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We go a little out of our comfort zone and talk about language history — particularly as involves the diachronic method of creating a conlang.  Then we move on to some talk about a language called Dimana Lokud.

Top of Show Greeting: Oupe

Links and Resources:

Featured Conlang: Dimana Lokud

19 Responses to “Conlangery #51: Language History”

  1. AlucardNoir

    Great show, informative and not that long, would have liked to hear more regarding the effects of education, standardize grammar and religious pressure on language evolution but that’s more conworlding that conlanging.

  2. James

    The comments made at 35:00 (about words for an individual species of bird becoming the general name for ‘a bird’ in another language) remind me a lot of one of Ursula le Guin’s short stories, “Paradises Lost”, part of her collection called “The Birthday of the World”.

    “Paradises Lost” is about the fugutive human race, fleeing a now-uninhabitable Earth, heading off through space towards a new home planet to colonise. What’s special about this story, though, is that the ship can travel only a little bit slower than light, meaning there are multiple generations living on it because everything is taking place in real time, not time-dilated or in warp time or anything like that. Where this makes for some interesting reading in terms of all these new words that have sprung up in people’s speech — mimicking the (at least semantic) evolution of language — what’s particularly interesting to me is what happens when they touch down and step out onto the planet’s surface.

    Creatures. There were creatures everywhere. This world was made of creatures. The only things not alive were the rocks. Everything else was alive with creatures.
    Plants covered the dirt, filled the waters, endless variety and number of planets (4-Liu Yao working in the makeshift plant test lab felt sometimes through the mist of exhaustion an incredulous delight, a sense of endless wealth, a desire to shout aloud — Look! Look at this! How extraordinary!) — and of animals, endless variety and number of animals (4-Steinman Jael, one of the first to sign up as an Outsider, had to go back permanently to the ship, driven into fits of shuddering and screaming by the continual sight and touch of the innumerable tiny crawling and flying creatures on the ground and in the air, and her uncontrollable fear of seeing them and being touched by them).
    People were inclined first to call the creatures cows, dogs, lions, remembering words from Earth books and holos. Those who read the manuals insisted that all Shindychew creatures were much smaller than cows, dogs, lions, and were far more like what they called insects, arachnids and worms on Dichew. “Nobody here has invented the backbone,” said young Garcia Anita, who was fascinated by the creatures, and studied Earth Biology archives whenever her work as an electrical engineer left her time to do so. “At least nobody in this part of the world. But they certainly have invented wonderful shells.”
    The creatures about a millimeter long with gren wings that followed people about persistently and liked to walk on your skin, tickling slightly, got called dogs. They acted friendly, and dogs were supposed to be man’s best friend. Anita said they liked the salt in human sweat, and weren’t intelligent enough to be friendly, but people went on calling them dogs. Ach! what’s that on my neck? Oh, it’s just a dog.

  3. Carsten B.

    In Middle High German class we were told to remember that sound changes usually apply to whole, inflected words. I suppose agglutinative languages must have a rather high degree of analogic flattening then?

  4. Matthew

    I have an interesting example of semantic drift in French. The modern word for “today” is “aujourd’hui”. The first part of it comes from “au jour de” or “on the day of”. “Hui” comes from Latin “hodie”, which derived from a term meaning “on this day”. So “aujourd’hui” could be thought of as meaning “on the day of on this day”.

    Also, I have a question. Do sound changes typically follow trends? For instance, if a language starts to decrease the number of phonemes it has, is it naturalistic for it to later greatly increase them? I recently attempted to derive a conlang that had three stages: the proto-lang, the old language, and the modern language. The proto-lang had a five-vowel system with phonemic length. This was replaced by a three-vowel system with length in the old language. But in the modern language the number of vowel phonemes ballooned to 12, and while length was dropped, nasalization was added. Is it strange that the language swung back and forth in the number of phonemes it had instead of following a general tendency in one direction or the other?

    • Daeiribu

      Yes, and I’ve heard that in modern French you can hear people say “au jour d’aujourd’hui” which literally means “on the day of on the day of today”. But that is some hearsay information.

      I’m no expert, but I think it’s normal to fluctuate in both directions. The same French has evolved some more vowels from the original Latin, has it not? 🙂

  5. pá mamūnám ontā́ bán

    In French some words are masculine in the singular and feminine in the plural, e.g. délices (delights), amours (loves) and orgues (pipe-organ) – my French grammar teacher assures me that this is because it made Old and Middle French hymns sound better.

  6. Jackk

    Really enjoyed this podcast, just like – and better than – al the previous ones. I have been listening since Episode One, and have lurked around the Z/CBB for almost a year.
    *Did that last sentence make me sound like a stalker?*

    I was considering entering my conlang – Chudihr /xudiʀ/ – for either Featured Conlang or Top of Show Greeting. Which would you suggest I do first?

