I’ve been busy lately: family from sundry parts of America and Romania have been visiting, bringing the total people under our roof to nine at one point. This has severely cut into my time for writing, hence the sudden lack of posts.

But a friend of mine Marlene Dotterer recently posted the Look Challenge, and I thought it was interesting enough to take her up on it.

1. Find the first occurrence of the word “look” in your WIP, and post the surrounding paragraph.
2. Tag others to do the same.

My current WiP is a short story called The Heresy Trial of Friar Travolo, and conveniently the first instance of “look” in the story is the description of the eponymous Friar:

And so I met the famed heretic. Travolo is a small man, stooped at the neck, with muddy brown eyes and a thin, greasy beard, unpleasant to look at. His chamber was floored with planks of wood and furnished only with a straw mattress and a burlap rag for a blanket, and the only source of light was what trickled in from the narrow windows set into the stone walls of the tower. I carried a lamp, but without it it was very dark, and Travolo had no lamp of his own. Yet by the lamplight I could see that he had fashioned a crude pencil from wood, and in the stone walls had begun to scratch the outlines of an exegesis right at the spot where the light would fall on it as it slipped through the window in the evening.

I tag Natasha and Corey, should either of them happen to see this. (But if you’re reading this you’re welcome to participate, even if you aren’t either of them.)

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.

One of the longest-lasting and most rewarding friendships of my life began in the sixth grade. I had just transfered to a new school, and being a shy, unathletic kid, I naturally gravitated to the other shy, unathletic kids, which in this case included Brett: a tall, skinny boy with glasses, allergies, and a gloriously nerdy set of interests. We played chess and read books together at recess. He got me to read Tolkien. And he got me into language.

In sixth grade Brett had already studied Latin and Old English, and his enthusiasm for arcane and obscure linguistic trivia infected me. I started studying Hebrew, we both dabbled in Tolkien’s languages, and we both tried to make our own languages. His languages were initially much better than mine, as he had a big head start on linguistics, and having two foreign languages already under his belt was a tremendous advantage for his initial language-construction forays. He taught me the International Phonetic Alphabet and the basics of phonology and historical linguistics. I don’t exaggerate much to say that my friendship with Brett changed my life: the interest in linguistics that he sparked never died out; Linguistics became my major in college, which led indirectly into my current day job; and my linguistic training was part of what motivated and prepared me to go to Romania where I met my wife.

He’s still better than me at linguistics, too, since he is in the last stages of finishing his PhD. in Linguistics, while I have a lowly B.A.

However, I do have one thing over him: I kept up the hobby of language creation (conlanging, as we call it), while he seemed to abandon it in high school. I’ve continued to develop languages for my fictional settings and my private amusement, and just the other day I completed an application for an actual paid conlanging gig. At this point I have at one well-documented language, Yivrian, and a whole slew of sketches, planned languages, and notes.

I’ve also put a lot of work lately into Praseo, the language used in my current WIP. And with the confluence of conlang-y things going on in my life right now, this seems like a good time to write about that aspect of my writing process, talking about how I use and create languages for my fictional settings, with pointers to how you can do the same if you’re interested.

Next week: a naming language.

Natasha Oliver recently tagged me. Now I must participate in a meme. Now, I sort of hate memes, but this one seems kind of fun, so here goes nothing.

  1. Go to page 77 of your current MS.
  2. Go to line 7.
  3. Copy down the next 7 lines/sentences, and post them as they’re written.

Fortunately, I’ve been working on the second draft of The Wedding of Earth and Sky lately, so I have page 77 already edited nicely.

Bhaalit chuckled. “The hard part will be building them. Everything after that is just standing and pulling.”

They began early the next day. Keshlik sent Bhaalit and half of the warriors with axes to to fell the lodgepole pines that grew a few miles upstream. The men were warriors, not loggers, so it took excruciatingly long for the first log to appear in the stream, bobbing to where Juyut and a half-dozen other young warriors plunged into the water and wrestled it to shore.

You may be asking yourself, Who are these log-chopping warriors? Where are they going? What are they building? How am I supposed to pronounce their names?

Unfortunately, I can’t answer these questions for you right now. Let me finish revising the book first.

(One hint on the pronunciation: Bhaalit is [ˈbʰaːlɪt]. Good luck with that.)

I’m about halfway through my current WIP, which means (naturally) that I’ve spent the last hour reading about placental abruption. This is what happens when you reach the point in your novel at which things must move from Bad to Worse: you get online and you try to find the worst thing that could possibly happen to your characters. Because you love them.

On the one hand, it’s amazing that I can ask Google to please tell me about complications in late-term pregnancy, and a few minutes later I’m looking at pictures of detached placentas. On the other hand, gawd this is going to be hard to write about. Really, really hard. And this isn’t even the worst thing that might happen in this novel.

But it’s like they say: Kill your darlings. Kill them with a detached placenta if you have to. Don’t flinch.