Mark Rosenfelder has edited and updated my articles and essays from the Model Languages newsletter and the former website, assembling them into the book Langmaker: Celebrating Conlangs. Available now as a Kindle or paperback from Amazon!

Here’s the second issue I ever published.

From [email protected] Thu Jun  8 15:10:19 1995
Date: 08 Jun 95 13:06:25 EDT
From: Jeffrey Henning <[email protected]>
To: BlindCopyReceiver:  ;
Subject: Copy of: MODEL LANGUAGES, 6/1/95, 1 of 2

The newsletter discussing newly imagined words for newly imagined worlds
Volume I, Issue 2 -- June 1, 1995


   "My name is Alice, but-"
   "It's a stupid name enough!"  Humpty Dumpty interrupted impatiently;     
"What does it mean?"
   "Must a name mean something?" Alice asked doubtfully.
   "Of course it must," Humpty Dumpty said with a short laugh:  "my name 
means the shape I am -- and a good handsome shape it is, too.  With a 
name like yours, you might be any shape, almost."
   -- from Lewis Carroll, _Through the Looking Glass_

Despite Humpty Dumpty's comment, Alice could not be just any shape -- 
her name actually summons forth an image of someone who is simple and 
proper, according to surveys conducted to determine the impressions 
people have of different names.  All names have perceptions attached to 

Etymologically speaking, Alice's name is from the Greek for "truth".  
Most American and European names have become simple labels, their 
original meanings forgotten.  How many people realize that a name like 
_Jeffrey Henning_, if translated literally, means "Godfriend 
Meadowlark"?  Meanwhile, Indian names like "Dances With Wolves" (to take 
a bad example) wear their etymologies on their sleeves.

If you are fascinated by the origins of names, then you will be happy to 
learn that a naming language is one of the most useful types of model 
languages to create -- and one of the easiest, making a great first 
language for the hobbyist.  A naming language can be less complex than 
other model languages, since it does not need a detailed grammar and 
since it can get by with a small vocabulary:  with just 150 words 
(revealed below), you can generate millions of names for imaginary 
people and places.  Once you've read this issue, you'll be able to 
create two or three naming languages in as little as a half hour, though 
you'll end up fascinated by your creations and will spend many more 
hours on them.

To begin creating any type of model language, you must be able to create 
words in that language.  To create words, you need to understand sounds, 
meaning, sound change and so forth.  This issue will introduce you to 
the basic aspects of language;  subsequent issues of _Model Languages_ 
will explore each one in more depth.


The vocabulary of languages is constantly changing, as technology 
changes and as our understanding changes.  Twenty years ago no one 
talked of faxes, PCs or being on-line.  No one had heard of perestroika.  
Things were still groovy, nizza, happening.  Besides adding and retiring 
words, languages put new spins on old words:  _gay_ now primarily refers 
to "homosexuality", not "happiness";  _liberal_ now is almost a curse, 
referring to "favoring governmental power" when it once meant "favoring 
governmental power to promote social progress".  These word changes are 
not surprising.  Any of us can look over the linguistic landscape of our 
lives and see how the terrain has changed.  If you project this forward 
a thousand years, it is easy to see how the shape of a language's 
vocabulary will go through major upheaval.

It's harder to see that the grammar of the language, the way we put 
words together, will change too.  While saying _hopefully_ is still 
frowned upon, it is no longer viewed as completely ungrammatical.  The 
pronoun _them_ is often used to refer to one person, rather than the 
plural it is formally meant to refer to;  in casual conversation and 
writing, _them_ is now the gender-indifferent alternative to _he_ or 
_she_ (incidentally, as it was four hundred years ago, before pedantic 
grammarians -- yes, _them_ -- stepped in).  Looking a thousand years 
out, other grammatical distinctions will have been leveled, revealing 
new horizons behind them.

Finally, it can be hard to realize that the very sounds we use for words 
change.  It's not hard to believe the occasional word changes, such as 
knowing that _cup board_ is now pronounced _cupboard_, the [p] sound 
having assimilated to the following [b].  It is harder to believe that 
English words that now begin with [p] and date from Indo-European all 
began with [b] in Indo-European times.  Such systemic changes, where a 
sound changes throughout the entire vocabulary, happen gradually.

To imagine how it happens, think of a dialect, such as the Bostonian's 
"idear about whether the cah is pahked in Hahvahd yahd".  Sound changes 
systematically when these dialectal differences become emulated and 
become the new accepted pronunciations.  Imagine an alternate universe 
where JFK served out 8 years as the U.S. President, and was succeeded by 
8 years of RFK, who was followed by 8 years of Teddy (it had to happen 
in some universe!).  No doubt in that universe the Bostonian accent 
became American English's new standahd.

