Spec Tech: Conlanging 5 — In which more vocabulary is needed

This is the fifth in a series of posts “live-blogging” the creation of a fictional language from scratch, with the help of our readers.  We plan to construct a functional language one piece at a time, incorporating suggestions and preferences from our audience along the way.  You can read previous installments here: one, two, three, four.

Last time, I asked folks to pick a semantic domain, and generate some vocabulary for us to use.  Thanks to two noble souls, we now have words for numbers and writing, along with some bonuses, like days of the week and months of the year (although there is still some debate about their exact form; go have a look and chime in!).

We also need a name for our language.  Kohe was proposed as our word for “language” last time, and I quite like it.  I’m going to propose that the name of our language be kohen—similar, but not identical, and has a nice ring to it.  But if you have objections, or other ideas about a name, speak up!

I’ve also taken the vocabulary that we have thus far and put it into an online spreadsheet for everyone’s reference.  It should be viewable by anyone, but not editable.  I’ll include words as they’re created; just post them here.  That will let me double-check as we go, making sure that we don’t have any duplicates, that our words conform to the phonology we’ve created, etc.

However, we’re going to need more vocabulary before we can start playing with lots of examples, so I’m going to appeal again for people to create some words for us.  To make this process less open-ended, and thus hopefully more appealing, I’ve created some specific lists of items in four domains: animals, basic verbs, body parts, and words for some natural phenomena.  Claim one in the comments, and have at it!

Remember, too, to make up some sentences with the vocabulary that gets created.  Even if you don’t want to come up with words, you can still come up with sentences to play with the language as it currently stands.  You might even post the sentences here without translations, and ask other people what they mean.


A couple of things to note about these animal names.

First, there are some differences in how languages classify animals into categories, and what those categories are.  Since we have speakers coming from a wide range of backgrounds, whose languages and cultures might make different distinctions, I think our best bet here is to tie the animal names to biological nomenclature, since the science of biology is something of a shared culture.

Second, we don’t know what animals we’re going to find when we get to our new colony, but we do know what kinds of animals we’re going to bring with us (although we may end up taking other species, in which case we’ll have to create more words for those).  I think the issue of words for other Earth-animals, and the names and categories for animals native to our new home, can wait until later.

  • hihau – dog (Canis lupus familiaris)
  • moing – cat (Felis Catus)
  • sheep (Ovis aries)
  • goat (Capra aegagrus hircus)
  • cow (Bos primigenius)
  • pig (Sus scrofa domesticus)
  • chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus)
  • horse (Equus ferus caballus)
  • bird (members of the class Aves)
  • mammal (members of the class Mammalia)

Basic verbs

  • go
  • eat
  • jump
  • fly
  • sleep
  • see
  • hear
  • die
  • kill
  • sit
  • stand
  • say
  • walk
  • fly

Body parts

  • head
  • hair
  • ear
  • eye
  • nose
  • mouth
  • tongue
  • tooth
  • hand
  • foot
  • arm
  • leg
  • neck
  • knee

Nature terms

  • mountain
  • river
  • ocean
  • lake
  • rock
  • fire
  • sun
  • moon
  • star
  • water
  • rain
  • cloud
  • smoke
  • dirt/soil

32 thoughts on “Spec Tech: Conlanging 5 — In which more vocabulary is needed

  1. Here are some sentences to get y’all started on translating!

    1) puseing sa na fi kosen hemang pa sapalai
    2) likiking sa masulu pa moing fi hihau
    3) liseing sa nahu fi kohe pa lai

