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Dec 31

2012: The Year in Conlanging

Posted on Monday, December 31, 2012 in Books, Conlangers, Conlanging, Film

It seemed to me that there was a flurry of conlang-related activity during the latter part of 2012, so I decided to take a look back and see if any other significant events in conlangs and conlanging took place this past year. Turns out, there were quite a few. I’m sure I forgot any number. Feel free to add others as comments to this post.

Enjoy the list and happy conlanging in 2013!

Dec 25

Another Conlang Holiday Card!

Posted on Tuesday, December 25, 2012 in Conlanging

I received my 2nd conlang holiday card in the exchange. This one is from Padraic Brown, with a conlang and a conculture!

The front cover…


The inside panel…




Concultural explanation…


Dec 23

Holiday Conlang Card Exchange

Posted on Sunday, December 23, 2012 in Conlanging

I decided to take part in the Holiday Conlang Card Exchange this year and put my submission in for sharing with two people. Of course, this also means I receive cards as well. Here is the card I just received from Sylvia Sotomayor with her Kēlen:

Kelen Holiday Card

This image includes the card (top) and Sylvia’s explanation (bottom). Unfortunately, the green interlace did not come out as nice as I would have liked on my scan, but, nonetheless, it’s a beautiful design… made even cooler by the fact that the interlace design is a script as well! Kēlen is an inspiration. Thanks, Sylvia!

My own cards I sent out are not nearly as polished. Here is the front panel of both (They ended up being tri-fold):

Dritok Holiday Card Covers

These are written in a new script I’ve been devising for my Drushek language known as Dritok (or r’.z*w. in proper transcription style). Before the cards, the script had not seen light outside my notebooks, so, tah dah! The word h:.qs.p*. means “contentment, inner peace, restful mind, etc.”. The segment qs. has to do with “mental states.” The top image has the word written in three different scripts. The full phrase on the bottom image is h:.qs.p*.=D4/I1=D2 and means (roughly) “May contentment be within you” (a customary Drushek greeting and farewell). As some may already know, the D4, I1, and D2 are gestures within the language and h:.qs.p*. is vocalized. I’ve been giving Dritok a lot of thought lately and may be posting more to my (woefully under-utilized) Kryslan blog.

In any case, here’s to a happy holidays to all and may your conlanging projects be fruitful in the coming new year 🙂

Dec 6

The Colbert Report… Now in Elvish!

Posted on Thursday, December 6, 2012 in Conlanging

I was inpired this week by Hobbit Week on the Colbert Report to delve into some Elvish. To be more exact, I wanted to see if I could translate the following into Quenya or Sindarin or both:

  • Stephen Colbert
  • The Colbert Report
  • Colbert Nation

I freely admit I’m no Helge Fauskanger or MÃ¥ns Björkman, but I figured I’d do my best to puzzle through these translations. Besides, it seemed like a nice little challenge. With that admission, I am more than happy to hear suggestions for better translations. (Note: I did use Björkman’s Tengwar Eldamar for the transliterations into Tengwar below.)

To begin with: The name “Stephen”. According to Quenya Lapseparma, “Stephen” can be translated as Ríno or Rínon for “crowned”. It appears this word is attested in Sindarin, but it appears it could be a valid word in Quenya as well. So, we’re going with that.

“Colbert” was a little trickier. The easiest thing to do was to simply go phonetically and use Colber as the Elvish equivalent since he doesn’t pronounce the final -t. I did check and -lb- does seem to be a valid consonant cluster. However, I wanted to see if we could do a full Elvish. I then tried to look up the meaning of the surname. According to this and this, the name appears to mean something like “cool-bright” or “renowned, bright, famous.” Since “bright” seemed to come up in each, I decided to investigate that angle. It appears “brightest” is ancalima which many will remember from Aiya Eärendil Elenion Ancalima! “Hail Eärendil, brightest of stars!”. So, taking the masculine ending -o, I arrived at Ancalimo as the very rough equivalent of “Colbert” thus giving Ríno Ancalimo or Ríno Colber “Stephen Colbert”.