Basic sound changes do not happen suddenly like earthquakes buckling the 
landscape, but gradually like water eroding a shoreline.  Language 
change is for the most part slow, since change is on the whole 
discouraged.  The whole point of language is for people to be able to 
make themselves understood to each other, and this happens best in an 
environment where the language changes no faster than the land at the 
water's edge.

Language change is important because it shows the best way for you to 
invent a model language -- by making changes to an existing language 
(whether natural or a model).


Every person alive today has or had a mother.  Similarly, every mother 
tongue spoken by all these people had an ancestral language that it 
evolved out of.  Even Proto-Indo-European, the reconstructed ancestor 
language of hundreds of European and Indian languages, had an ancestral 
language it evolved out of:  Nostratic, which some linguists hypothesize 
was also the ancestor to five other proto-languages.  Since Nostratic 
itself is most likely descended from another language, records of the 
first language are no more knowable than records of Adam.

The ramifications for the language modeller are that the language he or 
she creates should not spring fully armed from the head of Zeus like 
Athena, but should derive from its own parent language.  Most model 
languages are unknown orphans, when a pedigree would not have been hard 
to provide.  Tolkien is one of the few modelers to actually create an 
ancestor tongue, which he used to derive many different Elvish languages 
for _The Lord of the Rings_, of which the best known are Quenya and 

"Wait a minute," you might be thinking, "are you saying that to create a 
model language I first have to create another model language?  Where 
does that language come from?  When does it end?"  Tolkien again 
provides the best example;  he created root words in a _proto-language_;  
he imagined that the elves would have reconstructed their ancestral 
language, much as Europeans reconstructed Indo-European.  Proto-
languages are elaborate hypothetical constructions and, as hypotheses, 
are fuzzy around the edges:  nothing but the bones of an extinct 
dinosaur, while the exact color of its flesh can never be known.  A 
proto-language, therefore, can be a simpler form of model language.  

The benefit of creating a proto-language is that it makes it easier to 
create sister languages to the model language you are chiefly interested 
in (what, more languages?!), enabling you to formulate new words based 
on regularly sound changes (more on this in it a minute).  It also makes 
it easier to coin words in your desired model language, providing a rich 
system of root words to use to derive new words.  So creating a proto-
language can save you time.

The easiest way to save time on your first model language is to use an 
existing language as the proto-language.  I once worked on a science 
fiction story set aboard a colony whose original settlers had been 20th-
century Italians and Spaniards, who -- through centuries of living 
together -- had created a new, simpler language.  By using Italian as 
the ancestor language, with many borrowings from Spanish, I not only 
made it easier to create a new language but I taught myself some Italian 
and Spanish as well!

If you are writing about a story that has taken place in the last 10,000 
years and is set in Europe or India, you might even use Proto-Indo-
European as the ancestral language for your languages.  Check out _The 
Roots Of English_ by Robert Claiborne for an easily readable discussion 
of Indo-European roots, or check out the appendix to _The American 
Heritage Dictionary of the English Language_, published by Houghton 
Mifflin;  both works are biased in emphasizing those roots from which 
English words descended, but make good starting points for devising a 


To create your language, you need to decide which sounds you want 
speakers to distinguish.  Basically, while it would be easy to think 
that the sound [t] is exactly the same, [t] actually describes a range 
of sounds, all closely approximating one another.  The way you position 
your tongue when saying [t] will vary depending on what other sounds you 
say before or after it, but we both articulate [t] similarly enough to 
recognize it as the same thing.

There is no objective reference that says a language must have any 
particular sound.  For instance, Old English did not distinguish between 
the sounds [f] and [v] or [s] and [z].  The plural of [hoof] was 
pronounced [hoovz] but it was not until later times that speakers 
treated the \f\ sound in the singular as different from the \f\ sound in 
the plural.  In Old English times, there could be no word [vat] 
different from [fat] -- such a distinction was just not made.  
Gradually, the sounds came to be heard as distinct.

So when creating the sounds of your language, you need to realize that 
they will only approximate English sounds, not exactly match them, and 
might not reflect distinctions currently made in English.  The [hw] 
sound in _whale_ might be regarded by your speakers as the same as the 
[w] sound in _wail_ (yes, they are different sounds, but you might have 
to listen closely as you pronounce them to tell the difference).

