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Spec Tech: Conlanging 6 — In which we review

September 8, 2011

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.  If you’ve missed some of our previous posts in the series (one, two, three, four, or five) or otherwise fallen behind, youʼre in luck!  Today we review what we’ve decided thus far about our language, Kohen, and toss in a couple of new things, too.

You can find a spreadsheet listing the words in our language here.

After the last call for word creation, we’ve had another batch of words made, and more are on their way!  We’re still going to need vocabulary as we go along, though, so if there’s some set of words you want to come up with in the future, claim it in the comments and have at it!

Before we move on with Kohen, adding in more features to our language, I think it would be a good idea to do an overview of what we have so far and how it all works.  We all have different amounts of exposure to linguistics and languages other than English, and I want all of us to be on the same page as we move forward so that everyone is equally able to give feedback and suggestions.

Nouns

Nouns in Kohen take no article (the or a/an), and are not marked for the plural.  Thus, a single noun, for example moing “cat”, might be translated as “the cat”, “a cat”, “the cats”, or even “some cats”, depending on the context.

When a noun is possessed, it is followed by the word pa, and then the possessor.  Although the analogy isn’t exact, you can think of pa as being a bit like the English word “of”, as in:

fema pa Mishell
story “of” Mishell
“Mishell’s story”

and:

kohe pa nahu
language “of” we
“our language”

When we have two nouns modifying each other, they work just like the possessives above: the main (or head) noun goes first, followed by pa and then the modifying noun.

kohe pa hihau
language “of” dog
“the language of dogs”

and:

hisi pa sapa
page “of” book
“the page of the book”

Keep in mind, though, that sometimes it will make more sense to translate these into English without using the “of” construction.  Nonetheless, the pa still needs to be there in Kohen.

sulute pa mom
count “of” word
“word count”

Verbs

Verbs in Kohen take two sets of prefixes, the meanings of which combine together to give various tense/aspect combinations.

The first set of prefixes marks tense, of which there are three: past (ta-), future (li-), and present (no prefix, indicated by ∅-).  The second set marks aspect—aspect being whether an action is ongoing (imperfect, ∅-) or complete (perfect, pu-).

To see how these meanings stack up, let’s look at a verb, seing “to write”, in all the possible combinations.

seing “to write”
taseing ta- ∅- seing “was writing”
tapuseing ta- pu- seing “wrote”
seing ∅- ∅- seing “is writing”
puseing ∅- pu- seing “has written”
liseing li- ∅- seing “will be writing/will write”
lipuseing li- pu- seing “will have written”

Sentences

Sentences in Kohen are of the structure Verb – Subject – Object (VSO), unlike the usual English pattern of Subject – Verb – Object (SVO).

Subjects and objects in Kohen are marked by special words that precede them.  The subject of a sentence is preceded by sa, and the object by fi, as in:

tapuwisa sa na nga tosu
ta- pu- wisa sa na nga tosu
PAST PERF go SUBJ I to house
“I went to the house”

and:

seing sa ku fi fema
∅- ∅- seing sa ku fi fema
PRES IMPFT write SUBJ s/he OBJ story
“S/he is writing a story”

New things

After that review, I figure we could do with a couple new tidbits — but don’t worry, I’ve picked easy stuff!

The first new item relates to questions.  Cross-linguistically, we can say that languages have two types of questions.  First, there are those that ask for some piece of information with words like “what”, “who”, “where”, etc., and are often called, thanks to English, WH-questions.  Second, we have yes/no questions, which ask whether or not a statement is true.  We’ll deal with yes/no questions today, and WH-questions another time.

Languages have a variety of different means for doing yes/no questions.  In English, it’s a complicated matter of switching the verb and the subject, and tossing in an auxiliary verb if needed.  In Kohen, though, we’re going to opt for an easier approach: to ask a question, put the marker ha before the verb. Compare:

seing sa ti.
write SUBJ you
“You are writing.”

to:

ha seing sa ti?
Q write SUBJ you
“Are you writing?”

Easy, right!? The second new thing is how to make a sentence negative.  To do this, the verb is preceded by ke “not”.

ke seing sa ti.
NEG write SUBJ you
“You are not writing.”

One more thing, as this might come up later — we may as well talk about how to make negative questions. In these cases, the question marker should come first, followed by the negative marker:

ha ke seing sa ti.
NEG write SUBJ you
“You’re not writing(, are you)?”

I’d also like to encourage everyone once again to play with these constructions and vocabulary. If you have questions about how to say something, or come up with some awesome sentences, post them here and ask others to translate! There’s no better way to get linguistic rules into your head than to use the language in question.

Now’s also the time to ask any lingering questions you might have about this material.  We’re going to be moving forward for our next post, so if you’re not clear about something, ask away!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Mishell Baker permalink*
    September 8, 2011 9:21 pm

    Here is something that has been puzzling me… if we have a fixed verb-subject-object order, why do we need the words marking subject and object? In “seing sa na fi fema” (I am writing a story), why couldn’t it just be “seing na fema,” if the order is always the same? I could see the need for subject and object markers if the object would occasionally appear before the subject, and there would be no other way to determine which is which.

    Remind me why we decided to do the subj/obj marker words? Because I think those extra little words are the primary stumbling block to my “thinking in” Kohen.

    Liseing sa na.

Trackbacks

  1. Spec Tech: Conlanging 8 – Toyo sa ti fi menke fi Kohen, hake? « Clarion Blog

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