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Nov 1

Spellbound by Blake Charlton: A Review

Posted on Thursday, November 1, 2012 in Books, Review

Cover of Spellbound by Blake Charlton

I have finally had a chance to read the sequel to Spellwright by Blake Charlton entitled Spellbound. Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide Buy online from an indie bookstore Find at a library near you The plot takes place ten years after the events in the first volume, and Nicodemus Weal is on the run. The book introduces a new character, however, and she makes her appearance right from the beginning. The first line of the book, I’ll admit, had me hooked:

Francesca did not realize she had used an indefinite pronoun until it began to kill her patient.

That imaginative wordplay and ingenious (yes, I’ll say it… ingenious) magic system of Charlton’s is back and better than ever:

Francesca used [the runes] in her left forearm to write a few silvery sentences that glowed on her skin. With her right hand, she pulled the spell free. It folded into a short, precise blade.

Spellbound also introduces a new order of magic-users: the hierophants or “wind mages” which use wind and cloth to wield their power. They cast spells slowly (beat by beat of their heart), and Charlton gives an intriguing description of the inner workings of one of their windcatchers:

Inside the windcatcher, hundreds of radial sails were arranged like windmill blades and rotated around a central point. Somehow a hierophant was suspended within the windcatcher. The many sails focused the energy of their rotation into the hierophant’s heart and accelerated its spellwriting. Each augmented heartbeat produced a hundred thousand times more runes that it otherwise would./ This was the hierophantic key to power. Their language was produced only in the heart muscle, was limited to cloth, and melted into a wind when cast. However, they had harnessed nature’s power, transformed the wind into words. From a school of kite-flying hermits on the slopes of Mount Spires, they had grown into the linguistic backbone of a powerful kingdom.

We also get to see much more of kobold culture. The kobolds, with “their midnight skin and blond hair”, can only cast spells in the darkness.

The lycanthropes are a new race of beings, and they prowl the savannah. There is an interesting twist to their role in the story, as well as an unexpected turn of events having to do with the Savannah Walker as well as a ghost that makes a debut.

Although the plot can get overly complicated sometimes, Charlton does a good job of pulling the reader along. His magic system, though, is what I most enjoyed from these two books (and expect from the promised third volume, Spellbreaker). With sentences like “An unseen wartext blasted the ghost’s right arm into a cloud of golden text”, how can anyone who loves language and how it works not be intrigued with making invisible words tangible and full of power.

In closing, I had the great good fortune to see Blake Charlton give a talk at the American Library Association Annual Conference last summer in Anaheim, CA. He was extremely entertaining but also poignant at times talking about growing up with dyslexia and “riding the short bus.” He would go on to medical school and prove everyone wrong that thought he wouldn’t amount to much. I also had the chance later that same day to talk briefly to him at his book signing, tell him I was shocked when he replied to a tweet, and he mentioned that he most enjoyed writing Francesca’s character in the Spellbound novel. Now that I’ve read it, I can see why and his enjoyment shines through the prose.

Looking forward to reading Spellbreaker!

Jul 28

Хоббит, или Туда и обратно

Posted on Saturday, July 28, 2012 in Books, Natural Languages

Last week was another book sale at my library. I picked up a Teach Yourself Colloquial Arabic and one other. I found the colloquial Arabic interesting since it did not use Arabic script for the Arabic phrases. Instead, the book uses romanization. This may come in handy when looking for some conlanging inspiration, so that’s now in my personal collection.