You can certainly include in your language sounds that are not part of 
English, say the French vowels, typically pronounced with the lips 
rounded, or the expectorating [kh] of Hebrew and Yiddish, let alone the 
clicking sounds of the Hottentots and Bushmen.  However, you should 
refrain from having too many unusual sounds in your language; you want 
your readers to be able to pronounce your words without too much 
difficulty.  Simply having regular sounds combined in unique ways (e.g., 
_sretan_, or _tsedet_) will be enough to convince them it is a unique 
language anyway.

Languages are very strict about how sounds are combined.  English, for 
instance, allows words to begin with [sn-], but never [zn-].  The rules 
English uses could fill pages, but as a modeler you want to just hint at 
complexity.  You may want to have a combination that is unusual in 
English and make it frequent in your language:  for instance, have some 
words begin with [sr-], [kn-], [kth-], [tl-], but here again restraint 
is the order of the day.  

As you specify how sounds can be combined, you may want to outline valid 
syllables.  Your language might only allow syllables of CVC 
(Consonant+Vowel+Consonant) or just CV or VC.  Some languages, like 
Japanese or Korean, have very strict limits on how syllables can be 
formed, making it possible to list all the valid syllables of the 
language.  But where Hawaiian allows just 162 different syllables, Thai 
has 23,638 syllables.

Two languages can have the exact same consonants and vowels and yet 
sound very different, depending on the syllable patterns and on the 
frequency of the consonants and vowels.  You may want to list the sounds 
that occur most often.  By paying rigorous attention to this when 
developing the proto-language, you can relax a little more during 
creation of the descendant language, which will carry on many of the 
same frequency patterns, though applied to different sounds as the 
sounds change.

Many languages have very simple vowel systems.  Eskimo-Aleut has just 
three vowels (the smallest number ever observed), while Spanish and 
Japanese each has five vowels.  The typical language has between 5 and 7 
vowels, but Indo-European languages usually have more;  English has 12, 
and German has 14.  The African language Khoisan has the record with 24 

Languages have been observed to have anywhere from six consonants 
(Rotokas) to 95 (Khoisan), with an average of 22.8 consonants.  The 
typical language has twice as many consonants as vowels.  The most 
common consonants include [p], [b], [t], [d], [k], [g], [gh], [f], [s], 
[sh], [m], [n], [ng], [gng], [w], [l], [r], [j] and [h].

For a great discussion of the sound structure of languages, check out 
_The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language_ by David Crystal.


Over time, sounds gradually change in certain circumstances.  John F. 
Kennedy, like many Bostonians, would drop his last [-r] from words like 
[car], while adding an [-r] to _Cuba_ [cubar] and _idea_ [idear].  As 
alluded to before, had enough Americans adopted this, it would have been 
considered a regular sound change and many other words might have 
undergone this change.  Or listen to the dialect of Brooklyn, where 
[bird] becomes [boyd], for instance;  someday all English speakers might 
pronounce [ir] as [oy].  No doubt, through the rise of one dialect in 
Old English, the sound [sk] was gradually becoming [sh].

Over great periods of time, these changes become more pronounced.  
Literally and figuratively.

Here are some common ways consonants evolve into one another:

     b <---> gw
     b <---> p
     b <---> v
     ch <---> kw
     d <---> g
     d <---> t
     d <---> th
     f <---> p
     f <---> v
     g <---> d
     g <---> k
     g <---> w
     g <---> y
     g <---> z
     gu <---> gw
     gw <---> b
     gw <---> d
     gw <---> g
     gw <---> gu
     gw <---> k
     gw <---> ku
     gw <---> kw
     gw <---> v
     gw <---> y
     gw <---> zh
     h <---> hy
     h <---> k
     h <---> s
     h <---> y
     hv <---> hw
     hw <---> hv
     hw <---> kw
     hw <---> p
     k <---> g
     k <---> gw
     k <---> h
     k <---> kw
     k <---> s
     k <---> th
     kh <---> kw
     ku <---> gw
     ku <---> kw
     kv <---> kw
     kw <---> ch
     kw <---> gw
     kw <---> hw
     kw <---> k
     kw <---> kh
     kw <---> ku
     kw <---> kv
     kw <---> p
     kw <---> sh
     kw <---> t
     l <---> r
     p <---> *-
     p <---> b
     p <---> f
     p <---> hw
     p <---> pf
     pf <---> p
     r <---> l
     s <---> h
     s <---> k
     sh <---> kw
     t <---> d
     t <---> th
     t <---> z
     th <---> d
     th <---> k
     th <---> t
     v <---> b
     v <---> f
     v <---> gw
     v <---> w
     w <---> g
     w <---> v
     y <---> *-
     y <---> g
     y <---> gw
     y <---> h
     y <---> z
     z <---> g
     z <---> t
     z <---> y
     zh <---> gw
     *- (lost)

This list is not meant to be all inclusive, just representative of 
changes that occurred in Indo-European.