Next came: The Colbert Report. I had “Colbert” handled from the first step. “Report” turned out to be much more difficult. I used Fauskanger’s Quenya wordlist and the Sindarin glossary from Ambar Eldaron. There does not appear to be a word for “report” so I looked up some synonyms and found the following Elvish possibilities (Q = Quenya; S = Sindarin):

  • quentalë “account, history” (Q)
  • quentasta *”historical account”, “any particular arrangement (by some author) of a series of records or evidences into a given historical account” (Q)
  • menta “message, sending” (Q)
  • canwa “announcement, order” (Q)
  • siniath “tidings, news” (S)
  • trenarn “tale, account” (S)

Lots of possibilities, but I decided on quentasta for the Quenya and siniath for the Sindarin: Quentasta since it involves an author (in this case, Ríno Colber) who arranges a series of records or accounts (on the show); siniath since “tidings” and “news” are pretty close to “report” at least in the sense of Colbert’s show. With that, I could now form:

I Siniath Colber “The Colbert News” (Sindarin)

I Quentasta Colberwa “The Account of Colbert” (Quenya)

I like the Quenya since both primary words end in a vowel the same way that “The Colbert Report” end in the -r sound. Of course, I could also use I Siniath Ancalimo and I Quentasta Ancalimova. Somehow, I like the Colber better.

Finally: Colbert Nation. This one had to use Colber so that was a given. The Quenya word nórë was tailor-made for this since it means “a land associated with a particular people”: I Colbernórë! However, The Colbert Nation is known to be a rowdy bunch, so I hopped over to Sindarin to find hoth as in the Glamhoth “The Yelling Horde” (orcs). Hoth has to do with a horde or host of people, so a Sindarin Colbert Nation seems to me to be better named I Colberhoth “The Colbert Horde!”

That’s my attempt! It was fun and hopefully somewhat correct 🙂

It is so refreshing to see someone revel in their Tolkien geekitude on television. As the audience says on The Colbert Report almost every night:

STEPHEN! STEPHEN! STEPHEN!… or wait, I guess that should be…


Sep 7

Conlanging with Kids

Posted on Friday, September 7, 2012 in Conlanging, Rant

I’ve been thinking for quite some time about how one would introduce the idea of creating languages with children. Tolkien mentions in his pivotal essay (A Secret Vice) how natural it was for him as a child to create languages. The playfulness, openess, and boundless creativity of children is not hampered by preconceptions and societal expectations and so seems tailor-made for conlanging. Some people seem to think that language creation should be something one grows out of; but, as we know, that is certainly not the case. Language creation can just get more complex (and fun) as we get older. Conveying that to kids, however, can be difficult.

As primary Twitterer for the Language Creation Society’s @fiatlingua, I just came across an interesting tweet today from TEDx concerning use of Esperanto in the classroom. The video connected to the tweet is at . The organization is called Springboard … to Languages and the goal is to use Esperanto as a “springboard” to learning other languages and language in general. The speaker’s point was that it is an “easy” language to learn (easier than Spanish or French or Chinese), and children can begin communicating in the language much faster and more efficiently than other languages. This, in turn, builds confidence and engenders curiousity about “more difficult” languages. His analogy to bassoon-playing seems apropos.

However, this does not provide an avenue to language creation (even though Esperanot is a conlang) but one to learning natural languages. The goal is not for the children to create their own languages but to see Esperanto as a bridge language to introduce concepts about language.

There just aren’t a lot of books or movies that children can be introduced to that engender and encourage the craft of conlanging. I myself fondly remember Dr. Seuss (especially On Beyond Zebra) that got me interested at a young age in scripts, words, and the playful use of language. The Lord of the Rings (the books, long before the movies) was pivotal to my development as a conlanger (and “evangelist” for the craft). Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy included Sindarin and Quenya, but most people who see that (if they don’t already know about Tolkien’s languages) will most likely think something along the lines “That’s cool! I want a tattoo now that says [fill in your “Elvish” phrase here].” It once again doesn’t show that you too can create languages. Likewise, you can’t really speak Huttese or other Star Wars languages. Children don’t really get Star Trek with its Klingon language, and we really can’t introduce kids to Dothraki (at least in context).

We do have some worksheets and other tools on the Education page of the Library, but those are one-time workshop type of things. “That was cool… now onto something else.”

The answer to this question also depends on what age group one is talking about: Elementary-school age, middle-school, tweens, teens, etc.

