I've been curious about how language works for a very long time. This curiosity has lead me down many fascinating rabbit holes, but for a long time I have either been cribbing off of other people's work or studying natural languages that don't have a cohesive plan or core to them. Constructed Languages (or conlangs as I will probably be calling them from here on out) are a simpler model of this. You might be familiar with Klingon from the Star Trek series, the various forms of Elvish as described by J. R. R. Tolkien or Dothraki from Game of Thrones. This series will show an example of how one of those kinds of languages are created.
The language I am going to create will be called L'ewa (⁄l.ʔɛ.wa⁄, also
lewa for filesystems). This word is identical in English and in L'ewa.
It means "is a language". The name came to me in a shower a while ago and I'm
not entirely sure where it came from.
This language is being designed as a personal language to help me keep a diary (more on that later) and to act as a testbed for writing a computational knowledge engine, much like IBM's Watson. I do not expect anyone else to use this language. I may pull this language into fiction (if that ever gets off the ground) or into other projects as it makes sense.
Some of the high level things I want to try in this language are ways to make me think differently. I'm following the weak form of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis by this logic. I want to see what would happen if I give myself a tool that I can use to help myself think in different ways. Other features I plan to include are:
- A seximal number system
- A predicate-argument system similar to Lojban
- Nounlessness (only having verbs for content words) like Salishan languages
- An a-priori (or made up) vocabulary
- Grammatical markers for the identity of the thinker of a sentence/phrase/word
- Make each grammatical feature and word logical, or working in one way only
- Typeable with standard QWERTY en-US keyboards
- A decorative script that I'll turn into a font
When I was younger, I used to keep a diary/journal file on my computers off and on. I was detailed about what I was feeling and what I was considering and going through. This all ended abruptly after my parents were snooping through my computer in middle school and discovered that I was questioning fundamental aspects of myself like my gender. I have never really felt comfortable keeping a diary file since then. I have made a few attempts at this (including by using a dedicated diary machine, air-gapped TempleOS machines and the like), but they all feel too vulnerable and open for anyone to read them.
This is my logic for using a language that I create for myself. If people really want to go through and take the time to learn the ins and outs of a tool I created for myself to archive my personal thoughts, they probably deserve to be able to read them. Otherwise, this would allow me to write my diary from pretty much anywhere, even in plain sight out in public. People can't shoulder-surf and read what they literally cannot understand.
The following is the eBook edition of L'ewa: A Personal Language.
All notable changes to this project will be documented in this file.
- Initial setup and formatting
- First Section on introduction stuff
- Phonology chapter
- Morphosyntactic typology chapter
- Fun with Nouns and Verbs chapter
- Color words section
- Dictionary appendix
- Sentence Structure Semantics chapter
- Lexicon chapter
I am taking inspiration from Lojban, Esperanto, Mandarin Chinese and English to design the phonology of L'ewa. All of the phonology will be defined using the International Phonetic Alphabet. If you want to figure out how to pronounce these sounds, a lazy trick is to google them. Wikipedia will have a perfectly good example to use as a reference. There are two kinds of sounds in L'ewa, consonants and vowels.
Consonant inventory: /d f g h j k l m n p q r s t w ʃ ʒ ʔ ʙ̥/
|Stop||p||t d||k g||q||ʔ|
The weirdest consonant is /ʙ̥/, which is a voiceless bilabial trill, or blowing air through your lips without making sound. This is intended to imitate a noise an orca would make.
Vowel inventory: /a ɛ i o u/
Diphthongs: au, oi, ua, ue, uo, ai, ɛi
L'ewa's romanization is intentionally simple. Most of the IPA letters keep their letters, but the ones that do not match to Latin letters are listed below:
This is designed to make every letter typeable on a standard US keyboard, as well as mapping as many letters as possible on the home row of a QWERTY keyboard.
