Journey to the past: my journey into conlanging, part 2

A few months ago, I started regaling you all with the story of my journey into Conlanging. I’m by no means an expert in this field, as I’m sure you’re aware – but I’ve been reading a little more and watching YouTube videos about the subject and that gave me the kick I need to write part two of this series. If you haven’t read part one of this series, please do so – you can find it here. But to briefly sum up, I had just decided to create a constructed language as part of my undergraduate dissertation, inspired by Tolkein without ever really having read any of his work.

The problem was, I didn’t really know where to start. By this point, my love of languages was really starting to take hold, but I didn’t really have much experience learning them. I had done a GCSE in Latin at school, and had attended some Swedish as a Foreign Language classes during my time in Stockholm, but other than that I’d pretty much just been dabbling on my own as a way of procrastinating from my actual coursework. I didn’t know enough about how languages fit together to actually construct one. I had gotten an E on my English Language exam at AS Level (which is basically only just scraping a pass for those of you unfamiliar with the English school system), which is where I would have at least gotten some insight into the actual nuts and bolts of a language. So I did what anyone would do in that situation – I decided to wing it and see what happened.

What happened was something that looked like a child had opened the Windows Character Map and gone on a clicking spree. Too many diacritics, too many letters that would be downright annoying to find… it was just a lot. And it didn’t really have a specific sound. It was a mish-mash of everything I’d learned. It was a Swedish-Russian-Latvian-Norwegian-Lithuanian hybrid monster. And I hated it. It was simplistic, it had no real structure… going free-form wasn’t for me. So I decided to go back to school, and I ordered a copy of the textbook I had used in my GCSE Latin classes.

Skärmavbild 2018-11-01 kl. 18.47.51My Latin teacher at school was a terrifying man with a wicked sense of humour and a temper to match, and to make matters worse there were only six of us in the GCSE class. He did make one promise to us at the beginning of the course, which was that we would always remember the word clāmat (which I happen to know means ‘shout’) because every time it came up, he would shout it at the top of his lungs. I can still hear it in my head as if it were yesterday. I know I’m not painting the best picture of studying Latin at a secondary school level, but honestly, I’m so glad I did and I would recommend it to anyone who is even remotely interested in linguistics. I don’t know if it’s something to do with my being a native speaker, but I find it so much easier to grasp grammatical concepts related to other languages, and then I can sort of work backwards and see how it applies to English. This might be a strange method, but it’s worked for me so far – and it became invaluable when starting my own language. It was in these classes that I got a real understanding of tense, of grammatical case… and so my attempts to create a language became more sophisticated.

I had two tenses – a nominative and an accusative, with suffixes to show definiteness and number, which was a concept I’d nicked in its entirety from the Scandinavian languages. I started getting cocky and implementing features from the Finno-Ugric languages, but these were short-lived as I realised these were far beyond my level, and with the time constraints I had to admit defeat. I also didn’t want to mess around too much with word order; I liked the idea of having a freer sentence structure, as in Russian, but having such an extensive case structure wasn’t a compromise I was willing to make. What I ended up with was something like this:

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I basically outright stole a load of Slavic vocabulary and replaced the diacritics with ones I found more aesthetically pleasing – ending up with something vaguely Romanian. It would do for now. I should probably take this opportunity to fess up, this whole thing is a reconstruction – this all happened before the days of the cloud and sadly, I lost this entire project when I made the switch from Windows to macOS (due to a virus that rendered my old PC completely unusable). However, I’ve moved on a lot since then, and the project is once again starting to take real shape. Admittedly, it’s a very different shape from the one I submitted with my dissertation, but that’s a story for next time.

Next time, hopefully, I can show you what my language looks like today, but it still needs a lot of work and today is the first day of Polyglot NaNoWriMo, so we might be looking at next year. But as always, I’d like to thank you for reading and I’ll see you next month!

– J.

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