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After a short update on George’s grad school situation and some musing over our tagline, we get to talking about the very complex interactions that animacy and agency can have with the rest of your grammar.  Then we talk about Interlingua, a very boring auxlang that appears to be comfortably readable by anyone who speaks a Romance language.

Top of Show Greeting: Kiswona

Links and Resources:

Featured Conlang: Interlingua (another link)


Dear George, William and Mike,

First of all, let me say, what a great show!  I just posted a 5 star review on iTunes.  I started three weeks ago and listened to every episode.  I wanted to bring to your attention the unwritten rule in podcasting not to go beyond 82 minutes.  No one can burn your episode onto CD and give it to a friend if it’s longer than that!  Let me be sure to emphasize to coolness of what yo do.

Thanks again,

Robert Murphy

18 Responses to “Conlangery #57: Animacy and Agency”

  1. Anthony Docimo

    This was very enjoyable and edifying to listen to.

    While listening to the first half of this podcast – twice – a hint of animacy snuck itself and a whisper of class into Arasamean: lef, which only fronts the nouns of aquatic or semi-aquatic animals *if* you’re going to eat that animal. all the other classes are gone.
    (one of the design parameters was that the conlang has already undergone a Persian Process)

  2. Kraamlep

    Heh, when early in the show William goes all “transmitting live from Mars” I thought he said “apathy hierarchy”. Now there’s an idea for an unusual conlang.

  3. Koppa Dasao

    Screw the 82 minute rule! People doesn’t burn audio-CDs anymore, they burn MP3-CDs now, that is if they even burn CDs. Everyone’s gone iPod!

      • Joe Schelin

        I love the 2 hour episodes! I generally wish they went longer, no more “OK, I think we should move on…” right when they’re getting into a fascinating discussion.

        • Carsten B.

          To be honest, while the discussions in the 2-hour episodes sure were interesting, I really have difficulties paying attention to the podcast for more than 45 minutes at a time. So mostly I can muster just about enough attention to listen to most of the linguistics discussion, but I’ll inevitably digress into doing other stuff while trying to listen after ~30 min. Sometimes I’ll take a break and listen to the rest later, it just becomes background chatter, or I simply stop there and skip the rest.

          • Panglott

            I usually listen to the podcast while cooking dinner or something, and so listen to it in half-hour or hour-long chunks, no matter how long it is. The iPod bookmarks where I left off, so it starts again where I left off, even if I listen to something else in between. So I’m just fine with 2-hour episodes in general. Burning CDs of a podcast seems kind of old-fashioned these days. It’s so 2007!

            Especially when the podcast is running for two hours because you’re interviewing a conlanger about his or her conlang. Y’all sometimes feature a number of conlangs where the information on the Interwebs is very sparse, where you have a grammar that hasn’t been published yet or such. Your last 2-hour episode, you spend an hour interviewing David J. Peterson about Dothraki, for example. And personally I’d rather have that information available on the internet rather than the show being cut at 82 minutes.

  4. Andrew J Smith

    Irrelevant to the animacy and agency discussion, but as far as milliard goes, it is part of the long scale of counting. Many different countries and languages use it. There’s some mathematical, historical, and a bit of linguistic information in the link.

  5. Roman Rausch

    – In Russian accusatives, robots are always animate (я вижу робота) – and that’s even without robotics in school – while corpses are inanimate (я вижу труп).
    The genitive construction probably arose here because the accusative and nominative had identical forms, so it’s not just due to animacy (it didn’t happen in the feminine where the forms are different). However, I believe that this distinction is recorded to go from just humans to also involve animals – and that would be a case of animacy hierarchy.

    – If you show a speaker of Blackfoot a film of a ghost knife floating in the air and cutting bread, how would he describe the scene?

    – It’s interesting how you think from an American-Spanish perspective that the word ‘billion’ dominates in the world. Looking at it from another perspective, I would have definitely said it’s rather ‘milliard-‘ (and it’s true as far as Europe is concerned).

    • Panglott

      As an American, I had absolutely no idea for a long time that people used “billion” for something other than a thousand million. When I went to Europe, most of my daily conversation was not about things that you count in billions, and when I went to Japan and China, they use a hundreds-hundreds system rather than a thousands-thousands system. Wikipedia’s map is pretty interesting: the short scale is the Anglophone world and Brazil, Russia, the Middle East, and North and East Africa. While the long scale is continental Europe, Hispanophone Latin America and western sub-Saharan Africa. At least the Anglophone world converged on the short scale, that would be terrible if Anglophonia was divided between the two. Hard to say which is more “international”. Except (for better or worse) English being the medium of international communication.

      Another way that the short scale seems more “international” is that the metric prefixes are defined in terms of thousands of thousands (rather than millions of millions) of units. A kilogram is a thousand grams, a megagram is a thousand kilograms.

      But given that so many people in Europe use English as an interlanguage, doesn’t this cause some confusion there? Is is difficult to switch between the two systems? In Japanese, higher numbers are a real problem for me when they start counting millions as hundreds of ten-thousands: I have to do a bunch of mental arithmetic. Do bilingual Europeans have this problem much, is it difficult to mentally convert? Or trivial to convert, or not something most people talk about?