I plan to have two main kinds of words in L'ewa. I plan to have content and
particle words. The content words will refer to things, properties, or actions
run) and the particle words will change how the
grammar of a sentence works (such as
the or prepositions).
The main kind of content word is a root word, and they will be in the following forms:
- CVCCV (/ʒa.sko/)
- CCVCV (/lʔ.ɛwa/)
Particles will mostly fall into the following forms:
- V (/a/)
- VV (/ai/)
- CV (/ba/)
- CVV (/bai/)
Proper names should end with consonants, but there is no hard requirement.
L'ewa is a stressed language, with stress on the second-to-last (penultimate) syllable. For example, the word "zasko" would be pronounced "ZAsko".
Syllables end on stop consonants if one is present in a consonant cluster. Two stop consonants cannot follow eachother in a row.
I haven't completely fleshed this part out yet, but I want the writing system of L'ewa to be an abugida. This is a kind of written script that has the consonants make the larger shapes but the vowels are small diacritics over the consonants. If the word creation process is done right, you can actually omit the vowels entirely if they are not relevant.
I plan to have this script be written by hand with pencils/pen and typed into computers, just like English. This script will also be a left-to-right script like English.
L'ewa is normally a Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) language like English. However, the word order of a sentence can be changed if it is important to specify some part of the sentence in particular.
I haven't completely finalized the particles for this, but I'd like to use
denote the subject,
ke to denote the verb and
ku to denote the object. For
example if the input sentence is something like:
/mi/ /mad.sa/ /lo/ /spa.lo/ mi madsa lo spalo I eat an apple
You could emphasize the eating with:
/kɛ/ /mad.sa/ /ka/ /mi/ /lo/ /spa.lo/ [ke] madsa ka mi lo spalo V eat S I an apple
ke is in square brackets here because it is technically not required, but
it can make more sense to be explicit in some cases)
or the apple with:
/ku/ /lo/ /spalo/ /kɛ/ /mad.sa/ /mi ku lo spalo ke madsa mi O an apple V eat I
L'ewa doesn't really have adjectives or adverbs in the normal indo-european
sense, but it does have a way to analytically combine meanings together. For
qa'te is the word for
is fast/quick/rapid in rate, then saying
you are quickly eating (or wolfing food down) would be something like:
/qaʔ.tɛ/ /mad.sa/ qa'te madsa is fast [kind of] eat
These are assumed to be metaphorical by default. It's not always clear what someone would mean by a fast kind of language (would they be referencing Speedtalk?)
L'ewa doesn't always require a subject or object if it can be figured out from context. You can just say "rain" instead of "it's raining". By default, the first word in a sentence without an article is the verb. The ka/ke/ku series needs to be used if the word order deviates from Subject-Verb-Object (it functions a lot like the selma'o FA from Lojban).
L'ewa is a analytic language. Every single word has only one form and particles are used to modify the meaning or significance of words. There are only two word classes: content and particles.
L'ewa is a nominative-accusative language. Other particles may be introduced in the future to help denote the relations that exist in other alignments, but I don't need them yet.
As said before, L'ewa only has two word classes, content (or verbs) and particles to modify the significance or relations between content. There is also a hard limit of two arguments per verb, which should help avoid the problems that Lojban has with its inconsistent usage of the x3, x4 and x5 places.
As the content words are all technically verbs, there is no real need for a copula. The ka/ke/ku series can also help to break out of other things that modify "noun-phrases" (when those things exist). There are also no nouns, adjectives or adverbs, because analytically combining words completely replaces the need for them.
Nouns and verbs do not inflect for numbers. If numbers are needed they can be provided, otherwise the default is to assume "one or more".
