LoneStarCon 3 Constructed Languages Presentation

LoneStarCon 3 Constructed Languages Presentation

Author: Jeffrey S. Jones

MS Date: 10-16-2013

FL Date: 11-01-2013

FL Number: FL-00001A-00

Citation: Jones, Jeffrey S. 2013. «LoneStarCon 3

Constructed Languages Presentation.»
FL-00001A-00, Fiat Lingua, . Web. 01 Nov. 2013.

Copyright: © 2013 Jeffrey S. Jones. This work is licensed

under a Creative Commons Attribution-
NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


Fiat Lingua is produced and maintained by the Language Creation Society (LCS). For more information
about the LCS, visit http://www.conlang.org/

LoneStarCon 3 Constructed Languages Presentation – Jeffrey Jones – 1

LoneStarCon 3 Constructed Languages

sponsored by the Language Creation Society

from the LCS flyer:

Created languages these days have many uses, one
being use in science fiction. After some introductory
material, such as speech sounds and other channels,
this will be a presentation on possibly alien (or at
least non-human) language components. In
particular, some different ways in which words in a
sentence might relate to each other will be discussed
along with the relevant word-modifications.

I. Introduction

A. Who I Am and Some Terminology

• My name is Jeffrey S. Jones. I’m not a professional


• «ConLang» is short for Constructed Language, named
after CONLANG mailing list, which started in Boston,

• This contrasts with «NatLang», which is short for

Natural Language.

B. Different Kinds of Conlangs

There are different purposes for conlangs; some people
use a triangular classification:

• International Auxiliary Languages (IAL or auxlang),

LoneStarCon 3 Constructed Languages Presentation – Jeffrey Jones – 2

• engineered languages (engelang), and
• languages for various artistic purposes (artlang).

However, these classes can overlap.

See the back of the LCS flyer for a list of conlang sites.

The IAL’s include Volapük, Esperanto, Glosa, Interlingua,
and many others.

An engelang has a set of requirements and should be
testable. The most famous engineered language may be
James Cooke Brown’s Loglan. Some are designed as
Machine Translation Interlinguas. Possibly, Wilkins’
philosophical language and others such fit here too.

Artistic purposes include use in fiction, games, personal
use, and use as a work of art in itself. A major subclass
of artlangs is the naturalistic school; the description of
one of these might pass for that of a natlang.

Some well-known fictional conlangs are Quenya, Klingon,
Láadan, Na’vi, and more recently Dothraki.

BTW, languages are not necessarily spoken; they can be
visual and include sign languages such as the alien
Rikchik language, which is done with tentacles. There’s at
least one conlang Dritok requiring both sound and
gesture. Both spoken and non-spoken conlangs can be
naturalistic or alien.

LoneStarCon 3 Constructed Languages Presentation – Jeffrey Jones – 3

C. Community of Language Creators

There are a number of online conlanging communities,
both general purpose and for particular languages or
groups of languages. Probably, most language
construction enthusiasts are hobbyists. See the back of
the flyer again for some links.

II. Linguistics Overview

There are lots of different ways to create a language. One
thing that’s helpful is some knowledge of linguistics and
various natural languages.

A. Phonetics and Phonology

Phonetics is the study of how speech sounds are
produced and sensed. Phonology is concerned with how
the speech sounds of a given language are perceived,
what their distribution is, how they go together, etc.
Phonology also refers to some theoretical stuff which
we’re not concerned with.

B. Morphology

Morphology deals with how words are put together
(whether using discrete morphemes or not). There are
two parts: inflectional and derivational. If I talk about
derivational morphology, it will be along with the lexicon,
if I talk about that.

LoneStarCon 3 Constructed Languages Presentation – Jeffrey Jones – 4

C. Syntax

Syntax is one of the biggest areas of research in
linguistics, but I’m only going to mention the parts most
useful to conlanging, such as argument structure and
word order typology. Morphology and syntax may be
combined as morphosyntax.

D. Lexicon and Derivation

An IAL has different requirements from an artlang for
which words are basic and which are derived.

E. Writing Systems

A language can have both a native script and a
romanization, or several. Types of writing systems
include alphabets, abugidas, abjads, syllabaries, and
logographic systems. There are also mixed systems, such
as Japanese.

III. Some Human Morphosyntax

The noun phrases or pronouns that go with a verb are its
arguments. Each argument in a particular context is
assigned a semantic role such as agent or doer and
patient or done-to. The possible roles depend on the
verb. «Give» has a donor, recipient, and what’s given as
roles. «Walk» has only a subject. This is called the
argument structure of the verb (different verbs can
have different argument structures). Often, the agent is
the subject and the patient the object, but not always.

LoneStarCon 3 Constructed Languages Presentation – Jeffrey Jones – 5

There are a number of ways the roles and arguments are
matched up:

A. Use word order, as in English.
B. Use case suffixes on the nouns (and possibly their

modifiers), as in Russian.

C. Use a hierarchy: some kinds of nouns are more likely
to be agents and others are more likely to be
patients; in sentences where this is not the case, an
indication is made by the form of the verb, such as
inverse voice or alignment. Another way is to mark
the patient as obviative.

D. Use prefixes (or suffixes) on the verb indicating the
classes of the subject and the object, like Swahili.

The languages which can be analyzed as having subjects
and objects and use scheme A are classified according to
the order of the subject S, the object O, and the verb V.
There are 6 possible combinations:

• SOV – This is the most common type. Japanese,

Creek, Farsi.