  2. Since no one else has leaped to the fore, I’m claiming basic verbs. I’ll post some sentences using them, too.


      1. Yeah, people should feel free to add to those lists as they like — having more words certainly canʼt hurt!

  3. Sorry i’ve been away for awhile. But i’ll volunteer for nature terms, and colors.
    But first let me be sure i understand the phonology as it now is:
    C = p, t, k, f, s, h, m, n, ng, l, w*, y* (*added per #4 discussions)
    V = i, e, a, o, u, ei, ai, oi, au
    N = m, n, ng
    prefixes: CV-
    Possible issue: distinguishing C[diphthong][w~y]V vs. C[e~a~o][w~y]V
    e.g. taya vs. taiya; meyo vs. meiyo; koyo vs. koiyo; fawa vs. fauwa
    some options:
    1. ignore the issue and let some words be (near) homophones.
    2. disallow /w/ and /y/ intervocalically (i.e. between vowels) (except possibly when following /u/ or /i/).
    3. disallow diphthongs before /w/ and /y/ (with some exceptions: e.g. CauyV, CaiwV, CoiwV etc.).

    Liseing sana.

    1. As far as I’m concerned, “Liseing sa na” is the most important phrase in this entire language. 😉

      1. Thanks 🙂
        I guess i wrote “Liseing sana” tho it seems the practice so far has been to separate the prefix from the main verb as if it were a separate word. Maybe we sould write li-seing sa-na (or liSeing saNa perhaps?) for at least the time being so it will be easier to work out the prefixes.

    2. Sorry for the delay in getting back about this; I was trying to decide how best to handle these diphthong/glide sequences.

      Iʼm thinking that we should limit /y/ and /w/ to occurring only at the beginnings of words (or, more precisely, at the beginnings of roots). That way, we avoid this problem while still allowing for a bit more variety in our words, and the rule is simple enough and easy to remember. Sound like a plan?

      1. Actually i was hoping you would go for the third option:
        To state it in another way: /ei/ /ai/ and /oi/ don’t occur before /y/,
        and /au/ doesn’t occur before /w/. That’s not too complicated either.
        Besides, i think we’re already there with words like ‘toyo’- want, wish, desire and ‘koya’ – thousand.
        Plus, i’d have to revise a few words in my list, which i’ll give now:
        Nature terms
        cloud yefei
        dirt/soil lusau
        fire kisau
        lake leloi
        moon totong
        mountain mungkang
        ocean suyon
        rain feyei
        river yulam
        rock kelon
        smoke kosaung
        sky feying
        star tisin
        sun hatong
        water yeilei

        Color Terms
        white peili (originally from Czech ‘bílý’ and Russian белый belyĭ)
        light grey peyau
        grey nupei
        dark grey nuli
        black nuwau (my best attempt to ‘Kohenize’ French ‘noire’)
        red loho (from Spanish ‘rojo’)
        orange loti
        yellow tilau (from Filipino ‘dilaw’)
        green luse (from Chinese 绿色 Lǜsè)
        blue-green silu
        blue sini (from Russian синий siniĭ)
        purple losin

        I’ve tried to be a bit creative and inclusive (linguistically at least) with the color terms. Anyway, gotta go.
        Liseing sa na.

    3. Oh, and note also that, while our tense and aspect markers are prefixes, the grammatical particles for subject/object are actually separate words.

      When I do examples in coming posts, though, Iʼll have a “parse” line that will break out the prefixes so that theyʼre easier to see.

  4. 3) liseing sa nahu fi kohe pa lai

    We will write a language of fancy/imagination (an imaginary language? 🙂 )

  5. I have three proposals along with my word list (which will follow in a separate post), and two questions.

    A. Proposals
    1. First, I propose the causative prefix ka- “cause to do, make do” for verbs, adjectives and a few other instances. A regular causative can be very productive for building new vocabulary from already established words:

    tate: know (a fact)
    ka+tate: inform

    kin: short, brief
    ka+kin: shorten, abbreviate

    mang: one
    ka+mang: unite, unify

    2. Second, I propose extending the use of our nominalizing prefix ma- to that of a general nominalizing affix, which can be prefixed to verbs and adjectives as well, in order to make the corresponding action nouns and abstract nouns:

    ma+talu “run”: running
    ma+kin “short, brief”: shortness, brevity

    And combining the ka- and ma- affixes, we can produce a number of still other new words:

    ma+ka+kin: shortening, abbreviation
    ma+ka+mang: unification

    3. Third, I propose the indirect object marker ngan-:

    Tawake sa ti ngan na fi makatate. You told/said to me the information.
    Taseing sa ku fi hisi ngan na. She wrote me a page. She wrote a page to me.