The other is the Tolkien’s The Hobbit in Russian: Хоббит, или Туда и обратно. The first thing I noticed was that the cover sported the famous Darrell Sweet painting of Thorin and Thranduil, the Elven King. Not sure if all the copyrights were adhered to, but it’s a handsome picture:

The Hobbit in Russian cover

The volume also includes translations of Farmer Giles of Ham, Leaf by Niggle, and Smith of Wooton Major, all with different illustration styles. Farmer Giles includes the well-known artwork of Pauline Baynes. Last year, I passed up a complete collection of The Lord of the Rings in Russian and still kick myself. No, I can’t read Russian, but it’s very interesting to be able to see how names and other items (e.g., maps) are handled in other languages. I know just enough Cyrillic to be able to puzzle out individual words and names. Хоббит, или Туда и обратно is also illustrated in the manner of a children’s book. While The Hobbit could be considered a children’s book, the illustrations seem at odd with the sometimes dark themes of the story. For example, here’s an illustration of the dwarves and Bilbo: Illustration of Bilbo (after his escape from the goblins) with dwarves The book also includes some nice maps, such as this one of the Battle of Five Armies: Map of Battle of Five Armies (You can see the arrows denoting where the orki are coming from.). Finally, one of the more disturbing pieces from the book are the elves which have wings. Yes, wings: Elves with Wings This is obviously the scene with Bilbo finding the way out of the Elven King’s halls through the empty wine barrels. But those wings… That’s a new one. Even so, it’s interesting to get a new perspective on the adventures of Бильбо Бэггинс, Гэ́ндальф, Торин and all the rest.

May 7

Spellwright: A Conlanger’s Review

Posted on Monday, May 7, 2012 in Books, Review

I just finished Spellwright by Blake Charlton (Tor, 2010) Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide Buy online from an indie bookstore Find at a library near you. The story follows the adventures of Nicodemus Weal, a “spellwright” who can’t spell. The most fascinating thing about the world that Blake Charlton has created is his novel system of magic where spells are formed within one’s body or peeled from the pages of a book. The master wizard, Agwu Shannon, is a great well-rounded character and could probably have sustained a book of his own. There are lots of other secondary characters and intriguing plots. But, since this is a conlanging blog, let’s see how Charlton handles language.

The first thing to know about language in the world of Nicodemus Weal is that language is Power…literally. The magical languages include Common, Numinous, Magnus, Wrixlan, Pithan, and the all-mighty Language Prime. One could think of these magical languages almost as computer code or prose. One who knows one of these languages can form the sentences, phrases, and paragraphs within their bodies and construct wonder-working spells. But be careful of misspellings! They can kill you. That is Nicodemus’ problem. He is a cacographer or one who is magically dyslexic, inadvertently misspelling even the simplest of spells.

To followup on the idea of writing instructions out of magical languages: In one section, a “bookworm” (a monstrous creature that eats magical texts or “malicious language that invades manuscripts. They eat all the prose and use it to make copies of themselves”) is caught and its text is parsed to figure out where it was supposed to return (i.e., it’s been programmed and its captors are going to re-program it). The book even describes “textual intelligence” as a required string of instructions: “if this happens, then do that; if that does not happen, then do this…”

The way Charlton described the magical languages is very evocative:

  • “A sudden, golden jet of Numinous prose exploded…
  • “…a bookshelf burst into a molten ball of silvery Magnus.”
  • and maybe the best: After a struggle, someone’s face is “crushed by blunt words”

And since these languages all have writing systems to go with them, this could be a hey-day for some inventive con-scripter!

Humans are the primary beings in this world, but there are a Chthonic non-human people who dwelt in the land prior to humans’ arrival. We get one word of their language: tulki = masculine form of “interpreter”.

Charlton also has some fun with the word ghostwriting which is the spell a spellwright can use to exist after death.

Finally, we get the name of a few spells: madide, latere, sceaduganga. The last one, as I read, triggered some sort of Old English ancestral memory or something. So, I set off to check my available online Old English dictionaries. Sure enough, sceadu-genga occurs in Line 703 of Beowulf: Cóm on wanre niht / scríðan sceadugenga “In the colourless night, came / slinking the shadow-wanderer. (Click here for a good online Beowulf in Old and Modern English). The spell does indeed allow one to walk in the shadows or, in other words, to become invisible.

So, Spellwright is worth the read. A fascinating magical system, playful use of language, and interesting characters. It does drag a bit in spots being a little overly-reliant on exposition, but the action and overall story make up for these shortcomings. In fact, I thought (after reading it) maybe we should refer to ourselves as langwrights instead of conlangers. Just an idea.

