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Today we talk about demonstratives.  Chiefly, what distinctions are common for demonstratives, and what crazy out-there distinctions you can make.  We also review a conlang that should be very familiar to you all.

Top of Show Greeting: Zelsen

Featured Conlang: Quenya


Email from Stephen Rogers:

George and Bianca,

I thought the following new title might be of interest to you.

A DICTIONARY OF MADE-UP LANGUAGES: From Adūnaic to Elvish, Zaum to
Klingon, the Anwa (Real) Origins of Invented Lexicons

Bio:  Stephen D. Rogers is a contributor to The Greenwood
Encyclopedia of Science Fiction & Fantasy: Themes, Works, and
Wonders; a member of the Language Creation Society; and the
award-winning author of more than 700 shorter pieces.

Let me know what you think.

Comment on #19 by David J Peterson:

English has 11 basic color terms. I think you may be getting confused about what “basic color term” means. A basic color term is a color term that can’t be explained in terms of other color terms. So in English, you can’t describe “pink” as “light red” or “whitish red”, or anything. That’s how we know “pink” is a basic color term. The largest number of basic color terms is 12 (Russian and Hungarian, which have different basic terms for what we’d call “light blue” and “dark blue”). “Basic color term” does not mean “not produced from derivational morphology”. “Orange” is a basic color term even though it’s a borrowing; “puce” is not a basic color term even though it’s pretty cohesive. See this description for more.

21 Responses to “Conlangery #31: Demonstratives”

  1. Anthony Docimo

    if memory serves, the Ardalambion mentions that Tolkien may have based Black Speech on Hurrian.

    once again, this has been an excellent Podcast to enjoy. brava!

    • Wm Annis

      D’oh! Wrong language, right family. Regardless, I recommend them both (Urartian, Hurrian) as a source of interesting ideas for conlanging.

  2. Mathew Park

    Very nice podcastisode. While I’m sure it’s just digging through the huge pile of what demonstratives could be; Can demonstratives also be marked for metaphorical/metaphysical things? In the episode you dealt with physical locations, but what about hypothetical or other non-physical distances? For example, in the episode when you said one language had a demonstrative for something higher then you, I assumed it was physically higher then you, but would/could/are there languages that would have demonstratives for people who are higher then you, in a rank or caste style?

    P.s I like the inclusion of the bloopers at the end. I think in addition to featured conlang and feedback there needs to be a Bianca-centric “Gripe about Conlangs of the week.” There’s something so therapeutic about listening to her.

    • Ossicone

      I can’t believe he included the bit about the Jedi council. XD

      Thanks, maybe I should have been a therapist after all…

  3. CMunk

    Norwegian (Maybe Swedish as well?) has definite forms after demonstratives “Denne boken” (“This book” with the -en suffix being definite). However, this is not done in Danish. “Denne bog” (with no definite suffix) means “this book”.

  4. Adam Heurlin

    On the topic of Swedish distance distinction, as a native speaker, I’ve always thought of den här and den där as special, inseparable units when used as demonstratives, even though they’re completely transparently analysable as “it here” and “it there”, respectively.

    However, what apparently leads a lot of people to say Swedish lacks a distance distinction is that we can easily omit the adverb. “Den boken” is perfectly valid Swedish – and, to my mind, works just as well no matter how close by the book is. There may be slight dialectal differences here; in particular, I speak Scanian, which is like an unholy mix of Danish and Swedish, and Danish does this a lot more than Swedish.

    Then there’s also denna/detta/dessa, which are always near.

  5. Roman Rausch

    1. Quenya has inclusive and exclusive verb forms which is not Indo-European at all, you need to go far out of Europe to find both clusivity and dual inflections. In some of Tolkien’s notes, there is also the mention of a 4th person pronoun. In the early years he also experimented with funky things like a future in past and a future in future tense (‘will be going to come’). The language has actually simplified over the years to a more commensurate form.
    One shouldn’t forget that the Indo-European theory was just being developed when Quenya emerged and probably was the focus of most research at that time.

    2. The problem with Quenya nowadays is not so much the gaps, but that there is too much attestation to choose from, like several verb paradigms. But this is also where the beauty in studying it comes from. I mean, if you can just ask Marc Okrand or Paul Frommer about a feature and they will tell you, then where is the fun in that? Studying Elvish is something of deciphering the Rosetta stone.

    3. Note that the pages on Ardalambion weren’t updated for several years now (although the Quenya course there was updated just recently). David Salo’s book is outdated in many respects as well.