Likelihood Of Sound Change
# Of IE Languages Where IE Initial Consonant Changed

	gh	12
	gw	12
	gwh	12
	bh	11
	dh	11
	kw	11
	g	9
	w	9
	k	7
	b	4
	d	4
	s	4
	p	3
	t	2
	y	2
	l	1
	r	1
	m	0
	n	0

You can use the above table as a rough guide to determine which 
consonants are more likely to undergo change.  It is not representative 
of all languages, being an analysis of 12 languages descended from 
Proto-Indo-European and showing the number of languages where the 
consonant in the word-initial position changed.  The languages analyzed 
were Armenian, Avestan, Common Germanic, Greek, Hittite, Latin, 
Lithuanian, Old Church Slavonic, Old Irish, Old Persian, Sanskrit, and 

The nasals, [n] and [m], are fairly stable, as are the liquids [l] and 
[r].  The stops [p], [t] and their voiced counterparts [b] and [d] 
change in only a third of the languages.  All aspirated consonants 
changed in every language analyzed, being markedly unstable;  [k] and 
[g] and their glide forms [kw] and [gw] were also more likely to change 
than not.

Sound changes actually vary by position, with a sound change applying to 
different places -- the [s] might become [h] at the beginning of a word, 
[k] in the middle of a word and [z] at the end of a word (though this is 
an extreme example).  For simplicity's sake, you may just want to apply 
the same changes regardless of position.

Besides these phonetic changes, there are often "environmental" changes 
in words, where sounds change because of the sounds they are near.  The 
following examples illustrate the major types of sound change.

-- Regressive or anticipatory, a sound is influenced by the following 
next sound: English [cupbord] became [cubbord]; the word _assimilation_ 
is itself an example: Latin __adsimula_-re_ became _assimula_-re_, since 
[ad-]_ regularly assimilated to [as-]_ before the [s] sound.
-- Progressive, a sound is influenced by a preceding sound
-- Coalescent or reciprocal, when two neighboring sounds influence one 
another: _don't you_ becomes pronounced [donchu]
Dissimulation -- sound moves away from the pronunciation of neighboring 
sound:  French _marbre_ became English _marble_ as the second [r] became 
dissimilar from the first.

Split - a sound becomes regarded as two distinct sounds, such as Old 
English \s\ compared to Modern English \s\ and \z\ (Old English's 
failure to distinguish between the sounds is one of the reasons many 
Modern English words are written with 's' when [z] is pronounced)

Metathesis -- two sounds change places, _third_ from Old English 

Elision -- sounds are omitted (elided) in rapid speed, often dropping a 
consonant from a cluster of consonants: [cubbord] became [cubord];  
elision specifically refers to loss of an unstressed vowel or syllable: 
_elementary_ becomes pronounced [elementry] when the final schaw sound 
is elided.

Loss -- a sound disappears from the language altogether, as the velar 
fricative, a variant of /h/ (and the final sound of Scottish _loch_), 
did in English, with only a vestige remaining in English spelling:  the 
common silent 'gh' of English words like _light_, _night_, _sight_, 
which were once pronounced [likht], [nikht] and [sikht].

Haplology -- the loss of a sequence of sounds because of similarity of 
neighboring sounds:  should this ever be called _haplogy_ it will have 
undergone haplology itself.

Syncope -- the loss of medial sounds, as _boatswain_ lost the [t] sound 
as it was shortened to _bosun_ ([bosun] is the correct pronunciation of 
_boatswain_, by the way, never [bo_-tswa_-n]).

Apocope -- the loss of final sounds, as in the silent 'e' in words like 
_love_ and _hate_;  of course, the silent 'e' used to be pronounced.

Liaison -- introduction of a sound between words, as in French when the 
silent final consonant of a word is pronounced when the next word begins 
with a vowel.

Prothesis -- introduction of an extra initial sound, as occurred in 
Spanish and Old French, which frequently inserted an [e] sound before an 
initial [sp]:  for instance, Latin _specia_-is_ became Old French 

Epenthesis -- introduction of extra medial sound, as Old English _bre_-
mel_ became Old English _braembel_.