At a high level, noun-phrases can be marked for direct ownership or number. The general pattern is like this:
<article> [pronoun] [negation] [number] <verb>
Here's some of the pronouns:
|My system and I||mi'a|
|your system and you||ro'a|
|This (near me)||ti|
|That (near you)||ta|
|That (far away)||tu|
Numbers are in base six. Here are a few numerals:
Here are few non-numerals-but-technically-still-numbers-I-guess:
As L'ewa is more of a logical language, it has several forms of negation. Here are a few:
|total scalar negation||na'o|
na can be placed before the sentence's verb too:
ti na spalo This is something other than an apple
Verbs have one form in L'ewa. Aspects like tense or the perfective aspect are marked with particles. Here's a table of the common ones:
Modality is going to be expressed with emotion words. These words have not been assigned yet, but their grammar will be a lot looser than the normal L'ewa particle grammar. They will allow any two vowels in any combination that might otherwise make them not "legal" for particles.
- VV (ii)
- V'V (i'i)
In case it is otherwise confusing, ko can be used to end noun phrases grammatically.
L'ewa uses a RGB color system like computers. The basic colors are red, green and blue, with some other basic ones for convenience:
Colors will be mixed by creating compound words between base colors. Compound words still need to be fleshed out, but generally all CVCCV words will have wordparts made out of the first, second and fifth letter, unless the vowel pair is illegal and all CCVCV words are the first, second and fifth letter unless this otherwise violates the morphology rules. Like I said though, this really needs to be fleshed out and this is only a preview for now.
For example a light green would be
pu'lo qalno, white-green).
Connectives exist to link noun phrases and verbs together into larger
noun phrases and verbs. They can also be used to link together sentences. There
are four simple connectives:
fi (connective question),
fo (if-and-only-if) and
ro au madsa lo spalo fa lo hafto? Do you want to eat an apple or an egg?
ro au madsa lo spalo fe lo hafto? Do you want to eat an apple and an egg?
ro 'amwo mi fo mi madsa hafto? Do you love me if I eat eggs?
mi 'amwo ro. fu ro madsa hafto. I love you, whether or not you eat eggs.
ro au madsa lo spalo fi lo hafto? Do you want to eat apples and/or eggs?
Most of the time L'ewa sentences have only one clause. This can be anything from a single verb to a subject, verb and object. However, sometimes more information is needed. Consider this sentence:
The dog which is blue is large.
This kind of a relative clause would be denoted using
hoi, which would make
the sentence roughly the following in L'ewa:
le wufra hoi blanu xi brado.
xi is needed here in order to make it explicit that the subject
noun-phrase has ended.
Similarly, an incidental relative clause is done with with
le wufra joi blanu ke brado the dog, which by the way is blue, is big.
There are a few ways to ask questions in L'ewa. They correlate to the different kinds of things that the speaker could want to know.
ma is the particle used to fill in a missing/unknown noun phrase. Consider
ma blanu? what is blue?
ro qa madsa ma? you are eating what?
no is the particle used to fill in a missing/unknown verb. Consider these
ro no? How are you doing?
le wufra xi no? The dog did what?
so is the particle used to ask questions about numbers, similar to the "how
many" construct in English.
ro madsa so spalo? You ate how many apples?
le so zasko xi qa'te glowa How many plants grow quickly?
L'ewa is intended to be a logical language. One of the side effects of L'ewa being a logical language is that each word should have as minimal and exact of a meaning/function as possible. English has lots of words that cover large semantic spaces (like go, set, run, take, get, turn, good, etc.) without much of a pattern to it. I don't want this in L'ewa.
Let's take the word "good" as an example. Off the top of my head, good can mean any of the following things:
- aesthetically pleasing
- favorful taste
- saintly (coincidentally this is the source of the idiom "God is good")
I'm fairly sure there are more "senses" of the word good, but let's break these into their own words:
|firgu||is beneficial/nice to|
|n'ixu||is aesthetically pleasing to|
|flawo||is tasty/has a pleasant flavor to|
|spiro||is saintly/holy/morally good to|
|qanro||is healthy/fit/well/in good health|
Each of these words has a very distinct and fine-grained meaning, even though the range is a bit larger than it would be in English. These words also differ from a lot of the other words in the L'ewa dictionary so far because they can take an object. Most of the words so far are adjective-like because it doesn't make sense for there to be an object attached to the color blue.
