it to him.
She-to-him- it-is-giving
She koshee (remember, the "she" is pronounced "sheh")

I like this! These phrases feel right and sound pretty close to the stuff Boushh says. It feels way too simple and vague to really work as the language of a star-faring people, but if feels right at least.

And no, I couldn't resist putting in the Hello Kitty Boushh pic up there.

6 Key Phrases for Testing/Creating Your Conlang

He doesn't want dem apples.
I got some cool ideas last week from Tim Ferriss. For any readers who haven't heard of him, look him up - he is an amazing guy who likes to find ways to beat the game, rather than play the game. I was watching this video and I wondered if I could apply any of his ideas to conlanging. Hestarts talking at the 6:35 mark about learning languages and he mentioned that using the following phrases helped one better understand the grammar and mechanics of a language (10:02 mark):

The apple is red.

It is John's apple.

I give John the apple.

We want to give him the apple.

He gives it to John.

She gives it to him.

I thought that it makes sense that the reverse must be true as well - that you should be able to use these as a way of testing out/creating the grammar and mechanics of your conlang! I wanted to try this out in a couple of simple ways to illustrate the concept, but we'll just do one per post.

First, let's use the "English as a conlang" concept I used once before.
Phonology: b, d, g, k, l, v, z, th (as in "the"), zh (as in "mirage"), w, ee, ay, aw, o, oo.
Morphology: (VC)CVC(I) (V=vowel C=consonant I=inflection, and parentheses means "optional") for nouns, verbs, and adjectives; (V)V(C) for everything else.
Syntax & grammar: OSV (Yoda syntax). Inflection is -ee: future tense (will be doing), -ay:  plural , -aw: descriptive/adjective, -o: past tense (was doing), -oo: present tense (is doing).
Vocabulary: the = ayth, apple = awbbul, red = wayd, John = Zhawn, give = geev, want = wawn, I = Eeawt, we = eezh, he = eeoz, him = ayoz, she = eeov, her = ayov. Is/be doesn't work in this morphology so I'm changing it to "bawz."

Red the apple is-being. = Waydaw ayth awbbul bawzoo. (add the -aw inflection to make red/wayd an adjective)
John's apple it is-being. = Zhawnaw awbbul eed bawzoo. (Rather than using apostrophe s to connote ownership as in English, John's name becomes an adjective here)
The apple to John I am-giving. = Ayth awbbul od Zhawn Eeawt geevoo. (I becomes Eeawt - pronounced like "yacht")
The apple to him we are-wanting to be-giving. = Ayth awbbul od ayoz eezh wanaw geevay. ("want to give" is shown by the current tense wanting and future tense giving)
It to John he is-giving. = Eed od Zhawn eeoz geevoo.
It to him she is-giving. = Eed od ayoz eeov geevoo.

As I was generating these translations I learned things. For example, I originally made the morphology (C)V(V) for everything else, but realized that with the inflections I noted, the last vowel of every word becomes important. So I reversed it to make the rest of it work. Look out for things like this as you test your conlang rules with these phrases.

And now you're a Four Hour Conlanger.

Kind of a Conlang Comic

I know this is very out of character for this blog, but thought some of you might get a kick out of this. Have a great weekend!


Numbers in your Conlang

This topic comes up every once in awhile on the conlang forums - numbers in your conlang. This post goes out to you, Janko Gorenc. ;)

Usually the biggest issue of these threads is simply, what base do you want for your number system and why? The base for your number system basically means, how many numbers are there, before you go up to the next "place" in the numeral system? Now, most of the world uses a base 10 number system, and its probably because people have 10 fingers. But we could have had a base 5 number system, and a lot of conlangers play with this. Or, you might be developing a language and culture for an alien culture that has 12 fingers, or six limbs, or nine tentacles! Whatever base you want, for whatever reason, I wanted to provide a brief tutorial on how to calculate or translate base 10 numbers into another base, or vice versa. If you want to know more about number systems before diving into this, read these Wikipedia articles on number systems.

You're going to have to do some dividing. Get out a piece of paper and pencil. Lets start with something simple: let's turn 100 into base 12. Make three columns by drawing four vertical lines. In the right-most column, write 120 at the top. Right underneath that, write 1. In the next column, write 121 at the top, and underneath it, 12. In the next column, write 122 at the top, and underneath it, 144. These three columns represent the "places" of numbers in base 10. 1, 10, 100; in each of these columns we will write how many times the number goes into it, starting at the left-most column. 100 is too small for this column, so we go to the next column. 100 goes into 12 eight times, so write an 8 in this column. Eight times 12 is 96, and in long division we then subtract 96 from 100, leaving a remainder of 4. Aha, 100 in base 12 is 84! 12 in base 12 is 10, and 24 is 20. 2,345 is 1,435. Catching on? (For a four digit number, you have to add a fourth column, 12 with a little 3, and write 1,728 underneath it, for 12x12x12) If you want more examples, comment me.

This brings up another point: at some point, you need to have names for your numbers in your conlang.  After making all those letters for your alphabet, coming up with as many numbers as are in in your base system should be easy. Also, how will numbers be represented in the orthography of your conlang? Here's an example from my own conlang. I decided to make the numbers representative of shapes the use the same number of strokes as the number, and then the simple shapes combine to create higher numbers.