You can quickly generate more than one language by inventing different 
sound change rules for each language.  So perhaps the Dilbertian [d] 
becomes [t] in Dogbertian, whereas it becomes [th] in Dinobertian.  Or 
take a look at how the names James, John and Katherine have evolved in 
seven different languages:

	English    James      John           Katherine
	French     Jacques    Jean           Catherine
	German     Jakob      Johann         Katharina
	Italian    Giacomo    Giovanni       Caterina
	Spanish    Jaime      Juan           Catalina
	Swedish    Jakob      John, Johan    Karin, Katerina
	Yiddish    Dzheymz    Yohan          Katerine

	Source:  _Webster's Third New International Dictionary_

Names vary idiosyncratically and do not always evolve according to the 
regular sound changes that affect other words.  Thus the English towns 
of _Luton_ and _Leyton_ are -- despite their differences -- both derived 
from the same word, _Lygetun_, "farm by the river Lea" (the river Lea, 
incidentally, may either mean "bright one" or may represent the name of 
a river god, _Lugus_).

Names get shortened frequently;  for instance, _Johann_, _Giovanni_ and 
_Yohan_ all indicate that there used to be an [a] sound after before the 
[n] in _John_ and that the silent [h] in _John_ used to be pronounced, 
and still is in German, Swedish and Yiddish.

---- CONTINUED ----

From [email protected] Thu Jun  8 15:08:51 1995
Date: 08 Jun 95 13:06:10 EDT
From: Jeffrey Henning <[email protected]>
To: BlindCopyReceiver:  ;
Subject: Copy of: MODEL LANGUAGES, 6/1/95, 2 of 2

------- CONTINUED ------


When inventing your own language, you can go all out -- inventing your 
own alphabet or even hieroglyphs to accompany it.  You can have 
spellings that represent scholarly thinking about how the word derived, 
so that the word sounding like [gramilt] is actually spelled 
'kramillid', for instance, because lexicographers believe the word 
[gramilt] used to be pronounced [kramillid].  You can invent new symbols 
or use old symbols to represent sounds, so that 'pra@t!so>r' is 
pronounced... oh, never mind.

Or, you can spare users of your language a lot of difficulty;  you can 
strive for a system of spelling that is phonetic.  Since learning a new 
language is difficult enough, this is the course I recommend.  Yes, I'm 
hooked on phonics.

Be warned, however, that even a phonetic representation can present 
difficulties, if you yourself are mistaking English spellings and 
conventions for actual pronunciations.  For instance, if you were 
representing English phonetically, you might think that you could 
specify that the plural was regularly formed by adding [-s] to the end 
of a word.  While this is true for [cat], it is not true for [dog], 
whose plural is actually pronounced [dogz];  [church], for its part, has 
a plural of [churchez].  So make sure your phonetic spelling really 
describes the sound you want.

One problem with phonetic spelling is that words are pronounced 
differently in different circumstances:  the word _a_ can be pronounced 
[ei] or as [@] (schwa), _and_ can be pronounced [@nd], [@n] or [n], 
depending on whether or not the speaker is placing emphasis on them.

While you can use special characters for sounds, it will be easier on 
your readers if you transcribe them using conventional letters.  The 
letter 'h' is great for forming digraphs;  you might say that 'rh' 
represents a trilled [r] sound, or that 'mh' might be an aspirated [m] 
(sounding similar to [v]), or that 'dh' represents the voiced _th_ in 
_then_, while 'th' represents the unvoiced _th_ in _thin_.

Your spelling may even reflect a regular sound change of the language.  
For instance, in German, the final 'b' in a word sounds like [p], the 
final 'd' like [t], and the final 'g' like [k], so 'Korb' is pronounced 
[korp], 'Band' [bant] and 'Tag' [tak].


Once you have created sounds, you can begin generating words.  Words are 
nothing more than sounds arbitrarily linked to meanings.  Onomatopoeia 
refers to sounds that are imitative, such as _arf_, _bark_ or _bow-wow_ 
for the sounds a dog makes.  Most words are not onomatopoetic.  Tolkien 
once remarked that he found _cellar door_ to be an incredibly beautiful 
series of sounds, though the meaning was not worthy of it.  So don't 
slave over matching sounds to words.  If you spend all your time 
thinking about the exact sound each word should have you'll never flesh 
out your vocabulary.


It can make learning new words somewhat easier if they have to follow 
specific patterns depending on parts of speech.  Your language might 
require the root form of all verbs to end in [-r] and all nouns might 
end in a vowel.

A naming language does not need a complex grammar.  The only grammatical 
decision you really need to make is how to form compound words:  should 
the modifier proceed or follow the word being modified.  Assume you have 
a language with the word _kwan_ for "dog" and _kooz_ for "house".  Does 
the phrase _kwan kooz_, then, mean "doghouse" or "house dog"?


