Language evolution and the icëlani

Posted by Glenn Kempf on 3:04 7/10/02

In reply to: Language evolution and the icëlani posted by Irgend Jemand on 15:00 7/7/02

As far as the icelani speaking pidgin--pidgin languages do strike me as simple, in the sense of having small vocabularies and few inflections,but as still highly structured. (Would a primeval language necessarily be "simple" as we think of it, anyway?)

The comment on lack of a fixed word order did give me one idea, however: perhaps icelani languages don't have a set word order, but resemble the quotation from Nim Chimpsky in your Proto-World essay--an emotion-based, stream-of-consciousness babble, with words or ideas repeated simply for emphasis? That might be one way to go about it.

With regard to the ilii, I think that your ideas are really neat, if hard to do--far beyond anything I had been thinking. You wrote before that ilii speech is meant to be understandable both in air and underwater (where sound carries well, but precise articulation would probably be hard to make out--making tones and vowels (?) more important), and that it sounds more like singing than speech--which would work well with the idea that attitude and emotion are the primary content, as well as the idea of conveying more than one thing at a time--if Tibetan Buddhist monks and Tuvan and Mongolian throat singers can sound more than one note simultaneously, surely ilii can do the same. It also fits well with the idea that the ilii have some form of empathy or telepathy--if the singer's emotion is the content, and the subject is implied by the context, it's more like painting a picture with sound.

(Incidentally, if anyone hasn't heard Tuvan throat singing and has a chance, I encourage you to try--at least once. It really gives you an appreciation for what inhuman things the human voice is capable of.)

Note that conveying emotion doesn't mean that it will be conveyed in the same way as we humans tend to understand it (i.e., what sounds like a sad song may actually mean something cheerful to the ilii), and even a musical model may not correspond to any tonal system we know (so a system like Solresol is probably out).

One thing I don't understand: you said that iliu language is "not primarily communicative"; what does that mean? If a language isn't communication, what is it? (It seems to me that I've read something about non-communicative languages before--probably in a semi-humorous story by Ursula K. LeGuin ("The Author of the Acacia Seeds") about linguists of the future working to decipher the languages of insects, birds, plants, and minerals.)

Another problem is that the Cuzei inherited the idea of a phonetic alphabet from the ilii's Eteodäole alphabet, so it would seem that the ilii do indeed have a means of representing their language in symbolic, linear (or semi-linear), and phonetic form. Or... maybe that was simply a system they created specifically for the purpose of communicating with humans in a form that the latter would understand? Hmmm...

My own conlang setting has an elder race of its own, in some ways in the role of the ilii--the ancient, advanced, magical race of elves/dragons/gods/whatever (the dystopian version seems to be Cthulhoid things from outer space). The Elders, like the ilii, are ideally an attempt to present such a race as more than just humans with pointy ears or growth problems (not that that approach hasn't been done well, too); they are an entirely supernatural race, more spirits than material creatures, with a sense of space and time that little resembles ours, capable of changing shape and form or "adopting" human ones, and sensing the "flow" of the natural world. (No, I don't really have an explanation for this--it's just magic. In some ways, my world is a lot less "scientific" than yours, although I want to make sure that all of the human elements are realistic.)

My concern is not so much with the Elders--since I consider their "language" to be beyond human comprehension--but with an aboriginal human people, the Northlanders, whose history dates from the time when contact with the Elders was more frequent, and whose language reflects some of the Elders' "thinking," particularly a more fluid representation of space and time (the "emotional" element you mentioned might also play a role, I suppose). Partly because one of the main inspirations for the Northlanders' way of life (although not necessarily their social structure) is the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest, I'd planned to have their language (what little of it I could create) be a polysynthetic one along the lines of Inuit et al, with many modifiers added to a root word(s). I'm not yet quite sure how to go about it, though...

As far as conveying attitude or "emotional" content in a language, apart from tone, I'm not sure about the best way to address it; I don't entirely like the use of attitude particles and the like, even though there are conlangs that use them well (Barakhinei, Kebreni, Klingon, Tsolyani from M.A.R. Barker's Tekumel (Empire of the Petal Throne)--another RPG/conlang setting gone out of control--which has two different sets of "attitude" modifiers, one "general" and one "personal" :-), and there are real-world languages that use them too. (Russian and Kazakh both have emphatic particles (zhe and qoi/ghoi, which for some reason don't bother me as much--probably because I'm used to them.) Any thoughts?

Ad onlelán,

Mark responds:

I've heard Tuvan throat-singing; it's featured in the movie Genghis Blues, which is remarkable. It's also used as background music in the recent Inuit movie, Atanarjuat.

As for non-communicative language, start with this critique of the package metaphor. Or more simply, think of iliu language as art. It may aim to decorate, to amuse, to move, to inebriate, to inspire meditation or communion, without there being a "message" at all.

As for writing, Eteodäole can be expressed three ways: by sound, by gesture, or by writing. The iliu maintain that each medium loses something and each adds something.

I like attitude particles simply because they make explicit something that is usually indicated indirectly in English (by word choice, intonation, etc.). It's a reminder that different languages choose to grammaticalize different things. But there could be different ways to do it... check back in a year or so when I may have worked out more of Eteodäole. :)

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