Can you make a conlang when you're monolingual?

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xBlackHeartx
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Can you make a conlang when you're monolingual?

Postby xBlackHeartx » 2017-06-24, 18:10

I've recently come to the conclusion that the reason I keep running into problems with my grammars is that I'm trying to make conlangs with features I'm not experienced with. I only really know English and German deeply, but since those two languages are so closely related knowing German doesn't help give me any experience with anything that would be foreign to me (besides a somewhat vestigial case system). I realized that when I tried to come up with something based purely off of German and English (the only two languages I know deeply), and the result just looks way too much like English (at least grammar-wise). Its actually surprising how similar the two are when you really think about it. Before I only ever really noticed the differences.

I'm actually finding some of the tips I've read about conlanging to be false. Grammatical features can't just be mixed and matched. A language is a complex machine and the parts all have to line and work together for the thing to be functional. Having a verb-initial order for instance has a cascading effect on the rest of the grammar. Assuming you have a VSO order, you're required to have a direct object preposition. I also had problems for years figuring out how a copular statement works (mostly because natural VSO languages are rare). The only answer I was able to find was to just move the entire predicate to the front. So instead of saying 'He is a linguist', you would say 'is linguist he'. Note that I got this from Maori, which has a nominative preposition. And then of course there's the Celtic languages which have this weird and annoying particle that serves no purpose other than to act as a boundary between the subject-verb and the other objects.

Yeah, I'm lost, and I'm questioning whether or not I can even do this. I'm thinking I simply don't have the requirements to make a conlang. Yes, I know a lot about linguistcis and various grammatical features, but I have little experience actually using these features. I mean, a while back I tried to make a language with a case system based off of Latin. I was really struggling to figure out how a lot of things would be said, when it occured to me that real languages have rely solely on noun cases (as in no prepositions) tend to have a much larger list than just 7 or 8; they typically have a dozen or two like you see in the Finno-Ugric languages. My case system was based off of Latin's, which also makes (or made?) use of prepositions.

I also was going to make a website about conlanging, but I decided that I shouldn't do that, if I don't have a conlang of my own to show off. Even if I do know a lot about linguistics (I could make a lot of additions to the LCK books, to give you an idea), I'd feel like a fat guy trying to sell a weight loss program. I mean, how can I really be sure of what I'm doing when I've never actually succeeded in doing it?

Can I actually make a conlang? I feel like I've just been fumbling in the dark all these years not knowing truly what I was doing. I'm really thinking that I'm just doomed to make conlangs based off of English my whole life, since I simply don't know anything outside the Germanic family. Yes, I've tried to study Japanese and Korean, but I never really got anywhere with those. I still can't get past the fact that there's no singular answer to how to pronounce Korean's tense consonants. Yes, I bought a living language set and haven't made it past the first chapter yet, all because I can't force myself to go further until I can pronounce things 100% right, when I have no way to gauge if I am doing so or not.

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Re: Can you make a conlang when you're monolingual?

Postby Dormouse559 » 2017-06-25, 17:39

xBlackHeartx wrote:I'm actually finding some of the tips I've read about conlanging to be false. Grammatical features can't just be mixed and matched. A language is a complex machine and the parts all have to line and work together for the thing to be functional.
True, but this feature is less deterministic than you make it sound. There are multiple ways to solve most issues in language, so I usually think of that interlocking nature as a way of focusing my creativity, not stifling it.

xBlackHeartx wrote:Having a verb-initial order for instance has a cascading effect on the rest of the grammar. Assuming you have a VSO order, you're required to have a direct object preposition.
Why?

xBlackHeartx wrote:I also had problems for years figuring out how a copular statement works (mostly because natural VSO languages are rare). The only answer I was able to find was to just move the entire predicate to the front. So instead of saying 'He is a linguist', you would say 'is linguist he'.
Well, it sounds like you found a solution. But if that one's not satisfying for you, remember that it's rare for a language to use one sentence order exclusively and that copular expressions often don't operate the same as analogous constructions (verbal in this case, but not all languages have a verbal copula).

xBlackHeartx wrote:I was really struggling to figure out how a lot of things would be said, when it occured to me that real languages have rely solely on noun cases (as in no prepositions) tend to have a much larger list than just 7 or 8; they typically have a dozen or two like you see in the Finno-Ugric languages.
These languages do use adpositions. In the case of Finnish and Hungarian, they're normally postpositions and more transparently derived from nouns in locative cases. It's equivalent to saying "at the table's lower part" for "under the table" or "in the woman's tracks" for "after the woman".

I only know two languages very well, English and French, yet I still manage to conlang. My main project, as a regularly derived French-influenced romlang, plays to my linguistic strengths. Your phrasing - "based … off of German and English" - is a bit ambiguous. Have you tried a full-on a posteriori language in the Germanic family? I've enjoyed working on my romlang because it's forced me to go beyond French and learn about a bevy of Romance languages, large and small, as well as Latin. All that in service of making a plausible new member of the family.
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Re: Can you make a conlang when you're monolingual?

Postby xBlackHeartx » 2017-06-25, 18:05

I did once think about making an obvious Germanic conlang for dwarves, but I never really got started with that. All I came up with was that 'ik be' meant 'I am', which was just a slight distortion of German 'ich bin'.