Many common names were formed from surprisingly few elements.  If you 
coin just 150 words in a model language, you will be able to generate 
millions of distinct names.

I analyzed about 300 common English and European names to come up with 
the following tables of common meanings underlying these names.

You can use these tables to generate names in the following ways:
   adjective1:  "Pure" (_Katherine_)
   adjective1 + adjective2:  "Noble and Shining" (_Alberta_)
   adjective1 + noun1:  "Chief Protector" (_Howard_)
   noun1 + noun2:  "Elf Ruler" (_Avery_)
   adjective1 + adjective2 + noun1:  "Noble, Brave Warrior" (_Gunther_)
   adjective1 + noun1 + noun2:  "Strong Warrior Twin"
   adjective1 + adjective2 + noun1 + noun2:  "Young Bear-like Battle 

You can use these tables to generate almost all the names you need.  
Theoretically you could use these tables to generate 6.3 million names.  

Feel free to use a few elements that you like in many different names;  
for example, "famous" in Anglo-Saxon was represented by _hroth_ and is 
contained in the following names:  _Rodney_ ("famous"), _Robert_ 
("famous brightness"), _Roland_ ("most famous of the land"), _Roderick_ 
("famous ruler"), _Rudolph_ ("famous wolf") and _Roger_ ("famous 
spear").  _Roger_, incidentally, was spelled _Hrothgar_ in Old English, 
and is the name of the beleaguered king in _Beowulf_.

You can easily flesh out the above tables to better represent the 
culture of the people who will speak your model language.  For instance, 
islanders would not name people after wolves and foxes, but after 
predators peculiar to their locale, such as sharks and octopuses.  Their 
names would reflect people's relationship to the sea:  sailors, divers, 
swimmers and beachcombers.  The tools they would refer to would not be 
swords and spears, but tridents and hooks.  The adjectives they would 
use would likewise reflect their environment:  unsinkable, seaworthy and 

If you want to add additional words to these tables, check out the 
etymologies of real names;  one good source is _The Baby Boomer's Name 
Game_ by Christopher Andersen, which includes a basic etymological 
dictionary of 2,500 common names.


The names of people and places are intimately related.  For instance, 
_Winslow_ (a town in Buckinghamshire, England) is named after _Wine_ (an 
Old English name meaning "friend") and means something like "Wine's 
hill", "Wine's burial mound" or perhaps even "Wine's estate at the 
burial mound".  In turn, _Winslow_ is a man's first name and means "from 
Winslow".  Many place names become first or last names in this way, and 
these in turn might inspire new place names;  some other town of Winslow 
might be named after a fellow named Winslow -- and so it goes.

Most names refer to a natural feature, such as a river, a hill or a 
forest, or to a man-made construction, such as a fort, a road or a 
burial mound.  Place names are very seldom taken from an event that may 
have happened there, such as a battle or a coronation, but do sometimes 
take names from recurring events -- a field where people are regularly 
executed or married (I'll refrain from comparing these activities!) 
might have a name like the Hangingfield or the Weddingfield.  For 
instance, the village of "Kingstone" is not likely to be so named 
because some king drew a sword from a stone there, but rather because 
many monarchs have been coronated there (or stoned there, depending on 
the kingdom's traditions!).

Place names in the British Isles tend to be formed from 50 basic root 
meanings, which are given below.  These 50 meanings can be combined to 
give 2450 different names, and can be combined to form millions more 
when combined with names involving people (e.g., _Boston_, "Botwulf's 
stone"; the ending is not _-ton_, "town", but _-ston_).

--------------------     ------------------------------------------
abbey                    Abbey-
bridge                   Pont-, -bridge
castle                   Castle
church                   Eccle(s)-, Kil(l)-, Kirk-, Llan-, -church
cottage                  -cot
dwelling                 -wich, -wick
enclosure                Lis-, -wardine, -worth
estate                   -land
farm                     -ton, -by
field                    -field
ford                     -ford
fort                     Caer-, -b(o)rough, -burgh, -bury
fort (old fort)          -caster, -c(h)ester
fort (ring fort)         Rath-
height                   Ard-
highland                 Blaen-, -head
hill                     Bryn-, Dun-, -don
hilltop                  Pen-
holy place               -stead, -stede, -stow
home farm                -hampton
homestead                Bally-, -ham(stead), -hampstead
island                   Ennis-, -ey
lake                     Loch-
meadow                   Clon-
monastery                -minster
moor                     -more, -moor
mountain peak            Ben-
new                      New-
pass                     -gate
people of                -ing(s)
place                    Stock-, Stoke-
pond                     -mer(e)
port                     Port-, -port
resort                   -ville
river mouth              Aber-, Bel(la)-, Inver-, -mouth
riverside                -side
rock                     Carrick-
secondary settlement     -stock, -stoke, -thorpe
stone                    -ston(e)
stream                   -b(o)urne, -well
town                     Ballin(a)-
tree                     -tree, -try
upper                    Auchter-
valley                   Glen-, Strath-, -dale
valley (narrow)          -combe
valley (wooded)          -den
village                  Tre-
wood                     Rhos-, Ros-, Ross-, -wood
wooded angle of land     -shot(t)
woodland                 -ley, -le, -leigh
   Source:  Adapted from _Dictionary of Place Names in the British 
Isles_, by Adrian Room

