Blog Posts - Dreams and Dialects
 
A topic came up in the Facebook Conlangs group about international auxiliary languages (auxlangs) designed for endangered languages, and I simply had to write about it. 

For those who don't know, an auxlang is a language that has been constructed with the purpose of being used by people who don't share a common language. They are often designed to be neutral and easily learnable (for example, I'm sure most people have heard of Esperanto; this is a pretty well-known auxlang). So, auxlangs are meant to be a neutral solution to finding a common language to use with others. As much of a constructed language enthusiast as I am, I'm still not much of a proponent of auxlangs, and here's why: as a Language Planning student, I want to encourage people to learn and speak endangered and minority languages. So, when my passion in life is the preservation of lesser-spoken languages, why would or should I support a language that has been designed with the intention of being spoken internationally? It's somewhat of a conflict of interest.*

Personal matters aside, would an endangered language auxlang actually work? I'd have to say that I don't think so. To explain my point, I'll give you a little example: my hypothetical auxlang, Brėthoneg.

Brėthoneg is designed to be a hypothetical auxlang for the Brythonic languages, i.e. Welsh, Cornish and Breton, the latter two being listed as endangered by UNESCO. This project started as an idea to make a language that would be intelligible or easily read by speakers of any of the Brythonic languages. When I realised that this was pretty much impossible, it became a language that should simply be easily learnable for those speakers, with plenty of room for regional variations (one example being that <r> may be pronounced according to the speaker's native language, i.e. /r, ɹ, ɾ, ʁ/). 

Simple phrases are easily intelligible in the standard forms of the languages: 

English: I have a book
Welsh: Mae llyfr gennyf 
Cornish: Yma lyver genev
Breton: Ul levr zo ganin 
Brėthoneg: Ma lyvr geniv

English: Hello! My name is Rhian. What's your name?
Welsh: S'mae! Fy enw i 'di Rhian. Beth yw dy enw di?
Cornish: Dydh da! Ow hanow yw Rhian. Pyth yw dha hanow?
Breton: Salud! Rhian eo ma anv. Petra eo da anv?
Brėthoneg: Deidh da! Ma anu ėw Rhian. Pėth ėw da anu?

...and so on and so on. If you look closely, the biggest problem with Brėthoneg is that it is ridiculously similar to Cornish. So if I've designed an auxlang based on three languages, and it turns out to be structurally almost identical to one of them, why not just learn that one, and not waste time on a conlang? I can only imagine that in a larger group of endangered languages, a similar thing might happen, or all the words would be so different that there would be no way to find a neutral solution.

Coming from a language ecology standpoint, I think it's more important to encourage the learning of the endangered languages themselves rather than to suggest a new one for people to learn. I don't think that anyone would want to learn an inter-Celtic language, simply because Celtic-language speakers already have a common language, as is the case with most speakers of endangered languages. Besides, I think it takes a certain kind of person to take an interest in an endangered language, another kind to want to learn an auxlang, and I think that it would be a very rare breed that would want to learn an auxlang for endangered languages. 

So, would they work? As with any auxlang, it's a nice idea, but I really don't think they would catch on. A nice conlang project perhaps, but I wouldn't expect too much. 


 
* (I am aware that auxlangs are meant to be used as a second language, but many endangered languages' only hope is to spoken as a second language, too.)


 

Codex Seraphinianus is an experience. It's the picture book that the inner-child of your imagination has been dreaming of. It is, in essence (if you can even adequately capture the essence of this book), an encyclopedia of a fantastic  and imaginary world, a world where trees uproot themselves and swim away in vast numbers, where deer heads are grown in plant pots, where grass grows out of the palms of men's hands. It's where your wildest dreams, nightmares and/or hallucinations have gone to die. And if all the psychotic imagery wasn't difficult enough to get your head around, it isn't even written in a real language. In fact, it's written in a language that has yet to be deciphered by anybody; it's generally accepted that the language of Codex Seraphinianus is entirely meaningless, and will never be understood. 
If you are already familiar with The Voynich Manuscript, the Codex Seraphinianus may seem like nothing more than a desperate attempt at becoming "the world's second most mysterious manuscript", but it is certainly worth your attention nonetheless. The script, though not as beautiful in my opinion as that of the Voynich Manuscript, has a fascinating design that will enthrall linguists and conlangers alike. The Codex Seraphinianus is inspiring, absurd, beautiful, mysterious and grotesque. 

