Thursday, June 24, 2010

Language & Culture

I had a thought recently. I love language and I don't understand people. I like the idea of using language to understand people.

I've been arguing with my Mother, whom is thankfully willing to talk about conlanging, that my language, although constructed by me, is a real language. She's been saying that because it's been created it hasn't evolved. I don't agree. My language, like any conlang, evolves daily. Every day a new word is added. Every day I think of something else I wish I could say that English doesn't have the words for and every day I think about how a sentence in Selmari might be said.

I think that the way we speak reflects the internal moods of a society. I've often wondered why an area of the world which so much apparent unrest (I say apparent because I don't pretend to know everything about a country or a culture) has such a lovely, flowing script. And to that I am referring to Arabic. Japan's history on the other hand, particularly it's polite nature, seems vastly different and it also has a very unlikely script.

Now as I said I don't pretend to know everything, or indeed very much, about Japan's history or the history of the world Arabic speaking countries. I only observe. However I do know English as a language and I see English changing as is our culture and values. Swearing for example has become much more prolific in recent years. I can't imagine what my Grandfather (who was born in 1892!) would think of the world's language if he were alive today. He was born in the time of Gas street lamps and horse and carriage and I suspect would be shocked about the world in general however I am thinking solely of the language being used today.

When I was in school I wasn't taught any grammar. I remember spelling tests and vague information about similes and metaphors and personification but that's about it. When my mother was in school she was taught grammar. In fact the "Grammar" Schools around, such as Sydney Grammar School, were named as such because they taught grammar.

I'm not sure where all of this is leading but to be honest I find it fascinating. I see the world changing in a way which makes me feel quite sad. We have high levels of violence and obesity, hate crimes and graffiti, murder and depression. I think our language is reflecting our sadness, fear and depression and I believe I have a topic for my honours' year at Uni when I eventually get to it.

I realised recently that the first sentence I was trying to write in Selmari was "I love you". The same first sentence I learned how to write. In conversations with my mother and others we've assumed that language evolved through trying to express things such as directions and using it to hunt. ie "you go that way and I'll go this way". I am re-thinking this notion. I think language evolved because we wanted to express things you can't express through sign or grunts. Someone said things like 'hello' and 'goodbye' which is probably true but I think it was the emotional like 'I love you'.

I like this idea. I love the idea that language evolved in early humans because we wanted to express the most powerful emotion of all. Love has even been known to conquor our survival instincts (like someone rescuing someone from danger) and it seems like a beautiful idea for us to want to say it.

Next semester I take anthropology and I can't wait. I want to study people and their relationship to language. Not the fussy grammatical side of things but the human element to things and particularly the script. For like our way of speaking our way of writing has also changed in the last 50 years or so. I'd like to know why and I can't wait to find out.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Words, Sounds and Problems

Trying to think up new words is really hard I've discovered. Finished Uni exams so I finally have time to think about it and I'm stuck. Problem is that every time I work out enough words for a sentence (which sound like ones written by 3 year olds ie. 'I love you' etc) they sound stupid and I can't work out why.

I've listened to some other Conlang projects online and they sound quite good. I don't get why mine sounds so....I'm not sure. Forced? Stumbling? Just plain weird! My word length is varied, I've gotten some words which have the right letters to have the softer sounds but it still sound dumb.

Part of the problem is I can't get the inflection. When we speak our voices rise and fall naturally. English has more variation than some languages and Italian has even more than English. I need that but I can't find it. I can't find the rhythm.

My mother, who thankfully doesn't want to have me committed for doing this and is even willing to talk about it, said a sentence the other day. I'd told her the words of course and she said them as if she were speaking English. She got it! I'm TOTALLY jealous! How come she could say it and I couldn't? The only good thing was that when she said the sentence it sounded quite decent. Not perfect but decent.

I'm trying to get a softness, a thoughtfulness to this language. The idea behind the language came about because I write for fun. I have dozens of stories now and probably thousand of pages. I created a culture and I thought it would be fun to create a language for that culture. I wanted the language to match the culture however and this culture is quite thoughtful, doing things carefully and deliberately rather than quickly. At some point I hope the language will match however for now I'm quite enjoying this project. I keep thinking how totally cool it would be to walk down the street somewhere and hear someone say something in your language!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Grammar: To Be

The verb 'to be' sucks I've decided. I'm doing Latin at Uni at the moment, which has actually been incredibly useful for this project, however the verb 'to be' gave me massive amounts of trouble.

English uses the form of the verb 'to be' a lot even when the actual verb of the sentence is totally different.

ie. I was running.

In that sentence you get the form which sounds like the verb to be (from 'I was, I am, I will be') but the 'active' verb is 'running'. So now what? How do I do that for my language. "Was" is the tense indicator of the sentence. It means I ran in the past. So how is that different to "I ran" and do we even really need to distinguish between the two? This is my dilemma and the reason I hate the verb 'to be'.

Part of the problem here is I really don't actually get why we have to have the continuous form. 3 tenses seems enough to me. Either you did it in the past or you are doing it now or you will do it in the future. Why complicate it?

I've heard Russian has even more tenses than English. English has 12. I've heard Russian has 15! I'd like to learn a language that only has 3. Past, present and future. Why do we constantly over complicate things?

Eventually I'll figure it out. I've already decided that there are no continuous forms of verbs in my language, that combined with reducing the number of tenses will, I suspect, simplify things a LOT. I'm looking forward to Uni being over so I can work on this stuff more. This semester has been a crash course in Grammar. It's been useful and I'm looking forward to it being FUN!