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We’re back! This episode we answer your emails on the show. Check the full emails below the fold.

Top of Show Greeting: Fyai Thǔvn


Cherry-pick and paraphrase without mercy. Apologies if these have been addressed in the 30 released episodes I’m yet to enjoy.

Over-long Ingratiating Preamble:

I started listening to your podcast 29 days ago. 3d 4h down, 22h to go. I tell myself I’m enjoying it!

You’ve been an excellent resource and inspiration.

I have been accidentally preparing for conlanging for years, and am only now assembling notes (sporadically) for a highly isolating language geared for orienteering industrialist consumer-encyclopedists. This will be inevitably auxlangy, but it still counts as adventurous because it’ll be my first. Also that nursery Cebuano, school Indonesian & French, suppressed introductory Japanese, introductory predicate logic, and ongoing Spanish (all in Australia) won’t do me much good in it.

Item 1: I was excited when I saw #50 “The Technology of Literacy”, and I enjoyed it a lot, but I was expecting something much closer to what I heard #66 “Cognitive Metaphors”. And I think you’ve flirted with the topic of cognitive effects of literacy in earlier episodes, so in case it comes up again:

I recommend Walter J. Ong’s Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (1982). It’s highly readable, and there is a section of the Dewey decimal system dominated by titles derived from it to prove its influence. It’s on JSTOR [and attached to this email, shh]. It describes the change in the economy of thought (and expression) resulting from the technology of writing, of printing, and of electronics. For a print-based cognitive metaphor, consider the linguistics term “left-edge”.

The beginning of Orality defines what is different/natural in oral cultures living and ancient: the world-view, the subject and art of storytelling, of history-keeping, of the nature of history itself. Then it describes the transition to and later evolution in each medium. The first writing is in the oral tradition, and the first print has no regard for aesthetics or white space or size=importance. Oh, and the great peculiarity of Abrahamic cultures for their central texts and formal theology. People who have never seen lists or tables or diagrams don’t think in lists or tables or diagrams! Categorical thinking and geometry aren’t inborn!

Item 2: Why do Romans speak RP (and other British accents)?

I point the finger at Shakespeare, and then at efficiency. Shakespeare’s stories in Rome, Egypt, Scotland, Denmark, Verona, England, etc., have been consistently performed in accents approximating the Shakespearean stereotype throughout the Anglosphere. By the advent of sound in film, I’m sure it seemed the right thing to do. Variations of British in BBC/HBO’s Rome and in Game of Thrones carry a lot of social information to audiences already familiar with them. Sure, playing on American stereotypes with Harvard vs. California vs. Louisiana vs. Texas could work, but it’s convention that American isn’t historical. But why are Vikings so often Scottish?

War and Peace (1956) is a good film with good performances (feat. Henry Fonda, Audrey Hepburn), but the American accents break that convention and feel absurd. For the same reason, as an Australian playing Mass Effect 2: in a galaxy where even aliens speak with North American accents, encountering an Australian accent is very jarring.

Item 3: Kevin Stroud’s History of English Podcast spends 10 riveting 40-min episodes on P.I.E. and how it was determined, then proceeding through more recent influences on English (and the influences on them). This may interest your other listeners.

Item 4: Episode #67’s Melburnian teacher was asking after “tautological place names”. My favourites are “island land island land” and “hill hill hill hill” and of course there’s “Milky Way Galaxy”.

I hope you’re still around in 2 years to play my own Top of Show Greeting, in a realised language that is nothing like my current plan.

Thanks for doing what you do,

Cordell (/kɔːˈdɛl/ or /kɔɹˈdɛl/, as it please you) in Adelaide, Australia

Email #2


My name is Anthony Miles. I’ve been a conlanger since high school. I brought this up with William Annis at WorldCon in Chicago, but I wanted to share.these links to a language with grammatically marked ideophones.

Wikipedia article:

Oceanic languages article:


And best of all, the linguist’s blog;

Email #3

Hello, I would include a greetings phrase from my language Umbrean but that does not exist yet.

I just thought I would drop a line to show my appriciation for the show.

I have listened to nearly all the episodes and I do it often while walking. A great misfortune of mine was for a long time I got ideas yet couldn’t write them down in a good manner during these walks. But with the usage of a few good apps and the evernote system that is no longer the case. Your Podcast brings me great ideas and with it I can write everything down to do work on it later!

I am also active at a Wiki, Linguifex, , which aims to be a good storage for conlangs, a wiktionary for conlang called contionary, and a central source for linguistic information for conlanging purposes.

Keep up the good work!

Best Regards, Zelos
Email #4

An additional question: in the language I’m working on, transitive verbs have polypersonal agreement, i.e. the verb is marked for the person of both the agent and the patient. Inflections are highly fusional (as opposed to agglutinating). I’ve been wondering what to do with inherently ditransitive (i.e. trivalent) verbs, such as those with meanings like “give”, “send”, or “tell”. I’m not aware of any natlangs that allow verb agreement with subject, direct object, and indirect object. Are there are any? If so, is this trait found only in extremely polysynthetic languages like Yup’ik, or are there examples from languages with relatively compact verbs?

