Monday 23 September 2019


Elias Molee is an interesting but somewhat neglected figure in the field of Conlangs. This is a shame since his work and insights have much to offer a language creator.
Molee was born to Norwegian parents and raised near Milwaukee. His neighbourhood containted many children that only spoke their own, non-English languages. He recalls that the children managed to fuse this mix into a workable means of inter-communication. This suggest some interesting potential experiments, but probably not any that you could get past the ethics committee! There was a relatively recent experiment on similar lines, allowing a community of robots to develop a language.
One of Molee’s early projects was to create a unique language for America to adopt. One wonders if this might have eventually incorporated the spelling reforms of Webster and the alphabet of Franklin. How different our history might have been if American spoke a language different to the rest of the world. In this book Molee seems to be reaching a little too far in places, but one can see him discovering some of the solid foundations upon which he built his later works. Like all his works, this is worth a read if you are interested in constructed languages.
The project with which he persisted with for several decades changed name several times, but is now commonly known as Tutonish.
The late nineteenth century saw the creation of a number of constructed languages. Most were intended to be universal, international languages, often heavily bases on romance and classical roots. Instead, Molee intended to create a zonal language based on a single linguistic group of languages. This group happened to be one that was more widely dispersed than other language groups, so he expected it to be globally useful as a trade language. Tutonish, as the name may suggest, was based on the Germanic grounp of languages and therefore drew from English, German, Dutch, Yiddish and the Scandinavian languages.
This may be the reason why Molee is so neglected these days, phrases such as “German unity” and “bringing German races together” having received something of a taint since Molee’s day. Molee’s work has nothing to do with Nazism nor racism. If you read Molee your will see his reasons for concentrating on the Germanic group of languages were logical and practical. Any evil intent assumed is just from our own flawed and biased modern hindsight.
Many of Molee’s principles and ideas are worth noting by any would-be language creator. One is that grammar should be as simple as possible. Of his possible choices Molee opted for English grammar as the simplest. As we know, English grammar is not perfect, so he suggests a number of means to simplify and regularize it. These form a good basis for any conlang.
Since English had provided the word order Molee felt the other languages should supply the vocabulary. Many of the words are Low German or Dutch, with some Scandinavian derivations apparent. My personal opinion is that he veered a little too far in this direction. Many words he selected have simpler and more widely recognizable English alternatives. Some of the Latin and Greek-derived words he avoids are nowadays widely used, particularly in the fields of science and technology. Molee’s spelling system is intended to be phonetic but he admits it could have been more so, the choice instead being made for keeping words more recognizable to native speakers of Germanic languages.
Molee advocates that a student or speaker should not be unnecessarily taxed by a language. He suggests that traditional English spelling and grammar puts pupils several years behind their equivalent leaning German. Tutonish is designed to create new words from compounds. This gives the student that encounters a new word a reasonable chance to deduce its meaning, and a better chance of remembering the word once it is learnt. Many of the problems with English come from the long established practice of importing foreign words rather than compounding existing words for new names. Hence we have a multiplicity of different terms for similar things, a redundancy of affixes and inconsistent phonology.
Molee’s books include a number of his other ideas. One is the idea of abolishing capital letters for general text, which he applies to his books. Another is using a single letter as shorthand for frequently learned words. He uses this system in both English and Tutonish passages, although the meaning of some letters changes with language.
One of the ironies of writing about conlangs is you often need a good command and understanding of English to explain what is intended or how something is working. Molee tend to take a different approach, although his technical command of English is high. His books start in English but he gradually increases the use and frequency of Tutonish as you progress. The similar word order of both languages facilitates this. The intention seems to be that by the time you reach the end of the book you will be reasonably fluent in Tutonish. Unfortunately this makes it very difficult to dip into the later stages of the book and read a passage about how a particular word is used. There are a number of simple terms in Tutonish that I do not yet know since I have not had time to translate the passages. Tutonish is too scarcely known for there to be an internet auto-translate!
Tutonish has been unfairly criticized for not being intended to be a universal language like many of its contemporaries. Reading Molee’s actual words his approach and justification seems logical and reasonable. In one of the Tutonish sections of a book he notes that the design principles of Tutonish could also be applied to create a language from Latin and romance languages. Possibly he imagined that one-day these two languages might merge once they had spent a few generations as the mother tongue of the two linguistic groups. Similarly eurasia and the orient might have developed their own zonal languages, and eventually the handful of zonal languages would become a whole.
Molee’s books are available on-line and worth reading, even if your conlang is not Germanic.

Friday 13 September 2019

Battle Language.