Orthography Evolution

I've posted about this before and made more progress, so this is an updated report about how my orthography has evolved since I made three posts about it at the end of '07, and things you might consider as you develop your own orthography.

I just couldn't leave well enough alone. I had my orthography, it worked, but each time I looked at it, there was still something that bothered me - ome little nagging itch in the back of my brain somewhere. So one day as I was sitting in a meeting, I starting listening to my itch to see what where it lead. Now these are little things, but maybe something I learned will benefit you, too. So here is the alphabet I had settled on previously:

This font, you might notice, is extremely light compared to the English letters. I realized quickly that I should make the letters thicker, but this change could wait. An item of interest: the Pitak characters have thicker horizontal strokes than vertical strokes. I thought it would be interesting to see how this looked, since our English alphabet characters are thicker on the vertical strokes (meaning, the sides of an O are thicker than the top and bottom, and the same goes for the other letters). It mostly just made the letters look like the Hebrew alphabet.

I wasn't entirely comfortable with was the letter order/arrangement. I designed the Pitak letters to manifest certain phonetic characteristics; for example, the voiced characters have middle strokes, or partial middle strokes if they are a combined sound (ch=t+sh, a combined sound). I had tried to arrange the letters so that the "related" letters flowed together, i.e. the unvoiced plosives were together, the voiced plosives were together, so that when you looked at the alphabet, you could see the relationships. The above letter order wasn't very conducive to that. I made a letter order I felt better about, and re-made the font, with vertical strokes now being thicker than the horizontal strokes, and I liked the way it looked much better:So now, the plosives are all on the left, or on the right, unvoiced or voiced, along with the unvoiced and voiced consonant combinations of ch and j, nestled in between the consonants that make up their sound. Then the second and fourth columns are fricatives, unvoiced and voiced. In the middle, nasals, a liquid, and h, because I wanted it to have a special heritage, if you will, of being a half letter, and that it is used in words for childhood, shortness, and etherealness. Also, semi-vowels are between the consonants and the vowels, showing their mixed heritage, and their letters are combinations of consonant and vowel shapes. Well the W and R are... the Y symbol is a bit of a stretch, to my mind. The ng sound is where it is because... well I was just experimenting, and thought I didn't want a voiced th sound, so substituted the ng sound in, so its close to the n sound, to which it is related.

This letter arrangement I liked much better, and I reworked a few characters to better reflect their new placement and their phonetic qualities. H is now a very minimal letter; only two strokes; this is to reflect the attributes I mentioned above, as well as a minimal effort being required to make this sound. Ch and J characters are better combinations of the letters for t+sh and d+zh.

Now originally, I had 30 characters in the alphabet, which, on a keyboard, still allowed me some keys to make up punctuation. With the new alphabet, now I had 33 characters and I'm getting short on keyboard space. I wanted to have one character for each sound (meaning no sounds that require two letters, such as th, sh, ch), but I don't want to have too many characters either. I started wondering if I should shorten my phonology. I also wanted to improve my font; in comparison with the English characters, my letters look so little - I wanted to beef them up more. So I decided to cut out the ch and j letters, and the ng. I moved the l into the place of the ng, because this column is all voiced consonants, and h isn't voiced (h was the only other consonant I was considering moving). I also moved the postion of w, y, and r to where they match up more closely with the vowels they are close to.
In this third iteration, that the characters are bigger, "beefier," and don't seem as small when compared to the English letters, and I think they could be even thicker and look better. When I prepared the earlier alphabet graphics, I actually had to use a bigger font size each time. This time, I didn't. As you create your own font, you'll probably go through similar trial and error, until you know exactly how  thick, how tall, and how wide you need to make your letters. Again, I used High-Logic's FontCreator 5.6 to create this font.

So, this year I decided that my font STILL was not fit for public consumption and opened up FontCreator once again. But this time I was determined to create at least two good, solid fonts: an older, runic style and a newer, modern style. Here's the older, runic style. Tthe letters are a better match size-wise to the English font, and I think the simplification of the strokes makes it nice, simple, and it still has a bit of a serif on the diagonal strokes to give it a little style. Also, I had never been completely comfortable with the M and N characters above - so note the change to the upper and lower cross stroke on the new M and N characters.

Now here's the newer, modern style! I thought about what might make the above font look more modern or even a little futuristic, and the thing I kept coming back to was "fewer strokes" to make a character. So I got rid of the "neck" of the character shape, making it look like an alphabet of the number seven. Note also that I closed the open shape of the R character, making it into a Z.

I'm very satisfied with these! I still want to make a cursive, elegant font as well. Every time I've tried one, I've been very lukewarm with the results and never finished it. I may just have to find a friend with a Wacom tablet and borrow it just for this.

I hope that you get some ideas from this! Any time I am sitting somewhere, bored, I start writing things in my language, and experiment with the characters some more. That's basically how I came up with all this, in addition to my methods explained in the Orthography posts. Keep conlangin'.