Nov 25

Maphead: A Mini-Review

Posted on Friday, November 25, 2011 in Books, Review

Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide Buy online from an indie bookstore Find at a library near you by Ken Jennings is a very enjoyable read that might get you to take a second look at maps.

For conlangers and conworlders, there is one entire chapter (“Legend”) that deals with imaginary worlds, from Austin Tappan Wright‘s Islandia to the works of Brandon Sanderson (a college friend of Jennings). Maphead is written in a friendly, very-accessible tone and looks at everything geographical from GPS games (like Geocaching) to discussions of Jorge Luis Borges’ short story “On Exactitude in Science” and its relation to Google Earth.

Some may recognize Ken Jennings from his record-breaking 2004 performance on the TV game show Jeopardy as well as his previous book, Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs. Maphead is a fascinating, humorous, down-to-earth (pun intended) book and should be on the reading list for all those with even a passing interest in cartography and geography.

Nov 19

Shapes for Sounds (and an upcoming review)

Posted on Saturday, November 19, 2011 in Books, Review

Howdy, loyal readers! (We need an English dual plural for that word “readers” in that sentence.) It’s been some time since I updated the blog and The Conlanger’s Library. Our hosting service changed the access method for the Library, and I haven’t had the time to explore the new method (Thanks for the suggestions though, David!) of updating the pages. I’m going to do it, especially since we can include the links to Amazon now (again). I’ll get around to it. Promise.

In the meantime, I do have a new book to share. Also, on the books front, be sure to check out the Fiat Lingua online journal in December for my extensive review of the new book from Oxford University Press, From Elvish to Klingon.

The one I’d like to share today is Shapes for Sounds (cowhouse) Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide Buy online from an indie bookstore Find at a library near you by Timothy Donaldson. Donaldson is obviously a student of Edward Tufte‘s work and Shapes for Sounds is an exquisite piece of work because of it. The book traces the development of every letter of the Roman alphabet in beautiful charts, one for each letter. There are also extensive textual parts to the book explaining the differences among the various historical fonts like carolingian, uncial, insular, blackletter, etc., etc., etc. Irish ogham even makes an appearance! The (cowhouse) in the title comes from the original names of the first two letters: aleph “cow” and beth “house”. For conlangers, Shapes for Sounds is full of inspiration for con-scripts as well as an enjoyable book to peruse just for the graphics.

There are several reviews online for Shapes for Sounds including this one and this one that have some great images from inside it. So check for it at your local library or local bookstore. It’s well worth the hunt.

(Added 11/25/2011) P.S. Donaldson’s book has one section directly relevant to conlangers and con-scripters. He has created three “conjectural” alphabets (Appendices 26, 27, and 28), actually three alternative miniscule (i.e., lower-case letters), based on three different majuscules (i.e., upper-case) of existing typefaces. The development of each of these alternative miniscules is included in each letter’s individual chart. They’re a very intriguing alternative view of what the Roman miniscules could have been like.

Sep 11


Posted on Sunday, September 11, 2011 in Books

Nome Gods Bearing Offerings

During my recent birthday, I decided to take the day off work and celebrate linguistically. My primary trip was to the Egyptian Gallery of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Recently beginning to study J.P. Allen’s Middle Egyptian (for the 2nd time through), I really wanted to try my hand at understanding some of the inscriptions there. I spent two hours taking photos, writing notes, looking up words in my Middle Egyptian dictionary. It was quite a rush to be able to pick out the names of Ditamenpaankh, Horwedja, Senbi, Shemai, and others. Being able to actually read the names Nebmaatre and Amenhotep III on the stela depicting the gods of the various nomes bearing offerings (plus a good chunk of the sentences, too) was very cool as well. A detail of that stela is to the right.