By default, if a word that can take an object doesn't have one, it's assumed to be obvious from context. For example, consider the following set of sentences:
mi qa madsa lo spalo. ti flawo! I am eating an apple. It's delicious!
I am working at creating more words using a Swaedish list.
Family words are a huge part of a language because it encodes a lot about the culture behind that language. L'ewa isn't really intended to have much of a culture behind it, but the one place I want to take a cultural stance is here. The major kinship word is kirta, or "is an infinite slice of an even greater infinite". This is one of the few literal words in L'ewa that is defined using a metaphor, as there is really no good analog for this in English.
L'ewa has a fairly custom kinship system. Here is a high level of conversion between English and L'ewa:
|English||L'ewa term||L'ewa word|
These terms can also be applied to anyone, not just your immediate genetic family.
L'ewa strives to have as few idioms as possible. If something is meant non-literally (or as a conceptual metaphor), the particle ke'a can be used:
ti firgu This is beneificial ti ke'a firgu This is metaphorically/non-literally beneficial
This chapter will cover basic conversation making in L'ewa. TODO(Mai): more filler text here.
"Hello" in L'ewa is said using
xoi. It can also be used as a reply to hello
similar to «ça va» in French. It is possible to have an entire conversation with
<Mai> xoi <Cadey> xoi <Mai> xoi
The other implications of
xoi are "how are you?" "I am good, you?", "I am
good", etc. If more detail is needed beyond this, then it can be supplied
instead of replying with
"Goodbye" is said using
xoi it can be used as a reply to another
goodbye and can form a mini-conversation:
<Cadey> xei <Mai> xei <Cadey> xei
Feelings in L'ewa are marked with a family of particles called "WI". These can also be modified with other particles. Here are the emotional markers:
If an emotion is unknown in a conversation, you can ask with
<Mai> xoi, so kei? hi, what-verb what-feeling? <Cadey> madsa ui eating :D
L'ewa doesn't have any particular structure for marking previously known information, as normal sentences should suffice in most cases. Consider this paragraph:
I saw you eat an apple. Was it tasty?
an apple was the last thing mentioned in the paragraph, the vague "it"
pronoun in the second sentence can be interpreted as "the apple".
L'ewa doesn't have a way to mark the topic of a sentence, that should be obvious from context (additional clauses to describe things will help here). In most cases the subject should be equivalent to the topic of a sentence.
L'ewa doesn't directly offer ways to emphasize parts of sentences with phonemic stress like English does (eg: "I THOUGHT you ate an apple" vs "I thought you ATE an apple"), but emotion words can be used to help indicate feelings about things, which should suffice as far as emphasis goes.
Conversationally, a lot of things in L'ewa grammar get dropped unless it's ambiguous. The I/yous that get tacked on in English are completely unneeded. A completely valid conversation could look something like this:
<Mai> xoi <Cadey> xoi <Mai> xoi madsa? <Cadey> lo spalo
And it would roughly equate to:
<Mai> Hi <Cadey> Hi, you doing okay? <Mai> Yes, have you eaten? <Cadey> Yes, I ate an apple
People know when they can speak after a sufficient pause between utterances. Interrupting is not common but not a social faux-pas, and can be used to stop a false assumption from being said.
An utterance in L'ewa is anything from a single content word all the way up to an entire paragraph of sentences. An emotion particle can be a complete utterance. A question particle can be a complete utterance, anything can be an utterance. A speaker may want to choose more succinct options when the other detail is already contextually known or simply not relevant to the listener.
