roots

Greyfolk language’s monosyllabic roots and words: roots 6–11

In my previous post, I covered the first five monosyllabic roots. In this post, I will cover the next six.

«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»

«nel» translates into English as ‘past’ as in ‘the past’. So, «nil» is the modifier form that, as an adverb, functions as the past tense.

«ten» translates into English as ‘present’ as in ‘the present’. So, «tin» is the modifier form that, as an adverb, functions as the present tense.

«lem» translates into English as ‘future’ as in ‘the future’. So, «lim» is the modifier form that, as an adverb, functions as the future tense.

These “tenses” are optional. Context clues usually make up for a lack of tense. But what tense is an un-tensed sentence in? It’s not really a tense, it’s more of a grammatical mood. Specifically, I’d say this specific mood in my conlang is the indicative, declarative, or realis mood. More or less, it expresses something true. When we say something like ‘I love you’, it doesn’t necessarily express the present tense like ‘I love you right now‘. It tends to be more of a declaration of the truth—the truth being that I love you.

«pem» translates into English as ‘what’ or ‘whom’, «pim» translates into English is ‘which’, and «pum» translates into English as ‘?’. That last one is literal. In the greyfolk language, this root indicates a question. If «pem» or «pim» isn’t used, then the particle «pum» is used. For example, let’s say «kyola» is a verb that means ‘to want’. «se kyola pem» means ‘you want what?’ or ‘what do you want?’ «se kyola ke pim» means ‘you want which one?’ or ‘which one do you want?’ «pum se kyola ke» means ‘you want it?’ or ‘do you want it?’ In the case of «pum», it can kind of be stuck anywhere in a question, but it is usually the first word. If it follows a word, it puts emphasis on that word.

«pli» translates into English as ‘yes’. «plu» is a little different—it translates into English as ‘with’. These are related concepts for a reason that I’ll probably talk about in the future, but all that matters is that they came from the same root. Also, while it’s not on the list, «plo» would translate into English as the verb ‘to be’. It’s not on the list because I didn’t focus on verbs.

«min» translates into English as ‘no’ or ‘not’. «mun» is a little different—it translates into English as ‘without’. Likewise, «mon» would mean ‘to not be’.

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!