Friday 30 June 2017

Pitch and Tone for Conlangs

Some time ago I was in the company of my girlfriend’s teenage son. At one point he responded to a question with a non-committal grunt. Not to be outdone I grunted back. There then followed about five minutes of “conversation” using only grunts, shrugs and other occasional gestures. It was quite surprising what nuances of emotion and information that could be communicated by such means.
There is a hypothesis that before true language existed early homids communicated with body language, gestures and vocalizations. Possibly one of the earliest “sentences” was something that meant “look at me, pay attention to what I am showing”. Modern greetings effectively do the same. “Give me your attention/ Acknowledge me”.
Below is an interesting experiment that had subjects trying to communicate a variety of concepts with grunts. What is interesting is that subjects choose rising noises for concepts like “big” or “high” and lowering ones for “small” or “low”. If one concept used a rising tone the paired opposite would get a lowered one. Would we see the same results with non-English speakers? What if the experiment was made with speakers of tonal languages such as Mandarin? Is there a correlation between concepts and the tones used for them in languages such as Cantonese and Mandarin?
Interesting stuff, and of relevance to Conlang creators too. Hence Diinlang uses “ta” and “up” and pairs them with tonal opposites “ko” and “loh”.

Human language may have started differently than thought
Caption: The plots show the acoustic characteristics of each of the 18 meanings. The five variables are represented on the x-axis: D, duration; H, harmonics to noise ratio; I, intensity; P, pitch; C, pitch change. All values are normalized (z-scored) for each of the five measures. The red line shows the median and the blue box spans the first and third quartiles. The up and down arrows indicate variables that differed reliably between antonymic meanings. For example, vocalizations for bad differed from those for good by having a lower harmonics to noise ratio and pitch. The variables marked with arrows were the basis for the iconic template of each meaning. Credit: Royal Society Open Science, DOI: 10.1098/rsos.150152
(—A trio of researchers, two with the University of Wisconsin, the other with the University of California, has conducted a study, the results of which suggest that maybe humans did not get a start on language using only hand gestures as many scientists have theorized. Instead, as Marcus Perlman, Rick Dale and Gary Lupyan note in their paper published in Royal Society Open Science, it may have been a result of both noise-making and gesturing.
Nobody can say for sure how it was that we humans first began speaking to one another—surely it was a gradual process with different groups and individuals using various signals such as eye contact, body language, gesturing with arms, hands and fingers, or as the researchers with this new effort suggest, noises that were meant to convey some degree of meaning.
To come to this conclusion, the research trio conducted a study whereby volunteers were asked to make noises to convey the meaning of different words, without using body language or even facial expressions. Nine pairs of volunteers were asked to play what amounted to vocal charades, taking turns trying to get their partner to understand which of 18 contrasting word ideas (up, down, big, small, etc.) were being expressed. The researchers recorded their efforts and then compared the results among the different pairs. In so doing, they found that there was a discernible pattern—people attempting to convey the idea of "up" for example tended to use a rising pitch, whereas they did the opposite for "down." The researchers discovered that the pairs tended to improve when going multiple rounds, eventually getting to a point where the partners could figure out which word idea was being expressed on average 82.2 percent of the time. It also carried over to a non-lab environment. When the voice sounds were played for anonymous people over a crowd-sourced site, listeners were able to guess correctly on average 35.6 percent of the time, far better than chance would suggest.
These findings, the researchers claim, suggest that it appears more likely that our ancestors used both hand-signals and noises to convey meaning, which over a long period of time, evolved into more complex sounds that came to be associated with common ideas among multiple people.
Studies of gestural communication systems find that they originate from spontaneously created iconic gestures. Yet, we know little about how people create vocal communication systems, and many have suggested that vocalizations do not afford iconicity beyond trivial instances of onomatopoeia. It is unknown whether people can generate vocal communication systems through a process of iconic creation similar to gestural systems. Here, we examine the creation and development of a rudimentary vocal symbol system in a laboratory setting. Pairs of participants generated novel vocalizations for 18 different meanings in an iterative 'vocal' charades communication game. The communicators quickly converged on stable vocalizations, and naive listeners could correctly infer their meanings in subsequent playback experiments. People's ability to guess the meanings of these novel vocalizations was predicted by how close the vocalization was to an iconic 'meaning template' we derived from the production data. These results strongly suggest that the meaningfulness of these vocalizations derived from iconicity. Our findings illuminate a mechanism by which iconicity can ground the creation of vocal symbols, analogous to the function of iconicity in gestural communication systems.


