I’m a few days late posting this (because reasons), but I’m very excited to post this interview I recently did with the folks on Conlangery, about the languages of Storm bride, and a bunch of other questions regarding fantasy literature and language creation. You can listen here:

We talk about:

  • How I got into linguistics and conlanging
  • Why there’s only two sentences of actual conlang in Storm Bride
  • Why most fictional languages in SFF suck
  • Ursula K. LeGuin’s Always Coming Home and other SFF works that at least try to get it right
  • How to present strange phonologies without terrifying your readers
  • Cultural appropriation issues when conlanging based on an real languages and cultures
  • Other stuff that I can’t remember.

This was the most fun I’d had in a while! Hope you like listening.

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 (m.sg.)”, 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.

Yivrian is historical conlang, designed with a proto-language and a set of sound changes that derive it, and with parent and sister languages. But I made it and its family backwards. Yivrian itself was conceived first (and it was not originally designed as a historical conlang), and only after the language was originally designed did I begin to speculate on what its parent language was like, and begin to design its sisters. This is not how your supposed to do these things, but it worked out reasonably well.

The biggest difficulty that I encounter with this approach is that Yivrian is too similar to its parent Common Yivrian, and the other sister languages are too different. Since Yivrian came first and retains its pride of place, everything about Common Yivrian that I didn’t specifically intend to be different defaults to being the same as Yivrian, while the other languages (Praseo and Tsingrizhil) wind up with a much greater distance from the proto-lang.

Fleshing out Praseo for The Wedding of Earth and Sky forced me to confront this problem anew. It also presented a different problem: while the Yivrian-like proto-forms work fine for deriving Yivrian, when I take those forms and put them through the sound changes to create Praseo, the result is often very ugly.

For instance, for Wedding I had to consider what to call the diety that in Yivrian is named Aratelor. If we extrapolate backwards into Common Yivrian by the most direct route, we would reconstruct something like *arātelōra, which as you can see is very similar to the Yivrian form, and not very interesting. Worse, the Praseo generated from that proto-form is Arotlura which I don’t like at all.

So I did some speculating. First, the Yivrian ending -elor is commonly attached to the names of dieties, and for that reason it may be innovative or analogical. Furthermore we know that the stem from which this name is formed is arat- (which appears in several other words), so it’s reasonable to assert that the CY name is *arāti or something similar, and the Y -elor is an innovation.

The second step was a new sound change. I had long known that CY contained /*ð/, which has disappeared in all of the daughter languages but left behind traces. In Yivrian the normal reflexes were (I thought) /d/ and 0, but about this time I began to speculate that there had been a sound change of *ð => r. Yivrian has a lot of r‘s, and I find so many r‘s to be unpleasant outside of the particular phonoaesthetic context of Yivrian, so this seemed like a good chance to turn a certain number of Yivrian r sounds into something that wouldn’t be reflexed as r in the other sister languages.

Applying that to this case, I changed the proto-form to *aðāti — and this was paydirt. The Praseo reflex of *aðāti is Azatsi, and I loved the sound of that! I liked it so much that the name became canon: in Wedding the name Azatsi appears as the name of the diety in question, and that’s unlikely to change in the future.