    (This also brings up a question of word/phrase order: shall we leave it free, or require a subject-direct object – indirect object order? Since Kohen already marks at least some of its cases so explicitly with prefixes, I’m a fan of a somewhat free order, so that we can easily show differences in emphasis, rhythm, etc.)

    B. Two Questions:

    1. Negatives:
    How do we want to indicate negatives? The position of the negative in the sentence is an interesting issue. If we follow the VSO syntax we’re establishing, it could follow the verb, presumably like other adverbs, in the same way that adjectives follow nouns. This would give us some nice syntactic consistency. [I include in the examples below a negative marker “mu” for illustration purposes.]

    Tatalu sa moing. The cat ran.
    Tatalu mu sa moing. The cat didn’t run.

    Nevertheless, several strongly VSO languages (Welsh, Arabic, etc.) put a negative adverb in front of verbs, adjectives, etc.:

    Mu tatalu sa moing. The cat didn’t run.
    Fema mu kin. A not-short story, a story that isn’t short.

    Comments? Suggestions?

    2. Sequences of Verbs
    How do we want to handle two-verb sequences, like English “want to eat, try to sleep, can do, will see”? English and many Indo-European languages use a special form of the second verb, variously an infinitive or other verbal, and mark the second verb to show this.

    For Kohen, of course, we don’t necessarily have to follow that pattern. We could simply put verbs in linear sequence:

    Toyo mesa sa na. “I want (to) eat.”
    Nen talu sa ku. “She can run.”

    Or introduce a clause marker (I use “ne” as the marker for illustrative purposes) and create the equivalent of a noun clause direct object (like English “I know that you were busy this summer”):

    Toyo sa na fi ne mesa sa na. “I want [dir. object] that I eat.”

    Although this may feel a little cumbersome when both verbs are in the same person, it has the advantage of consistency, especially if we build other similar clause structures the same way:

    Tawake sa na fi ne tawi sa ku. “I said that he went.”
    Pete sa tihu fi ne fine kin sa fema. “You see that the story is short.”


    1. I’m kind of against adding yet more prefixes… cognitively I have a really hard time stacking prefixes, and some of these words are getting to the point where they could have 3-4 prefixes at a time.

      I am in favor of keeping the language as simple as possible so that nonlinguists can learn it without having to understand what linguistics terms mean. If you have to know what “nominalize” or “causative” means in order to understand what a word means, the language may be too hard to learn for someone who doesn’t grow up speaking it.

      Also, you speak of “ma” prefix as though it were introduced already – can you direct me to that post? I think I missed it somewhere.

      1. Interesting observation about “stacking prefixes.” Yet in English we can stack suffixes with no problem 🙂 Think about a word like nation-al-iz-ation or attract-ive-ness. We do it somewhat with prefixes, too: un-re-pent-ant. But you make a valid point. We might want to limit the extent of suffixation.

        As for jaron — sorry– I probably went overboard! — “make a noun out of” is fine for nominalize and “make a verb out of” is pretty good for causative. You definitely don’t need to know linguistics jargon to be able to speak a language — and your idea about a guide to Kohen for the newcomer is an excellent antidote to this!

        As for ma-, it was in my post about numbers, with mang “one”; mamang “unit”; pe “two”; mape “duo, pair,” etc. I figure to keep it simple, we can extend the use of affixes we already have. Chris also used it in his recent three sentences to translate: masulu pa moing “trio of cats.”