And the Germanic languages in general aren't that diverse. The Norse languages are so similar that its disputed whether or not some of them are truly different languages. And English took so much influence from the Norse languages that honestly it looks like one. I mean, Grammar-wise English and Danish look virtually identical! The only peculiarity is that definite articles in Danish are suffixes (though they do also have stand-alone forms). German is really the only truly distinctive member of the family. For one, they have that odd subject-auxiliary-object-verb order, and it still has grammatical case, though like I said its somewhat vestigial. Only articles are marked for case, unless there is no article in which case the adjective takes the endings. Also, Germans tend to use the definite article a lot more often than one would in English. It almost looks more like a particle marking a noun phrase at times. Oh, and only pronouns and masculine nouns still differentiate the nominative from the accusative. And the feminine doesn't differentiate the dative from the genitive. Well, nouns can have genitive endings, but Germans today openly prefer to avoid using that case ending. They prefer either the articles in the genitive case or the preposition 'von' for proper nouns.

Oh, and if I did make a conlang based off of the Germanic languages, honestly it would probably look a lot like English. As in it would look like I was just mangling English phrases.

And I was looking mostly to make an a priori language. I would prefer if no one could decipher it simply by looking at it. And besides, it feels kinda cheap to me because auxlangs are often a posteriori. But if I'm wanting a conlang to show off on my conlanging website, perhaps an a posteriori one would be a better idea; I could probably flesh out the vocabulary relatively quickly. Besides, if I want my language to be undecipherable (or easily decipherable at least), then obviously I don't want to be putting it up online and talking about it anyway.

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Re: Can you make a conlang when you're monolingual?

Postby Dormouse559 » 2017-06-25, 19:12

xBlackHeartx wrote:And the Germanic languages in general aren't that diverse.
Then make a particularly divergent one. If you need a justification, althistory is one of many places to look. Maybe the Germanic peoples established a lasting presence in Italy (Italo-Gothic?) or maybe the Vikings stuck around in Vinland (Inuit Norse?).

xBlackHeartx wrote:Oh, and if I did make a conlang based off of the Germanic languages, honestly it would probably look a lot like English. As in it would look like I was just mangling English phrases.
I would never expect an instant masterpiece and neither should you. Your creation won't be up to your standards at first, but the idea is to keep improving it as you learn more about languages and how to achieve your goals. That process can be one of incremental change to an underlying base, or of tearing everything down and rebuilding from the ground up, whatever suits your style.

xBlackHeartx wrote:And besides, it feels kinda cheap to me because auxlangs are often a posteriori.
Perhaps I should define my terms. I use "a posteriori" to mean "regularly derived from a natural language", not simply "influenced by or based on a natural language". By the former definition, there's never been a prominent a posteriori auxlang. An a posteriori conlang mimics natural language evolution.
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Re: Can you make a conlang when you're monolingual?

Postby xBlackHeartx » 2017-06-25, 20:42

I hardly even see a point in continuing. I've been working for 10 years to make a conlang of my own, and I still have literally nothing to show for it. Nothing at all other than dozens of word documents of conlangs that I only ever developed the phonology for.

I'm 30 now, and it'll probably take me decades more to make a conlang, assuming I ever succeed. It would've been so nice if I wasn't so wracked by indecision, I would already have a highly developed conlang now if that wasn't the case, but of course nothing can change that. Even if I cured my problem this instant, I'll probably start having memory problems by the time the project gets anywhere.

I want it but I see it as futile. I don't even know why I keep trying. Of course, I've also been wanting to write a novel for 20 years, but that has never materialized. But at least I've finally accepted that it never will. Too bad I can't just accept that I'm unable to make a conlang and just give up. Yeah, I know full well it'll never happen but I keep mindlessly trying anyway. I can't even remember a day I didn't think about linguistics, or the a time when I didn't analyze the speech of people talking to me to see if I can tell when they pronounced an aspirated consonant or not.

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Re: Can you make a conlang when you're monolingual?

Postby Dormouse559 » 2017-06-25, 20:57

For what it's worth, Tolkien worked on his languages for decades and yet they were unfinished when he died. I'm afraid there's nothing I can say to stop you from seeing conlanging as futile. First of all, most conlanging is futile on some level. Second of all, I can't change how you view your own work. I can praise it all I want, but if you don't think the rate of progress makes it worthwhile, nothing I say will alter that.

Personally, I think of conlanging as a hobby, i.e. something I do for fun. If it stopped being fun one day, I'd stop doing it. Maybe I'd give it a try again once in while, but I wouldn't pick it back up in earnest unless I found joy in it again.
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Re: Can you make a conlang when you're monolingual?

Postby Serafín » 2017-06-26, 1:33

By the way it's not true at all that a VSO language has to have a "direct object preposition". Classical Arabic has simple direct objects marked with the accusative case. "I ate the meat" would be 2akaltu l-laHma ("I.ate the-meat"), with no preposition to be found.

Also, in Classical Arabic there's no copula for positive statements in the present tense. So "my language is new" is literally lughat-ii jadiidatun ("language-my new"). In other tenses, as well as for negative statements, you just put the copula at the beginning, yeah.

I've been conlanging for 10 years and have little to show for it too. So what. It just happens that I quickly get bored of a language I'm working on, so I start again from scratch. It doesn't bother me in the least; I just like to have fun.

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Re: Can you make a conlang when you're monolingual?

Postby Mentilliath » 2017-07-02, 4:13

I should think so, otherwise I am nothing but a charlatan.
Primary Conlang: Halvian
Additional conlangs: Hesternese (Aikedenejo), Galsaic (sister language of Halvian), and Ogygian (unrelated to the others.


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