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From /p,t,k/ to 'Potake'

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Jessie Sams

on 5 October 2014

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Transcript of From /p,t,k/ to 'Potake'

From /p, t, k/ to 'Potake'
Moving from sounds to words
Jessie Sams
Stephen F. Austin State University

ENG 440: Invented Languages (soon to be ENG 437)
Examination of how language works and typical features of world languages in order to construct an invented language; also, examination of famous constructed languages (including Elvish, Na'vi, and Esperanto) in order to compare features of invented languages to those of natural languages. The final project of the course will involve students constructing a language for a client to better understand the challenges of constructing a language and linguistic principles at work in natural languages. This course is a service-learning course.
Course description
Required texts
Mark Rosenfelder's 'Language Construction Kit'
Course binder with additional handouts made specifically for our course, including glossaries for terminology, worksheets, examples, and guidelines
Area 1: Sounds and writing systems
Area 2: Words and Grammar
Area 3: Meaning
Course structure
General structure for class time within each subarea
Assignments throughout the semester
After each subarea, students orally present their work to their classmates in short individual presentations.
After each major area, students submit a written rough draft to me and orally update their clients, focusing on that newly completed area.
At the end of the semester, students submit a final draft of a mini-grammar for their language.
Lecture for terminology and examples from natural and artificial languages
In-class activities/worksheets to isolate and work on specific concepts
"DIY" days: in-class work days to ask questions specific to student languages
Writing systems
Thank you!
Comments, questions, and/or suggestions?
Information covered
IPA and anatomy of speech sounds
typology of sounds across world languages
common phonological processes
syllable structure (phonotactic constraints)
stress/pitch accent
Student expectations
working IPA chart of phones in language
justification for patterns among sounds (e.g., non-human speaker with no teeth, so no dental sounds)
sample (fake) words to show how sounds come together (including syllables, stress, and phonological processes)
Information covered
types of writing systems and development of natlang systems
influence of available tools (medium)
importance of anatomy of speakers (e.g., non-human hands)
Student expectations
working writing system (even if based on existing one) or justification for no writing system
sample (fake) words/phrases to showcase word boundaries/punctuation
Moving forward
By the end of Area 1, students have a sound system and a writing system for their language (of course, both are subject to changes during the semester).

They also have sample "fake" words to guide the overall sound of the language.
Area 1 often goes pretty smoothly, with the primary difficulties being any unfamiliarity with linguistic terminology (like 'phonotactic constraints').

However, even with the onslaught of terminology, there is something to shoot for; typological principles help guide the students, and the end products are more easily defined and placed in a chart or two.
And then I hit them with words.
Morphological language type
Word-formation processes
Morpheme v. word
Internal/External means
In-class activities
building English words
idiomatic compounds
one word to many (and vice versa)
4-step process
"My words are all starting to sound the same."
"I don't know what words to include in my language."
"I don't even know where to start."
Student point of view
My point of view
too many similarities to English
inconsistencies between information from sounds (like syllable structure) and new words
inconsistencies between words
The first major challenge is the material itself. Moving from a more well-defined target (a set of sounds and symbols for those sounds) to a moving target with more open-endedness provokes some students to near-meltdown status.

Furthermore, developing words is that middle ground between sounds, grammar, and semantics; there is no easy way to isolate this area from the others.
Information covered
Student expectations
morphological type and grammar
word order and typological word order correlations
nouns/pronouns: case, person, number, gender
verbs: tense, mood, aspect, agreement
adjectives and adverbs
simple sentences
description of language's word order with examples
description of how language's nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs are marked or used within sentences
fully glossed examples
It's usually about this point in the semester when I hear a collective sigh of relief from the students. Area 2 is the biggest hurdle for students, and Area 3 is the reward for having survived.
Information covered
Student expectations
semantic categories
conceptual terms
euphemism, metaphor, and taboo
semantic fields (e.g., divisions of time, directions, naming practices)
examples of each of the areas covered
with each set of examples, description of the relationship between the language and the culture of its speakers
Your group will receive a root in English with its definition; from that one root, see how many new words you can create. For each one, figure out what process you are using to create the new word (e.g., affix, compound).

Example root:
DICT 'say, speak'
Example answers:
diction, dictionary, dictate, dictator, dictation, dictaphone, predict, prediction (and so on)

analyze the different ways in which English takes one base and turns it into many words
For each of the following English words, make up an idiomatic compound that another language might use to express the same idea.

'forgive', 'car', 'daisy', 'joke' (v.), 'yellow', 'monster'
Example answers:
'daisy' = 'spring snow', 'little sun', 'pointless flower'

start thinking about common English words in a new light to get in a new word-making mindset
Pick an English word and look it up in another language to see how many of their words correspond to the one English word. Then pick a word in another language and look it up to see how many English words correspond to that one word.

