Mark Rosenfelder has edited and updated my articles and essays from the Model Languages newsletter and the former Langmaker.com 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@example.com Thu Jun 8 15:10:19 1995 Date: 08 Jun 95 13:06:25 EDT From: Jeffrey Henning <firstname.lastname@example.org> To: BlindCopyReceiver: ; Subject: Copy of: MODEL LANGUAGES, 6/1/95, 1 of 2 MODEL LANGUAGES The newsletter discussing newly imagined words for newly imagined worlds ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Volume I, Issue 2 -- June 1, 1995 INVENTING A LANGUAGE FOR NAMING PEOPLE AND PLACES "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 them. 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. LANGUAGE CHANGE 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). AN ANCESTRAL LANGUAGE -- THE GRANDMOTHER TONGUE 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 Sindarin. "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 language. SOUND 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 vowels. 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. SOUND CHANGE 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 Tocharian. 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. Assimilation -- 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 _thridda_ 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 _especial_. 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@example.com Thu Jun 8 15:08:51 1995 Date: 08 Jun 95 13:06:10 EDT From: Jeffrey Henning <firstname.lastname@example.org> To: BlindCopyReceiver: ; Subject: Copy of: MODEL LANGUAGES, 6/1/95, 2 of 2 ------- CONTINUED ------ SPELLING 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]. WORDS 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. GRAMMAR 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"? PROPER NAMES 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. ADJECTIVES FOR PROPER NAMES bear-like beloved bitter blessed brave chief compassionate constant desired divine eagle-like earnest falcon-like famous flowering fortunate fox-like free hallowed happy industrious laughing lion-like loyal manly mighty noble northern patriotic peaceful powerful praiseworthy prayerful protecting pure ready sharp shining small strong strong-willed swift valiant victorious war's wealthy wise wolf-like worthy young NOUNS FOR PROPER NAMES arrow battle bearer brightness counselor crown defender dweller earth farmer father fighter forest gate gift giver God guardian hammer harvester healer helper home horse keeper laurel leader lily lover maid man pearl people protector rock rose ruler runner smith son spear staff steward stranger stronghold sword traveler twin warrior wolf 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 Hammer" 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 foamy. 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. PLACE 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_). MEANING ENGLISH/IRISH/WELSH WORD ELEMENT -------------------- ------------------------------------------ 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 Mearns_) 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. EXAMPLE - QUICKLY CREATE YOUR OWN NAMING LANGUAGES The following quick sketch of three languages -- Nagada, Makata and Negasi -- will show you how you can quickly create your own naming systems. 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] > [m]. 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... NAMING CONTEST! Please take this opportunity to create your own naming language. Submit it to email@example.com 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. *** HELP! ACCESS TO LISTSERVER NEEDED 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks! I have always relied upon the kindness of strangers... *** COLLABORATOR WANTED FOR "NEO-ICELANDIC" 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@example.com. *** You have just finished reading _Model Languages_, a regular on-line newsletter published monthly and provided free to all interested parties as part of the "gift economy" of the net. Feel free to post this newsletter or e-mail it to others, so long as you include this trailer. To subscribe, send a message with the text "SUBSCRIBE MODLANG WD [your name, not e-mail address]" in the subject header to firstname.lastname@example.org. To cancel a subscription, send a message with the word UNSUBSCRIBE MODLANG in the header. I look forward to all comments, including the inevitable corrections, and am always interested in possible articles for inclusion in future issues. Contents copyright 1995 Jeffrey Henning. All rights reserved.