Place names can be formed from combinations of the affixes listed above 
and from other place names and proper names:

   affix1 + affix2:  "New Town" (_Newton_)
   affix1 + affix2 + affix3:  "New Town on the Moor" (_Newtonmore_)
   affix1 + affix2 + placename: "New Town in Mearns [a county]" (_Newton 
   placename1 + affix1:  "Newton-of-the-Abbey" (_Newton Abbot_)
   placename + propername:  _Newton Stewart_ [after William Stewart]
   propername + placename:  "Hynca's Enclosure" (_Hinxworth_)

Often when you analyze a place name, you will find that a river runs 
through it:  _Exeter_ (from _Exchester_) means "fortification on the 
river Exe", _Exmoor_ is "moorland along Exe", _Exmouth_ is at the mouth 
of Exe, while _Exwick_ is a "farm by the Exe".

_Exe_ itself means simply "water", from the British Celtic _isca_.  
(This may seem boring, but _isca_ is part of "the water of life" that 
entered English -- through Scottish Gaelic -- as _whiskey_!)  Many names 
of rivers, mountains and other features of the landscape come from 
general words.  Imagine an Englishman pointing to a river and asking, 
"What do you call that?"  The native Celt might have simply said _teme_, 
"river", since to him or her it was "_the_ river", the prominent river 
in the area and hence not in need of its actual name in typical 
conversation.  And thereby a noble river such as the Thames would have 
been christened.

To create the name of a city on a river then, you'll have to name the 
river first -- and that name might derive from another language, as the 
Thames shows.

Place names often incorporated terms from other languages.  For 
instance, the Celtic city of _Eborakon_ -- meaning "place of Eburos (the 
yew man)" -- had its name Romanicized to _Eburacum_.  This name was 
meaningless to the invading Saxons, who Anglicized it as _Eofor_ 
("boar", which had a similar sound) and appended _wi_-c_ ("dwelling 
place"), to give it the name of _Eoforwi_-c_.  When the Vikings invaded, 
they misconstrued _wic_ as _vi_-k_ (which meant "bay" and was 
inappropriate to the inland city but stuck anyway);  since _Eofor_ was 
meaningless to them, there was no pressure to keep the first syllables 
recognizable, and the name was gradually shortened to _Jarvik_.  This in 
turn was later shortened to _York_, the name as it stands today and as 
it may stand until the city is invaded again.  York's name was not 
directly affected by the fall of England to the Normans, the only 
conquerors not to leave their mark on it.  If the Normans' ancestors, 
the Vikings, had had as little effect on the city's name, York's modern 
name might very well be _Everwick_.

The history of the name _York_ reveals five waves of occupation (Celtic, 
Roman, Saxon, Viking, English) and so tells a lot about the fortunes of 
the city.  While you do not want to go into as much detail for each name 
in your own imaginary world, this history is worth creating for the most 
important place names.  To rival the history of York, you'd have to 
invent five model languages!

In the same way you're best prepared to write a poem if you studied a 
lot of poems, you're best prepared to coin a place name by studying how 
other people have coined place names.  To this end, I definitely 
recommend reviewing an etymological dictionary like _Dictionary of Place 
Names in the British Isles_, which covers over 4,000 place names.  Each 
name tells a story, as the name of York shows.


The following quick sketch of three languages -- Nagada, Makata and 
Negasi -- will show you how you can quickly create your own naming 

The consonants of Nagada are [b], [d], [g], [s], [m], [n], [l], [r] and 
[h].  The vowels are [a], [e] and [u].  The vowels differ greatly in 
frequency:  [a] is used about twice as often as [e], which is used 
slightly more often than [u].  All syllables in Nagada follow the form 
CV (Consonant+Vowel).

