Sunday, 17 September 2017

Tales From Other Worlds - The Boats of the Dead

To celebrate St. Hildegard's Day, I'm launching Tales From Other Worlds, a video series in which I read passages in my conlangs. The first one is in iljena, and tells the legend of The Boats of the Dead.
My pronunciation isn't perfect - despite a few rehearsals, I stumble over my words a few times, and I'm not sure I've got all the sandhi and labiovelars right, but I hope you enjoy it anyway

The Boats of the Dead

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Transcribing the Conlangery Podcast

I've managed to get a reasonably accurate speech recognition system up and running, and it's now posting Transcripts of the Conlangery Podcast on Conlang Sources Wiki. This is something I've been wanting to do for some time, since there's quite a lot of interesting stuff on there, and it becomes a lot easier to search and reference if it's available in text form. In particular, it's one of the best sources of third-party discussion of conlangs, which is exactly what the Conlang Sources Wiki is for.

Having been automatically transcribed, it is in need of human editing, so I'd be very grateful to anyone who could help out in that way.

Friday, 25 August 2017

The Conlang Sources Wiki

J.R.R. Tolkien famously called conlanging A Secret Vice. It was the sort of thing where, if you had to do it, you certainly weren't expected to tell anybody about it - they'd think you were at least mad.

The Internet changed all that. For the first time conlangers were able to form communities where they could share and discuss their work. At first, of course, this discussion centred around the descriptions of conlangs posted by their own creators, and conlanging still wasn't taken seriously by many people outside the community, but over time things began to change. There was a feeling among some conlangers that to develop the craft would require us to make constructive criticisms of each others work. Academics realised that making a language was an excellent way to learn linguistics, and that constructed languages were worthy of study in their own right. And as more and more media franchises began using conlangs, journalists became interested in the art.

So now, there's more scholarship, journalism, criticism and other third party discussion about conlangs available than ever before. I felt a need for a site that would easy to find it all, and encourage more of it. Therefore, I've used my LCS webspace to create The Conlang Sources Wiki, and I'd like to invite my fellow conlangers to join in. Please take a look. Links to new sources are welcome, as are original articles about other people's conlangs.

Thanks to Jan Strasser for being the first person besides myself to contribute.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

The Trouble With Chris Chibnall

Chris Chibnall's writing for Doctor Who has generally been of poor quality. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship was basically silly. It was never explained why The Doctor would want to get together a posse including Nefertiti and a big game hunter (people who kill for pleasure aren't The Doctor's usual choice of friends), nor why Nefertiti would chose to elope with the big game hunter (who seemed the sort of man who'd treat a woman like another trophy) at the end. The Power of Three started with an interesting premise (the Slow Invasion), but ironically the ending was rushed - The Doctor just waved the Sonic Screwdriver at a control panel and everything was all right. 42 revolved around a gimmick and doesn't stick in the mind. Even his best story, The Hungy Earth / Cold Blood was a by the numbers Silurian story (human activity awakes the Silurians, they want to reclaim their planet, The Doctor attempts to broker a peace, negotiations are botched, Silurians forced back into hibernation) with no original ideas in it.

He was even worse as the showrunner on Torchwood, the "adult" (as in very, very childish) spin-off from Doctor Who which followed the misadventures of an alien-hunting squad so top secret that everybody in Cardiff knew who they were, apart from the heroine's boyfriend. Said heroine was granted immunity from character development, as this was a terminal disease in Torchwood. The show never really found a tone that worked. Two episodes written by Chibnall personally made you wish you had a vial of Retcon handy. Countrycide was a nasty cannibal hillbillies story, transferred to Wales. Cyberwoman's premise contained a massive plot hole - Ianto Jones has supposedly smuggled a cyberconversion unit containing his partially-converted girlfriend (this was before Ianto was gay) into the Torchwood Hub without anybody noticing. Even worse, while Doctor Who consistently portrays cyberconversion as a painful and dehumanising process, Torchwood portrayed it as fetish.

WARNING: YOU CANNOT UNSEE THIS

I did warn you.

Chibnall's defenders will say, "But Broadchurch was good." Well, it was if you like relentlessly depressing contemporary crime dramas. But in terms of tone, story, setting and intended audience, Broadchurch has nothing in common with Doctor Who. It seems that what he's best at writing is stuff that's nothing like Doctor Who at all.

More relevant is Camelot, which I don't think was a great success. I only saw one or two episodes, but the writing on it didn't seem that great. One thing I do remember is that one character (I think it was Guinevere) was introduced in a dream sequence in which she was seen dancing naked on a beach for no readily apparent reason.

So, when this second-rate writer, with a history of objectifying women, is made showrunner on Doctor Who, what does he do to make people love him? He resorts to gimmicks, of course, and his chosen gimmick in the unfortunate Josie Whittaker. She faces the prospect of having to carry an impossible burden of expectations while struggling with ropy scripts and misjudged tone, and possibly an inappropriate costume. It seems like the Tardis is taking us back to 1984.

