Welcome to the second part of my journey to creating a language with the help of The Art of Language Invention by David Peterson. If you missed the first part, you can read it. If you missed it and don’t want to read it, just know that that “Saykehee” is the name of my made-up faerie language and that when I say “alignment” I mean light/dark, not good/evil or lawful/chaotic.
Many languages conjugate nouns. At first it seems a little odd for an English speaker because we don’t do that, but we do conjugate pronouns, which is a similar concept. I’m torn about how far Saykehee will take this. I already have a series of suffixes for gender and alignment, so messing with words further seems like a headache. I also already have multiple ways of saying “the” depending on number, alignment, and gender. So do I really want to add a means of changing words based on whether they are objects or subjects? I’m leaning toward simply allowing sentence order to dictate that. A language can also conjugate for possession, but for the sake of simplicity, I am thinking to simply add the word “tsi” before the thing which is possessed.
At this point, I started to feel a little overwhelmed and like I was doing more work than I need to. After all, I don’t really plan on having discussions in this language. I just need a few words and maybe a simple common sentence or two. Like “I love you” and “Long live the queen!” I could have just figured out how to say those things and let the rest of it be up to speculation. But I’d come this far, so I went onward.
It turned out, I wasn’t through the conjugating nouns section. There are a wide array of noun cases that I would never have thought of, in most situations because the case is covered in English by prepositions. When saying, “I sat on the chair,” or “I sat next to the chair,” there is no need to adjust the word “chair”. But in a language without adpositions, where the sentence would read “I sat chair,” the word “chair” would change based on whether you were sitting on it, by it, under it, etc. I find this idea fascinating, but think I’ll just have Saykehee use prepositions.
The last bit about nouns in the book deals with articles. I already established the various different ways of saying “the” but had completely missed the need for an indefinite article. So I created a series of those, once again varying the word to reflect number, alignment, and gender. (Interesting side note: Objects do not have a gender; only certain living things have those. But all objects are either light or dark.)
The book now moves on to verbs. My initial instinct was to skip it because I don’t want to conjugate verbs. But I decided to read it anyway, and to rethink the not-messing-with-verb-conjugates thing in favor of making a very simple system. One without irregular verbs. Because irregular verbs suck.
Some languages conjugate verbs for gender, but I feel I’ve done enough of that with my nouns and articles. Likewise, I’m thinking I’ll avoid conjugating verbs for number and alignment. And I shall be using additive words for tense, mode, and aspect rather than dealing with conjugates for those. The main argument for conjugating verbs as much as possible appears to be that it better allows you to drop subjects without confusing people. This does sound attractive, but faeries are not known for being in a hurry, so I don’t see them really caring about developing ways of saying things faster.
The next topic covered is valency, ie the number of nominative agreements a verb must/can have accompanying it. The examples given were “sleep” and “disrespect”. Only one noun is required the first, eg “The coyote slept.” But “The coyote disrespected” means nothing in proper English; there must be something for him to have disrespected. It actually gets much more complicated and the book uses a lot of cool words like “avalent” and “ditransitive”. This all seems deeper than I really want to play with though, so I believe I’m going to chicken out of it and just use English rules.
Word order comes up next. I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I believe I am going to use a subject-object-verb model, which is what Sanskrit uses. (English, for comparison, is subject-verb-object.) Adjectives in Saykehee will come after the nouns they modify, as adverbs will follow their verbs or adjectives. So “The elephant quickly ate his peanuts” would be “The elephant his peanuts ate quickly.”
This brings us to the end of the second chapter. (There are only four chapters in the book despite it being 265 pages long.) The next section is titled “Evolution” and I’m not sure if I’m going to really work with it or merely read it. Following that is “The Written Word” and I’ll read it, but I’m not sure that I really need it either. I’ve yet to decide if the written language will be syllabary, like Japanese kana, or pictographic, like Japanese kanji. But it’s one of the two and I’m not going to bother writing very much in it, just describing what it looks like.
There’s still a lot of work to do that isn’t covered by the book. Such as developing actual vocabulary. It’s nice that I know how to conjugate things, but what are the things I’m conjugating? I suspect this is the easier part of language creation, particularly as I’m “evolving” it from an existing language, but will write up any challenges I find in the process. For now, dahsahahya – goodbye!
Andy is currently living in Baltimore, Maryland. That’s subject to change. As is her hair color.