The art of constructing languages. And it sure is an art – in patience, determination, and … overcoming the fear of math, apparently. I recently decided I didn’t like where my vocabulary was going, or the look of my writing systems. Well, the writing systems I still like, but they need work. What I was really bothered by was the sounds of my constructed (fictional) language. The Phonology, to be linguistic about it. So I sort of “shopped around” for ideas, keeping in mind that I like the sounds of Japanese, French, and Italian. I also like the sounds of Russian, Arabic, Irish, and Greek, but I want to keep things pretty simple. So I looked into French vowels and … all the possible syllables in Chinese (since there’s more variety/possibilities in Chinese than in Japanese, and I wanted a broader range of sounds to work with). I came up with a list of 11 vowels, 23 initial/medial consonants, and 3 medial only consonants. For clarification, a few of those consonants (all of the medial only consonants, and 6 initial/medial consonants) are actually what we call “clusters” in English – two (or more) consonants next to each other with no vowel separation. In addition, I included what’s called a “terminal” /n/, a consonant (in this case /n/) that can come at the end of any syllable. Otherwise, consonants must be followed by a vowel. Vowels, however, can act as single syllables. So I set up a chart listing all the possible syllables available, and came up with 304 possible single syllable words, not including the medial only syllables (since they can’t act as single syllable words).
After doing a lot of math, here are the possibilities:
- 304 single syllable words (including syllables that end with a terminal /n/)
- 92,979 two syllable words (including the use of medial only syllables)
- ~ 305,424 three syllable words
- ~ 8,540,721,616 four syllable words
- ~8,541,124,323 total words (1-4 syllables in length)
Obviously, not all of the ‘generated’/possible words will “work” – based on sound aesthetics and sound/concept associations – but that is a lot of possibilities! Plenty to work with to create an extensive lexicon.
All of this work was inspired by the excellent author (Gary Shannon) of the article Auto Lex Word Generator, who also runs a really interesting website called Fiziwig. His articles on conlanging (constructing languages) are particularly interesting, and easy to read.
Based on his Auto Lex Word Generator article, I determined that for my current phonology I can assign approximately 92 two syllable words – to use as “roots” – to each of the 1000 categories in Roget’s Thesaurus. I got a list of all the categories from Wikipedia, which provides a nice outline of the Thesaurus, which I’ve printed and will begin assigned roots to over the weekend. As I translate texts (starting with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, then working through the Lord’s Prayer and the Babel Text), I’ll be able to just look up a word in the thesaurus, determine which of the 92 possible roots I’d like to use, and create the words I need based on those roots. Of course, first I have to create a table of all possible two syllable words … Which could take the rest of the weekend!
On a final note, Gary Shannon also provides on his Conlang Page a series of “graded sentences” which, according to his description,”A translation of all 1200 of these sentences would constitute a fairly complete documentation of the grammar of any language, constructed or natural.”
At some point, I’ll work through those sentences; first, I’ll be translating those 3 texts I mentioned above so I can get a feel for the phonology and the grammar. Once I’ve translated those 3 texts, I’ll be revising/recreating the writing systems as well, starting with a character system (like Chinese Hanzi/Japanese Kanji, but looking more the Seal or Grass/Running scripts of Chinese). Then from some initial characters (probably 1 character for each primary root of each of the 1000 categories, so about 1000 initial characters) I’ll develop a sort of “block” alphabet similar to Korean Hangul. Finally, from that script I’ll be developing a cursive style alphabet, which I’d like to set up 2 “forms” for – one for writing vertically (based on Mongolian or Manchu), and one for writing horizontally (based on Arabic, Avestan, and handwritten Tibetan).
I know that sounds like a lot, but the idea is that the original writing system was just the character system. The block alphabet was then later developed to help teach pronunciation and to write loan/foreign words. The cursive script(s) were then developed even later simply for aesthetic purposes (because so many people wanted a more “organic”, curving alphabet to use for shop signs, in advertising, or simply to make writing by hand a little easier). The vertical version of the cursive alphabet will be developed first, since vertical writing is most common. The horizontal script will be adapted from the vertical script just so I have that option.