When Colin Baker took the role, he wanted to portray a dark and edgy Doctor, something along the lines of Peter Capaldi's portrayal. However, the writing team at the time weren't up to the job, and interpreted it as brash, unlikable, and prone to dangerous mood swings. The Twin Dilemma is one of the few stories that can claim to be anywhere near as bad as Love & Monsters. Few of Colin Baker's stories were any good, but instead of laying the responsibility for this with John Nathan turner, where it belonged, the BBC made a scapegoat of Colin Baker, and sacked him. It didn't really help, and while some better writers came along later, Doctor Who was cancelled in 1989.

That's why I've started a petition to remove Chris Chibnall. Please sign it.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Word Building is World Building

Lexember, the annual conlang community event where we create a new word and share it on social media every day for a month, has just finished. This time, I set myself a goal for the month, which was to create words which don't have an exact equivalent in English. I felt that doing so would make Khangaþyagon a richer language, and so it turned out. Here are the words I created this month, and some thoughts on what I have discovered while creating them.

1. khlatul (n) The space inside a hollow tree.

Khangaþyagon means "Magic language". It is the original language of Huna, and as other languages diverged from it, wizards preserved it for use in magic. The space inside a hollow tree is a liminal space, and as such may have some magical significance.

2. katost (n) billhook
(v) prune, pollard
katoston pruning

A little bit of fairly obvious polysemy here between the name of a tool and its use. I did quite a lot of this kind of polysemy over the course of the month. The -on/-ont suffix can be either a present participal or an agentive noun, both the form and the meaning varying irregularly from verb to verb (in practice, whatever I feel works best).

3. panne (adj) (of motion) smooth, fluid, easy

I already had words for smooth (referring to a surface) and easy (referring to a task), so here I've split up senses of English words and created new words that are more specific than their English translations.

4. skraða (n) Tree bark
(adj) rough

I made this word by stroking a piece of tree bark and letting the word come to mind. I turns out I already had a word, for tree bark, arkhap, but unlike skraða it doesn't have the polysemy with rough. So, a synonym and polysemy in one go!

5. havrin (n) person who barters services, especially a craftsman whose clients farm his land on his behalf.
(v) barter services
havrinont bartering of services

This began a sequence of words that takes us back into the time when Khangaþyagon was an everyday spoken language. In that time, barter economies were commonplace. Those who had specialist skills, such as blacksmiths or potters, were better employed working at their crafts than in the fields, so a You plough my field, I'll shoe your horse arrangement would exist between them and their neighbours.

Later on, as cash economies became more developed, the term would have shifted in meaning in Khangaþyagon's descendent languages. However, wizards, as a safeguard against selfishness, use gold and silver only for magical purposes, and do not use money. They use their magic to help people in exchange for bed and board, so they are havrinar.

6. kerun (v) barter goods
kerunont bartering of goods.

So, if I had a word that specifically meant "barter services", I needed one that meant "barter goods". What if you're bartering services for goods? You use the one that corresponds to the aspect of the transaction you wish to emphasise.

7. humost (n) work undertaken as payment; time spent working on a havrin's land; turn; rota

Under the You plough my field, I'll shoe your horse system, the farmers of a village would organise a rota amongst themselves so that the work on the craftsmen's land was shared fairly between them.

8. gaurrukh (n) person who evades his humost, freeloader
(adj) lazy, greedy

Of course, there's always someone who expects something for nothing, and this is what you call them.

9. kulesti (n) chalk downland

I very often think of the sound of a word first, and then run it round my head a for a while, thinking of a meaning for it (sometimes I do this while going to sleep at night, and the meaning comes to me when I wake in the morning). While I was doing that with this word, the images that came to mind were of walking in the South Downs...

10. shevras (n) a stimulus that triggers a memory.

...and that was the experience I created this word to describe.

11. þirras (n) red squirrel

12. aliþra (n) grey squirrel

For squirrels, I decided to make more specific terms than in English, so that the red species (native to Britain) and the grey species (native to America, an invasive species in Britain) had different names. On Huna, their ranges are disjoint, so the aliþra is no threat to the þirras.

13. sekhast (n) sickle, hook, crescent moon
(v) reap, harvest
sekhaston harvester

While the polysemy here is all perfectly natural, I already had a word kost which means "hook, sickle, crescent", so synonymy as well as polysemy here. "Hook" appears to be the primary meaning of kost, while "sickle" is the primary meaning of sekhast, which also has a verbal sense.

14. gulvash (n) bowl, goblet, gibbous moon
(v) share wine or mead, pass round
gulvashont sharing of wine or mead

Here I envisaged a big bowl of wine or mead being passed round the assembled company at a feast. Possibly such a feast is held when the moon is gibbous, and celebrates the completion of the harvest, which was begun on the crescent moon.

15. spirraþ (n) hay
(v) make hay, dry out
spirraþont haymaker

Harvesting brought haymaking to mind.

16. kiþur (n) land that is suitable for grazing but not for cultivation.

This land could be too steep to cultivate, or the soil could be too thin, or the climate too arid.

17. zulbar (n) service performed as reparation for wrongdoing.
(v) offer or perform such service
zulbaront person performing such service.