I rarely get to spend that much time in one gallery, so it was a very enjoyable early afternoon. Plus it definitely made me want to continue my studies in Allen’s book. If you’re interested at all in being able to read (or simply understand) Egyptian hieroglyphs, Allen’s book is an excellent introduction.

On my way home from the museum, I stopped at Half Price Books and ended up purchasing a copy of Lyle Campbell’s Historical Linguistics. Paying just a little over $14.00, I think I got a good price. I’ve just started perusing it but already see tons of useful information to apply to conlanging efforts. I still want to create a series of sister languages and Campbell’s book just might give me the ability to do it. Once again… in my spare time.

There were a number of things I didn’t get to do (e.g., work on The Conlanger’s Library site, work on more Dritok webpages, mow the grass, get my hair cut), but sometimes you have to make choices and, heck, one’s birthday only rolls around once per year. I’m hoping to begin posting some Dritok pages in the not-too-distant future. My goal is to have something ready for St. Hildegard’s Day this year. If not, that’s going to be my St. Hildegard’s Day Resolution: Get some Dritok details up on the web before St. Hildegard’s Day 2012!

So, I had a great little jamōla jīstelon (in Kēlen) and “Asshekhqoyi vezhvena” to me (in Dothraki).

May 1

The Stone Dance of the Chameleon

Posted on Sunday, May 1, 2011 in Books, Review, World-building

Opening lines of the Song of the Earth

I’ve mentioned Pinto’s trilogy previously on this blog but felt it was appropriate to revisit since I’ve now finished the third volume, The Third God.

First of all, check out the front cover of The Third God at Pinto’s website. Great artwork! In fact, someone I showed the book to even said, “I want to read it just from that!” Those huimur with their flame-pipes a-blazing look very cool. In fact, Pinto has a section on his site devoted to some concept art by Jim Burns who painted the covers for the most recent editions of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon trilogy.

As a world-builder, Pinto has created a complex, fully-developed world. The level of detail is absolutely stunning and can be glimpsed throughout his work. His website gives some glimpse into the background he created in which to situate his characters and is well worth exploring. Here’s a link to the Sitemap of the Stone Dance material. I would easily put Pinto up there in the pantheon of world-builders. He’s not Tolkien, but he’s provided a world almost as detailed as Middle-earth.

Not that I’d want to visit Pinto’s world. Middle-earth would be an interesting place to visit, and one (okay, I) could fantasize about rummaging through the archives of Minas Tirith or Rivendell, taking metallurgy classes from the Dwarves in the Glittering Caves or the restored Khazad-dum, or lifting a pint in the Prancing Pony or The Green Dragon.

Visiting The Three Lands (as the Masters call their world in Pinto’s work) on the other hand would not, in all likelihood be a pleasant experience. Astonishing, awe-inspiring, and intriguing; but also harsh, brutal, and (in all likelihood) fatal. One false move or a glimpse of an unmasked Master and – boom – you’re dead. Hanging out with the Ochre or one of the other Earthsky tribes – boom – you’re conscripted into the legions or part of the flesh-tithe. Enslaved within Osrakum – boom – chances are your eyes are gouged out and replaced by precious stones. Hmm, given those choices, I’ll stick with Gaffer Gamgee at The Ivy Bush, even with the lush detail of The Three Lands.

You may have noticed I haven’t much mentioned the plot and characters of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon. Let me say that, as a novelist, Pinto is a first-class world-builder. He’s obviously in love with and proud of his creation (and for good reason). However, we are repeatedly encouraged to gaze in wonder at the details of his world within the story. While his characters are interesting and his plot is wide-ranging; there seemed to be a number of themes that seemed to be repeated throughout. A couple plot twists were never explained (at least to my satisfaction). I found myself (unfortunately) skipping entire paragraphs near the end of The Third God to keep up with the story and find out what happens to Carnie, Osidian, Poppy, Fern, and the rest of the cast. I’m still not sure about the ending, but I won’t give it away for those who may have not read the trilogy.