Example answers:
'standard' in English-German dictionary: Standard, Norm, Muster, Vorbild, Massstab, Richtlinie, Andforderungen ... (and I haven't even reached the end of the noun section yet)
'Standard' in German-English dictionary: standard, level
'Norm' in German-English dictionary: norm, standard, rule, quota

get a better understanding of the "no 1:1 correspondence" principle
Pick at least 50 words from the Swadesh list (provided on pages 260-262); take some from each section except for the “grammatical words” section. While you can get a head start on those, we won’t specifically be working with those until we cover grammar. You may end up changing your mind on how to do those grammatical words once we to the grammar section, anyway. You may need to choose words not on the Swadesh list to work with your particular speakers; use the list as inspiration--not strict guidelines.
Step 1. Create groups
Step 2. Determine any language relationships and/or contact
Step 3. Provide basic roots
Step 4. Utilize word-building strategies
We begin this process in class with a workshop-style process. I float around the room while the students work, sometimes independently and sometimes in small (or large) groups.
intimidatingly long word lists
not having a set idea of what utterances need translated
the "word wall"
dependence of words on knowing who the speakers are
stifled creativity
"brain loop" of particular sounds and sequences
perceived need to have every possible combination with no overlaps
usually not in sound but in definitions
the "English has it so I need it, too" phenomenon
too many scattered handwritten notes
lack of connections between day-to-day work
unbridged gap between areas of focus
too much focus on progression and not on the foundation
Morpheme/word distinctions
Free content morpheme
a standalone morpheme with semantic meaning (e.g., 'walk', 'piano')
Free function morpheme
a standalone morpheme with grammatical meaning (e.g., 'in', 'the')
Bound content morpheme
a needy morpheme with semantic meaning (e.g., '-ness', 'un-', 'PHIL')
Bound function morpheme
a needy morpheme with grammatical meaning (e.g., '-s', '-est', '-ed')
Free morpheme = our notion of 'word'
For this subarea, the focus is on
content morphemes
; function morphemes are more closely examined in the section on grammar.
Step 1: Create groups
Group the words you are using into the categories you want. You can use the categories provided for you by Rosenfelder in the textbook, or you can make your own. For instance, you may want to group some of the nouns by color and have
green, nature, tree, grass, and leaf
all based on the same root. Or you may want to group together nouns and verbs; for example, maybe you want
say and word
to go together. You can create whatever groups you want, but make these groups before you go on—it will make the next stages so much easier.

You do not have to put every word you work with into a group—in fact, natural languages often have words that could be related to others by meaning but have no similarities in terms of roots. For instance,
tree, branch, root, and stick
could all be based on the same root, but the English words do not share any similarities. But then English has words like
communicate, commune, community, communal, communion, communism, and communicable
, all of which (very obviously) share the same base.
A brief introduction to morphological language type
Four popular word-formation processes
prefix: 'un-do'
suffix: 'speak-er'
infix: Khmer's 'leun' ('fast') to 'lbeun' ('speed')
circumfix: Hebrew's 'hadgel' ('big') to 'magdelet' ('magnifier')
combinations of free and/or bound: dog|house, arachn|o|phobia
often idiomatic: forget-me-not, moonwalk, Ojibwe's 'dibik-giizis' (lit. 'night sun')
Halkomelem: 'qwel' ('to speak') to 'qwelqwel' ('talkative')
Marshallese: 'kagir' ('belt') to 'kagirgir' ('to wear a belt')
Quileute: 'tuko:jo?' ('snow') to 'tutko:jo?' ('snow here and there')
consonant alternation: English's 'strife/strive', 'teeth/teethe'
vowel alternation: Arabic's 'kitab' ('book'), 'katib' ('writer'), 'kataba' ('he wrote'), 'aktaba' ('he dictated'
Internal and external means of adding words
English 'night'
Dutch/German 'Nacht'
Spanish 'noche'
Italian 'notte'
Latin 'nox'
Greek 'nux'
'armada' from Spanish
'raccoon' from Virginia Algonquian ('aroughcun')
'philosophy' from Greek
Sound symbolism
closest thing we have to a non-arbitrary relationship between form and meaning (but still pretty arbitrary)
close to 1:1 ratio (one morpheme = one word)
multiple morphemes per word; one morpheme = one meaning
multiple morphemes per word; one morpheme = multiple meanings
These terms play a larger role in the grammar section.
General advice
see what patterns are available
find inspiration in both natlangs and conlangs
don't try to use everything you find (as Paul Frommer says, using all the spices in your cabinet to make chili won't give you good results)
don't strive for perfection
take breaks between word-making sessions
keep a chart of your sound system by your side when developing words (including syllable structure)
Advice for record-keeping
(turning handwritten notes into accessible information)
Using spreadsheets to your advantage
Example: Numbers (iWork)
Table 1. Using a 4-column glossary
Table 2. Writing solid information in English gloss
Table 3. Making charts of derivations
Derivations for verbs
Table 4. Organizing by sheets
include tables of (1) derivations; (2) grammatical information; and (3) 4-column glossary specific to POS
no glosses--only charts of grammatical/derivational information
English-Hiutsath and by POS
If students organized their information when developing words, Area 3 is essentially writing about the work they already did while adding a few more pieces of flair.
Building English words
Idiomatic compounds
One word to many
4-step process
Full transcript