Tag: linguistics

I am a mental powerhouse when I’m dreaming

Last night I had a dream, and I don’t remember why but at some point in the dream I uttered the word “mathish”.

In the dream, it occurred to me that the English suffix “-ish” might be descended from the same root as the Greek suffix “-ικος” (aka, “-ic”, a suffix which we borrowed into English and use extensively). In the dream I recalled a linguistic rule that causes k sounds to turn into sh (softening: a k or g sound followed by a vowel where the tounge is forward in the mouth often ends up turning into an s, z, sh, or th). I recalled that in our word mathematician, the “ic” is pronounced “ish”, so this process still happens today. And, still in the dream, I wondered if Latin had a similar suffix, and recalled the word amicus (“friend”).

When I woke up I looked up the origins of those suffixes and sure enough I was right.

My only mistake was, there was a minor wrinkle I didn’t anticipate: “-ish” actually descends from a composition of two suffixes, but one of them was indeed the same one that became “-ic” in Greek.

Noam Chomsky: a brief biography in one act

LINGUISTICS COMMUNITY: We iz sad because we have no comprehensive theory of langauge.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Hai guys, I have this really cool theory that explains 90% of language structure using simple rules.

LINGUISTICS COMMUNITY: Wow that iz really cool, you are our new God. [Spends next 50 years turning Chomsky’s simple system into a complex, intricate system to account for other 10% of cases]

NOAM CHOMSKY: My work here iz finished. Now I will rage against successful human establishments and support dictators.

My new conlang (constructed language): Bowtudgelean

As many of my friends and family are aware, I am currently writing a video game, The Ditty of Carmeana, an action-adventure title set in the fictional Kingdom of Bowtudgel. Also as many people know, I am very interested in linguistics. Therefore, I decided this was the perfect opportunity to create a new language for my fictional kingdom. The (in progress) result is Bowtudgelean.

Here’s a summary of some of the aspects of the languages.

Nouns and Adjectives

Nouns in Bowtudgelean are inflected for number and state. Number is familiar to English speakers: a noun can be singular or plural. State—also called definiteness—is the distinction between something specific (usually signaled in English by the definite article “the”) and something not. State is not an aspect of grammar in Indo-European languages (the family that includes English, French, Latin, Russian, Greek, and many others), but it is in Semitic languages such as Arabic. Bowtudgelean is like Arabic in this respect: adjectives agree with nouns in state. However, Bowtudgelean takes state to the extreme: it has ten different states.

Briefly, here the states and their usages:

  • 1st person: Is or includes the speaker or writer.
  • 2nd person: Is or includes the listener or reader.
  • Nominal: A name.
  • Referred: Something just referred to.
  • Indicated: Something indicated by a limiting adjective, prepositonal phrase, or relative clause.
  • Local: Something near the speaker.
  • Remote: Something away from the speaker.
  • Past: Something that occured in the past.
  • Future: Something that will occur in the future.
  • Indefinite: Nothing in particular.

Here’s an example of the declension of the adjective gæðu (“whole”).

1st Persongæðunupi 
2nd Persongæðuken 

An interesting effect of this aspect of grammar is that there are technically no personal pronouns. The word that is used to translate English “I” () is actually the 1st Person singular state of the demonstrative pronoun.

Besides number and state, I’m leaning towards adding a gender distinction to nouns as well.


There is one notable disctinction nouns are not inflected for: case. Bowtudgelean neither uses cases nor word order to determine a noun or pronoun’s role in the sentence. Instead, Bowtudgelean prefixes a noun or pronoun with a particle, called a marker, to determine the role. What makes these markers different from case endings is that they are part of the verb, not part of the noun.

Any given action involves a certain set of participants. In Indo-European languages, the participants fill fixed grammatical slots, regardless of the verb. One of those slots is called the subject, another called the direct object, a third is called the indirect object. In Bowtudgelean, there is no such framework to fit participants into. A participant for a particular verb exists only for that verb; a different verb has a different set of participants. The participants a verb has make sense for it; for some verbs it makes sense to have different participants than the subject-object system would supply English. A few verbs have as many as five participants, and some verbs (for example, ŋejreð “it is raining”) have none at all.