The language of Makata is descended from Nagada and showed the following 
sound changes:  [b] > [p], [d] > [t], [g] > [k], [m] > [n] and [n] > 

The language of Negasi went through different changes from Nagada.  The 
only consonantal change was that of [d] > [t] > [s].  Vowels changed 
depending on the syllable they appeared in:

     Vowel    First syllable   Final syllable (if more than 1 syllable)
     [a]      [e]              [i]
     [e]      [u]              [a]
     [u]      [a]              [o]

For instance, the Nagada word _naba_ became _nebi_ in Negasi.  

All words in the three languages are spelled phonetically.  All three 
languages put the modifier before the word being modified (e.g., 
"doghouse" means "the house for dogs").

Here are the root words of Nagada and how those words appear in Makata 
and Negasi.

                  Nagada      Makata      Negasi
     "bearer"     _ba_        _pa_        _be_
     "beloved"    _naba_      _mapa_      _nebi_
     "blessed"    _luma_      _peta_*     _lami_
     "divine"     _luma_      _luna_      _luna_*
     "giver"      _ge_        _ke_        _gu_
     "healer"     _dala_      _tala_      _seli_
     "lily"       _hama_      _hana_      _heni_
     "pearl"      _rele_      _rele_      _rula_
     "shining"    _dube_      _tupe_      _saba_
     "swift"      _sahu_      _sahu_      _seho_

There was not room in this short introduction to cover borrowing or 
meaning change or any of the other factors that can override direct 
descent from a parent language, and I will give only one example here:  
Negasi borrowed _luna_ from Makata to distinguish between the meanings 
of "divine" and "blessed", which were both reflected by the single word 
_luma_ in Nagada.  Makata, for its part, coined the word _peta_ for 
"blessed" to distinguish between the two concepts.

Based on these words, here are some common names in the three languages.

                         Nagada      Makata      Negasi
     "blessed pearl"     _Lumarele_  _Petarele_  _Lamirula_
     "divine healer"     _Lumadala_  _Lunatala_  _Lunaseli_
     "swift healer"      _Sahudala_  _Sahutala_  _Sehoseli_
     "lily giver"        _Hamage_    _Hanake_    _Henigu_
     "pearl bearer"      _Releba_    _Relepa_    _Rulabe_
The above table assumes the meanings of the names were kept current 
(like Indian names like "Dances With Wolves") rather than fossilized.  
If the meanings were instead forgotten, then the Makata and Negasi forms 
would have been shaped simply by changing the sounds of the words.  So 
Nagada _Lumarele_ would be Makata _Lunarele_, rather than _Petarele_.

If I was actually going to use these names in a story, I would spend 
much more time refining them to develop an affinity between the sound of 
a name and the character I wanted to represent.  However, taking the 
words as they are can provide insights into the imagined people.  I 
think _Lumarele_ is a great name for an island princess, and I can 
picture _Sahudala_, the impotent witch doctor who wants her hand in 
marriage, but the name of her jealous sister _Hamage_ carries with it 
the stench of lilies, rather than their sweet aroma...


Please take this opportunity to create your own naming language.  Submit 
it to [email protected] by June 30, 1995.  For each language, 
please specify the following:  Sounds, Sound Changes, Vocabulary (With 
Etymology) and Common Names.  I will select one example from all the 
language systems submitted to hold up as a model for others and will 
include it in next month's newsletter.  The selected language system 
should uniquely represent one or more cultures.



Do you have access to a listserver, majordomo, mailbot, autoresponder, 
whatchamacallit?  The newsletter has rapidly outgrown my ability to 
service from Compuserve, with the circulation now at 92 subscibers.
If you have access to a listserver and are willing to set up and
maintain the subscription list for _MODEL LANGUAGES_, please drop me
an e-mail at [email protected].  Thanks!  I have always relied
upon the kindness of strangers...



Wanted: Collaborator to develop language for 23rd or 24th century 
descendants of Icelanders who have colonized a distant planet, "latter-
day Vikings", so to speak, who have been there long enough to have their 
language changed by interaction with the previous inhabitants.  Someone 
there would look back at the old writings and stories and see how they 
apply to his life.  I want the language to have changed, but not so much 
that it is unrecognizable.

As you can see, this could be a major undertaking.  However, I am in no 
rush.  There are two goals: 1) creating the language and 2) using it to 
generate both subject matter and embellishment for stories.  I want to 
create a language that is beautiful and interesting in its grammatical 
categories.  Some previous knowledge of Icelandic would be helpful, but 
not necessary.  Interest in that language and its literature, however, 
is a must.

Reply to Wayne Barnette at [email protected].


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Contents copyright 1995 Jeffrey Henning.  All rights reserved.