29 June 2008

Book of the Week #5: Fanagalo Phrasebook

On the net there is conflicting information about the popularity of Fanagalo and very little about the language itself. I got curious a few years ago and obtained Fanagalo Phrase-book, Grammar and Dictionary by J.D. Bold, published by Ernest Stanton Publishers, Johannesburg (tenth edition, 1977).

The author claims that (at least when he was writing) Fanagalo is a widely used lingua franca in southern Africa, not limited to giving orders to miners and domestic servants, but actually helpful every day to people in all kinds of situations. Here he takes a swipe at Esperanto:

He does a good job explaining how to make the clicks represented by the letters c, q, x. For example he says the x click "is the sound that White children make when they imagine they are urging a horse to get moving."

Below is a sample of the grammar section.

You can read a Fanagalo text specimen here.

22 June 2008

Book of the Week #4

This week I will wave at you my copy of Shorthand Systems of the World by Hans Glatte (Philosophical Library, 1959). For some reason which I no longer remember, I accumulated several books about stenography. This is the most interesting. It gives a general overview of the evolution of shorthand from ancient times to the mid 20th century.

My only complaint was, the book does not give enough details or illustrations. For example it mentions an obscure geometric system invented by Reginald Dutton published about 1917, but does not show the symbols. It would be interesting to see what Dutton had come up with prior to switching over to his alphabetic Speedwords.

In some countries you can download the full text of many old books about stenography from Google Books.

20 June 2008

ULD 2.7 update

I added some items inspired by VOA Special English to make the vocabulary more robust for translating news articles. Dam, debate, capital, urgent, funeral, passport, starve, hostage and so forth. There are now 1801 items and that's all there will be. By the power vested in me by the Summer Solstice, I'm putting the lid on! No more items will be added to version 2.7

18 June 2008

ULD 2.7 update

Within a few days I'm going to add two data fields to the XML file.

The level field will give a rough estimate of how 'basic' or 'essential' the concept is. This will be a number from 1 to 5. In the future, if you're using a computer program to auto-generate a vocabulary, this number will govern the length of most morphemes. High-frequency conjunctions will be tagged 1 for example, so they will tend to be shorter than a word for 'electricity' which would be tagged 4 or 5.

The link field will indicate how the concept is related to others. There will be tags such as noppo (meaning 'is the negative opposite of'), kindo (meaning 'is a kind of'), and parto (meaning 'is typically a part or component of'). This field might be handy for auto-creation of philosophical langs, or for those who want to have Esperanto-style opposites like granda, malgranda.

I realize the idea of having a computer whip a vocabulary for a constructed lang is distasteful to some observers, but for people who want to get up and running in a hurry, or those who want to focus all of their attention on syntax or morphology, it's a prefectly reasonable course of action.

12 June 2008

Japanese security forces worried about Esperantists

Der Spiegel reports that

a group of Esperanto speakers planning to attend protests at the upcoming G-8 summit in Hokkaido in July are causing concern for Japan's security services.

10 June 2008

how the 'net affects concentration

Like myself, others are noticing the brain-frying effects of internet forums and other online media, where everything has to be expressed in four paragraphs or less, otherwise most potential readers will skip the item. Nicholas Carr writes about it in The Atlantic:

What the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles... I’m not the only one. When I mention my troubles with reading to friends and acquaintances— literary types, most of them— many say they’re having similar experiences. The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing.

Loss of concentration is troublesome because no language, or even a single interesting grammatical feature of a language, can be adequately described in a few paragraphs of text or in a 140-character Twitter blurb. Shallow thinking, and hallucinating that a Google search or reading a wiki article constitutes research on a topic, will cripple our ability to create language or anything else.

Blogger Matt Asay writes, "I'm returning to my books... I need to exercise my brain to think again, and not merely process."

08 June 2008

exhibit at Cleveland Public Library

Donald Boozer has put together an exhibit about constructed languages currently on display at the Cleveland Public Library. Photos of the exhibit are here and newspaper coverage is here.

06 June 2008

Book of the Week #3

This week I present Basic Sileerian by J.P. MacKey. This is available from Lulu.com as either a PDF download or a hardcopy paperback (17.5 cm tall, 112 pages). I ordered the hardcopy version because I collect conlang books and, obviously, you cannot collect, appreciate and cherish a PDF file; ebooks are about as attractive as used tissues in my opinion.

The book has well-done layout and could almost pass for a Berlitz-type tourist phrasebook, except that this book uses a serif typeface and those tourist books almost always use sans-serif fonts. The North American branch of Lulu has done a good job of printing and binding, as usual.

Sileerian is supposed to be the lingua franca of a group of alien worlds. The book gives an introduction, pronunciation guide, 8 pages of useful phrases, and the rest is a vocabulary list.

The language does not seem very alien. The inventory of phonemes is a subset of English. The syntax is OSV and the number system is base-6 (heximal), but otherwise the grammar is unremarkable and Earth-pidgin-like. All of the items in the vocabulary can be explained with one-word or two-word English glosses. There's a map of Sileeria at the end, but no description of the cities and what might attract a visitor to one city or another. There are no Sileerian texts in the book: no legends, news items, histories, poems, or complete conversations.

So, in all honesty I have to say, I found this book a little disappointing. Perhaps the author will expand his vision of Sileeria and offer an expanded edition someday, or write a better-developed view of some other alien world.