Thursday 29 June 2017

Adjectives from Novial.

Rereading texts about Novial causes me to again return to the subject of adjectives for Diinlang. Diinlang is going to need to use suffixes and compounding of words to create a versatile and flexible system. Ideally the number of these should be kept small to make them easy to learn.

Many adjectives can be created from the active or passive versions of the Diinlang verb. In Diinlang these have the prefix “is-” or “ge-”.

This Novial source lists ten adjective suffixes, although arguably some of the other general and substantive suffixes may also form adjectives. Adjectives in Novial tend to have an “-i” on the end, although this may be dropped, particularly for words ending in “-n”. There are some non-adjective words that end in “-i” too.

The first Novial adjective suffixes to consider are “-al”, “-iv”, “-asi”, “-osi” and “-ari”. “-al” and “-iv” can be written with an “–i” on the end and this may be pronounced if the speaker prefers. Dropping the “–i” gives the words a more English sound.

“-al” conveys the meaning “pertaining to, to do with, relating to, concerning” and is the general purpose adjectival suffix, as it is in English. Most English adjectives that end in “-al” are “-al(i)” adjectives in Novial, as are also most that end in “-ic”. Lingua Franca Nova and several other IALs also use this ending and its use is proposed for Diinlang.

“-iv(i)” means “doing naturally or capable of doing”. Novial words using this include “instruktiv”, “sugestiv” and “atraktiv” which are “instructive”, “suggestive” and “attractive” in English. “Positive” is another word of this class.

“-asi” means “has a tendency or inclination to” while “-osi” means “having, especially in a great quantity of”. “-asi” is used in “disputasi” (quarrelsome), “laborasi” (hardworking) and “atakasi” (combative). “-osi” is used for “porosi” (porous), “kurajosi” (courageous) anf “danjerosi” (dangerous).

“-ari” means “agreeing with or fit for”. This meaning becomes clear when we consider the words “regulari” (regular), “populari” (popular) and “ordinary” (ordinary).

These are the Novial adjective suffixes that seem most likely to be useful for Diinlang. Jespersen offers the suffix “-isi” but cautions against overuse. It appears to be an augmentative derived from “-issimo” so in Diinlang its use would conflict with “ta”. “-osi” would probably meet most situations where Novial might use “-isi”.

“-indi” and “-endi” I don’t see much immediate use for. The suffix “-an” I will deal with elsewhere.

The final adjective suffix is “-bli”. “Bli” is also a standalone word in Novial used to make passive voice constructions and Jespersen does describe adjectives made with “-bli” as passive. “-bli” appears to be the Novial equivalent of the English suffix “-able” and its variants. Unfortunately “-able” in English is a suffix with a broad range of uses. According to wikitionary it forms adjectives meaning:
1.Able to be done; fit to be done.
movable: able to be moved
amendable: able to be amended
breakable: liable to broken
blamable: fit to be blamed
salable: fit to be sold
2.Relevant to or suitable to, in accordance with.
fashionable: relevant to fashion
seasonable: suitable to season
3.Giving, or inclined to.
pleasurable: giving pleasure
peaceable: inclined to peace
4.Subject to.
reportable: subject to be reported
taxable: subject to be taxed
5.Due to be.
payable: due to pay

 Consider “laughable”, fit to be laughed at and “honourable”, which means having honour. For this reason I think it is best to avoid using a suffix too close to English. In previous drafts I suggested compounding with the word “zhan”, which is the Diinlang verb “to be able”. This does not end in “-i”, although in Diinlang this is not compulsory for adjectives and many are likely to in fact end in “-n” or “-al”. “-avel” or “-ivel” derived from Portuguese may be alternatives.

The Novial suffixes are a good starting point but I think a few more may be useful.

