On Sun, Jan 05, 2003 at 03:10:24PM -0500, Sally Caves wrote:

> Have you based your conlang(s) wholly or partially on a Celtic language?
> If so, on which?  or combined with which?

Nope.  Skipping to part II.

> PART II:  INSPIRATION BY TOLKIEN (tangential to the questions on inspiration
> by Celtic languages):
> How many of you were inspired to invent a language because of your exposure
> to Tolkien?

Yes.  Wanted to follow in his footsteps.  When I got the Book of Lost Tales
for Christmas in middle school, I wanted to make my own world in just the
same way as he'd made his.

> How many of you based your conlang on one of Tolkien's languages, or your
> conculture in Middle Earth?

No, the methodology and part of the "feel" of the words was based on his
language work, but the actual roots were a priori.

> How many of you have a constructed world, and, if so, does it include some
> of the races we associate with Celtic or Scandinavian mythology? (Elves,
> Dwarves, medieval societies of humans, Faeries or Fays?  Selkies?  Wizards?)

I don't have a real conworld.  I do have a conpantheon, but no real stories
about them.  I'm much better with abstract systems than with stories about
*people* :)

None of my abortive conworldish vignettes included any race other than

> How many of you were inspired to examine Welsh, Hebrew, or Finnish because
> of your examination of Tolkien?

Yes.  I started trying to copy the "Teach Yourself Finnish" book page-by-
page on the copier at the library.  I wish I'd copied the whole thing;
that book is out of print now and they sell a stupid phrasebooky thing in
its place :(  (The original had readings more like "On jo aamu.  Talot ovat
korkeat."  Nice descriptive sentences, much more interesting than "Hello,
I'm American".)

> How many of you were inspired to invent a conlang or a conculture because of
> some influence OTHER than Tolkien?

I was influenced by LeGuin's "Always Coming Home" in addition to Tolkien.

> How many of you were inspired to invent a language because you engage in
> Roll-Playing Games?

Never been able to get into RPGs... not abstract enough for me :)

> How many of you were inspired to invent a language because you heard of this
> listserv?

Nope, joined the listserv 5 years later :)

> How many of you are members of the Mythopoeic Society, or the Society for
> Creative Anachronism, or other High Fantasy Groups?

In college I used to go to Markland events (similar to SCA, but a bit

> What is your name and what do you call your conlang?

Amanda Babcock, and which one? :)  The not-very-exotic original Tolkien-
inspired one is called merechi.

> So what is unappealing about the Indo-European model for conlanging?  Or
> Tolkien's Elvish?

I don't deliberately avoid Tolkienesque stuff, though I do feel that I
don't want to compete on his own ground - he already did a good job with
Quenya; I don't think I can improve on it.  This extends to not wanting
to create a language with, for example, the exact same phonological rules
as Quenya.  I don't want to duplicate anyone else's work.

As for avoiding Indoeuropeanism... well, I've been doing this for 15 years
now, and over that time some definite patterns have emerged.  Every time
I learned about another exotic natlang feature, I just had to drop what I
was doing and try it (conjugated verbs, postpositions, Creole auxiliaries,
ergativity, trigger systems, polysythesis...).  Also, I've repeatedly tried
to create difficult or "write-only" languages, sometimes forgetting that
I'd done so before.  Some of them were more write-only than others ;)

About the only feature I haven't tried is mutation, and that's because
it scares me :)  It seems like a lot of work to implement it correctly,
make it look natural, and avoid excessive homophony.

Also, since the beginning I've been obsessed with all-noun or all-verb
languages.  I actually had one that was on the right track before I knew
anything about linguistics, back in highschool, which I abandoned because
it seemed so unrealistic!  If only I'd known that languages like that
(verb-based and polysynthetic) really existed...

So, basically, Indoeuropean is just not exotic enough, and Celtic
language features that *are* exotic are too hard to implement :)

> How did you start conlanging?  What was your initial inspiration?

See Part II - tried to copy Tolkien's procedure after reading Lost Tales.

> Did you know about Tolkien's inventions?  Read the books, the appendices?
> etc.  Or not?

I read all the appendices when I first read the books as a child.  Was
shocked to discover in the back of LoTR that Tolkien didn't invent runes
(I think this is what inspired me to start copying all the alphabets out
of encyclopedias and dictionaries - it used to be so exciting to discover
a new one...) and that his non-Elvish languages (Westron, Rohirrim) were
actually based on real-world languages and the "real" words in Middle-Earth
were all different.  Spent bored-time in school copying out the Quenya
wordlist from the back of the Silmarillion by hand.  Got The Book of Lost
Tales, read avidly.

