On 25 Feb 2012, at 18:41, Peter Collier wrote:

> Broadly speaking there seem to be two different approaches to language
> construction. One is to coin some vocabulary and then to look at what you
> have and  "reverse-engineer" a language from it. The other is to work at a
> phonological level rather than a lexical one, i.e. to work out how the
> language is screwed together first and then see what it leads to. By
> necessity, the "what-if" type conlangs - Brithenig and the like - would have
> to be of the second type.

I usually start out with a set of principles and work upwards, as Peter does. But the principles might well include the rules "looks a bit Italian" and "sounds a bit like Farsi"

> My own project is of the latter type so I don't have any experience of
> working the other way around, but logically  there must come a point where
> things have to start getting a little more fixed and any new coinings start
> to comply with words you have already created, otherwise the thing is going
> to just keep on expanding to a ridiculously unwieldy state. 

Also, I find, your brain isn't going to be able to keep adding random new phonemes to your language. Depending upon your natlang background, it's likely that your brain simply won't go out of its way to add "exotic" sounds. Don't go shopping in the IPA chart!

> As to making one language "feel" like another, it seems to me you need
> several things. Firstly, you need to have similar phonologies and
> phontactics. If you want something that sounds Germanic, you are going to
> need more fricatives and afficates in your phonology, a larger vowel
> inventory, and rules that allow for syllables with large consonant clusters.
> If you are looking to make something Romanic you'd want to be having more
> limited consonant clusters, fewer or no reduced vowels and so on.

I concur. Wikipedia is your friend here, it's usually "alright" (very much in quotation marks) for a quick phoneme inventory rundown of a language, so you can get a feel for it before you reach for anything more detailed. Compare the list of sounds you like with what the Wikipedia article lists and see what fits :)

I would also say this: make sure you stick your phonemes together in a way which is fitting for your language. The sounds /ʃ/ and /n/ both appear in English, but you're unlikely to come across a word commencing "shn-"

> Secondly, the conlang's  grammar and syntax would need to be similar. If you
> were trying to create a language  that felt like English, you wouldn't want
> to have grammatical gender and adjectival agreements. If you want something
> of a Finnish feel, you'd need to be thinking about cases.

I'm a bit 50-50 on this point. It depends to what depth you intend the similarity to be observed. You could have a language which looks and sounds Finnish (lots of vowel length, the same consonants, long words, etc) but, when it comes under close scrutiny, works nothing like Finnish in the least. It could be a Bantu language in a Finnish suit.

> Finally, orthography. To my mind this is the last thing you should consider,
> not the first, as it has nothing at all to do with the mechanics of the
> language. It is  just an arbitrary arrangement of symbols for encoding the
> language in writing. However, that said, if you are trying to mimic the feel
> of a language you need to mimic its orthography. When you look at a
> Brithenig it appears at first glance to be Welsh and that’s part of what
> makes it such a delight. 

I agree. Somewhat. If you're making a language in which you're concentrating on phonology, verbs, word order, etc, (real conlanging) then yes. But some of us happen to *like* messing around with orthographies well into the night :)

I'm going to call it photoshopping: it changes nothing about the language, but it does make it look pretty. Caccigga's bloody-minded orthography is one of my finest achievements. 

> So my suggestion would be to look at the language(s) you want to emulate,
> determine what it is that gives them their "feel," and then use those
> aspects to lay down some founding criteria for your creation. Do that before
> you do anything else. Then it’s a question of creating a language within
> those self-imposed constraints.

Getting a handle of the language you're emulating is the best way to start. What are *the* features which make that language *that* language?

> The thing is, when *I* conlang, I don't usually think about how one word
> will sound in context or what not, I usually think about what phonemes I can
> use and what sounds good. For one of my langs, "Csatau," I'm mimicking to an
> extent the Hungarian language--I have done so fairly easily in the phonology
> inventory (as well as the orthography, but really, who doesn't love the
> Hungarian alphabet? Although it should be noted that there is a
> corresponding native script and a script in another con-script made of Greek
> and Cyrillic letters... it's a complex country.), but I'm not sure how to
> achieve the overarching aesthetic "feel" of Hungarian.

Trial and error in my case. I've spent ages wondering whether a word should be "terek" or "terak". Does this word "feel" right? No? Screw it, I'm going to have to go back to the drawing board. Verb paradigms / semantic affixes / etc are *murder*, because they have to "feel" right with every damn word they apply to. Hey, that's just me.

> Also, besides making a conlang sound like I want it to sound, I tend to have
> trouble pronouncing the language--not because of the phonology but because
> of the sequence of sounds.

My solution: short translation challenges, regularly, particularly using any new words you've coined. That way each word essentially goes into beta before going to golden master. If it doesn't work you can change it, without it mouldering away in your lexicon for too long. Make sure you speak as much as possible, when things are added to the dictionary and when they're part of a translation.

Cheat: write a translation with an IPA transcription. 

Major cheat: write a translation with a simulated-English transcription :)

Does it include breakfast?
¿bucce il manneuseri?
puh-cheh il mah-nyuh-seh-rih

> For example, I had to change my numbers
> (originally "ská elt vec fört tüks fausz sal sval dvan..." to "ská elt föt
> tüks fau pes sval dvan") to make them easier to pronounce. Anyway, does
> anyone have any good tips on achieving a unified sound consistent across a
> whole language?

I can't actually think of any in particular. It's... holistic... (okay, I sound like a quack).

> -Ian Spolarich