    If I did enter Chudihr, it would definitely be in a few weeks as I have yet to finish my irritatingly-unwilling-to-be-finished Refence Grammar 🙂

    ALso, what sort of things do you really like to have included in a PDF-set reference grammar?

    Thanks in Advance,
    Jackk (Andrew S)-[Britain]

    • Wm Annis

      For the purposes of the show, we like a mix of good coverage (i.e., more than just phonology and the nouns, with little or nothing on verbs, say) and more than just lists. So, explanations and clear examples, glossed if possible, give us a much better picture of what a language is doing, and how it is doing things. By no means does it need to be exhaustive or huge, but we need enough to talk about beyond a list of features.

      Top of Show greetings are always welcome.

  7. Daniel Plate

    I’m curious whether anyone knows of any conlangs that deal with really deep history, the evolution of language from gesture/simple animal coding into something like a protolanguage. I understand this is one of the most speculative areas of linguistics, but that seems to make it perfect for speculative conlanging.

    Anyone know of anything?

    • admin

      I don’t know of any. Honestly, I would be deterred from trying it mainly because actual linguists don’t have a clue whatsoever how that happened. It may be that language developed fully-formed a generation after our brains developed the processing power to handle it. Or it may have been a gradual evolution from simple animal calls. Anyone’s guess works. Besides that, my concultures generally don’t include cavemen or other recently-sapient animals.

    • Anthony

      I haven’t heard of any such conlangs either…(but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a try if you like)

      It’s imho tough, so when I wrote a little something set back then, I cheated by describing when it was used, not what phones or words — and what I described was built on what I read in the book _Adam’s Tongue_ by Dr. Derek Bickerton.

      • Daniel Plate

        I’ve been reading Bickerton’s older book — Language and Species. There’s not much there so far that would directly help building that bridge in a conlang. What’s the verdict on Adam’s Tongue?

        I wonder about applications other than cavemen. Wouldn’t it be interesting to experiment with any transition from a simple code to a language with some “new” feature — recursion for example?

        • Anthony

          I for one enjoyed it.
          (like with “Bastard Tongues”, I read from cover to cover — as each chapter builds on the previous chapters — skipping nothing except the chapter he uses to explain Chomsky’s view of recursion (which, if memory serves, Bickerton then says that Chomsky and Everett are both wrong, and recursion’s an illusion)

          as to your second paragraph,
          So I understand you correctly……you mean like taking a code, and adding recursion (or reduplication or something) to the code, to come up with a language?

          If I understood you correctly, that’s an interesting possibility.

  8. MikeL (葉明毅)

    [@pá mamūnám ontā́ bán’s 2012-05-22, 4:38am post]

    I don’t know if this is the same as what happens in French, but in Spanish the masculine def. article will be used for a feminine noun when the noun has a word-initial stressed /a/. Spanish doesn’t allow the “la + á…” so the masculine def. article “el” is used rather than the feminine def. article “la” for cases where you would otherwise have that “la + á…” combination; despite this switch for the def. article, adjectives will still agree with the feminine gender of the noun, e.g. “el agua salada” and not “*el agua salado”.

    Here’s a page that goes into more detail:

    -ml ^_^

    [Note: I just had a whole nice meaty reply typed but forgot to copy the password and lost it all and had to retype it… /fail. hahaha.. -_-” ]

  9. Andrew J Smith

    An interesting example of semantic shift which mimics Williams’ example of “see” is the French word baiser. It’s original meaning was simply “to kiss,” and it still means that in a few dialects, such as in Belgium. However, even as early as the 1700s, the word took on a harsh vulgar meaning which I shall only translate as “to fornicate” in many other French dialects. The vulgar meaning won out, mostly, and persists to this day in Paris. In order to compensate, the French added “to kiss” to the meaning of embrasser, “to hug.” Despite this, the related words une bise, “a platonic kiss on the cheek,” and un bisou, “a romantic kiss,” remain in the French language with those given meanings.

  10. john Erickson

    Another excellent show. This time you’ve inspired me to re-examine the sound changes I used in one of my languages to make sure they make sense and that I applied them consistently.

  11. Melvar

    On the topic of overt performative marking, Lojban has the definitional evidential ca'e, which is extended from the mathematical sense (to give a word a meaning by stating what its meaning is) to indicating that an assertion is true because you stated it (and thus you know by having actually said so). Of course Lojban is not natural, nor the marking obligatory, but I wanted to add that a performative may be marked by an evidential here. The CLL even gives this very example: ca'e le re do cu simxu speni “[I define!] The two of-you are-mutual spouses.”

  12. Trebor

    During this podcast, William mentioned a site which provides comprehensive information allowing for comparison of roots across Afro-Asiatic languages. The link didn’t make it into the show notes, and I’m very much interested in checking out this resource. If it’s still extant, what’s the URL?


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