        We could have a limit on stacking prefixes, but

      2. A few thoughts on possibly adding more prefixes:

        -We need some way of doing these jobs (making nouns and verbs out of other parts of speech), so it’s just a matter of picking which way to do it. Although the prefixes might see complicated, the alternatives are potentially more so. For “make someone do something”, a two-verb solution could work quite well, just like we do in English. For turning verbs into nouns, though, we probably want some kind of prefix—otherwise, the “noun” is going to be a whole phrase, and I’m not sure what that phrase would look like. (Although, in the case of turning verbs into nouns, there isn’t an issue of stacking, since nouns don’t take prefixes.)

        -Additionally, one could still learn and use these prefixes without knowing the linguistic terminology for them. If you’ve taken a foreign language for more than a couple years, you’ve (hopefully!) learned how to do both causatives and nominalizations in whatever language you were studying, even if the term wasn’t explicitly used.

        -Consider another way to think about this—in a Kohen language classroom, at least in the early stages, one needn’t make mention of these processes, or even the morphemes at all. To borrow one of Dean’s examples, a lesson might use the words tate “to know” and katate “to inform” without mentioning the relationship between them. If you learn enough vocabulary, the pattern will become obvious at some point, but even if it doesn’t, you can just learn the individual words and be fine, at least until the advanced stages of language study.

        Having said all that, though, I think you’re largely correct—we don’t want to go totally overboard with so many prefixes that the language becomes impenetrable. We’ll need to strike a careful balance, using prefixes where it clarifies things (e.g., turning verbs into nouns), and avoiding them where there is another option (e.g., turning nouns into verbs).

    2. A.1. & 2., B2. I think these are good ideas, and Iʼm glad youʼre thinking about this stuff! I want to wait a bit to deal with these things, though, as we have a lot of stuff left to do with regular old verbs and sentences before we get to more complicated issues like nominalization, causatives, and sentences-as-objects. I also want to do a review post before we start adding in too much new stuff, especially more complicated things like this. But never fear—I’ll certainly bring up your thoughts when we start talking about these things!

      B.1. Weʼll talk about negatives in the next post, along with a few other things related to verbs that we havenʼt dealt with yet. Iʼm kind of partial to having a negative marker that precedes the verb, but for no particular reason. I’ll probably play around with both possibilities. What do other people think?

  6. Here’s my verb list. I added several verbs that seemed essential and that may also generate discussion, since they involve choices for the direction of the language. The very first entry, in fact, raises the question of how we want to mark the complements of linking verbs. I’ve made notes on a few other entries, since they raise some interesting questions.

    fine: be equal to. (EX: Fine sa kohen kohe. (?) “Kohen is a language.” Another way to handle this: Fine kohe sa kohen. “Is a language Kohen.” This closely links the linking verb and its complement. On a related note, we might want to include a distinction like Spanish makes between ser and estar, temporary vs. inherent or lasting existence, the difference between “I am busy” and “I am a writer.”)
    hempo: do, make
    hopu: fly
    ka-: causative prefix. (I restrained myself from including all the new verbs on this list that this prefix can generate, unless consensus favors this proposal. For instance: kalo “stand something up”; kanen “enable”; kanampa “put to sleep”; kapehu “endear”; etc. Another way to express the causative is as English sometimes does, with a separate verb: I made it hotter, she made it fit, he makes it increase.)
    keki: jump
    lipem: walk
    lo: stand
    mala: come
    menke: learn
    mese: eat
    nampa: sleep
    nen: be able, can
    ngan: indirect object marker
    ngapo: know how to. (The distinction between ngapo “know how to” and tate “know a fact” is useful and exists in many languages. German kennen and wissen, French savoir and connaitre, Welsh gwybod and adnabod.)
    ngune: kill
    nite: give
    nole: hear
    pehu: like
    pete: see
    sau: plan, intend
    supung: live, exist
    tate: know (a fact), recognize (a person, sound, idea)
    tile: sit
    toyo: want, wish, desire. (My query about how we want to handle sequences of two verbs is in my previous post. How do I say “I want to speak Kohen”? “Toyo sa na wake fi Kohen”??)
    wake: say. (Verbs of speech are interesting. English has “say, tell, speak, talk” in everyday use and both some overlapping and some mutually exclusive usage rules for each. Kohen probably doesn’t need so many distinct but closely similar verbs.)
    walo: die
    wi: go