When I started this blog I meant to write down some ideas on battle-language. I never got around to it. A friend just rattled my cage about this, so some initial thoughts:
Vocabulary. Vocabulary will be specialized and rather small, which will make the language easier to learn. Battle-language will be used in noisy and chaotic conditions so clarity is a priority. Each word will be distinct and there will be no homophones or other sources of confusion.
To facilitate learning, many words will have common roots. For example, the word for “mortar”, “mortar-operator” and “using a mortar” will have a common root. There will be specific words for different types of threat. An airborne threat will have a different noun to that from a ground vehicle or dismounted individual.
Subject. Subject, object and verb will be distinctive so there is no confusion what function a word is performing. This allows considerable flexibility in the order of words in a sentence.
Object. A noun used as an object will used the same word as used for the subject, but will have some form of marker or affix to indicate its status. In many sentences the object will be a target, so there may be a marker specifically for targets, and another for more general objects.
Verbs. Verbs will have a distinct form. There are likely to be many verbs meaning “to-shoot”, one for each class of weapon. Thus selecting the correct verb informs the listener what weapon the speaker wishes to be used. Many verbs will have a dative and ablative form. For example, one form will be an order to shoot at something, the other a warning about being shot at from something. There is also likely to be a wide choice of verbs for movement. A third group of verbs will describe more general actions such as “rest a short while”, “search”, “track”.
Modifiers. A number of adjectives and adverbs will be needed for descriptive clarity. The speaker may want to specify that the target is the red-house, tall-house, large-house and so forth.
Many of the words in battle-language will have hand-sign equivalents, allowing users to communicate information silently when needed.

Friday 17 May 2019

Diinlang 2.0 Phrasal Verbs

The other day I had a reason to reread a section of my novel. In it was the sentence:

“She brushed her hands together to clear some of the dirt from the rock off, and then began to walk towards Ianas.”

Nothing technically wrong with this, but it would read better as “... to clear off some of the dirt from the rock, and ...”

In English it is acceptable to split phrasal verbs. Phrasal verbs are formed from a verb combined with a preposition/directive/adverb/particle or combination of these.

In Diinlang the preposition/directive/adverb/particle(s) should be joined together, for example, by a hyphen. Thus “She handed it in” would have the order: “She handed-in it” and “They brought that up twice” becomes “They brought-up that twice”. Note that the verb comes first and the preposition last. This will be easier to learn and clearer. 
The interpretation rules of Attempto Controlled English require that the phrasal particle of a phrasal verb (e.g. look up, drop out, shut down) and the direct preposition of a prepositional verb (e.g. look at, apply for) are hyphenated to the verb. This will become a standard practice for Diinlang.

Diinlang 2.0 Possessives

There are several ways to form a possessive statement in Diinlang.

The simplest is to place the noun or pronoun for the owner before the possession, using it rather like an adjective.

Jon kanis = Jon’s dog.

Jon vz kanis = Jon’s dogs.

The second way is to use the above construction but place the word “vo” before the possession. This emphasises that the statement is possessive. The plural “voz” is used when needs to be made clear there is more than one of the possessions. Note that “vz” in the example above stands for “vez” (plural definite article) not “voz”.

Jon vo kanis = Jon’s dog.

Jon voz kanis = Jon’s dogs.

The third method of construction places the possession(s) before the owner and links them with “di”. This can be shortened to “d”.

Kanis d Jon = Dog of/belong Jon

Vz kanis d Jon = Dogs of/belong Jon.

When the phrase (clause) has a verb things get a little more involved:

Jon VERB vo kanis = Jon VERB his dog.

In such a clause the object(s) denoted by vo(z) are specifically those of the subject. Compare to:

Jon VERB zo kanis = Jon VERB his dog.

Jon VERB zo vo kanis = Jon VERB his dog.

Here the Diinlang version tells us the owner of the dog is male, but not necessarily that of the direct subject of the verb. This should be clearer if we change the pronoun:

Jon VERB zo kanis = Jon VERB his dog.

Jon VERB zo vo kanis = Jon VERB his dog.

Jon VERB ze kanis = Jon VERBs their(singular person's) dog.

Jon VERB zez kanis = Jon VERBs their(other people's) dogs.

Jon VERB zez vo kanis = Jon VERBs their(other people's) dog.

Jon VERB zez voz kanis = Jon VERBs their(other people's) dogs.

Jon VERB zo kanis” has some ambiguity, but not as much as English. “Jon VERB vo kanis” has a specific meaning. A careful writer may reserve the other constructions for when the possession is not that of the clause subject. The object is assumed to be singular unless it has voz, vez/vz, jez/jz, before it. This may become a general rule for Diinlang. Only place a pronoun before the object when it represents someone other than the subject. To understand this better re-read the above sentences replacing zez, ze, zo or za with a name  such as “Mary” or “Peter”.

Indefinite Plural(s)

A useful shorthand in English is placing the “s” in parentheses, such as in phrases like “the girl(s) may come”. This indicates that the phrase may relate to one or multiple individuals or objects.

I have chosen to call this a shorthand since there is no verbal form. If reading the above statement out loud one would have to say “girl or girls” or edit the statement to the correct context.

In Diinlang plurality is indicated by the form of the determiner. A singular object has the articles “ve” or “je” and plural has “vez” or “jez”. The plural forms of the pronouns follow the same convention: “em, yu, ze” become “emz, yuz, zez”.

Clearly “optional plurality” could be indicated by “(z)” but it would be nice to have a form that could be distinguished in spoken conversation. I am not sure of the best way to do this. It may be to add an ending to the plural form that makes it less definite. Or it may be better to create a new determiner, effectively a quantifier that will mean plural or singluar.