> What language types have you modeled your language(s) after?

merechi was influenced by German, Latin, and Kesh (LeGuin's language).
The next language, Toma Heylm, was influenced by Creoles and Russian.
After that comes a long string of languages based on a particular linguistic
feature I'd just learned about.

> What features of these languages or language types appeal to you?

Anything strange and exotic.  I'm probably running out of exotic new
things to discover at this point.

> Some of you, and I'm thinking in particular of a conversation I had with And
> Rosta, are not interested in producing a language that is
>  "mellifluous"--that "mellifluousness" is a thing to be avoided in your
> conlang and especially as it is associated with Tolkien's Elvish or copiers
> of Elvish.   Is this so?  Why?

No, I like mellifluous.  Unfortunately, it seems I can either do "mellifluous"
or have a defined phonology, but not both.  Also, I have an unfortunate
tendency to see English spelling irregularities as mellifluous.

Sometimes I go for a bizarre phonology even though it sounds ugly to me,
for the exotic factor.

> For how many of you, though, is beauty and/or efficiency a factor in your
> language?  Or elegance?  How would you define these terms?

Beauty and elegance are a factor in merechi.  Efficiency I'm not actually
sure how to define, and implementing it would probably make me too
perfectionist.  Perhaps Russian is efficient, with its four participles
and the relative conjunctive pronoun kotoryj (agrees in case with its
function in the subordinate clause, but in gender and number with the
noun it modifies in the main clause; very precise).  I haven't invented
anything like that.

As for my other languages, I think I actually like inefficiency because
it gives me more room to play out odd structures.  Japanese is rather
inefficient but beautifully, wondrously logical in its inefficiency, as
it seems to me that it has less "extra" parts of speech and forces its
words to stay within the lines of grammar more than English does.  I like
making my languages act that way.

> For how many of you is the "exotic" a desired feature of your invented
> language?


> How many of you invent a non-human language?  And if so, how alien are its
> sounds and constructions?

I use alien-ness as an excuse when I want to invent something phonologically
impossible (musical chords) or linguistic-universal-violating (center-
embedding).  I don't bother to invent the actual aliens in question or make
a world for them.

> Do you prefer inventing an a posteriori language or an a priori language?

A priori.  A posteriori would be better for being able to *use* the
language right away, but I'm generally more interested in messing with
the grammar than in using the language :)

> How many of you invent a language based on a particular type (Ergative,
> Accusative, Trigger, etc.)?


> To what degree is difficulty and irregularity of language important to you
> in your conlang?  what natural language eccentricities (or efficiencies) do
> you like and try to reproduce?

I would *like* to reproduce eccentricities, but I'm not very good at being
natural that way.  That's a specific, hands-on kind of work, and I tend to
spend more time on the theoretical, over-arching rules.  Merechi has
eccentricities, though, but only because I'm not worried about justifying
their existence.

> To what degree is accessibility, efficiency, and regularity important to
> your conlang?  What natural language "faults" are you correcting?

None.  Regularity happens due to my inability to insert irregularity, but
the complexity or oddness generally makes up for it :)

> How many of you invent logical languages?

Never did that, I'm not sure why.  I like Lojban and can say a few phrases
in it, but I guess logical languages aren't arcane enough.

> How many of you invent IALs?

Absolutely no interest.

> How many of you have invented non-Tolkienesque or non European concultures
> and what are they like?

Not good with concultures.  That would require understanding *people* :)

> How many of you started out by pulling words out of the air, originally?

Generally do.

> How many of you have chosen a more methodic form of vocabulary building?

I've used choose-from-randomly-generated-words for some languages.

> PART IV:  THE LUNATIC SURVEY REVISITED (because we are all "fous du
> langage," according to Yaguello and other French critics.
> Why do you conlang?  Who will speak it?  Read it?  What's the point?  What's
> the beauty?  what's the intellectual draw?

Because I'm driven to, at least while I'm not occupying that part of my
brain in learning a natlang.  Only I will speak it.  Motivated persons
who go to my website may read it.  The point is to play with systems of
rules.  The beauty is in feeling the pieces click into place when I say
the words.  The intellectual draw is to see how it all goes together and
feel my brain stretch in new directions.