• SVO – This type is almost as common. English.
• VOS and VSO – are less common. Hawaiian, Irish.
• OSV and OVS – rare; mostly South American.

(Klingon is OVS)

Many languages are mixed: they use one type in some
cases and another in others. There are also languages
where the order is determined by pragmatic concerns
rather than syntactical ones.

LoneStarCon 3 Constructed Languages Presentation – Jeffrey Jones – 6

A couple other parameters of classification are whether
nouns go before or after the words modifying them and
whther prepositions or postpositions are used.

IV. Non-human Morphosyntax

There are some things I’ve used in my conlangs which I
haven’t yet found to occur in human languages, although
I could easily be wrong! Some of these are rather
artificial but they might be used by aliens etc.

A. K/L Pronouns

The 1st person (singular) always refers to the speaker
and the 2nd person always refers to the addressee. K/L
pronouns (a term I invented and nobody else uses) are
different. The K-person, which stands for «knower», refers
to the speaker in statements, but to the addressee in
questions of any type while the L-person, which stands
for «learner» is the opposite: it refers to the addressee in
statements and to the speaker in questions.

What I like about this is that yes/no questions are
identical to the corresponding statement except for the
word that indicates it’s a question:

K saw L’s mother. «I saw your mother.»
K saw L’s mother? «Did you see my mother.»
In natlangs, a null pronoun may act like a K-person
pronoun, but K is never expressed.

I also have an M pronoun which includes both speaker
and addressee; this is really the 1st person inclusive dual
or plural that occurs in many human languages.

LoneStarCon 3 Constructed Languages Presentation – Jeffrey Jones – 7

I’m now told that Tibetan does something like this!

B. Recursive Phrases

The phrase syntax I used in one of my conlangs is

Article – Modifiers – Noun

where a modifier, among other things, can be a
prepositional phrase or a participle with an object (in
English, such modifiers follow the noun):

{the big in [the yellow belong_to (the old man) house] dog}
«the big dog in the yellow house belonging to the old man»

Actually some natlangs use a limited amount of recursion
but not to the extent I allowed in my conlang.

C. Noun-Verb Pairing

Each noun or pronoun is paired with a following verb and
vice versa. In other words, a sentence consists of a
number of word pairs, each pair consisting of a noun part
plus a verb part. Note that the verbs in this conlang
include words that correspond to adjectives, prepositions,
and some adverbs in English, as well as more typical
verbs. In my conlang, the relationship between the noun
part and the verb part can be one where the noun part is
an argument of the verb part or one where the verb part
is a modifier of the noun part.

I’m not the first conlanger to use a scheme like this
(which in itself is not to far from what some natlangs do).
There are two or three other conlangs that I know of, one

LoneStarCon 3 Constructed Languages Presentation – Jeffrey Jones – 8

of which (iljena) interleaves the noun and verb parts!
Another noun-pairing conlang is Trukva.

Here are some simplified examples (I’ve omitted the
suffixes which specify the syntactical functions etc.):

cat-orange. «The cat is orange.»
cat-orange house-in. «The orange cat is in the house.»
horse-run man-see. «The man sees the horse run.

D. Word Indexing

This one is hard to do non-visually, but I’ll try.

Words are connected through indexes and index types
rather than word order. One version used indexes on
each word, allowing completely free word order. The
other used indexes only on nouns and verbs, allowing the
order of phrases in a clause to vary while keeping to a
strict order of words within phrases. I’ll talk about the 1st

The index type is used in the first scheme and
determines the word’s usage. There are basically two
index types. Words used as syntactical nouns and noun
modifiers are restrictive and words used as syntactical
verbs and verb modifiers are assertive. I’m using
subscripts for the former and superscripts for the latter in
my notes. In the following, the two words are connected
by the index k, not because they’re adjacent:

catk orangek «The cat is orange.»
catk orangek «the orange cat»

LoneStarCon 3 Constructed Languages Presentation – Jeffrey Jones – 9

However, a word may be transitive or otherwise bivalent
and therefore have two indexes. Such a word used as a
noun modifier has one restrictive index in order to modify
the noun and one assertive index linking to additional
information (one set of index and type infornmation is a

catk kcaughtm mousem «The cat caught a mouse.»
catk kcaughtm mousem «the cat that caught a mouse»

Remember that the word order is free; the following
could occur:

mousem orangek kcaughtm catk «The cat that caught the
mouse is orange.»

E. Marking Valence

The valence (or valency) of a verb is the number of
arguments the verb can have. In one of my conlangs, I
used a suffix on the verb when the number of arguments
actually appearing in the clause differs from the number
expected to appear; the suffix specifies the former. To
complicate things, the number of expected arguments
depends on how the word is used. If the word is
assertive, such as the main verb of a sentence, the
expected valence equals the maximum valence of that
verb. But if the word is used as a noun, the expected
value is one less than the maximum.

V. Conclusion

There may of course be other bits of non-human
grammar. It was suggested that using the number of

LoneStarCon 3 Constructed Languages Presentation – Jeffrey Jones – 10

syllables in a word or morpheme for grammatical
purposes might be used; I’ve never used this myself but
shall start thinking about it.LoneStarCon 3 Constructed Languages Presentation image

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