28 December 2009

new issue of LD&C is out

A new issue of Language Documentation and Conservation is available online.

Being a collector of foreign language dictionaries and textbooks, I have always been a big fan of this journal.

07 September 2009

another ULD update

Finally got around to doing the "levels" in the ULD vocabulary. (They are only visible in the downloadable XML file at the moment.)

There are 30 items tagged as being in level 0. These are items which are indicated as noun cases, verb inflections, or other grammatical machinations in some languages. (English in its boringness indicates them by free-standing words.)

Then level 1 (170 items) contains very high-frequency or ultra-"basic" items; followed by level 2 (715 slightly less frequent items) and level 3 (907 items, which are mostly less frequent and more specialized terms).

These levels are just my subjective impressions. They are meant to assist with automatic vocabulary creation. A computer application that makes conlang vocabularies would assign longer morphemes to level 3 items than it would give level 1 or level 2 items. The stuff in level 0 would have to be hand-crafted by the language's owner.

30+170+715+907 = 1822. There are two new entries in the lexicon: "no" (corresponding to German kein rather than nein) and "alone." These are only visible in the XML file currently; they will show up in the checklists and HTML pages later.

I keep telling myself there is an absolute limit of 1825 items for version 2.7 of the ULD. 1825=365*5 and refers to my belief that anybody can create (or learn) 5 words per day for a year and thus build up a well-rounded basic vocabulary using the ULD.

12 April 2009


My kidney stone forced me to go to the hospital, where a doctor crammed a laser into my innermost plumbing.

Which makes me think of the word ouch, an interjection expressing unexpected pain. How is this handled in other languages? Looking at Wiktionary it appears that ai, au, and [ox] are common equivalents in Indo-European languages.

Looking up ouch in some of the hardcopy dictionaries in my collection, I found the following:

Italian: ahi
Ojibwe: yawenh
Lakota: yuŋ
Esperanto: aj, aŭ, huj

Various sources for Japanese give itai, wa' (that's a "truncated wa"), or ite. It seems to me that in the anime and jdorama programs I've watched, the Japanese sometimes say itetete – a string of te syllables, unlike anything else I have heard, but vaguely similar to the noises that some English-speakers make when shivering in extreme cold.

Many of the dictionaries in my collection do not give an equivalent for ouch, which is unfortunate but not surprising. Interjections and onomatopes are often neglected by bilingual dictionary editors.

17 March 2009

the window of opportunity

Most language inventors start doing it before the age of, let's say, 25. Is this just because there is more free time for daydreaming during the school years? Are young people less likely to be insulted for engaging in creative activity than adults? Or are there physical reasons having to do with brain development?

From the BBC comes news of a study indicating that brain speed, reasoning and visual puzzle-solving ability begin to decline around the age of 27. "Abilities based on accumulated knowledge, such as performance on tests of vocabulary or general information, increased until the age of 60." The article is here.

If that study is confirmed by future research, perhaps good advice for young conlangers would be: Do your grammar and your conculture while you are young, then you can work on gaining fluency and creating literature in your language for the rest of your life.

14 March 2009

book note: In the Land of Invented Languages

Arika Okrent's book will be released soon. The title is In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build A Perfect Language.

A review in Publisher's Weekly describes it thusly: "She surveys “philosophical languages” that order all knowledge into self-evident systems that turn out to be bizarrely idiosyncratic; “symbol languages” of supposedly crystalline pictographs that are actually bafflingly opaque; “basic” languages that throw out all the fancy words and complicated idioms; rigorously logical languages so rule-bound that it's impossible to utter a correct sentence; “international languages,” like Esperanto, that unite different cultures into a single idealistic counterculture; and whimsical “constructed languages” that assert the unique culture and worldview of women, Klingons or chipmunks."

You can read an article Okrent wrote about Esperanto culture several years ago here.

20 February 2009

an idea for anime fans

If you download anime shows via bittorrents or other means, here's an idea to ponder... how about obtaining the "raw" (untranslated) version of your favorite show and creating subtitles for it in your own conlang?

If you're not into anime you could do the same with any live-action TV show that you can grab off the net. Imagine seeing Lost or an Australian football match or a classic Star Trek episode with subtitles in your own language.

Here is a link to a Google search for subtitle-creating software.

16 February 2009

Sona on YouTube

Never would have expected this to happen: a YouTube video about word formation in Sona. There has also been a slight increase in activity in the Sona forum.

I like the look and sound of Sona but can't seem to hold the "radicals" in my memory for any length of time. So, I fear I will never gain fluency in the language.

It's fascinating to watch how interest in Sona ebbs and flows over time. The pattern seems to be this: one person gets very interested for a month or two, then the passion fades a little and he/she puts Sona "on the back burner." A year later, somebody new comes along who is very very interested, but there is nobody else equally ardent at that time. So a self-sustaining chain reaction never occurs; little or no communication in Sona ever happens.