I believe there are also those conlangers that believe we should do nothing to encourage young people to join in conlanging. That “evangelizing” the “secret vice” is neither necessary nor warranted nor even desired. My own feeling is that we certainly can’t make anyone into a conlanger against his or her will, but those that do show a proclivity towards it and an aptitude for it should be encouraged and shown that conlanging is a viable, worthwhile, and enjoyable hobby.

So, any ideas on introducing the viability of conlanging to children (at any age)? I’m all ears.

May 13

Barsoomian, Revisited

Posted on Sunday, May 13, 2012 in Conlanging, Online Resources

I realize it’s been awhile since I posted the first foray into Barsoomian on the blog here and have been remiss in not following up. By now, everyone knows that the John Carter movie was not the blockbuster success which was hoped for. (Sigh) The visuals were well done, but the story seemed overly (and unnecessarily) complicated. However, we still have the books which started it all. That’s the important part.

The reason for this post (in addition to simply getting back on a regular posting schedule) is to acknowledge and begin to thank Fredrik Ekman’s wonderful in-depth replies to my previous posts. Fredrik has great insights into the language of the Red Planet, has written extensively elsewhere on them, and interviewed Paul Frommer about his version of Barsoomian. The fact that he took the time to respond to my musings is very humbling.

His comments were posted on Conlang-L which is why you don’t see them here for now. I posted a message on that listserv that I had written up some ideas and provided the links to my Barsoomian “theories”. Fredrik then responded, and I have not had the opportunity to respond yet. Yes, I know it’s been months. Yes, I’m a little embarrassed by that time lag. So, now I begin to attempt to make amends.

What I plan to do is post links to the comments here as a start. I may not be delving deeper into Barsoomian right away, but for those who are interested, Fredrik’s comments provide an excellent alternative viewpoint:

I believe that’s all of them. Of course, these aren’t the only postings at Conlang-L that have to do with Barsoomian and ERB. Feel free to check out their Archives, too. Hope you enjoy the links to the discussion above. I know I did!

Dec 19

Adventures in Barsoomian Continued…

Posted on Monday, December 19, 2011 in Books, Conlanging

I went back and re-read that recent NY Times article on conlanging and realized it mentions that Paul Frommer (of Na'vi fame) has been hired “to develop a Martian language called Barsoomian for ‘John Carter,’ a science-fiction movie to arrive in March.” That gave me some hope! If that is the case, it’s even more unfortunate that they included the Martian “Decoder” and Martian Translator on the movie’s official site. Why not start promoting Barsoomian now? Build some buzz? I also had the thought that, even though Dr. Frommer is a “professional” language creator, any Barsoomian he comes up with will be no more canonical than something I or anyone else devises. The only Barsoomian canon (from my perspective) would be that devised (or sanctioned by) Edgar Rice Burroughs (or, I suppose, his estate). So, with that in mind, let’s continue on our own little adventure into the speech of the Red Planet.

Last time out, we gained some new vocabulary and could say things like Hek dar ron “The father guards his son” with articles, tense, and pronouns supplied telepathically (or by context). This time, we’ll turn to measurements and see what we can puzzle out…

According to ERB, we have on Barsoom the sofad, ad, haad, and karad measurements with the following relationships:

  • 10 sofad = 1 ad
  • 200 ad = 1 haad
  • 100 haad = 1 karad = 1 degree of Barsoomian longitude
  • 360 karad = circumference of Barsoom at the equator

So, the ad is the basic unit of measurement. This means the prefixes sof, ha, and kar must impart some meaning to the basic term ad. Judging by my previous post, it doesn’t appear that these three are numerical. It would seem strange (even for Barsoom) for sof to mean something like “1/10”. Unfortunately, sof does not appear in any other Barsoomian name. On the other hand, both ha and kar do appear: Haja (princess of Gathol), Tor Hatan (Odwar of the
91st Umak), Okar (a city), Kar Komak (odwar of Lothar), Torkar Bar (Kaolian noble). How do reconcile these different uses? My suggestion: sof means something like “small, minor, lesser” and ha “bigger, major, greater”. Kar, on the other hand, since it refers to measurement “around” the planet could mean something like “long, lengthy, extended” and by extension in the vertical plane “tall, high”. I could even go so far as to say that kar is the final comparative degree: “biggest, greatest”. You may remember we also had -dak (< jeddak) and -dara (< jeddara) as superlative markers. A better term for these two might be an augmentative (i.e., the opposite of the “-y” or “-ie” in names like “Tommy” and “Susie”). This would give us degrees of comparison (smaller, original, bigger). That means then that we have:

  • sof “small”
  • ha “bigger”
  • kar “biggest”

We could even use these in the opposite direction and get:

  • sof “small”
  • hasof “smaller”
  • karsof “smallest”

I could see Kar Komak‘s first name meaning something like “The High” (as in “your highness”). Sure, why not? We’re also saying that modifiers come after the word they modify. So…

  • Calot ha dar phai karsof jeddak “[The] larger calot guards [the] jeddak’s youngest (i.e., smallest) daughter”
  • Darseen sof banth “[A] darseen [is] smaller [than a] banth”

And finally…

  • John Carter sof Tars Tarkas than-dak “John Carter [is] smaller [than] Tars Tarkas, [but he is a] great fighter” (Once again, taking advantage of the telepathic component of Barsoomian)

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more…

Dec 17

Dejah Thoris Phai-Dara! More Barsoomian Vocabulary

Posted on Saturday, December 17, 2011 in Books, Conlanging

And so we come to the next installment of our expedition into the language of Barsoom. This time I’m going to examine some of the titles from the stories to see if some new vocabulary can be puzzled out. It will be instructive to simply list out the offices we will be looking at:

  • than “soldier”
  • panthan “mercenary”
  • gorthan “assassin”
  • kadar “guard”
  • padwar “lieutenant” (reports to a dwar
  • dwar “captain” (reports to an odwar)
  • odwar “general” (reports to a jedwar)
  • jedwar “warlord” (general of generals)
  • jed “lord” (subordinate to a jeddak)
  • jeddak “king, emperor”
  • jeddara “empress, queen of kings”

Okay, let’s start at the beginning: than means “soldier”. That’s straight from ERB. So, obviously pan- and gor add some sort of meaning to than to make them mean “mercenary” and “assassin”. There don’t seem to be any negative connotations to a panthan. My suggestion is that pan means something like “free, unattached, unaligned, etc.” as in someone who is not allied or paying service to a specific lord. Whoever is paying for his services, that’s who he fights for. “Assassins” don’t seem to have as positive a connotation as “mercenaries”; therefore, gor might have a more negative meaning. Maybe something like “freelance” in the sense of “out for one’s own gain” as opposed to a panthan that is, although paid, in the service of a particular city. The gorthan, on the other hand, is only loyal to himself. In light of that, we could extend the meaning of gor to “selfish, greedy, self-centered.”

Kadar was mentioned last time along with kador “those inhabiting heaven; those having something to do with heaven.” Ka- then appears to mean “those having something to do with (the word to which it is amended)”. I’m going to say that, like the attested monosyllabic verb sak “jump”, dar means “guard, watch, keep an eye on, etc.”. The synonyms would be specified telepathically.

Then we come to the military officers and royal titles:

  • padwar “lieutenant” (reports to a dwar
  • dwar “captain” (reports to an odwar)
  • odwar “general” (reports to a jedwar)
  • jedwar “warlord” (general of generals)
  • jed “lord” (subordinate to a jeddak)
  • jeddak “king, emperor”
  • jeddara “empress, queen of kings”

First of all, note that we have both jedwar and jed. It appears that the d can disappear because jedwar is obviously jed + dwar. If that is the case, we can break these terms down into their constituent morphemes:

  • pad+dwar
  • dwar
  • od+dwar
  • jed+dwar
  • jed
  • jed+dak
  • jed+dara

This being the case:

  • pad “inferior, subordinate (to a)” “captain”
  • dwar “captain”
  • od “superior (to a)” “captain”
  • jed+dwar “lord-captain”
  • jed “lord”
  • jed+dak “lord+emperor (dak can also be a masculine superlative marker)”
  • jed+dara “lord+empress (dara can also be a feminine superlative marker)”

Taking these, we can (well, I’m going to say we can) construct phrases like these:

  • Banth odarseen (i.e., od+darseen) “A banth is superior to a darseen.”
  • Mors Kajak sha gor “Mors Kajak is not selfish.”
  • Dor sha-pan “Heaven is not aligned” (i.e., “Heaven is not on any one person’s side.”)
  • Dejah Thoris phai-dara “Dejah Thoris is the greatest daughter.”