-Sayf Asad al-Satya
btw, I finally listened to the part of ep. 89 on Polysynthesis that addresses this. However, I’d still like to hear your response, because it was only dealt with briefly there and I’m still curious about it.

[G] You can find out about person suppletion for “give” here.

Email #5

Hi! Sorry for disturbing you, but I just discovered “conlangery” and I started to wonder:

“Is there a way of promoting a language that I have constructed in order to make people know something about it?”

I am not sure if this site can help me in that way, but if not, can you help me by recommending me a site based in promoting new conlangs?

Thank you for your interest and I am looking forward to a response.

[G] Here are some useful conlang community sites:

The LCS has a much fuller list here.

Email #6

Hello, I love what your doing with this show. I’ve listened to every show. I have just a question.

I remember a while back William mentioned a language with only 12 verbs and I was very curious about that. What language is that and is there any information or a grammar on it.

Thank you.

[G] it was Kobon (which actually has 120 base verbs, not 12). Info here and here.

Email #7


I hope you might be able to offer some advice….

I’m intrigued by language, and I’m fascinated by constructed languages! As an SF writer, I’d also like to be able do some language construction of my own. But, I have a problem of not knowing basic elements language very well. I can write, reasonably well, mostly instinctually. I’m familiar with basic English grammar, but, really, just the rules of decent writing (subject/verb agreement, try not to end sentences with prepositions, avoid passive voice). But I listen to some of your podcast episodes, and I’m distraught by the fact I don’t know what things are! What does it mean to be dative or reflexive? And other things about grammar universal to all(?) languages one must know to construct new ones that I don’t even know to ask.

My point:

Do you have any recommended books, or Web sites, that you feel are fundamental and should be on the shelf of anyone interested in language and especially constructed language? Primers on grammar, for example, that go beyond English and aren’t just style rules?

Thanks for any help or suggestions!


[G] You can find the Language Construction Kit here, and a debunking of anti-passive voice rhetoric here.

9 Responses to “Conlangery #103: Mailbag 2”

  1. Florian

    Nice episode, as always!

    William promised a link to the rant about the anti-passive cultishness… where is it?


    • wm.annis

      This is the best one: Fear and Loathing of the English Passive.

      “What is going on is that people are simply tossing the term ‘passive’ around when they want to cast aspersions on pieces of writing that, for some ineffable reason, they don’t care for. They see a turn of phrase that strikes them as weak in some way, or lacks some sort of crispness or brightness that they cannot pin down, and they call it ‘passive’ without further thought. And such is the state of knowledge about grammar among the reading public that they get away with it.”

  2. Ossicone

    Hey George, I moved to another country and got married and didn’t miss an episode. 😉

    (No one has to know that’s just cause there was a buffer episode.)

  3. Sayf Asad al-Satya

    (btw, my nom du web is definitely pronounced (in English) /sɑɪ̯f əˈsɑd ɑl ˈsɑtjə/ – not /seɪ̯f/.)

    Cool! I was really interested to here your answer to my question. I’ve heard a little bit about Basque (mostly from conlangers fascinated by its oddities) but I had no idea it was so enthusiastically polypersonal.

    Having been thinking about this for a while, I decided on a semantic role salience hierarchy of: ᴄᴀᴜsᴇʀ, ᴘᴀᴛɪᴇɴᴛ (= affected undergoer/recipient/experiencer), ᴀɢᴇɴᴛ, ᴛʜᴇᴍᴇ for non-local clauses or ᴄᴀᴜsᴇʀ, ᴀɢᴇɴᴛ, ᴘᴀᴛɪᴇɴᴛ, ᴛʜᴇᴍᴇ. Any transitive verb (including ditransitives) agrees with the top two most salient rôles, with everything else demoted to oblique phrases (that is, I have opted to not to use tripersonal agreement). The ᴄᴀᴜsᴇʀ role, of course, appears only in marked causative constructions. Experience/perception verbs have only the ᴘᴀᴛɪᴇɴᴛ (= experiencer) and ᴛʜᴇᴍᴇ (= stimulus) roles (as well as a ᴄᴀᴜsᴇʀ if applicable).

    P.S. Many thanks to William for his work on the conlanger’s thesaurus! I’m looking forward to it.

    P.P.S. I just found this paper ( “Semantic Macroroles in Role and Reference Grammar” by Van Valin. I don’t know anything about RRG, but I’m hoping to at least find some useful ideas about roles. Maybe I’ll switch my system up a little after I read it.

  4. Bruce Tindall

    Re “why Romans speak Received Pronunciation British English,” one special case is the TV adaptation of Robert Graves’s “I, Claudius.” I seem to recall reading that Graves deliberately wrote the dialogue to make the rulers of the Roman empire speak like what he considered the vapid British ruling class of the early 20th century, in order to make the book a criticism of present-day British society (just as “The Mikado” was) as well as a story of ancient Rome. The TV producers picked that up and ran with it in the audio, too. So there’s one instance of deliberate and purposeful imposition of RP on ancient Romans.

  5. Adam Scott

    This is actually just a question for Mr. Annis. How did you get the formatting in your Na’vi grammar? If you used LaTeX what coding did you use for the neat numbers please? Thank you and all the best, Adam


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