I recommend Pinto’s trilogy highly with the caveat that the plot of the books themselves take some slogging through at times. That being said, The Three Lands is an absolutely amazing location and well worth exploring. I was just hoping for some Appendices. Pinto’s website obviously just provides a tantalizing glimpse of the details of the world of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon.

Apr 2

A Little Lexical Inspiration

Posted on Saturday, April 2, 2011 in Books, Conlanging, Natural Languages, Nonfiction

I recently picked up the book Pacific Languages: An Introduction by John Lynch from the library and was leafing through it. Lots and lots of food for thought from languages from Adzera to Yukulta. This evening, as I was looking over Chapter 11 (Language, Society and Culture in the Pacific), and found some good lexical inspiration. I’ve read a number of times on various conlanging listservs and boards about looking for different ways to split up concepts that may be lumped together in one’s own language. Well, from this book, it appears Yidiny does a good job of illustrating this:

dalmba – sound of cutting
mida – the noise of a person clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth, or the noise of an eel hitting the water
maral – the noise of hands being clapped together
nyurrugu – the noise of talking heard a long way off when the words cannot quite be made out
yuyurunggul – the noise of a snake sliding through the grass
gangga – the noise of some person approaching, for example, the sound of his feet on leaves or through the grass — or even the sound of a walking stick being dragged across the ground

I for one would not have thought of assigning lexemes to those concepts.

Additionally, Pacific Languages: An Introduction provides a reminder that even different stages of a coconut’s growth can be assigned different words: a coconut fruit bud (iapwas), young coconut before meat has begun to form (tafa), nut with hard well-developed meat (kahimaregi), etc., etc., etc.

Hmmm, all these languages have me thinking about my own Elasin after a looong hiatus. Might be time to go back and start “reconstructing” the work of Paiwon Lawonsa on the Uhanid languages.

Mar 2

The Stone Dance of Ice and Fire: A Double Review

Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 in Books, Conlanging, World-building

I’ve recently been reading two fantasy series that, on reflection, have both parallels as well as sharp contrasts. The two series are:

  • A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin
  • The Stone Dance of the Chameleon by Ricardo Pinto

I’ve read all four extant volumes of Martin's (unfinished) series (beginning with A Game of Thrones) and the first volume of Pinto's work (The Chosen) and just picked up the second.

What I found interesting right away is that both are concerned with what Martin calls "the game of thrones," the intrigue and political maneuvering (not to mention bloodshed) that goes with the choosing of who will have power in a certain time and place. I like both series, so let's take a look at them.

A Song of Ice and Fire is definitely a ripping yarn full of fully-rounded characters, lavish set pieces, and enough detail to provide a reader with page-turning enjoyment. Martin's strength is, without a doubt, his ability to engage the reader emotionally, to make him or her care about the fictional characters. This is one of the reasons, in my opinion, that fans are so passionate about Martin "finishing" the series. They care what happens to Arya, Brandon, Jaime, Cersei, and the rest of them. Did Sandor Clegane survive? Does Daenerys get to ride her dragons? What becomes of Brienne the Beautiful? I’d like to know, too.

On the other hand, as a world-builder, Martin is a little less successful. One person I know described Westeros as the perfect stereotype of what a fantasy world should be. Granted, the idea of winter lasting years is an intriguing fantastical feature, but the idea of why this happens is always nagging at me. No satisfactory (or any) explanation is ever given. It just is. Also, Martin insists on providing measurements for at least two edifices that would be better served by just saying they’re really, really big. First, The Wall is always 700 feet tall. Second, one of the pyramids that Daenerys rules over is 800 feet tall. For comparison, the Arc de Triomphe is 164 feet tall, the Great Pyramid of Giza is 481 feet tall, and Hoover Dam is 726.4 feet tall. Just imagine the sheer volume of structure like the Wall that is 700 feet tall and miles and miles long. From the description in the book, it would appear that The Wall has been extremely tall for ages and ages, and the pyramid Daenerys sits on is even taller than the Hoover Dam? I like my fantasy’s fantastical, but sometimes less detail is more.