Let’s consider an example: æð, which can be translated as “come” or “go”. Whereas come and go are intransitive in English, in Bowtudgelean æð has three different participants. There is the person going, which is marked by the particle ho. There is the place being moved away from, indictated by the marker tamæ. And there is the place being moved to, indicated by nuð. Here is an example sentence:

Ho voŋ æðga tamæ ðæln nuð patexpejen.

(Key: voŋ = “he,she,it,him,her”, -ga = past tense. Also, notice the referred state ending -n on the nouns.)

In Bowtudgelean, the set of markers used for a given verb (the signature) are not predictable and must be learned, though sometimes they do follow patterns. The most notable is the za-epu- signature used mostly by verbs of manipulation, where a person (marked by za) physically manipulates an object (marked by epu). But in general there are a lot of irregularities in these patterns.

One little side note is that there are a few verbs that have no stem at all; only markers. Naturally, the verbs that mean “to be” are among them (there are two variants: i-linum- and i-nui-). Another is ak-gwa-has-, which means “to say” (ak marks the speaker, gwa the listener, and has the words being spoken).


Unfortunately, there are only two sounds that exist in Bowtudgelean but not in English, and they’re very rare. (They are the velar fricatives: the sounds of German ch in ach, or of the letter gamma in Greek.) I didn’t plan for it; I wanted to have at least one common foreign sound. I had written a word generator to generate random words, and tuned it until it got words that looked like I wanted. Unfortunately, the velar fricatives hardly ever come up.

However, there are plenty of consonant clusters that are not found in English, so it’s not all bad.

Here’s a quick, and approximate, pronounciation guide. The alphabet is phonemic: meaning that letters correspond exactly to sounds (thanks, King Hengou II!)

alike the a in father
ælike the a in cat
elike the a in lame
ilike the i in machine
olike the o in home
ulike the u in dilute
xlike the sh in shape
jlike the s in measure
ðlike the th in those
þlike the th in thin
ŋlike the ng in sing
clike the ch in German ach or Greek gamma
glike the g in go (always hard)

The letters b, d, p, t, k, l, w, f, v, s, z, y, w, m, n, h are all pronounced as in English.

Babel Text

One of the rites of passage when inventing a conlang is to translate the story of the Tower of Babel. Here’s mine, presented (for now) without further comment.

Ðeŋa za ŋome gæðuzdek epu kalðira mogaþa, buzolka-za epu taþihay mogaþay.

Pema lagærigara ar dora xke koyra, æðga ho surka nuð ŋezbey komu jdot Xinaræt, te ruhi surka nomarga lir voŋ.

Ak surka gwa surka hazg: “Umijnotram ar sæz mogi hoxtæhay, te jguxki-ak epu surka mæsæ pomoha.” Za surka lelþoŋa tor hoxtæhay mogi zilæmuha, te tor danurjbyosa mogi ritbazuha.

Þilabo hazg: “Æðmi-ho, ajderam ar sæz mogi axa dæŋu sæz, te mogi newgasiha iðæ jbyæt xpavoŋ komu enra, te þid u sæz guŋærdo. Jraŋ lojozapen epu sæz jalkapu zdomæ.

Ho Jbago æðga nuð moðbel natox ar voŋ ala lux axt te newgasit peŋat ajde-mogi ar stizen.

Þilabo ak Jbago hazg: “Mip þyaþ, pema i surka linum dora ðeyxera osuhæha ðenolka-za epu kalðira mogaþa, za surka þkæðne deþaga epu modlabo, ŋab kowæwtæ ŋætunzæ tojpen þalpe za surka deþa mod peŋa ŋab surka fkersteb þalpe deþa-epu za surka.

“Sajbiðæn æðram ho sæz nuð mika te komu voŋ æhalnæram za sæz epu kalðirt xpasurka, punebe xpodusonpen ruhi kowæwtæ lir mod peŋa has ak æwtæpiz.”

Amusa za Jbago lojozaga epu surka æðolka-ho tamæ voŋ nuð zbalkap zdomæ, te lakipæ ajdega ar surka mogi axen.

Ŋab modlabo zæneyoŋa þalpe simoke ar voŋ lux Babel, kaj komu voŋ za Jbago æhalnæga epu ðenjda xpa ŋome osuhæzdek. Igusen tejdæn ædkolka-tamæ nuð zbalkap zdomæ, za voŋ lojoza epu surka.

Final Note

Bowtudgelean is the Anglicized name of the language. Bæwtujdelix is the language’s own name for itself.

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