End of October greyfolk language report

To be honest, I wrote my last post because I got caught up on whether I should capitalize ‘greyfolk’ or not in this post’s title.

During October, I had 15-ish strong days of work on my conlang, which isn’t too much more than last month, but, somehow, I put out six posts this month (not counting the belated end-of-month report for September which I actually wrote in October) compared to September’s two posts, and the two posts in September were about GURPS. So, six posts about my conlang is great work!

Because I was so diligent about posting, there is only one thing that I talked about in my conlang journal that I didn’t talk about here. I was working on disyllabic roots and Hamming distance for disyllabic roots before I decided to focus on my typeface, which I completed! I’d like to return to disyllabic roots so I can have at least a dozen or so meaningful sentences in my language before the end of 2019, but…

Next month, I will also be doing NaNoWriMo, so my conlang will take a back seat for a while. If I can make time to work out Hamming distance for disyllabic roots, I should be able to freely create new words on the fly, but the focus will still be on my writing. Right now, I think I’ll make blog posts about my NaNoWriMo project(s) as I hit word-count milestones. However, I don’t think I’ll share too much content (at least before NaNoWriMo is over)—it’d be posts about the process or just sharing my progress.

Right now, I can say that I feel like my NaNoWriMo work has greatly helped me reestablish my connection with my creative story-telling energy, which I’ve been lacking since I informally took a break from writing and even more so since my last GURPS campaign ended. It feels nice, and I hope it helps me rekindle my tabletop RPG flame too!

Oh, and Happy Halloween!

Greyfolk language’s monosyllabic roots and words: roots 1–5

In my previous post, I gave described the background and the process of coming up with the monosyllabic roots and words for the greyfolk language. There are 20 of them, but, in this post, I will go over the first five.

«me»
«se»
«ke»
«tle»
«yel» «yil»
«nel» «nil»
«ten» «tin»
«lem» «lim»
«pem» «pim» «pum»
«pli» «plu»
«min» «mun»
«kyu»
«kul»
«num»
«sul»
«lun»
«yum»
«myu»
«hu»
«syu»

Obviously, the “head-initial” vowel for each of these words is «e», which means that each is a noun or a pronoun. In this case, these are all pronouns.

Previously, «pe», «te», and «ke» were the first-, second-, and third-person pronoun, respectively. As I worked with Hamming distance, it was obvious that these pronouns would likely have to change.

«me» is the new singular first-person pronoun. Coincidentally, it should be very familiar. In human language, there are all sorts of me and mi first-person pronouns floating around. As the first-person pronoun, it would translate into English as both ‘I’ and ‘me’ depending whether it was the subject or object.

«se» is the new singular second-person pronoun. It would translate into English as ‘you’, which is both the subject and object.

«ke» is the new singular third-person pronoun. It would translate into English as ‘he’, ‘him’, ‘she’, ‘her’, ‘it’, or the singular form of ‘they’ or ‘them’. Gender and sex do not matter for «ke». And, again, it can be both subject or object.

«tle» is the mediopassive pronoun, which is new to my conlang. As a subject, it is a passive or impersonal construction. As an object, it basically means ‘myself’, ‘yourself’, etc. For example, let’s say «tonya» is a verb that means ‘to hurt’. «tle tonya me» means ‘I am hurt’. It can be thought of as ‘[blank] hurts me’. It’s almost an even more abstract version of «ke» in this context, but it puts the focus on the object instead of the subject. «me tonya tle» is a bit simpler, and it means ‘I hurt myself’.

«yel» is the demonstrative pronoun and «yil» is the demonstrative modifier. They both mean ‘this’, but they are used in slightly different ways. «yel» would just translate as ‘this’, but «ke yil» would translate as ‘this one’. There will probably be another word for ‘that’, but I haven’t figured that out yet.Get it?

As a last little bonus, these aren’t monosyllabic words, the plural personal pronouns will probably be «mema», «sesa», and «keka». The singular and plural correlations should be quite obvious!

Greyfolk language’s monosyllabic roots and words: the background

Before I start talking about the nouns formed from the 20 monosyllabic roots in the greyfolk language, I want to explain some background concepts as well as the process. After almost two months, I finished these suckers about a week ago, and then I gave them a bit of time to rest because I knew that I would tweak them a bit more, which I did.

