Tuesday 30 November 2010

Exquisite Corpse and other stuff

I've started up a game of Conlang Exquisite Corpse amongst members of the conlang mailing list. What's Exquisite Corpse? It's a surrealist writing technique, where a group of people take turns to contribute to a text, each having limited knowledge of what has gone before. In this case, I've sent a sentence in Khangaþyagon to somebody, who has to translate it and write a followon sentence in his own conlang. He then passes his sentence (not mine) onto the next person in the chain. By the time it gets back to me, I expect the story to be about something completely different from what I started it off as.

I've also been running a little experiment with some volunteers from the conlang mailing list to see how native English speakers perceive the sounds of an unfamiliar language. I'll post the results here in a couple of days.

I've also been thinking about my Incorporating Romlang. I think I might introduce a vowel harmony system, and then break it on purpose.

Friday 26 November 2010

Tenth post Wordle

Wordle: Fantastical Devices

To celebrate my tenth post, I've created a Wordle of my previous posts. Looks like the incoporating Romlang is dominating things at the moment.

I think I'll do this about every 10 posts or so.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Things that even Mad Scientists don't understand

Why do you have to put a pound in the locker at the swimming pool? Do they think you're going to run off with the key and leave your clothes behind?

Monday 22 November 2010

Why I hate secular Christmas music

So, Advent hasn't even started yet and already all the shops are playing Christmas music. Not even nice carols, but awful secular Christmas music, of the "Let's cash in on Christmas without losing any potential buyers by mentioning why it exists in the first place" type. Cynical, schmaltzy, musically inept and lyrically empty. Take for instance, a song I heard this morning, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. What uplifting and inspiring message does this give us about why we celebrate Christmas?

Reindeer are really shallow.

Thursday 18 November 2010

Has anybody else noticed...

...that the Imperial March from Star Wars is really Baa Baa Black Sheep?

Tuesday 16 November 2010

More on the incorporating romlang

Here are a few more ideas I've had on my incorporating Romance language.

  • Latin adjectives follow the noun. However, that won't be possible for objects that are incorporated into the verb, so in this language adjectives preceed the noun.

  • When a verb beginning with h incorporates its object, the h is lost.

  • If the accusative singular ends with a consonant, and the verb begins with a consonant other than h, an epenthetic syllabic nasal is inserted between the noun and the verb - it's a relic of the old accusative ending

  • Unstressed vowels are lost before a nasal.

  • When an accusative plural ending in s is incorporated by a word beginning with a voiceless stop, the the s+stop combination becomes a voiced stop

  • /k_w/, represented by <qu> becomes /w/ (I haven't decided what becomes of /g_w/ yet). The letter q represents the sound /w/ from now on.

  • Unstressed /i/ and /u/ become /j/ and /w/ unless followed by a vowel. /rj/ becomes /l/

  • When the old accusative ending was lost, a lot of words became homophones in the accusative, and where it was important to distinguish between them, other words shifted in meaning. For example filius (son) and filia (daughter) both become * filj in the accusative. Both words have been replaced, by puer and pqell, form puer (boy) and puella (girl) respectively. The meanings "boy" and "girl" are now conveyed by naut (from nauta, sailor), and hncill (from ancilla, female slave).

  • The copula hesse (sm, hes, hed, summus, hedis, sunt) does not incorporate either of its arguments, both of which appear in the accusative.

  • The ship on which the original colonist sailed was called Mercurius. Their village is named after it, Mercul

Monday 15 November 2010

Happy St Albert's Day

Today is the feast of St Albert the Great, or Albertus Magnus. St Albert was a Dominican academic and bishop who lived in the thirteenth century. At this time, universities were emerging in Europe, and there was an upsurge of interest in scientific ideas from the ancient Greece that were being transmitted via the Arab world. However, since these ideas had been originated by pagans and transmitted by Muslims, these was some suspicion of them in the Christian Church. St Albert was prominent in teaching that faith must be compatible with reason, and that therefore Christians should not be afraid to embrace scientific knowledge - a teaching as valuable today as it was then. As a result, he's considered the Patron Saint of Scientists, and has the title Doctor of the Church, which is given to those saints who are particularly important for their scholarship and teaching. One of his pupils was St. Thomas Aquinas, usually regarded as the greatest theologian of the Middle Ages.

So, Happy Saint Albert's Day, everybody!

