Another brick in the wall


Earlier this week I turned in the course review for what was actually the first “real” writing course I’ve ever taken. What’s a “real” writing course? To a first approximation, it’s one that you pay for, so I’m not counting the creative writing courses from middle school and high school. And I never took a writing course in college (thank goodness) so this was the first time I ever plopped down cash money in order to have someone assign me homework and tell me what’s wrong with my words.

It was totally worth it.

The course I attended was One Brick at a Time: Crafting Compelling Scenes, part of Odyssey Online. It was a bit of an experiment: I had Christmas money, and I was looking for something to challenge myself as I was starting a new project. Of the winter courses on offer, the scene-construction one looked like it hit the areas where I’m weakest, so I siged up and got in.

Embarrasingly, my application was a few days late, because I didn’t check the deadlines before sending in my application. However, Jeanne Cavellos, the director of Odyssey, accepted my application anyway. Oh, and that’s the other thing: you have to apply, and not everybody gets in. My impression is that applicants aren’t necessarily being judged on being “good enough” but on being in the right place of their career and development to benefit from the course, so I interpret my acceptance as an example of my sucking just enough to be considered.

It was a huge success for me. Going in to the class, scene construction was largely one of those things where I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I tended to write scenes by feel, just sort of starting and stopping whenever it seemed right. This worked out okay, most of the time, but having taken the class I feel like I actually know how to write a good scene, and I have a whole bunch of tools and analytics that I can break out to fix scenes that aren’t working. This is a tremendous relief.

Most importantly, it’s right on time. I finished up Heir of Iron in December, and I’ve already outlined Queen of Serperts, the next book in the pipeline. And now that I have a great set of tools to make sure that it comes out right. I wrote two chapters for assignments in the class, and they’re significantly improved already over what I would have produced otherwise.

TL;DR: Odyssey is worth your money.

The grammar of Praseo


This is complete enough that I’m ready to post it here: the grammar of the Praseo language. The syntax section isn’t complete yet, and I don’t have any longer sample texts or the lexicon up yet, but there’s a decent bit of morphology, phonology, and enough to get a feel for the style of the language.

For those who don’t have the time or patience to read the whole thing, let me present just the first and second person pronouns, which have a lovely, bizarre feature of trading place in polite speech.

First and second person nominative pronouns

The first and second person subject pronouns are formed of compounds between the demonstrative prefixes and pronominal suffixes, similar to the third person demonstratives. However, there is no distinction between proximal and distal in the first and second persons, and there are additional considerations of rank and politeness which affect the choice of pronouns. Second person pronouns are distinguished by gender, but first person pronouns are not.

Speech between equals

When social equals address each other, they used the following pronouns:

Person Singular Plural
1 nioa ai
2masc niśa aśi
2fem niśe aśa

These forms are considered the unmarked forms, and are used in all social situations where differences of rank do not need to be observed. This includes speech between people of similar ages, and interactions between the leaders of enna regardless of their age.

Speech between unequals

When there is a distinction of rank that must be observed, then the first and second person pronouns are reversed in the singular—that is, the first person singular pronoun from the chart above is used as the second person pronoun, and vice versa. In this scenario the gender of the first person pronoun is qualified by the gender of the interlocutor. The plural pronouns are unchanged. The following chart illustrates this (perhaps redundantly):

Person Singular Plural
1 (masc. interlocutor) niśa ai
1 (fem. interlocutor) niśe ai
1 (mpl. interlocutor) niśi ai
1 (fpl. interlocutor) niśa ai
2masc nioa aśi
2fem nioa aśa

The rationale for this has to do with the cultural use of honorifics and “social ownership”. The word nioa literally means “this one of mine,” but the significance of this possession varies according to the social situation. In a conversation between equals, a speaker presents himself as self-owned and self-referential, without any relationship of ownership or deference to the other speakers. Thus the word nioa, “this one of mine,” can be used to refer to the self, and niśa, literally “this one of yours,” refers to the interlocutor.

However, in a conversation between unequals, both parties will refer to the other with an honorific which indicates their relationship. These honorifics typically are suffixed with a possessive pronoun. The following short dialog will illustrate:

Ezeioa         pazetsyaśoa  ka?
Grandmother-my call-PERF-me QUESTION?

Child: My grandmother, did you call for me?

Bandeioa      kuyaśu?
Grandchild-my where-is-PERF?

Elder: My grandchild, where were you?

Niśe       satsú     yaśu.
This-yours beach-LOC is-PERF.

Child: I was at the beach.

Niśa       mantsya ma   nioa    patsu     zitsyatsu.
This-yours needs   that this-my something carry-it.

Elder: I need you to carry something for me.

Note, first off, that the child begins by addressing the elder with the honorific ezeioa, “my grandmother,” and that the elder in turn begins by addressing the child as bandeioa, “my grandchild.” The use of these ranked terms establishes the relative position of the speakers. In the second round of the dialogue, the child refers to himself with the pronounniśe, “this yours”, which is contextually understood to be an abbreviation of nibandeiśe, “this grandchild of yours”. (Note, too, that though the child is male he uses the form niśe, with the feminine possessive ending -śe because he is addressing a female elder and allowing himself to be “socially owned” by the elder.) The grandmother, in like fashion, refers to herself as niśa, literally “this yours (”, understood as an abbreviation of “this grandmother of yours”; and she addresses her grandson with nioa “this mine.”

This reversal of first and second person pronouns only occurs in the singular. The first-person plural pronoun ai is used in conversations between unequals without change, except for one wrinkle: the plural ai cannot be used with the clusive meaning “me and you” or “we and you” when the speaker and the person addressed are of unequal rank. In cases of unequal rank, the meaning “me and you” must be conveyed by niśa ta nioa, with an explicit conjunction, and “we and you” must be ai ta nioa or similar.

Things I didn’t know about Gypsies


Today I followed a link to this fascinating book review about the origins and current state of gypsy populations in southern Europe. The book itself focuses on Serbian Roma, but I can’t imagine that the Romanians are much different. Among the grim facts that I learned:

    • “[T]he Roma are socially excluded (and exclude themselves) with life expectancies 10 to 15 years lower than the European norm, high infant mortality, and an 80% unemployment rate.”
    • “Their code of conduct minimizes contact with non-gypsy people, and particularly abjures marriage with non-gypsies.”
    • “Non-Roma are seen as unclean and polluting, interactions with them are to be avoided, and theft and crimes against non-Roma are not morally wrong.” This is the sort of thing that is frequently repeated as a calumny against gypsies in Romania, so it’s interesting to see a scholarly author essentially confirm it.
    • The Roma have “horrific figures for child mortality: 6 per 100 for Christian Orthodox Roma, 13 per 100 for Muslim Roma. By way of comparison, the highest global under-5 death rates are in Africa, at 90 per 1000, and for Europe only 12 per 1000.”

The author of the review goes on to conclude that most of the health and intelligence issues in the gypsy community are due to inbreeding, as well as some other issues. Overall, it’s a depressing read that doesn’t leave one with a lot of optimism for the gypsies.