    4. Even thought the Tengwar may all look alike, there are systematic relationships between the characters, similar to Hangeul. I can say that I had much fewer problems in learning to read Tengwar than in learning to read Hiragana where nu/ne/re/me/no look similarly without an apparent pattern to it.
    But the Tengwar of the Lord of the Rings are actually just the peak of an iceberg. There is also the Sarati script, a kind of Elvish IPA; runes with various modes and several experimental alphabets (where the letters don’t look alike!). The Tengwar themselves are of course just the endpoint of many years of evolution.

  6. Carsten

    Spoken German at least allows der/die/das (X) hier ‘the (X) here’ vs. der/die/das (X) da ‘the (X) there’ instead of diese/r,s ‘this/these’ vs. jene/r,s ‘that/those’ as well. In fact, jene/r,s sounds awfully bookish to me. AFAIK in Alemannic dialects, there’s sell for ‘that/those’, which is alive and well.

    I understand that the hosts know only so many languages as well and that Spanish is the prevalent foreign language to learn in the US, thus probably the most accessible one for Americans. But why must it always be Spanish and Chinese (and occasionally little bits of Swedish courtesy of Bianca) that serve as examples if William doesn’t bring in some exotic language? 🙁 I think it would be sensible to point out when a European language does some cool thing, to raise awareness that European languages do things not usually found elsewhere as well. It’s very nice that you’re already doing this for English, however! 🙂

    • admin

      I understand the problem. I hate going to Spanish and Chinese so often, but those are the languages I am most familiar with. Occasionally I can bring up things about Japanese (which I don’t speak, but I know a few things about), but I don’t have the breadth of knowledge William has of so many exotic languages.

      I do like highlighting some of the more interesting features of English. So many conlangers shun “Englishy” features without learning enough to really consider how they can be used, or let English-like features become default without realizing it. I think greater awareness of how English works can really benefit a conlanger. Or at least the Anglophones among us.

    • Ossicone

      I did learn German in school. But it was bad experience and forgot just about everything in the 6-8 years since.

  7. Owen

    Off-topic but interesting (I think). I was thinking about creating a language for an alien race for a story-world I am considering and I thought about the episode you did on fantasy-alien languages. The idea I had to make things more interesting from a conlang point of view was that my alien race would perhaps be reptilian or just “alien” and not have tongues.
    Therefore their language would be heavily influenced by what they could and could not pronounce. Seemed sensible, but I just found an article about case-studies of people born without tongues and how their (English) speech is affected. To my utter surprise, many of these children articulated their speech without any hindrance compared to other children of their age.
    My question now is, would a language develop without certain speech sounds if they were harder to make, or would they just appear as “normal” to them even if they sounded distorted or strange to us? Should I include “K” and “T” and “N” for example, that we assume need a tongue to articulate, or leave them out on the basis that although they can be made without, they are obviously made by different parts of the mouth and may sound somewhat different to us? Opens up a whole can of thinking:)


    • admin

      I would say it’s one thing for one person to have no tongue when their species normally has them, and another thing for an entire species to lack tongues. A few other things to consider: tongues have an important role in food processing, will you have some way to replace that function?

      In all, if they are capable of articulating something similar to /t/ or /n/, I would suspect that it would be much rarer due to difficulty. Difficult sounds tend to be rarified, with probably the most difficult linguistic sounds (clicks) also being the rarest.

      • Anthony Docimo

        Crocodilians have no tongues…wait, I misspeak – they have tongues fixed to their mouth, so functionally they have no tongues. (and they’re the most vocal of reptiles – admittedly not the highest bar)

    • Anthony Docimo

      Look at whales and parrots – they can produce sounds that one wouldn’t expect (no lips in either, no tongue in whale nostrils)

      • admin

        Some larger parrots do have flexible tongues. Smaller parrots that can’t use their tongues for speaking imitate human sound (and probably to some extent the larger ones as well) can imitate human sounds by creating a harmonic — their production mechanism allows them to produce two tones at once (because the syrinx extends into both brachiae), from which they can create a harmonic that mimics human linguistic sounds. If such a creature were to develop language independantly, it could sound completely different from a human, and certainly wouldn’t have the same articulatory terminology.

  8. Matthew Malone

    Considering the people who used Quenya, I wouldn’t worry about the Tengwar being too hard. After all, the Elves were nearly perfect (or much more so than humans anyway), and immortal, to boot. Not only did they have preternatural intelligence, they had eternity to become fluent in their writing system.


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