Another nitpicky pet peeve (Yes, I realize I'm being nitpicky) is Martin's insistence on detailing many of the meals people eat. For example, "They broke their fast on black bread and boiled goose eggs and fish fried with onions and bacon…" Lampreys seem to be popular fare in Westeros as well. Dany nibbles "tree eggs, locust pie, and green noodles…" In some ways, it appears Martin wants to avoid the clichéd non-descript stew of some fantasy worlds, but, from my perspective, veers a little too far in the opposite direction.

Finally, since this is a conlanging blog, we come to language. Martin himself freely admits that "I suck at foreign languages. Always have. Always will." (Of course, now we can thank David Peterson for breathing life into Dothraki.) So, we really can't fault Martin for not creating an entire Dothraki or Valyrian language and including it in Appendices. He acknowledges that particular shortcoming. However, my beef with him is his sometimes completely random-seeming choice of names for characters and places, even within the same family: Cersei and Jaime; Robert, Stannis, and Renly, etc. Martin also has an annoying habit of combining a first-rate fantasy name with an English-sounding one: Davos Seaworth, Balon Greyjoy, Robert Baratheon, etc. The "almost" names and titles are somewhat annoying as well: Eddard = Edward, Joffrey = Jeffrey, Ser = Sir, Maester = Master, Denys = Dennis, Walder = Walter, Yohn = John, etc. He has somewhat better imagination with the Targaryens and when he gets out of Westeros (although his non-Westerosi names can appear a little unpronounceable): Xaro Xhoan Daxos (I ended up pronouncing x as [S] and xh as [Z] in my head), Jaqen H’ghar, the Dothraki names and words, Illyrio Mopatis, Mirri Maz Duur, etc. Those names sound and look consistently exotic and fantasical.

In the end, I don't have HBO making a TV series of anything I've ever written, and Martin's books have sold millions of copies; so who am I to pass judgement on the above shortcomings. I will say that for all their high-quality entertainment value, A Song of Ice and Fire does exhibit a lot of the tropes of fantasy literature (See the TV Tropes entry for the series here). I'm just sayin&#39.

Martin's series is interesting to see in juxtaposition with Pinto's The Stone Dance of the Chameleon. Where Martin's Seven Kingdoms and beyond are in many ways very familiar with their kings, knights, lords, and ladies, Pinto paints a thoroughly-detailed completely new creation for us: The Three Lands. This is not a thinly-veiled medieval European setting, but a world full of unfamiliar places and cultures where the simple act of forgetting to don one's mask can result in the deaths of scores of people. While Pinto cannot match Martin for sheer page-turning lively action, he does outmatch him for sheer ingenuity and attention to detail in world-building. Where Martin's sers ride horses, Pinto's Chosen mount saurian aquars and ride along horned huimurs. Where cloth-of-gold is popular in Westeros, it's usually cut into a tunic, doublet, or elaborate gown. In the paradisal seclusion of Pinto's Osrakum, the Chosen dress in elaborate court-robes, stilt-like shoes, and utilize slaves whose eyes have been replaced by precious stones. Pinto's website testifies to his detailed world-building when you see images from his notes with captions like "Detail from Notebook 18, Page 22". He even gives credit to someone in the acknowledgments for helping him with "the equations to calculate the lengths and directions of shadows." Whew!

Of course, all this planning and detail sometimes get in the way of telling a good story. Carnelian, the viewpoint character of the novels, is often staring, marveling, being overwhelmed, and having other superlative experiences while we're provided with a litany of detailed descriptions of the wonders Pinto has devised for us. It (usually) stops just short of being tiresome, and then the story resumes.

In one way, Martin and Pinto do have something in common in some of their naming practices: the "almost" names. For Pinto, they're based on gemstones or other precious materials: Osidian = obsidian, Jaspar = jasper, Aurum = gold (Latin), Opalid = opal, Molochite = malachite, etc. I believe I read that Pinto had at first almost used names in Quya but later decided against it.