Once again, the telepathic aspect of Barsoomian would come into play. Where there is ambiguity in the spoken words, telepathy would fill in the details and take care of synonymous meanings. Dor sha-pan is only three syllables but could mean “Heaven is not on any one person’s side.” (Ten syllables) With this being the case, the writing systems of Barsoom would have to explicitly express these telepathic components which is maybe why each city or region came up with different scripts on the planet. You can express similar concepts with the mind, but how they get expressed on a writing surface can be very different. I’m not ready to tackle the writing systems of Barsoom quite yet, but we’re not done looking for more vocabulary. Stay tuned…

Dec 10

Hek, Shahek, Ron, Phai: All in the Barsoomian Family

Posted on Saturday, December 10, 2011 in Books, Conlanging

Okay, since this is installment three of my Barsoomian escapade, I think it would be prudent to state very clearly that I am under absolutely no illusions that what I come up with (now that we’re going to be veering into uncharted and unattested waters more and more) is in any way remotely like what Edgar Rice Burroughs (ERB) had in mind when he created the words used to describe native Barsoomian customs, titles, names, etc., etc. I’m sure that ERB had a solid idea of what he wanted names to sound like, obviously keeping morphemes like mad “human, man, person”, kadar “guard”, dwar “captain”, in mind; but ERB was a storyteller not a conlanger. With names from Aaanthor to Zodanga and everything in between, ERB’s primary desire was to make his characters and locations sound “exotic” (at least as it was defined in the early 20th century). And that’s cool! I’m obviously a fan, and my point is that he’s provided just enough vocabulary that a conlanger has a nearly blank slate to play around on. Which is what I’m doing. Other conlangers would be able to use the same source material and come up with completely different rationalizations, but these are the ones that I’ve developed in trying to stay as true to the original as possible…and to have some conlinguistical fun in the process.

Last time, I promised some explanation of hekkador, the title of “Father of Therns” Matai Shang. Okay, here’s where we really start to go off the beaten path, so stick with me. It might be a bumpy ride…

  • The Valley of Dor is consistently referred to as the Valley of “Heaven” (“This is the valley of love and peace and rest… This, John Carter, is Heaven” – Tars Tarkas, The Gods of Mars). My contention is that dor itself means “heaven, love, peace, rest”.
  • Keep in mind that there is a strong telepathic component to Barsoomian language. The spoken word may be Dor, but the concept communicated to John Carter can be “heaven” or “love” or “peace” as the specific case requires. To alleviate the cognitive dissonance between spoken and telepathic Barsoomian, John Carter records phrases like these alternatively with their Barsoomian and English equivalents: The Valley of Dor = The Valley of Heaven.
  • Now we turn our attention to hekkador which has the morpheme dor. It appears that hekkador has some equivalence to “Father of Therns”. Well, obviously the Barsoomian word thern is not present so what about dor. We know the therns are often referred to as the “holy” therns. My contention (granted on flimsy evidence and wishful thinking, I realize) is that dor along with ka- as a prefix comes up with a word meaning “holy ones (i.e., ones associated with heaven)”. I’m not sure how exactly I see ka- functioning, but we’ll revisit that later.
  • So, if we have hek then left over, what could it mean? hek-“holy ones”. The title means something like “Father of Therns”. My choice is that it means “father”: hekkador “Holy Father” (like the Pope) or “Father of the Holy Ones”.
  • Do we have any other terms or phrases where the modifier follows the head of the word? Actually, we do: “I could see Tars Tarkas explaining something to the principal chieftain, whose name, by the way, was, as nearly as I can translate it into English, Lorquas Ptomel, Jed; jed being his title.” – A Princess of Mars. The comma between Ptomel and Jed is merely a convenience of the English translation. The Thark’s name is evidently Lorquas Ptomel Jed with jed functioning kind of like a modifier. At least that’s my argument and I’m sticking to it.