“-yi” exploits the English mechanism of creating adjectives or adjective-like words by adding a “-y”. It forms adjectives that mean “having the quality of” or (with verbs) “inclined to”. It has a lesser magnitude than “-osi”. For example “hairy” means something has hair, but not necessarily in abundance. Combination with the word “kom” (with) is an alternate construction. We can say something is “sugary” or “with sugar”.

A suffix or compound word element that means “-like” will also be needed. This will most likely be whatever word is chosen for “like” in Diinlang.  Lingua Franca Nova suggests “-in” for this application, which may be too simple and generic! The suffix “-oid” used in words such as humanoid and rhomboid is widely understood. This would be spelt “-oyd” in Diinlang and does break the pattern of “-i” endings. “-ish” can have a similar meaning to “-oid” or “like” but with the implication of a lesser degree. While I like the idea of “ish” as a standalone word meaning “approximate” in Diinlang in English it is a word that has several different meanings.

The adjective uses of the English suffix “-ful” can probably be covered by “-osi”, possibly using an augmentative if necessary. To create a noun such as “handful” Novial offers us “-ede”.

Suffixes that create Verbs.

Many words in Diinlang will serve as verbs or nouns without modification or inflection. This is a feature that Diinlang shares with English. For example the word “hunt” can be used as “a hunt, the hunt” or “to hunt”. Many English verbs are created from the name of a tool or instrument. “Brush” gives “to brush” and spawns the noun “brushing” for the act of the noun. This is not always the case in English. “Stone” has a very different meaning to “to stone”. This verb has two different meanings, one being to throw stones at something, the other to remove a certain form of fruit seed. Adjectives may also be used as verbs.

New verbs, or clearly related groups of verbs may be constructed in Diinlang by use of a small number of suffixes. These suffixes have been adapted from Otto Jespersen’s IAL “Novial”.

Some nouns are not suited for unmodified use as verbs. Jespersen uses nouns denoted from living beings as an example of these. For such words the suffix “-ira” is added. In Novial “king” is “rego”. “to reign” is “regira” and the derived noun “reign” is “regiro”. “-ira” or a similar mechanism may be used in Diinlang for the same purposes.

To create verbs that have the meaning of “transforming into, render” Jespersen offers two suffixes, “-isa” and “-ifika”. Lesson 3 tells us:

“The suffixes –isa and –ifika are used to make verbs meaning to make, make into or render. For example:

  • liberi – liberisa (free – liberate, make free, free)
  • real – realisa (real – make real, realize)

  • kurti – kurtifika (short – shorten, make short)
  • veri – verifika (true – verify)
    Verbs meaning to provide with , cover with are made with –isa (but not with –ifika):

  • alkohole – alkoholisa (alcohol – alcoholize)
  • lume – lumisa (light – light (up))

What is made clearer elsewhere is that while the two suffixes have overlapping roles “-isa” is used for “provide, supply with or cover with” and “-ifika” is used for “make into or cause”. Thus “carbonize” is “karbonisa” and “dormifika” from “dormi” is “lull asleep”.

Interestingly “fika” can be used in Novial as a standalone verb. This echoes my own ideas that suffixed words in Diinlang should be considered to be compound words.

In Diinlang we may use “-isa” and “-ifa”.

Novial has the suffix “-ada” to create a verb for a repetitive (or continuous) action. “frapada” = “to go on beating”, “kantada” = “to keep on singing”, “parlada” = “to keep on speaking”. This resembles many English words adopted from French such as “cannonade”, “fusillade” and “promenade”. Since “to” is “ad” in Diinlang “-ada” seems a suitable word, having within itself a suggestion of repetition.

The final Novial verbal suffix of interest is “-eska”. This is used to create inchoative verbs. Added to a verb it denotes the beginning an action or state. Added to an adjective it means begin to be (become). Therefore “dormieska” = “fall asleep”.

In Diinlang “-eska” is likely to prove very useful. It may possibly be used as a standalone verb with the meaning “begin”.

Tuesday 20 June 2017

Verb System Quick Update.

This is a new page describing the updated verb system for Diinlang. See here for changes to pronouns and definite article.

The most recent change is that I have changed the past tense marker to “wen”, taken from Hawaiian Creole. This frees up the word “pre” for other uses, such as meaning “before”. The future marker, “gon” was also from Hawaiian Creole. The progressive affix has recently been changed to “is-” and the perfect marker to “dun-”. “ge-” makes a clause passive.