Quya? What is this Quya? Here is where Pinto and Martin firmly part company. Pinto has an entire language and writing system for his world although, sadly, this does not show up very much in the books themselves. For those interested, he has extensive notes and a grammar on his website. According to the Acknowledgments, he had help with the language from David Adger. The writing system obviously has a debt to pay to the Mayan glyphs but has a beauty all its own and provides chapter heading glyphs from the first two books. There is only one extended text example, so it's a shame we don't see more of the language in the books themselves given Pinto's love of dazzling the reader with details.

Both series have something to offer and are well worth reading. If you like fast-paced storytelling, well-rounded characters, and cliffhanger endings, you can’t go wrong with A Song of Ice and Fire. If you like a more leisurely reading experience, very interesting characters, first-class worldbuilding (with (online) Appendices), try The Stone Dance of the Chameleon. See you in Westeros and Osrakum!

Nov 22

Catford’s Phonetics: An Essential Resource!

Posted on Monday, November 22, 2010 in Books, Conlanging, Library Additions

Catfor'd's Intro to Phonetics

Although J.C. Catford’s A Practical Introduction to Phonetics has been part of The Conlanger’s Library for some time, it was only recently that I sought it out in the library to take a look. I have a recent (Nov. 4, 2010) posting of a glowing recommendation of the book on the CONLANG listserv for bringing it back to my attention. Luckily, my day job is at a large public library, and it was on the shelf just waiting for me to pick up.

The brief biography on the cover of the book states simply that J.C. Catford is “widely regarded as the leading practical phonetician of our time.” According to his obituary posted online, he was also “famous for his amazing ability to repeat speech backwards” and recorded Jabberwocky in this way (backwards and forwards) for the BBC. In his retirement, Prof. Catford worked on Ubykh, “a language of 80 consonants and just two vowels!” So, maybe it’s no wonder that lists as one of the “Customers Who Bought This Item [i.e., A Practical Introduction to Phonetics] Also Bought” Mark Rosenfelder’s Language Construction Kit.

His work itself is absolutely essential for conlangers who wish to include “exotic” (i.e., non-English) phonetics in their works. Catford takes the reader step-by-step through initiation, articulation, phonation, co-articulation, and much, much more. What is so valuable about the book is Catford’s Exercises (over 120 in all) throughout where he clearly shows how to pronounce every sound he discusses. I personally knew I may have to end up owning a copy of this when I found the following exercise clearly explaining how my own Drushek pronounce their “ejectives” (which I now know are actually pronounced by a velaric initiatory mechanism):

Say a velaric suction [|\ [in X-SAMPA, a dental click]]. Now immediately after the sucking movement of the tongue and the release of the tongue-tip contact, remake the contact and reverse the tongue-movement — that is, press instead of sucking — then release the tongue-tip contact again. The result should be a velaric pressure sound, for which there is no special symbol, so we shall represent it by [|\^ [again, in X-SAMPA]]. Continue to alternate velaric suction [|\] and velaric [|\^]: [|\], [|\^], [|\], [|\^] . . .

All this must be done without ever releasing the essential velaric (k-type) initiatory closure. We will now demonstrate that velaric initiation, whether of suction or pressure type, utilizes only the small amount of air trapped between the tongue-centre and an articulatory closure further forward in the mouth. To carry out this demonstration make a prolonged series of velaric sounds, for example [|\], [|\], [|\], and while continuing to do this, breathe in and out rather noisily through your nose. The experiment should be repeated with hum substituted for breath. Make a series of [|\] sounds while uninterruptedly humming through the nose. This proves that the velaric initiatory mechanism is completely independent of the pulmonic air-stream — it uses only the air trapped in the mouth in front of the velaric closure.

And this is just one of the exercises. I’m considering a voiced bilabial trill for one of my other languages and had never even considered a bidental fricative before now. Granted, one has to be careful to not make a kitchen-sink phonology, but a careful choice among the myriad sounds offered by Catford’s book can go a long way to giving one’s conlang any Sprachgefühl one wishes.