Hamming distance (which I have explained previously, and which I keep wanting to call hammerspace) was the key in determining which roots were usable. As previously discussed, roots that sound too similar aren’t ideal. So, I used Hamming distance to decide what “too similar” meant. In my case, it means that there needs to be a Hamming distance of 2 for things to not sound too similar. For example, «m» is a labial nasal and «n» is a coronal nasal, but there’s only one difference: the difference between labial and coronal. So, «m» and «n» have a Hamming distance of 1. However, «t» is a coronal plosive, so it has a Hamming distance of 2 from «m» (labial nasal), which is neither coronal or plosive. Yet, «t» only has a Hamming distance of 1 from «n» because they are both coronal. Thus, «tan» and «tam» are too similar but «mam» and «mat» aren’t. Furthermore, «nat» and «tan» are different enough because, even though «n» and «t» have a Hamming distance of 1, there are two instances of that difference, so that’s a total Hamming distance of 2 between those two words. It might seem tricky, but Hamming distance is easy to visualize.

Consonants Labial Coronal Dorsal Laryngeal
Nasal m n
Plosive p t k
Fricative s
Approximant j~ɰ1
Liquid l2
Transition h
  1. written «y», can be pronounced like English ‘y’ or ‘w’ or like Spanish soft ‘g’
  2. can be pronounced like English ‘r’ or like Spanish ‘r’ or ‘rr’

If any two consonants share a column or a row, they have a Hamming distance of 1. For example, «m» and «p» share a column, and «t» and «k» share a row. If they share neither a column or row, they have a Hamming distance of 2. For example, «n» and «y» (/j~ɰ/) are in different columns and rows. There is one big exception to this rule: «l» and «y» (/j~ɰ/) only have a Hamming distance of 1 even though they are in different rows and columns because many realizations of the liquid row sound like approximants.

Of course, I could also change the vowels and not just the consonants, but it’s not that easy. That’s because the first vowel dictates word class, which I also explained in the same post that I explained Hamming space. The “head-initial” vowels indicate words as follows:

  • «e» indicates a noun (or pronoun)
  • «i» indicates a modifier (e.g., adjectives, adverbs)
  • «o» indicates a verb
  • «u» indicates a function word (e.g., conjunctions, prepositions, particles)

And «a» is filler—it doesn’t mean anything except that the word isn’t over. So, it can’t be the first vowel.

Then, add the rules for syllables to start creating words. In the greyfolk language, the syllable structure is C1(C2)V(C3).

  • C1 can be «m n p t k s y l h»
  • C2 can be «y l», but not after «y l h»
  • V can be «a e i o u»
  • C3 can be «m n l»

A word just follows all of these rules. So, a word could be «me», «him», «pyo», «klul», «teka», «syepan», etc. Words can be written normally with spaces in between them, but this system has the advantage of being able to be written as a string of text with one minor adjustment. If a word—not a syllable!—does not have a C3, add a silent «h» to the end of the word. This disambiguates certain cases like «kamenyim» which would be «kamen» and «yim» or «kame» and «nyim». Using the silent «h» means that «kamenyim» is «kamen» and «yim» while «kamehnyim» is «kameh» and «nyim».

Now, I’ll return to discussing non-conflicting sounds. There is are two more rules to add to figure out Hamming distance between syllables and words in the greyfolk language. First, the difference between nothing and any sound is a Hamming distance of 1. For example, «nim» and «nyim» have a Hamming distance of 1 between them. «nim» does not have a C2 and «nyim» does, but they are otherwise the same, so this is a Hamming distance of 1. Second, the same root is allowed with different vowels. How else would it work? For example, «nem» and «nim» are fine because «nem» is a noun and «nim» is a modifier. Even if some vowels sound similar and get confused, because head-initial vowels determine word class, context makes up for the Hamming distance of 1.

Using all of these rules, there is a maximum number of non-conflicting syllables that can be formed, especially if they share a vowel. This was the hardest part of figuring out monosyllabic words. By hardest, I mean it was challenging and frustrating, and, yes, I did cry at least once. I have a very limited phonemic inventory, so there are a lot of constraints, and I put one extra constraint on myself: no monosyllabic words with a C2 and a C3.

What did I get?

This:

«me»
«se»
«ke»
«tle»
«yel» «yil»
«nel» «nil»
«ten» «tin»
«lem» «lim»
«pem» «pim» «pum»
«pli» «plu»
«min» «mun»
«kyu»
«kul»
«num»
«sul»
«lun»
«yum»
«myu»
«hu»
«syu»

With «nlu» left over.

So, that’s 20 monosyllabic roots to create 28 words. Not too shabby.

These words will be explained in following posts. I’m planning on discussing groups of roots. The other option is to go by word class, but that would be to show off the Hamming distance between each word in each class, but the above table can be used for that same effect. See for yourself!

Belated end of September Greyfolk language report

During September, I had 13-ish strong days of work on my conlang. Even with all of that work, it feels like I have so little to show. I’m mulling over the idea of making more regular posts that talk about what I’m working on instead of just what I’ve finished.