    1. Thanks for these! I’ll add them to our spreadsheet before the next post.

      A few quick things:

      -I’ve got some ideas in mind for how to handle “to be”, so I’m going to veto “fine” being used in that way. It could certainly stick around in the literal sense of two amounts being equal to each other, though.

      -Also, remember that we’re saving CV words for grammatical particles, so “go” and “stand” will need to be changed. If you want to propose alternatives, go for it; otherwise, I’ll just add a syllable to the end when I add them to the spreadsheet.

      -As per the above, “ngan” as an indirect object marker should probably just be CV—however, I actually want to wait on deciding about how to do second objects. “Indirect object” isn’t necessarily a coherent category, so I’d rather that we deal with instances of needing an indirect object marker as they arise, using prepositions like “with” and “for” and “to” whenever possible. If we end up needing this we can toss it back it, but we should be able to get away without it.

      1. I’m curious to see your ideas about handling the sense of “be” in Kohen. Are you thinking of something along the lines of stative verbs, treating them like other verbs in taking the tense/aspect markers?

        Ta-kin sa fema. The story was short.

        Re the monosyllable particle rule — missed that! I’ll be sure that gets into the guide we’re talking about writing.

        I like the suggestions about prepositions as opposed to a vaguer category such as “indirect object” — I was probably too much in English mode. Almost all instances of “ind. obj.” can be handled with “to” or “for,” with a few needing the sense of “of” or “from.” EX: She asked me a question; she asked a question of me.

        Can I propose that we use nga for “to”?

        Phonology note: dalu “run” and dosa “house” on the spreadsheet should be talu and tosa.

      2. For “be” — yeah, something like that 😉

        Sure, nga could certainly be “to”.

        And oh, that’s for catching those /d/s. I dunno what I did there.

  7. A general concern: If I’m starting to get a bit lost, following these posts closely, it’s going to be very hard to catch new people up to speed. I think we may need a couple of posts worth of review and maybe less-technical explanations of the various parts of the language and how they work, with examples etc. Maybe a non-linguist should try to come up with a lay person’s guide to what we have so far, or something? I’ll volunteer if no one else is interested.

    1. That’s a great idea, Mishell. Example sentences for the major points we’ve agreed on so far, with some minimal explanation, could be very useful for all of us. A sort of friendly “Intro to Kohen.”

    2. If someone’s willing, I think a layman’s guide could certainly be helpful! At some point, I plan on putting what we’ve done into a grammatical sketch for everyone’s reference, which I intend to be as basic and jargon-free as possible. But that doesn’t mean someone else couldn’t do a separate, more basic guide, or that I couldn’t collaborate with a person or two on the writing of such a thing. Anyone interested?

  8. I’m willing to work on parts of a guide to Kohen — we can post drafts on the blog for feedback as well as reference, and if we clearly identify versions, we can update and improve it as we go.

    1. Cool! It occurs to me that, since my next post will be largely a review, we could use that as a skeleton, a draft of our guide, and add to it as we need?

      I’m thinking it might be hard to coordinate this on the blog, so maybe I’ll set it up as a Google doc, viewable by everyone, and add folks who are interested as editors.

  9. Although I haven’t commented, I’ve been following this project. If it’s helpful, I’ve created a spreadsheet of all possible Kohen words (assuming I understand the rules correctly, that is) on Goggle docs here. There two lists: Just the CV forms, and everything else.