L'ewa has a few discourse particles, here are a few of the more significant ones:
|xi||signals that the verb of the sentence is coming next|
|ko||ends a noun phrase|
|ka||marks something as the subject of the sentence|
|ke||marks something as the verb of the sentence|
|ku||marks something as the object of the sentence|
The informal dialect of L'ewa drops everything it can. The formal dialect retains everything it can, to the point where it includes noun phrase endings, the verb signaler, ka/ke/ku and every single optional particle in the language. The formal dialect will end up sounding rather wordy compared to informal slangy speech. Consider the differences between informal and formal versions of "I eat an apple":
mi madsa lo spalo.
ka mi ko xi ke madsa ku lo spalo ko.
Nearly all of those particles are not required in informal speech (you could
even get away with
madsa lo spalo depending on context), but are required in
formal speech to ensure there is as little contextual confusion as possible.
Things like laws or legal rulings would be written out in the formal register.
This chapter of the book will hold a list of all of the words in L'ewa as the time of this book being rendered. This may not be the most up-to-date list of words. See (TODO(Mai): ko finti le vlaste kibystu) for more words.
|blanu||blue||is blue (color)|
|brado||big||is big/large/great in size|
|danma||animal||is an animal|
|delja||red||is red (color)|
|fergo||thick||is thick in dimension|
|firgu||beneficial||is beneficial/nice to|
|fi'xe||fish||is a fish (kind of animal)|
|flawo||tasty||is tasty/has a pleasant flavor to|
|flego||gray||is 50% gray (color)|
|futjo||tail||is a tail|
|genza||root||is a root (body part of a plant)|
|glowa||grow||to grow/get larger/increase in size|
|gra'u||grandparent||is a/the grandparent of|
|hafto||egg||is an egg|
|helbo||heavy||is heavy/has a lot of weight|
|hetlo||pink||is pink (color)|
|hu'te||fruit||is a fruit|
|jaflo||bird||is a bird/avian|
|jexlo||tree||is a tree|
|kligo||rope||is a rope/cord|
|kirta||Creator||is an infinite slice of an even greater infinite/our Creator/a Creator|
|l'ewa||language||is a language|
|lifta||leaf||is a leaf|
|lorne||horn||is a horn|
|lufta||feather||is a feather|
|madsa||eat||eats/consumes/is eating/to eat|
|mlato||cat||is a cat/feline|
|modlo||thin||is thin in dimension|
|n'ixu||pleasant||is aesthetically pleasing to|
|pa'ma||parent||is the/a parent of|
|pu'ro||white||is white (color)|
|qalno||green||is green (color)|
|qanro||healthy||is healthy/fit/well/in good health|
|qa'te||fast||is fast/rapid in rate|
|qonmu||non-binary||is non-binary/not defined by commonly used binary systems of classification|
|renma||person||is a person (not always implied to be human)|
|retna||snake||is a snake|
|ristu||network||is a network/graph/transportation system/distribution system|
|rosgi||flower||is a flower (plant body part)|
|spalo||apple||is an apple|
|spiro||holy||is saintly/holy/morally good to|
|sposu||spouse||is a/the spouse of|
|stugi||stick||is a stick|
|te'ra||teal||is teal (color)|
|ti'ko||child||is a child|
|txana||node||is a station/node of/in/on a network/graph/transportation system/distribution system|
|womjo||worm||is a worm/earthworm|
|wufra||dog||is a dog|
|xekri||black||is black (color)|
|xinga||sibling||is a/the sibling of|
|xitsa||short||is short/of little length|
|xu'zo||seed||is a seed|
|yeplo||yellow||is yellow (color)|
|zasko||plant||is a plant/is vegetation|
|zlose||louse||is a louse/flea|
|mi||MI||me, I||the current speaker|
|mi'a||MI||we (system)||the system of the current speaker, inclusive|
|mi'o||MI||we (all)||any speaker, any listener and any others|
|ro'a||MI||you (+ system)||the system of the listener|
|ti||TI||this||the currently referenced object near the speaker|