I merged my possessive/genitive particle with my complementizer/agentive particle, but I later undid that as it led to some weird ambiguity. Confusing “dog of friend eats” and “dog that friend eats” is too weird to ignore.

Concerning Hamming distance, I had a little revelation. If «mun» and «lun» are different enough, shouldn’t «num» and «nul» be different enough? Thus, the idea that a syllable could have the same initial consonant and vowel so long as one ended in «l» and one ended in «m» was born. I haven’t really used this yet, but it’s a neat little observation.

There was a bunch of time spent trying to figure out what the words for ‘yes’ and ‘no’ should sound like.

Numerals also broke a bit.

I played around with syntax and ambiguity a ton. It seems like there isn’t an easy/simple way for me to get the effect that I want, which is fine. It’s hard to disambiguate something like ‘American history teacher’ (without adding complex rules). Is it a teacher of American history? Or is it a history teacher that’s American? We may never know.

My favorite part was relearning Lojban basics while discovering some “ancient” conlangs from the listserv era.

A whole month has gone by without me figuring out monosyllabic words. After the first two weeks, this was very frustrating, and I felt defeated. Eventually, I cried it out, shrugged my shoulders, and changed my focus so I didn’t burn myself out. It’s okay to have not figured them out! As of today, I’m dipping my toes back in, and it feels so good to go back into it with a fresh mindset. That’s the trick—I just have to remind myself of that. Sometimes, a tactical withdrawal is the best move, even if it feels like a loss—because it’s not a loss. Throwing myself at the same topic again and again as I become more frustrated and burnt out, leading to such a big loss of time is just that: a loss.

There are times to push through, of course. It’s just about finding that balance, and there’s also meta-balance, finding the balance of finding balance. Maybe pushing through will lead to frustration and a week’s worth of setback compared to dropping it to work on something else. I might have some setback on the dropped topic because I lose my place, but I get to move forward with something else. Plus, losing my place, as I said, can be refreshing. Then, the meta-balance is figuring out how much of a setback I’m taking by spending time to find a balance. Sometimes, if it’s complex or I find myself teetering back and forth a ton, it’s just best to take the safe option to let myself breathe.

If I keep going, I’ll have written more about my working philosophy than I have about my actual conlang. I hope to post again soon!

End of August Greyfolk language report

Okay, so I honestly forgot about August 31st when I thought of the title and said that I would post this “tomorrow”. Use your imagination.

There are a few posts that I can definitely still make about conlanging—I just haven’t. I’ve had six-ish strong days of work this month, but a lot of my conlanging time has actually gone to working on a project for GURPS. Surprise! But let’s get into what I can talk about.

Also, I really need to get around to updating the Greyfolk language page because it has fallen behind. It just feels like so many changes are happening that, if I update it now, I’ll have reason to update it again so soon after!

“Head-initial” indicating vowels

That’s a rough way of describing a minor but very important change to my language. Before, the vowel that indicates part of speech (or word type) would be the final vowel in the word. Working with a potential mini version of the Greyfolk language made me realize that I could just have that indicating vowel be the first vowel in the word, which fits with the idea of the language being head-initial. So, instead of the final vowel sound being «e» for nouns, «i» for adjectives and adverbs, «o» for verbs, and «u» for other things (conjunctions, prepositions, particles, etc.), those would be the initial vowel sounds.

Thus, «halnyo» becomes «holnya»—that’s my stand-in word for ‘to bake’.

Hamming distance

The idea of Hamming distance is it’s something that “measures the minimum number of substitutions required to change one string into the other”, which, in my case, means it’s the number of different sound changes to make different words sound different. For me, this means that a two words should have at least a sound with a difference in manner of articulation and a sound with a difference in place of articulation, or two words should have one sound with both differences.

So, if I have «halnyo», I can’t have «halmyo», but I can have «halsyo». Of course, I still said at least two differences, but more is definitely better.

New syllable blocks and font

I mentioned this previously, but syllable blocks have changed with the new 7HR alphabet. A post about that will be coming shortly. Also, after I figure out all of my monosyllabic words (see below), I’ll have more Greyfolk language free time, which means I can work on the new font.

Monosyllabic words

Because of the number of phonemes that I have, the syllable construction, and Hamming distance, I can only have so many functional monosyllabic words. There are, however, a lot of concepts that I would love to have be represented by a single syllable. There may also be new personal pronouns…

Numerals

Of course, I want numerals to be monosyllabic too. They were doing just fine until I removed «f» and «w», so I’ve had to rethink how they work and sound—oh, and also how they look. After I consider that pretty set in stone and get around to creating the new 7HR font, I’ll talk more about numerals.