    1. Good work!
      But it seems our phonology has evolved a bit – since we have words like hempo, koya, menke (mengke), nampa, and toyo.
      As i see it our phonological structure is as follows:
      C1: p, t, k, f, s, h, w, y, l, m, n, ng
      V: i, e, a, o, u
      D1: ei, ai, oi
      D2: au
      C2: p, t, k, f, s, h, w, l, m, n, ng, [mp], [nt], [ngk] <– these last three are best treated as units
      C3: p, t, k, f, s, h, y, l, m, n, ng, [mp], [nt], [ngk]
      N: m, n, ng
      I know this looks terribly complex, but maybe if i break it down it'll be a bit clearer:

      C1 is the initial consonant.

      Anything inside square brackets is treated as a unit and is required.
      The tilde indicates 'or'.
      [V . . . . . . ~D1 . . . . . . ~D2 ]
      So, After the initial consonant a single vowel or diphthong is required.
      Anything inside parentheses is optional.
      (Since everything else in the phonological formula is inside parentheses one can stop here and we come up with all the CV forms.)
      For two syllable words, what follows depends on which type of vowel is in the first syllable.
      For 'pure' vowels (symbolized ) any single consonant or consonant cluster is open necessarily followed by any single vowel or diphthong:
      ([C2 ~C3][V~D1~D2])
      For diphthongs ending in /-i/ (symbolized ), only those consonants in group C2 (which is really every consonant minus /y/) can be selected. This is then followed by any single vowel or diphthong:
      For the diphthong /au/ (symbolized ) Only those consonants in group C3 (which is really every consonant minus /w/) are available, of course followed by any single vowel or diphthong:
      Finally, any single nasal (/m/, /n/, or /ng/) can follow the last vowel in a word:
      Ok, That’s it.
      But before we set this phonological structure in stone, i’d like to point out that there are in excess of 85,000 possible words with this structure as i have described it. So i’d like to propose a few final tweaks.
      First and foremost – that Kohen have at most one diphthong per word.
      (Just this adjustment alone would drop the total possible words to less than 75,000)
      Second that in two syllable words a consonant cluster never follow a diphthong.
      That way we’ll avoid words such as meingkaim, toimpaing, kointung, feingkang which (at least to me) seem – if not always lacking somehow aestetically – to take too long to say (they seem more like two words when you say them out loud a few times).
      This would result in a possible 43392 words/affixes.
      And, none of these adjustments require that any words be revised.
      This would make our structure like this:
      C1: p, t, k, f, s, h, w, y, l, m, n, ng
      V: i, e, a, o, u
      D1: ei, ai, oi
      D2: au
      C2: p, t, k, f, s, h, w, y, l, m, n, ng, [mp], [nt], [ngk]
      C3: p, t, k, f, s, h, w, l, m, n, ng
      C4: p, t, k, f, s, h, y, l, m, n, ng
      N: m, n, ng
      Woohoo! It’s shorter, simpler and doesn’t result in a plethora of two-syllable mouthfuls.
      Liseing sa na.

  10. Bernard–Wordpress isn’t allowing a further level of reply, so rather than being able to respond immediately following your post, I’m responding here to your list of astronomical and color terms — wonderfully evocative, and a good variety. I felt I was in something of an acoustic rut with the items I provided, but you’ve exploited a wider range of the Kohen sound palette with these. I find myself playing with totong loho “red moon”; totong nuwau “black moon” for the sound …

    1. Dude,
      “wonderfully evocative” ?!
      I’m thinking of going to the park or for a hike (or at least out into the backyard for a bit) for inspiration and writing down some Kohen words for things i see/ find.
      I will post what i come up with.
      Oh yeah, i’d be willing to help with a review of Kohen.
      Maybe my reply to FennelGiraffe on the phonology of Kohen could be considered as a rough draft (or at least a starting point from which we can glean what is necessary.)
      Thanks again.

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