On 1/18/07, Alex Fink <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> On Wed, 17 Jan 2007 19:04:07 -0500, Jim Henry <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> >Some years ago my brother and I, and some friends,
> >played a conlang party game that went like this.  Each
> >player, on his turn, would coin a word in the game-language
> >and demonstrate its meaning to the other players with
> >charades, drawings, pointing out examples in the
> >environment, etc. -- no use of English allowed, or

> I take it your games were fairly social, aimed more at developing the
> language than blinkeredly racing to a translation of the target sentence?

Yes, usually.

> >My basic notion for Glossotechnia (my tentative new name for it)

> >The Phoneme cards consist of most of the phonemes
> >of English, plus a few like /y/, /2/, /e/, etc., which many
> >Americans will have a nodding acquaintance with

> How about phonology cards that introduce whole contrasts at once?
> Especially for exotic stuff -- having to put in palatalized and labialized
> and pharyngealized and devoiced and creaky and breathy and ... variants of
> everything would quickly swamp the deck; instead, while (say) a
> "pharyngealisation" card is on the table, pharyngealized variants of
> everything are in play.  But you could use tamer feature cards as well;

I thought about having "point of articulation" and "distinctive feature"
cards instead of (or as well as) phoneme cards; -- and also of
having onset and rime pattern cards instead of whole-syllable
pattern cards.  But the initial design is aimed at a group of
non-linguistically sophisticated gamers who will be playtesting it.

> >Then there are Sound Change, Grammar Change
> >and Meaning Change cards (also part of the main deck,
> >shuffled in with the Phonemes, Syllables, and Syntax cards).
> >They let you do things like split a phoneme by context,
> >drop a phoneme (merging it with another already in
> >play), replace one phoneme with another; add
> >or drop inflections; extend or restrict meanings of words.
> "add or drop inflections" meaning "fuse independent words together" or
> "grammaticalize",  respectively "replace with a periphrastic expression"?

Yes, more or less.

> >Then there is be the translation challenge deck -- a
> >collection of translation challenge sentences; everyone
> >would draw one at the start of play and translating that
> >sentence into the game-language would be their goal

> I suppose this deck would have to be large, so that after repeated play
> players don't come to know all the sentences in it and therefore know what
> new words people will be trying to create.  I was thinking it might be more
> fun to let the players generate a pool of goal sentences themselves at the
> start of the game, but that's subject to the same problem, only worse.

The reason I had for the challenge deck is to ensure a
reasonably well-balanced pool of sentences -- all of
roughly similar difficulty, or perhaps graded in difficulty.
If players write out translation challenges for themselves, or
for each other, then they're likely to vary more randomly
in difficulty.

> The opposite style of goal would also make an interesting game: instead of
> an English sentence to translate into the language, give some random
> phonological string (probably without word divisions marked, like
> [lo?otaixetandZiSoendala]) and let the objective be to create a language in
> which that string is a grammatical sentence.  This completely reverses the
> focus of the game, though.  Being good at charades or drawing so that you
> can convey the meaning you want becomes unimportant, but the choice of
> phonemes and the like becomes strategically significant.

That is an interesting variant; we might try it sometime.

> >If there are at least two phoneme cards and at least
> >one syllable card in play, a player can also coin one
> >or more words on their turn, using the old rules
> >(demonstrate the meaning with charades, pointing out examples, drawing
> >pictures, using previously coined
> >words of the game-language etc. but no use of English).
> But I presume the other players are guessing using English?  That right
> there might be the greatest force imposing English-like semantic divisions:
> it's more natural, especially for the "linguistically unsophisticated", to
> guess an English word than an arbitrary region of semantic space.

Sometimes, at least, in our old games, we would try to verify our
guesses with more charades or pointing out other possible
examples of the class signified by the word.  But we would frequently
need to finally verify our guesses in English.  (We tended to coin
affirmative and negative particles fairly early on.)

> Suppose I'm trying to coin a word with a particular semantic range in mind
> but my opponents will only guess nearby English words.  What then -- do I
> relent and just accept a close English word for my semantics?  do I consider
> it close enough and end the guessing round, but later indicate the semantic
> shading I had in mind?  do I somehow try to indicate 'broader', 'narrower',
> whatever, until someone has it exactly?  Especially if there's some benefit
> to getting your words guessed as quickly as possible (e.g. getting more
> definitions per turn), players might tend towards semantics equivalent to
> English out of efficiency, or laziness.

Yes, this can be a problem, at least in the earlier stages of the game.
I think I'll probably go with Chad Oliver's suggestion of allowing
players to coin multiple words on a turn only if they're closely
related in meaning; that might help both with the
perverse incentive you point out and with the problem of making non-English
semantics clear to the other players.  (To coin two or more words of
related meaning on your turn, you wouldn't coin one word, demonstrate
its meaning, and move on to the next only when the other players have
got it; instead you would use charades, examples, etc. to point out
contrasting instances of the things signified by your two or more
related words.  E.g., demonstratives, pronouns, color terms, etc.)

> >Probably I'll be play-testing it with my brother and
> >some other friends in a couple of weeks.
> I'd be interested to see logs of game sessions, if they're not too much of a
> pain to keep.

A thorough log is unlikely, but I'll be taking notes, which I'll
post at least excerpts from here.

Jim Henry