If you like fantasy and surrealism, this book will leave your brain tingling, like the first surreal cartoon you ever witnessed as a child (Stoppit and Tidyup, anyone?) . I guarantee that your dreams will be plagued by walking Easter eggs and men with evergreen forests growing out of their heads for months to come. 

This book will serve as a fountain of inspiration for the poor souls suffering from writer's/musician's/illustrator's/anything's block. Whether or not this is "your sort of thing" you would be almost madder than the book itself not to 'read' it. 
I have recommended this book to so many people, and I will continue to recommend it. There is so much more that I could say about this book, but it really is simply one that you have to read yourself. It is, unfortunately, ridiculously expensive, but like all things you will be able to find a sneaky pdf version of it online somewhere. It is an absolute treasure and it has stayed with me from the day I first saw its cover image - a couple who slowly transform into a crocodile (slightly NSFW, maybe): 
 
Yup, my life is so void of any real excitement that my favourite thing to do is collect interesting words. Since I have a vast collection of many, many words, today I thought I’d share about 10 of these with you. Enjoy!

1. 積ん読 tsundoku (Japanese) 

(n.) The act of leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other unread books

I think many of us can relate to this one. I myself have quite a few books that I will probably never really read. My grammar of Middle Breton, for example. I just love to collect books, to have them there on my shelf whether I read them or not, just so I can say, "Hey, look, I have a book on Middle Breton grammar" or "And this is my Irish dictionary from the 1920's written in An Cló Gaelach". A lot of people would criticise this practice, but really, with books slowly being pushed aside for e-readers and so on, I'd assume that one day most books will only have ornamental value anyway. 

2. Wīwī (Māori)

(n.) France
I don't think this word needs much explanation. It comes from French "oui, oui". Can you imagine naming a country after one stereotypical phrase used by its language's speakers? Just beautiful.  

3. snowlight (English)

(n.) The light reflected by snow

I'll be honest, I thought I had invented this word myself, so I was a little disappointed to see that it already exists, but it's a wonderful word nonetheless! Have you ever noticed how the world just glows when you're outside in the snow at night? You could walk through a field in the middle of the night and be able to see clearly just from the light reflected by the snow. It's one of my favourite things about winter.

5. molotulun (Ngarrindjeri)

(vb.) The ebbing and flowing of the waves on Lake Alexandrina, South Australia

I can't vouch for the authenticity of this word, as a Google search will only give you links to various dictionaries and a couple of books. Whether this word is genuine or not, the idea of a language having such a specific term fills me with joy. 

6. 森林 sēnlín (Mandarin Chinese) 

(n.) Forest

"Forest?" you might ask, "that's an interesting word?". Well, stop asking such silly questions and just look at it. It's literally a picture of five trees. In fact, from what I've seen, it gets even better. Let me show you how often you can use this simple 木 character: 
木 林 森 𣛧 𣡕 𣡽

How can you not adore this language!?

7. ននៀល [nɔniel] (Cambodian)

(vb.) to lie on the ground and thrash about (as a fish out of water or as a child having a temper tantrum)
It's essentially comparing a spoilt brat to a dying fish, what more could you possibly want from a word? There can't really be that many instances in which you could use it, but I can just imagine it being hilarious. 

8. crebi (Welsh)

(n.) A sheep that has lost its wool by forcing its way through thorns and briars, etc

I discovered this word the other day through the Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, and it had me laughing for a good five minutes. Only Welsh could have such a specific sheep-related word. I love this language.

9. serein (English)

(n.) fine rain falling after sunset from a sky in which no clouds are visible

I can't say I've ever experienced this myself, and as someone who doesn't know the first thing about meteorology, I don't quite understand how you can have rain without clouds (someone enlighten me?) but I just love nature words that are so specific. 