> To what would you compare a conlang?  Is it a miniature?  Is it a model?  Is
> it a tapestry?  Is it an act of obsession and madness? <G>  Or is it a
> communicable language?

It's a prototype (at least most of mine are), and an obsession.  The fact
that it can also communicate ideas is wonderful and entrancing.

> If it is a communicable language, to whom do you speak it?

I used to sign my letters (real postal mail!) to my best friend in merechi.
When I'm trying out a new language my cat will generally be subjected to
endearments or admonishments she doesn't understand.  Sometimes I speak
merechi to the gods I made up.

> To what extent is the opacity or "alterity" of your language something that
> pleases you?  In other words, the sounds and the script have, even for you,
> a quality of being foreign, and this delights.

Yes.  Foreignness is important.  In the beginning, this unfortunately
manifested itself as English "foreign spelling" rules (see the conversation
about the "default foreign" pronunciation for English being French; merechi
preserves some of those French/English spelling collisions).

I have recently hit on a new strategy for creating foreignness without
compromising the phonology: pretend a mad 19th-century Englishman invented
a romanization scheme for the language!  This way I can have a specified
phonology, a foreign script, *and* a foreign-looking way to write it in ASCII.

> This is a difficult question:  how is it that a word sounds "right" to you?
> We recently discussed this.  To what extent are you finding righter, better
> words for the world in your conlang?  (Perhaps unanswerable).

The words in merechi all sound "right".  I make them up as I need them,
without worrying about phonology, using blatant Englishishms in the
spelling (k and c pronounced the same but giving a different "feel" to
the word, things like that).  I can remember them without trying.  It's
my personal language.

Other languages have varying degrees of arbitrariness in the sound of
the words.

> How many of you are fictive map-makers, designers of fictive floor plans,
> fictive yachts, fictive star-ships, world-builders, calligraphers,
> cartoonists, etc.?  (These pursuits have been associated with conlanging.  I
> 've done most of them.)

Ooh, yeah.  Maps, floorplans, costumes, several times as many scripts as
languages, systems of divination, calendars, random religious rituals...

> How many of you have a special script in your conlang?

Used to make up more scripts than languages :)  This doesn't happen when
I conlang on the computer.  I just decided to try conlanging on paper again,
and lo and behold if I didn't find myself making up a script for it first

> If you use Roman script, how recognizably "phonetic" is your writing system?

I'd been pretty resigned to spelling things phonetically, until my recent
idea about pretending a mad Englishman had romanized them :)  Looking
forward to trying that.

> This is a question Heather asked, but I also asked it four years ago:  how
> many of you write in your language?  What do you write?

In merechi, I've written chants, poems, diary entries, and prayers.  In
Toma Heylm, I translated some English poems (badly), wrote a few descriptive
passages and a lot of example sentences.  In the other languages, I write
sample sentences or short translation exercises, if they get that far.
Sample sentences are often inspired by the events of my day :)  In high
school there were also professions of love or hate or being really bored.

> How many of you sing in your language and have invented songs for that
> purpose?

Some of my chants in merechi have music to go with them.  "Disharmony",
the alien chord-based center-embedding language, would *be* music of a
sort if I ever made up a vocabulary for it.

> How many of you started conlanging when you were a teenager and have stuck
> to the same language over many years?   Why?

Yes.  Because nothing else is my personal expression like merechi is.
By the very fact that the other languages need to have different words
in their vocabulary, they can never be the one true language.

> How many of you change conlangs regularly, developing structures for many
> languages but not sticking with any one for very long?  Why?

Yes, this too.  Because I get obsessed about a feature but then get
distracted from it when I can see how it's going to turn out.  If I could
at *least* get myself to write down all the thoughts about where I was
planning to take it before I abandon it, I'd be ahead.

> For how many of you does your language function as a spiritual instrument?

Yes.  I don't consider any gods to be real, but I talk to mine.

> This is a deeply personal question--let me give you an example.  When I
> first started inventing "Tayonian" in my early teens, what I wrote were
> spells and prayers.  They had a talismanic quality.

Exactly.  "Kadoni fulma'ae, kipohlnartetep'da ali Lefeli, avin: <request
goes here>".  Or "Elici certimap'a cili, senda, lielicum" (chant for
entering meditative state).  Or "Senesi acitmea petonim'r alalt.  Na-t'esop'n
lama tan esop'n matar." (all-purpose eulogy for running across dead animals)

> For how many of you was your language at least at one stage of its making
> meant to fool others, or to write secret diaries? (Me, waving my hand).