|ta||TI||that||that (near listener)|
|tu||TI||that||that (far away)|
|ka||KA||subject marker||explicitly marks noun-phrase as the subject of the verb|
|ke||KA||verb marker||explicitly marks following phrase as a verb|
|ku||KA||object marker||explicitly marks following phrase as the object of the verb|
|la||LO||proper noun||proper name article|
|gau||JA||nif||nif (dec 36)|
|ra'o||JA||some||some amount of/a few|
|so||JA||how many?||how many/number question|
|na||NA||total negation||something other than, total negation|
|na'o||NA||scalar negation||the opposite of|
|nai||NA||particle negation||negation of a particular particle|
|qu||QA||past tense||marks noun phrase / verb as past tense|
|qa||QA||present tense||marks noun phrase / verb as present tense|
|qo||QA||future tense||marks noun phrase / verb as future tense|
|qe||QA||perfective aspect||marks noun phrase / verb as perfective, or completed|
|ko||KO||end of noun phrase||explicitly ends a noun phrase when the grammar is otherwise ambiguous|
|fi||FA||connective question||which connective?|
|fo||FA||if-and-only-if||connects two units with the if-and-only-if connotation|
|fu||FA||whether-or-not||logical connective of two units with the wehther or not connotation|
|xi||XI||subject-verb separator||the optional separator between the subject and the verb, sometimes needed when it is otherwise grammatically vague|
|hoi||HOI||relative clause||creates a relative/descriptive clause giving more context to a given noun phrase, arguments should be verbs|
|joi||HOI||incidental relative clause||creates a relative/descriptive clause giving more incidental context to a given noun phrase, arguments should be verbs|
|ma||MA||what/which||used to fill a missing noun-phrase|
|no||NO||verb question||verb question, used to fill a missing/unknown verb|
|a'a||UI||attentive||attentive emotional indicator|
|a'e||UI||alertness||alertness emotional indicator|
|ai||UI||intent||intent emotional indicator|
|a'o||UI||hope||hope emotional indicator|
|au||UI||desire||desire emotional indicator|
|a'u||UI||interest||interest emotional indicator|
|e'a||UI||permission||permission emotional indicator|
|e'e||UI||competence||competence emotional indicator|
|ei||UI||obligation||obligation emotional indicator|
|e'i||UI||constraint||constraint emotional indicator|
|e'o||UI||request||request emotional indicator|
|e'u||UI||suggestion||suggestion emotional indicator|
|ia||UI||belief||belief emotional indicator|
|i'a||UI||acceptance||acceptance emotional indicator|
|ie||UI||agreement||agreement emotional indicator|
|i'e||UI||approval||approval emotional indicator|
|ii||UI||fear||fear emotional indicator|
|i'i||UI||togetherness||togetherness emotional indicator|
|io||UI||respect||respect emotional indicator|
|i'o||UI||appreciation||appreciation emotional indicator|
|iu||UI||love||love emotional indicator|
|i'u||UI||familiarity||familiarity emotional indicator|
|o'a||UI||pride||pride emotional indicator|
|o'e||UI||closeness||closeness emotional indicator|
|oi||UI||complaint||complaint emotional indicator|
|o'i||UI||caution||caution emotional indicator|
|o'o||UI||patience||patience emotional indicator|
|o'u||UI||relaxation||relaxation emotional indicator|
|ua||UI||discovery||discovery emotional indicator|
|u'a||UI||gain||gain emotional indicator|
|ue||UI||surprise||surprise emotional indicator|
|u'e||UI||wonder||wonder emotional indicator|
|ui||UI||happiness||happiness emotional indicator|
|u'i||UI||amusement||amusement emotional indicator|
|uo||UI||completion||completion emotional indicator|
|u'o||UI||courage||courage emotional indicator|
|uu||UI||pity||pity emotional indicator|
|kei||KEI||emotion question||question about what emotion the other side of the conversation is feeling|