This is a form of restorative justice or compensation. It is most highly valued when the wrongdoer offers it voluntarily as a way of mending the quarrel.

18. navrot (n) tally, inventory, storehouse keeper.

Either the thing used to record the contents of the storehouse, or the person responsible for doing so.

19. morvin (n, adj) unseasonal weather, out of place, badly timed.

While the primary meaning is weather that is atypical for the time of year, (I thought December was for the most part warmer than it should be), it can mean anything that's in the wrong place or at the wrong time.

20. morvin (n) scythe
(v) mow
morvinont mower

More tool/use polysemy, and a homophone with the previous word. The magic of Huna works by symbolism, so I can imagine a wizard using a scythe in a spell to change the weather, or interfere with the timing of an enemy's plans.

21. rakist (n) scraper
(v) scrape
rakiston scraping

Tool/use polysemy strikes again! A rakist is particularly used in preparing animal hides for tanning.

22. tarvos (adj) solid, firm, reliable
(n) foundations, axiom

.

The foundations of a building need to be solid, and axioms are the foundations on which reasoning is built. The word raplat, which means "hard", overlaps with this a little in the sense of "solid".

23. aborið (n) a legendary creature, half-man half-bear, said to lead travellers astray in forests.

I see this as walking upright and having hands like a man, but having the face and fur of a bear. I had the sound first, and worked from that to the meaning. Lexember is supposed to be about creating "everyday words", but what that means in practice is considered to depend on the conlang in question. Wizards would probably discuss legendary creatures on a regular basis. Plus, making up legendary creatures is fun.

24. suraþ (n) message, idea
(v) carry messages
suraþont messenger

Again, working from sound to meaning. I got the sense of "message" first, and elaborated from that.

25. kalvis (n) morsel, treat, snack, appetiser.

I was preparing the smoked salmon for my Christmas day champagne breakfast when I came up with this. This is the sort of thing you offer to welcome guests.

26. iskraþ (n) leftover food, especially from a feast
(v) reuse or distribute leftover food
iskraþon distribution of leftovers

Of course, this word was inspired by eating Christmas leftovers on Boxing Day. After a feast, the leftover food is distributed around the community so that nothing is wasted and nobody is left out.

27. korilsh (n) dangerous stream or current, rapids, false ford.

By "false ford" I mean a place where it appears to be safe to wade across the river, but isn't. The current may be too strong, or the riverbed treacherous underfoot.

Bolton Strid is a stretch or the River Wharfe that this word could apply to.

28. plawan (n) ford
(v) wade
plawanont wading

After a false ford, a real one, and "wade" was the most natural polysemy. This word is probably inspired by the hypothetical etymology *Plowonidonjon for London, supposedly meaning "The place where the river is too deep to ford".

29. malvur (n) ground that is dangerous to walk on

After hazardous water on the 27th, hazardous land. This could be quicksand or marsh, or an unstable or jagged rocky surface, or covered in ice or drifted snow, or a shoreline where the tide may come in rapidly.

30. kæstu (n) a rattle made by putting gravel inside an animal skull.

I imagine that a priest may use this kind of rattle to lead a procession to a shrine or temple. It may have been made from the skull of a sacrificed animal.

31. baruna (n) a musical instrument made from animal horn, with fingerholes

Animal horn instruments can usually only play the notes of a harmonic series. Their modern successors, the brass instruments, use valves to vary the length of the vibrating air column, and so can be tuned to different pitches. However, the was a Renaissance instrument called the cornett, which was blown like a brass instrument and had fingerholes like a woodwind instrument.

Most of this Lexember's words I had the sound first and then made up the meaning. However, with this word, something different happened. I was trying to think up a meaning for salgi, and thought up this instrument. However, the meaning didn't fit the sound, and I found my self thinking "No that's not salgi, that's baruna," so I used that instead. I still don't know what salgi means...

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

The Common Ground Algorithm - A Possible Remedy for Filter Bubbles

People have a tendency towards Confirmation Bias, whereby they seek out things that confirm their existing opinions and avoid things that challenge them. On social networks and recommendation systems, this can lead to the development of a filter bubble, whereby their sources of information come to be structured around what they already believe. This, of course, acts as an obstacle to healthy discussion between people of differing opinions, and causes their positions to become ever more deeply entrenched and polarised. Instead of seeing those with whom they differ as being decent people who have something of value to offer them, and who may be persuadable on some of their differences, people start seeing their opponents as the enemy. To prevent this, people need something that will put them in touch with people with whom they have generally opposing viewpoints. Of course, we can't just confront people with contrary opinions - this will risk provoking hostile reactions. What we need is to show people what they have in common with those whose opinions are different, so that they can build trust and begin to interact in a healthy way. As an attempt to do this, I present The Common Ground Algorithm. This uses a combination of topic modelling and sentiment analysis to characterise a user's opinions. It then finds people whose opinions are generally opposed to theirs, and identifies the topics on which they share common ground, recommending posts where they agree on something with people they disagree with in general. I've coded up a reference implementation in Python, and am releasing it under the MIT Licence to encourage its use and further development.