Secret diaries were a definite use of the language.

> How many of you can speak your language, at least to yourself and your pet?
> child?  spouse?  <G>  To what extent?

Merechi: extensively, though not conversationally (it's lacking those bits :)
Vocabulary is not exhaustive, but making-up-new-words-on-the-fly is the
accepted method of growing it.

Toma Heylm: can speak it with a little thought, may require dictionary

Grammar sketches: can generally produce one of the example sentences from
the language.

> How many of you have put up websites where your language can be showcased?
> If so, what is the website address?

> How many of you have made soundbytes of your language so the rest of us can
> hear it?  If so, give the site.

Nope, sorry.  I might if I had a microphone, but I don't like the sound
of my voice.

> How many of you are comfortable talking to your boss, your professors, your
> family members about this pursuit?

My bosses are SCAdians and pagans and I wouldn't mind mentioning it, though
I wouldn't go into detail due to embarrassment.  When I go back to school
in a month I don't think it'll come up with professors (not in a CMIS
degree :)  My family members all know that I spent a great deal of time on
this in highschool and still do it occasionally.  Mom thinks I'm a genius
for inventing "a whole *language*", which is embarrassing.

Some friends know about it.  A few of them find it interesting.

> How many of you have received
> condescending or other negative responses to your disclosure?

I don't think this has happened, except from one English teacher in
highschool.  I don't generally feel the need to tell random people.
It's private.

Interestingly, a different English teacher, in middle school, assigned
"invent a language for animals" as an exercise after we read Watership
Down.  I never remember to count that one as a conlang.

> If this attitude is changing, to what do you attribute the change?

I don't know if it's changing or not, but it has certainly received
more visibility of late!

> For how many of you is the damning statement "better to learn real languages
> than invent private ones" a criticism you have encountered?  What would be
> your response to such a remark?

Not encountered.  If they'd said "learn" I'd respond "Is Russian and
Japanese enough?"  If they said "go out and document before they disappear"
I'd say it was an apples-and-oranges comparison: I'm not a trained,
funded linguist doing this to the exclusion of fieldwork, so I'm not
robbing the world of any actual linguist work.

> What is your age (optional--and can be general: 30-40, for instance).


> What is your profession or your station in life (i.e., if you are a student,
> what is your MAJOR; if a middle or high-school student, what is your
> intended major)?

Internet "install engineer".  Five years of college in Physics/Russian,
no degree, 7 years of no school since then.  Starting a degree in CMIS
with the hope of transitioning to programming or sysadminning.

> What is your gender?


> What is your nationality and your native language?

US, English.

> What natural languages do you speak or have studied?

German - one year in middle school.  Russian - three high-school years,
four college years.  Japanese - self-taught, can speak and read but weak
on vocabulary.  Trying to study Mohawk, running out of study materials :)

> How many of you have chosen a profession in linguistics because of your
> interest in inventing languages?  Or plan a profession in linguistics?

Nope.  My linguistics TA in college tried to get me to switch majors,
but I was committed to seeing something through for once and stuck with
physics... probably to my detriment :)

> What have you learned from conlanging?

Loads and loads of natural language features that I never would have
heard of without this list.  Interesting things about the type of person
who conlangs.  Things about perfectionism vs. practicality.

> What texts on language and linguistics have you consulted to help invent
> your language?

"Ergativity".  "Language Typology and Syntactic Description: Volume 2,
Complex Constructions".  I keep meaning to use "Describing Morphosyntax",
but for some weird reason that never goes anywhere... maybe I keep getting

I have a book on languages of the world, but it never goes into the kind
of detail that people on the list do, and doesn't have the most
interesting languages (it concentrates on the common ones, and I want to
concentrate on the rare ones :)

> Do you know of anyone who has not connected with the Internet or the List
> who has invented a language?

My friend that I used to write letters to with merechi closings conlanged
a little in response.  My best friend in highschool had a well-developed
conlang shared with her other best friend, so that they could write notes
privately.  I don't think I know anyone else in person who did.

> Can you give me a short sample of your language with interlinear description
> and translation?


> Would you object to my mentioning your conlang/and or your name in my talk?
> I will be discreet about some of the more personal questions you answered.

I don't really want my name mentioned, but I'd be happy to have my responses