10. petrichor (English)

(n.) The distinctive scent which accompanies the first rain after a long warm dry spell.

Some people use this word to mean 'the smell of the earth after rain', but it does have a slightly more specific meaning than that. It was coined by two Australian researchers, and it is an absolutely beautiful word: it's combined of the Greek words 'petra' (πέτρα) meaning 'stone', and 'ichor' (ἰχώρ) the ethereal golden blood of the gods. 
 
I've never been particularly fond of writing introductory blog posts. To be honest, I think I usually just write the one post and then give up on the blog altogether. So this time I don't think I'll dwell on introducing myself and just get straight into the cool stuff. You will get to learn that I use the term 'cool' lightly.

Do not judge me lest ye be judged: I take an immense amount of joy in reading about old orthographies, and I am hopelessly interested in their development. So, yesterday, while looking for an online copy of William Owen Pughe's hilariously fantastic dictionaries from the 19th century, I came across this absolute gem of an orthography and I have fallen madly in love with it. 
It appears to be based on Coelbren y Beirdd, the Welsh bardic alphabet invented by Iolo Morgannwg.  It's unfortunate that the book is so old that the diacritics aren't very clear. Here's a copy of the alphabet. The Coelbren-inspired orthography is on the left, while the modern orthography is on the right: 
The graphemes for <w> are a little hard to decipher. They look a bit like Cyrillic <ϭ> or Greek <σ>. I know that in Mediæval Welsh texts, a letter that looked similar to the number <6> was used for this letter, so it's likely based on that (I don't think it's available in Unicode yet). Since neither of these however will combine with a circumflex, I'm going to be boring and just use the <ϭ> for both <w> and <ŵ>.


a ... [a]
â ... [a:]
b ... [b]
b̓ ... [v]
b̔ ... [m]
c ... [k]
c̓ ... [g]
c̔ ... [ŋʰ]
ć ... [x]
d ... [d]
d̓ ... [ð]

d̔ ... [n]
e ... [ɛ]
ê ... [e:]
v ... [v]
f ... [f]

g ... [g]
g̔ ... [ŋ]
h ... [h]
i ... [ɪ, i]

l ... [l]
l̔ ... [ɬ]



m ... [m]
m̓ ... [v]
n ... [n]
o ... [ɔ]
ô ... [o:]
p ... [p]
p̓ ... [b]
p̔ ... [mʰ]
ṕ ... [f]
r ... [r]

r̔ ... [rʰ]
s ... [s]
t ... [t]
t̓ ... [d]
t̔ ... [nʰ]
t́ ... [θ] 
u ... [ɪ, i, ɨ]
ϭ ... [w, u, u:]
y ... [ɪ, i, ɨ]
ᶌ ... [ə] 


In all fairness, it is a complete mess of an orthography. But it has its charms, and the fact that you can tell which letters are mutations is useful. Apart from that though, it's an awful, awful mess. Just for fun here's a little comparison of the first verse of the Welsh national anthem in both orthographies: 

Contemporary Welsh: 
Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl i mi,
Gwlad beirdd a chantorion, enwogion o fri;
Ei gwrol ryfelwyr, gwladgarwyr tra mad,
Dros ryddid collasant eu gwaed.


This silly Welsh: 
Mae hen ϭlad vᶌ t̔adau ᶌn annϭyl i mi, 
Gϭlad beird̓ a ćantorion, enϭogion o b̓ri; 
Ei gϭrol rᶌvelϭyr, gϭladc̓arϭyr tra mad,
Dros rᶌd̓id col̔asant eu gϭaed. 


Despite being messy, I think it's fairly cool-looking. I'm personally a big fan of having lots and lots of diacritics (Vietnamese, hnngg). Being the big orthography geek that I am, I might spend lots of time learning to read and write this fluently. Maybe it would make a useful shorthand for Welsh? Or maybe it should just stay in that book forever where it belongs.