      • Roman Rausch

        I never had problems with that over here in Germany. Such high numbers rarely occur in everyday conversations – maybe in economic contexts or when talking about the world’s population. And when they do, numbers don’t reach the 10^12 mark, so the correspondence is straightforward: English ‘billion’ = German “Milliarde”.
        As far as auxlangs are concerned, nowadays one might actually consider using the Greek-based prefixes mega-, giga-, tera- etc. which have become quite established in the course of computerization.

        • Melvar

          As it happens, Lojban actually does have these words, suitably adapted to have the required shape: dekto, hecto, kilto, megdo, gigdo, terto, petso, xexso, zetro, gotro; with their inverses decti, centi, milti, mikri, nanvi, picti, femti, xatsi, zepti, gocti. However, they are grammatically not numerals but verbs.

  6. Panglott

    Actually, I quite like Interlingua and use it quite a lot for “artistic” purposes. It’s very clearly Romance, without being clearly any specific Romance language. It’s also very legible to anyone who knows Latin, Spanish, or Italian, or even lots of English etymology. It’s harder to write correctly than to read, but still much easier to produce than any natural Romance language (or English).

    The “Insulas del Nubes” (as a placename) is legible to many who understand Romance, but not so identifiable as “Iles des nuages” or “Islas de las nubes” or “Isole delle nuvole” or “Insulele de nori”.

    So it’s great for suggesting a European setting without invoking a specific European country: basically, the language of the Ruritanian romance. I think of all the Miyazaki Hayao movies that are set “somewhere in Europe” or in a tiny country on the Adriatic, as being “translated” from Interlingua.

  7. Boris Leyfer

    Firstly, I think it would be a great idea to make an episode for beginners. It would help a lot to the inexperienced conlangers.

    Secondly, I don’t listen to music when I conlang. I listen to this podcast (which, by the way, is the best podcast ever).

    Thanks for the episode!

  8. Anteroinen

    The long count of numbers is more common, really I only know of English that doesn’t use it. Well, okay, out of the languages that do base 10 and divide numbers into thousands. As a Finnish speaker myself, milliards are much more familiar to me, and it took me many years to get used to the English system. Miljardi really is the standard here, nobody even says “thousand million” because, well, that sounds silly. I originally (I first noticed this at age 11 or so watching an episode of Matlock of all things) thought the times billion was translated as “miljardi” were errors. Only now, at age 19, am I getting used to your system.

    I wonder what prompted the shift of English to the weird pure -illion system. Seems like it would be an interesting story. Then longer system is more sensible mathematically, at least to me. I mean using that system you get:

    million = (1 000 000)^1
    billion = (1 000 000)^2
    trillion = (1 000 000)^3
    quadrillion = (1000000)^4

    Instead of:

    thousand = (1000)^1
    million = (1000)^2
    billion = (1000)^3
    trillion = (1000)^4
    quadrillion = (1000)^5

    What is with the numbers going off? Why English, why?! Why do you torment me so?

  9. Melvar

    While Lojban does not grammatically acknowledge animacy or agency, the fact that it’s simplest to elide arguments from the back means that verbs should (and the core ones do) take their most-used arguments towards the front. This manifests in rules including that destinations come before origins come before routes, and, more importantly, that agents come first if the verb’s meaning focuses on their action. I.e. most verbs that take an agent of the action they describe take it first, unless an inverse is applied.
    While it is in no way mandatory, I have also seen people apply inverses for what looked like no other reason than to bring a person to the front.

  10. RandomDutchman

    Your discussion of Interlingua was just painful. Some of you persistently seemed to keep treating it as an artlang and therefore the discussion on its actual merits was scant. (Now, I didn’t know about Interlingua until today, but a) to my surprise, I can read it without any training, unlike Esperanto, and b) it isn’t ugly, again unlike Esperanto which is ugly as sin.) And I cannot remember who said that everyone in western Europe has switched to short scale, but the amount of anglophone the-rest-of-the-world-doesn’t-exist myopic ignorance was perplexing. And the other hosts all readily agreed, even though you should have known better! It made you sound like a bunch of buffoons, and I’m getting the feeling you aren’t equipped for this.

    I’ve been listening to this series mainly for the grammatical discussions (you tend to do too little preparation to make the conlang reviews very effective) but every now and then I spot a glaring error or omission and it makes me worry if you’re informed enough to do this properly. I’ll give you some more episodes, but I’m about to drop the show.

    • admin

      Hi, I have seen you commenting on episodes rather frequently with these comments. We encourage critique, but I think you may have gotten a skewed idea of what the show is now by listening chronologically. The show has improved a lot over time, and I always suggest that people start with the more recent episodes. (Heck, you can skip the first seven entirely, as the audio is terrible there). We had some great early shows but we also made mistakes along the way.

      On Interlingua, I think it’s an interesting solution, though no IAL is ever likely to be used more widely than Esperanto. On the aesthetics, that’s subjective. I think aesthetically it’s boring, but then it’s not surprising for an auxlang to be boring. We are biased a bit toward artlangs because we all primarily create artlangs. It might be interesting to see someone create another podcast with a more auxlang focus. If one popped up and the quality was good I would consider cross-promoting with them.


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