Saturday 13 November 2010

Can anybody read my birdbath?

Last year, my son found a little ceramic dish half-buried in the garden. We've been using it as a birdbath ever since.

What's interesting about this little dish is that it has two large Chinese characters on the inner surface. I did Japanese classes a few years ago, so I know a few basic Kanji, but these one's aren't familiar to me. Here's a photo of the birdbath, taken just after it was excavated, showing the characters.

[caption id="attachment_23" align="alignnone" width="240" caption="Can anyone tell me what this means?"]Birdbath with Chinese Characters[/caption]

If anyone knows what this means, please leave a comment. I hope it's not something along the lines of the tattoo, allegedly popular with American servicemen stationed in Japan after the Second World War, that read "I'm too stupid to ask what this means."

Updated I've uploaded a clearer picture of the birdbath, without the shadow that obscured the second character in the original image.

Thursday 11 November 2010

People say I have strange tastes in music...

...and they're right. As I type I'm listening to King Crimson's The Court of The Crimson King on my Songza station, Pete's Progcast. Songza is a social music site where you can set up your own online radio station, and so indulging my love for the weird and wonderful, I've done so. As the name implies, it's mostly Progressive Rock, but with a scattering of other things (early music and folk in particular) to broaden the selection a bit. The voice you'll hear most often is that of Peter Gabriel, either solo or as a member of Genesis.

Give it a listen. If you have any ideas for things I might like to hear, Songza allows you to recommend them.

Meanwhile, the track has changed to Knights in White Satin by the Moody Blues.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Latin by the Road Less Travelled

I've mentioned that I'm a conlanger. My main project is Khangaþyagon, part of my slowly progressing fantasy book, and I have a side project iljena, an alien language where every word is a noun and a verb at the same time. However, there's another idea that I've been thinking about on and off for a while, and I've begun to make a bit of progress with it.

All the Romance Languages that exist in real life are descended from the colloquial Latin of the later Western Empire, generally known as Vulgar Latin. This constrained what could evolve, and gave rise to the common features of its descendents. However, it seems possible that had something branched off from Latin at a different point in its history, a very different sort of Romance Language might have evolved. Here are some things that might have happened otherwise.

  • Word final <m> in Classical Latin seems to have been pronounced as a nasalization of the preceeding vowel. Vowels at the end of words seem to have been elided when the next word began with a vowel (as far as we can tell from poetry), and this includes the nasalized ones. Latin's basic word order was SOV, and singular accusatives ended with an <m>. This could lead to the situation where the object is incorporated into the verb.

  • As a further consequence of this, the accusative (minus its original ending) becomes the main form of the noun, and we have a marked nominative system.

  • /h/ was lost in Vulgar Latin - by the fourth century AD, only lawyers and politicians pronounced it, and they needed special training. However, in the first century BC, we have evidence that people "on the up" tended to overproduce it. So words beginning with vowels in Latin begin with /h/ in this language.

  • As a result of this, voiceless stops become a bit aspirated, except in clusters, like they do in English. People learning the language tended to get voiceless stops following an /s/ mixed up with voiced stops, so we have the sound change /sp st sk/ => /b d g/

  • However, for stops that were already followed by /h/ become affricates. So the word spatha (sword) becomes bats.

  • The ending -que (meaning "and" SENATUS POPULUSQUE ROMANUS) is still around, and doesn't get lost as it did in Vulgar Latin.

Obviously, this needs a backstory. My idea is that during the Second Triumvirate, a Roman merchant ship returning to Egypt from India got blown off course in a storm and was wrecked somewhere in what's now southern Somalia. Unable to repair their vessel, the crew traded their cargo of luxury goods for the things they needed to set up a colony (including women).

Friday 5 November 2010

And thus it begins...

Hello everybody!

Let's start with a few things about myself. I'm 36, a practicing Roman Catholic, English, married for 12 years with two children. I work for the BBC as a Research Engineer, a job that has the advantage of letting me go round calling myself an inventor. I have a variety of geeky interests, including Doctor Who, Progressive Rock, and conlanging (creating fictional languages). I've been working, on and off, on a fantasy book for a few years. I sometimes wonder if I'll ever finish it.

I've just started a new project at work, for which I thought it might be useful to have a blog. I'm not actually going to talk about work that much, more about my interests in general.

Well, that's it for now. Hopefully I'll be able to think of something to actually write about soon.