I can also rationalize the dor “heaven, peace, etc.” in Shador, too. Shador is the prison island on the Omean Sea. In this case, prison has an absence of peace and rest, it’s not heaven. In fact, it’s the opposite of heaven. So… sha in this case signifies the opposite or negation of something else: Shador “Anti-heaven; Not-heaven”. What about the hekkador‘s daughter Phaidor? Read on…

So, along with *ron “son” we now have *hek “father”. Can we come up with “daughter”. My loosely-connected neurons say “Yes”.

  • Matai Shang had a daughter, “Phaidor, daughter of the Holy Hekkador.” Again, we encounter dor “heaven”. My choice this time is that phaidor (note without the ka-) means “daughter (of) heaven” or “heaven’s daughter”. Given the ability to add specific meaning telepathically, I could even add phai means “daughter, maiden, girl”, and, using that line of reasoning *ron would mean “son, youth, boy”.

So, there you have it. Five new morphemes in our (Neo-)Barsoomian vocabulary:

  • *hek “father”
  • *phai “daughter, maiden, girl”
  • *ka- prefix meaning to be determined
  • *sha “opposite, negation, absence of”

We could also extrapolate a word for mother: *shahek “opposite of father”.Going back to our second installment, we could “say” something like Tardos Mors hek Mors Kajak and Dejah Thoris phai Mors Kajak. Granted, we’re not translating the International Declaration of Human Rights, but it’s a start. Next time, we’ll begin to dissect some of the titles of Barsoom and see how we can extrapolate a few words from those.

Dec 9

Barsoomian Familial Relationships

Posted on Friday, December 9, 2011 in Books, Conlanging

Last time we looked at Barsoomian numbers. This time, we’re going to examine how relationships (mostly father to child) are stated in the language of Barsoom.

To begin with, anyone who has read Edgar Rice Burroughs’ stories knows that a good number of characters have names of the form X son of Y. There are some interesting variations, however, and these can be used as clues for some new vocabulary. It will be easiest to simply provide examples first and then explain their significance. To highlight the relationships a little clearer, let’s turn the names around:

  • Kantos Kan, father of Djor Kantos (a son) (of Helium)
  • Vas Kor, father of Hal Vas (a son) (of Dusor)
  • Than Kosis, father of Sab Than (a son) (of Zodanga)
  • Had Urtur, father of Tan Hadron (a son) (of Hastor)
  • Tardos Mors, father of Mors Kajak (a son) (of Helium)
  • John Carter, father of Carthoris (a son) (of Helium and Earth)
  • Tor Hatan, father of Sanoma Tora (a daughter) (of Helium)
  • Thuvan Dihn, father of Thuvia (a daughter) (of Ptarth)
  • Kal Tavan, father of Tavia (a daughter) (of Tjanath)

Notice that the majority of male children take their father’s first name (in some form) as their last name. Daughters, on the other hand, take their father’s first name (for most part) and change it. (Could Kal be a title in Kal Tavan?) Leaving aside Carthoris (although the syllables in his name follow the royal Heliumite pattern set by Tardos Mors and his son Mors Kajak), four of the five father-son pairs show no variation when the sons’ names are formed. However, Tan Hadron shows the pattern Had + ron: ron then would seem to be a suffix like “-son”. So, Tan Hadron is Tan “Had-son”. My contention is we add ron “son” to our Barsoomian vocabulary.

I find it interesting that most of these names follow the pattern X Y, father of Z X except for those of the Heliumite royal family. It’s even more interesting that John Carter follows this pattern with his son.

Daughters names are a little trickier (evidently). Here we see the suffix -a (e.g., Tora from Tor + a) as well as -ia (e.g., Thuvia from Thuv + ia derived from the father’s Thuvan minus the -an suffix. Same goes for Tavia). My contention is that ia does not represent two distinct vowels but rather a glide and a vowel and is pronounced something like “ya” [ja]: Thuvia [“TUv.ja].

It could be rationalized that -ia and -a are simply variations of the same suffix. We have other female names that end in these: Thuria (Phobos the moon, *daughter of Thuran?), Uthia, Llana, Valla Dia (daughter of Kor San). I’m not ready to say ia means “daughter”, but it must have some lexical significance. It’s interesting that John Carter could be seen as following this as well: His last name could be broken down as Car and Ter (Tar?) and his daughter’s name if Tara (Tar + a).

Next time, we’ll look at one more possible familial relationship using the Barsoomian word Hekkador, title of Matai Shang. Stay tuned…