AMA About Language/Linguistics

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Sernos
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AMA About Language/Linguistics

Postby Sernos » Fri Aug 21, 2015 11:24 am

Admittedly I don't have the kind of the academic qualifications some of the other AMA folks have, but I did major in Linguistic Anthropology in college, I just never completed my degree. Regardless, I have about six years experience in linguistics, linguistic anthropology, historical linguistics, comparative linguistics, philology, and applied linguistics of various sorts.

In addition, I possess an innate and natural aptitude and understanding of language that, if I had to give myself one thing to be proud of, would be it. A professor actually once referred to me as a linguistic savant as I'm capable of learning languages about as fast as a car uses fuel. Currently I can speak or at least understand more languages than the average person can name.

Finally, and likely of most interest to this community, I've been constructing languages (conlangs) for around five years and kind of have it down to a science.

So feel free to ask anything involving language or even a specific language.

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zircher
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Re: AMA About Language/Linguistics

Postby zircher » Fri Aug 21, 2015 1:00 pm

I've recently seen some headlines about a universal language. I didn't read them because I thought that was silly. Is there any truth to those claims or is it junk science?

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Re: AMA About Language/Linguistics

Postby zircher » Fri Aug 21, 2015 1:02 pm

When you're constructing a language, do you also figure out how the sounds are generated or is it more of a written exercise?

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Re: AMA About Language/Linguistics

Postby Burning » Fri Aug 21, 2015 1:09 pm

Most science fiction and fantasy works gloss over the problems of learning a new language <cough>Universal Translator</cough>, but occasionally they show the process of someone learning a language of a previously unknown species/culture. Have you seen any works that do this well? Have you seen any that make notable errors in the depiction?
"Space is blue, and birds fly through it." - Werner Heisenberg

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Sernos
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Re: AMA About Language/Linguistics

Postby Sernos » Fri Aug 21, 2015 1:32 pm

zircher wrote:I've recently seen some headlines about a universal language. I didn't read them because I thought that was silly. Is there any truth to those claims or is it junk science?

I haven't seen anything like that myself but, I mean, there have been attempts in the past to construct a "universal language", the idea being that since it's constructed it's equally fair because everyone has to learn it and maybe you constructed it to make the whole universal bit somewhat easier somehow but... they just never really catch on enough to make them actually work.

The best known example is probably Esperanto which has been around since 1887 but you're statistically more likely to find Finnish useful as there are more speakers worldwide even after all this time.

So while it's not a bad theory, it's yet to really work in practice.

zircher wrote:When you're constructing a language, do you also figure out how the sounds are generated or is it more of a written exercise?

I'm not 100% sure what you mean, so feel free to correct me if I misinterpret this but every language has pretty much a set group of phonemes (individual sounds, basically), you know, consonants and vowels, that comprise the entire language.

A language only deviates from this with the introduction of a loan word from another language. For example, English does not natively have the 'ch' sound in "chutzpah", but many languages, such as Yiddish do.

What I'm getting at is one of the very first things I do when creating a language is figure out what sounds are found in it. That can give it a very certain feel and make it all the more recognizable.

It's also a good idea, though not always necessary, to figure out how those sounds interact. In some languages, some sounds are only found at the beginning or in the middle or at the end of a word, or only before or after a vowel or consonant. I could go into more detail there, but I'd be throwing out a lot of heavy jargon that's not really necessary but an example is the 'm' sound in English is never found at the start of a word and then followed by a consonant. If it begins a word it is always followed by a vowel.

In many, if not all, Bantu languages, however, that is not the case. You find words like "mbuti" (not pronounced anything like "mabootee" but like "mmmbootee").

Finally, realize that (assuming you're a normal person using the Latin alphabet we use in English), there's sometimes a difference between letters and sounds, specifically when it comes to something called "diphthongs" (letter combinations like 'th', 'ch', 'ng', etc.)

Just because 'n' and 'g' are found in your language doesn't necessarily mean the 'ng' sound like at the end of the word "ding" will be found and vice versa. And in this example I'd also point out that in English, 'ng' followed by a vowel automatically creates a hard 'g' sound. Dingo is really pronounced 'ding-go' but in some languages that hard 'g' might not be there.

Also 'th' can be problematic. Is it the 'th' in "thin" or the 'th' in "than"? So you may have to get creative with either using some esoteric and/or foreign characters or interesting spelling, at least initially.

In case you were wondering about how the sounds are actually physically produced by the mouth, vocal folds, etc. then that's not something you really have to worry about as with very little variation, all humans make the same sounds the same way.

How the sounds are physically produced only really comes into play when creating alien languages when the aliens have substantially different physiology from humans and then we're getting into theoretical xenolinguistics, which I love, but is a whole other can of worms.

Hope this helped.

Burning wrote:Most science fiction and fantasy works gloss over the problems of learning a new language <cough>Universal Translator</cough>, but occasionally they show the process of someone learning a language of a previously unknown species/culture. Have you seen any works that do this well? Have you seen any that make notable errors in the depiction?

Honestly the only example I can even think of of anything like this is Hoshi Sato from Star Trek: Enterprise and I wouldn't say it was done terribly well for a number of reasons, but the largest of which was it's one thing to be able to understand a brand new language, but it's a whole different process even at the neurological level to turn that understanding around and communicate meaningfully.

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Citizen Joe
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Re: AMA About Language/Linguistics

Postby Citizen Joe » Fri Aug 21, 2015 1:34 pm

How much credence do you put into linguistic drift following patterns of historical migration? I.e. can modern linguistic similarities and differences describe prehistoric human migrations?

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Re: AMA About Language/Linguistics

Postby Sernos » Fri Aug 21, 2015 1:39 pm

Citizen Joe wrote:How much credence do you put into linguistic drift following patterns of historical migration? I.e. can modern linguistic similarities and differences describe prehistoric human migrations?

I give it a fair amount of credence, but I think it's got its limits. While it may be able to describe sort of a vague big pictures, there are too many variables to account for for it to be really reliable on a smaller scale. If you want to track that kind of thing linguistically it's best to look at and compare historical languages, but that assumes you've got some sort of sources for those and those can be hard to come by and even then there is a certain element of uncertainty.

Unrelated: Would anyone be interested if I worked on making a "how to create a fictional language/conlang for those with no linguistic experience" type guide?

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Re: AMA About Language/Linguistics

Postby zircher » Fri Aug 21, 2015 4:29 pm

Nailed it, thanks. :thumbup:

Loved the whole "Hoshi Sato from Star Trek: Enterprise" translation bit. I figured they had to gloss over some bits for story sake, but glad that they did do something.

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Sernos
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Re: AMA About Language/Linguistics

Postby Sernos » Fri Aug 21, 2015 5:36 pm

Yeah it's feasible that if someone said, for instance, "Hello, how are you?" to you and you didn't speak English AT ALL, you might be able to infer meaning, maybe even some rudimentary syntax and grammar, and if we're stretching it, know all those words individually, but there's no way you could infer how to say "Good, and yourself?" You'd be just as likely to say "Gromand, borf dingalmo?"

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Re: AMA About Language/Linguistics

Postby Citizen Joe » Fri Aug 21, 2015 5:47 pm

Is that upward lilt of a question common in languages or even historically speaking?


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