These markers are used in a set order:

Wen/ gon ; (zou) ; dun ; is- ; ge-

If you know a statement will be past continuous you will know to place “wen” before “is”. If a statement is future passive progressive “gon”, “is”, “ge” is the correct order. A past perfect statement uses “wen dun”. A conditional perfect statement uses “zou dun”.

is-” and “ge-” are used as prefixes when creating active and passive adjectives. It needs to be decided if this is also done with verbal usage. For passive progressive marking they may be combined into one word “isge”.

I have made a little progress towards modal verbs/ markers. In addition to the conditional “zou” we possibly have:

Fi –indicating obligation, ie “should”, “ought to”.

Afi -indicating necessity.

Gofi -indicating inceptive, intent, planned actions etc.

(Adapted from Jamaican Patois)

Simple Present, Past and Future.
        These are formed with the bare infinitive and a tense marker if necessary. When a verb in future or past tense is being used as a copula the infinitive may be dropped if the meaning remains clear.

Mi du

I do

Zo du

He does

Zo wen du

He did

Zo gon du

He will do/ He is going to do.

Za zou du

She would do

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs
        Transitivity is flexible. If an object is added after an intransitive verb, the verb becomes transitive. This may alter the meaning of the verb so that it has a meaning similar to “causes (the object) to …”
        Compare the English “I burn”. with “I burn it.”

Progressive/ Continuous Aspect.
        The progressive/continuous aspect is formed using the “
is-” prefix. In English this verb aspect is accompanied by some form of the auxiliary/copular verb “to be”. In Diinlang the addition of the auxiliary is not necessary.

Mi isdu

I am doing

Zo isdu

He is doing

Zo wen isdu

He was doing

Zo gon isdu

He will be doing/ He is going to be doing.

Za zou isdu

She would be doing

Perfect Aspect.
        The perfect aspect is formed using “
dun”. In English this verb aspect is accompanied by some form of the auxiliary verb “to have”. In Diinlang the addition of the auxiliary is not necessary. Perfect aspect in regular English verbs takes an –ed ending. Many irregular verbs take –en as an ending (eaten, riden, beaten etc).

Mi dun du

I have done

Zo dun du

He has done

Zo wen dun du

He had done

Zo gon dun du 

He will have done/ He going to have done.

Za zou dun du

She would have done

Perfect Progressive.
        The perfect and progressive (continuous) aspects can be combined, usually in referring to the completed portion of a continuing action or temporary state: “I have been doing…” In Diinlang this is formed by combination of “
dun before a continuous form of the main verb.

Mi dun isdu

I have been doing

Zo dun isdu

He has been doing

Zo wen dun isdu

He had been doing

Zo gon dun isdu

He will have been doing/ He going to have been doing

Za zou dun isdu

She would have been doing.

Passive Voice.
        To form the passive voice (where the subject denotes the undergoer, or patient, of the action) the prefix “
ge-” is used. In English passive voice is formed either with the verb “to be” or “to get” and a past-participle verb form. “get” is used in the meaning of “becoming” or “becomes”. (Remember perfect tense uses “have” with the past participle form in English) If “to be” can be replaced with “to get” or “to become” without a loss of meaning the sentence is passive voice and requires the “ge-” prefix in Diinlang. Some perfect construction clauses are inherently passive. “It ge du” and “It dun du” have the same meaning.
        In many languages the passive voice is formed by a combination of the perfect form of the verb used with the verb for “to be”. This construction may also be used in Diinlang. Often in Diinlang there will be more than one correct way to do something!



Tense and Aspect.

Past-Participle/ Infinitive.

Present passive


is/ gets/ becomes


Past passive


were/ got/ became
wen ge-


Future passive


will be/ get/ become
gon ge-


Present perfect passive


has been/ has got/ has become
dun ge-


Past perfect passive


had been/ had got/ had became
wen dun ge-


Future perfect passive


will have been/ will have got/ will have became
gon dun ge-


Present progressive passive


is being/ is getting/ is becoming


Past progressive passive


was being/ was getting/ was becoming
wen isge-