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We give you a podcast today about how you can do without tense, and what other things in the language can be used to fill in the gaps.  Also, we have special guest Jeffrey Jones on to talk about his conlang.

Top of Show: Sheewan

Links and Resources:

Featured Conlang: K’tlê


Email from JS:

Conlangery hosts:

I’m writing to say how much I enjoy your podcast. I only became aware
of its existence a few weeks ago, and since then I’ve been doing what
I always do when I discover a new podcast that I like: listening to
the archives from the beginning.

Just today I happened to listen to episode 23, in which I discovered,
to my shock and delight, that my OWN conlang Yivrian had been
featured. I thought you guys said a lot of complimentary things about
it, and your criticisms were completely valid. In particular, I agree
with Bianca that the verbal system is a little bit overstuffed, and
with William that the modal prefixes are annoyingly regular. Both of
these things are the result of a disease that afflicts people who work
on the same language for a very long time: different parts of the
language are designed at different times, often with different
philosophies and different goals. In this case, the modal prefixes
date from a period when total regularity was a design goal, while the
verbal complex dates from the ALL OF THE MORPHEMES stage that followed
shortly thereafter. It’s a good thing I had never heard of
evidentiality or animacy hierarchies at the time I initially designed
the verbs, or I would doubtlessly have found a way to include those as

Your podcast has also inspired me to consider other neglected aspects
of my languages. In particular, I’ve been mulling over the ways that
Yivrian expresses formality, and reconsidering the entire concept of

You discussed my ancient essay “An Artlanger’s Rant” when you covered
my conlang, and it’s very interesting to see how that post has aged
ten years on. If you ever were interested as having me on as a guest,
I’d be happy to discuss it (or anything else conlang-related) with

JS Bangs

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle” -Philo of Alexandria

7 Responses to “Conlangery #55: Practicum — Getting Rid of Tense”

  1. Anthony Docimo

    This is an excellent Practicum. Need to contemplate it further.

    Thus far, my conlang Arasamean doesn’t have tense either…I’ve been handling (in particular) the past tense by using the possessive…showing when by saying who owned the thing being discussed at the time.

    O tuja li ii u Falota iih
    * dugong skull (startPOSS} * Pangolin {endPOSS}
    On veele-jaç o tuja li ii u Luut iih.
    * keep{transitioning}-do * dugong skull {startPOSS} * Luke {endPOSS}
    The dugong skull – owned by Pangolin – became the dugong skull – owned by Luke.

  2. Anthony Docimo

    a thought….perhaps a Perfect(ive) Present could be something that *just now* was completed.

    “I ran the race” would be Perfect Past
    “I run1 the race” would be Perfect Present (just finished running)
    “I run2 the race” would be Imperfect Present (I’m still running in the race, I’ll talk to you later?)

  3. Anthony Docimo

    What was that PIE word for groups of people? It sounded like “Wolpak”…as in “wolf pack”.

    thank you.

    • Wm Annis

      I was referencing this, from M.L. West’s Indo-European Poetry and Myth, pp. 450-451,

      Clothes make the man, they say. The warriors’ rejection of human garb, together with their predatory life in the wild, assimilates them to wild animals, and they seem often to have been styled as wolves and to have consciously adopted a wolfish identity, clothing themselves in wolfskins and uttering terrifying howls. The Norse berserks are sometimes called úlfheðnar, `wolf-skinned’. This is paralleled in the Old Irish martial sobriquet luchthonn, as well as the Sanskrit name Vrkājina `Wolfskin.’ Personal names based on `wolf’ occur widely among the Indo-European peoples, and like other theirophoric names such as those involving `bear’ or `boar’ they are interpreted with reference to the feral qualities displayed by the warrior. In British, Irish and Norse poetry `wolf’ is a laudatory metaphor for the warrior hero, and it appears also in Homeric similes for advancing battle-lines.

      In Homeric epic, while there are no professional berserkir, a few of the greatest heroes are from time to time visited on the battlefield by a mad raging fury that makes them invincible. This fury is called λύσσα, which is a derivative of λύκος `wolf’. It is as if they temporarily become wolves. In other Indo-European cultures the term `wolf’ is applied to brigands and outlaws who live in the wild. This form of assimilation to the wolf is not unconnected with the widespread belief in lycanthropy, the idea that certain persons (women as well as men) on occasion transform themselves into wolves. This is often conceived to involve putting on a wolf-skin or wolf-girdle.

      It may be, as McCone has argued most fully, that this all reflects an Indo-European institution of initiatory character, by which boys after several years of fosterage joined the local war-band and became Wolves.

  4. Okuno

    I’d initially disagree with your (William) analysis of “now” (and English relative tense in general), but it’s not like I’ve studied this specifically. It seems like literary, narrative English , relative tense can easily replace the normal absolute interpretation of tense. It’s definitely a marked style, but I remember seeing it often enough in lit classes.

    The most obvious example (for an American) is that wacky epilogue at the end of Herman Cain’s book where he’s talking about the future (the one he was fantasizing about, at least) and he’s all like “A man rides and elevator and the doors open and surprise! it’s me!” (obviously not verbatim). So all these future events get tossed into the present for style. I also think this happens at various points in “Rites of Spring” (though I skimmed more than read it), which is a very narrative, social perspective on WWI. You know: “The year is 1918 and in Paris audiences _grumble_ over the _new_ ballet production at the theater…” or whatever it really reads like. The point should be clear: examples seem to show that use of relative tense is an important stylistic marker, not just some weirdostiy.

    Ah, and I wanted to give a bit more detail on your WALS numbers, since I was a little unclear on what was going on, and maybe other people are confused, too. Also, I know how friggin handy it is to make WALS cross-reference features:

    Generally, there’s about a 50-50 chance to have a past tense, and the same chance to have future, but these are nearly independent of each other. That is, only about 1/4 of the languages have neither a past nor a future marker. Although, once you start taking account of multiple remoteness distinctions, past&future markers is clearly more common than a simple future/non-future distinction. Well, I put the link in there, too, so check it out if you haven’t already.


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