Choosing the right words

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Khunjund
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Choosing the right words

Post by Khunjund »

Most of my conlangs aren’t very far along, because I struggle to decide on what the words should be on a basic phonetic level. It’s as though I feel that every word should somehow have the perfect combination of phonemes to go along with its meaning. In the words of Mark Rosenfelder, I can never decide “what the word for ‘fish’ should be”. It’s really frustrating, because it’s not even about whether I should derive it from “swim-thing” or make it its own root or anything; it’s about whether it should start with and S or an L, and what the vowel should be (i.e. something that really doesn’t matter on the whole).

Do any of you experience this feeling as well? If so, do you have any methods of dealing with it?
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sangi39
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Re: Choosing the right words

Post by sangi39 »

At least for me, it's sort of just realising that I won't like every word in one of my conlangs for the way it sounds, even if the phonology overall is something I do like, in the same that, for example, I won't like the sound of every word in Icelandic or Japanese. There are a lot of words I do like the sound of, and some that I really like, but there are also ones that I just dislike.

Now, obviously that's all down to where you want to draw your line. Do you want every single word to personally phonoaesthetic, or do you want a subset of them to sound pleasing, so long as the other words you don't enjoy as much follow your phonology? Do you think the feeling you'll get from your conlang will be, personally, worth the effort you put into creating each word individually, or do you think hand-picking a few words to work on by hand, and leaving the rest to some sort of generator, might be more your speed.

For me, I go down the "develop phonology, throw it into a generator" approach, and then from a list of "potential roots" assign them to meanings using a random number generator. However, I also enjoy throwing in easter eggs, or, if I think a word might be "important", I'll work on them individually until I settle on something I like. It's sort of a middle path between wholly arbitrarily assigned and individually crafted.

(note, I have also done almost no conlanging in the past three years beyond phonological sketches of proto-languages, so as far as "word-building" goes, I'm not the best person to ask when it gets to large-scale vocab creation)
You can tell the same lie a thousand times,
But it never gets any more true,
So close your eyes once more and once more believe
That they all still believe in you.
Just one time.
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Re: Choosing the right words

Post by Khemehekis »

I have never used a generator in my life, and instead coin every word by hand.

My biggest conlang is Kankonian, which I have been working on since 1996. Kankonian is the only one of my conlangs for which every native root word is supposed to sound like what it means. For the sake of naturalism, I also have compounds and other derivations, borrowings (including inkhorn words from the Classical languages), eponymous words, acronyms, and spelling words backwards (like English ohm -> mho).

Note that this does not mean sounding euphonious. In Kankonian, the word for "eye" is bwolwo, but the word for "roughy" is burneoph and the word for "to grunt" is khoerd. I don't make every word sound "beautiful" like Italian or Celtic or Quenya, I just want the sounds to capture the meaning of the word. (BTW, may I interest you in this game?)

For such other human languages as Shaleyan, Tentan, and Hitan, I use phonaesthetic principles (like /i/ for words indicating smallness) for many of my words, but quite a lot of the root words are just me sticking together random phonemes in a way that fits the phonotactics of the language. And of course, borrowing.

Then I have languages that aren't for human speakers, but the sapient species that speaks it has at least a fairly human psychology -- languages like Quispe, Bodusian, and Achel. I have sound symbolism in these languages too, but usually not quite as much as in my human languages. Of course, I still have onomatopoeiae, as well as nursery formations (mama meaning "mother").

Hapoish is an alien language, being nounless in a way that reflects the Heraclitean worldview of the Reds (the sapients who speak it), and there's very little sound symbolism, except for things like onomatopoeia. I did play with "human universal"/Proto-World concepts when creating the lexicon, though, even though the speakers aren't human: the words for "I" and "you" begin with M and T, respectively, and the number one is tiqi, like that word that means "finger", "stick", "one", etc. across many of Earth's language phyla. The phonology is fairly human, but also alien, as the Reds have a uvula-like projection (resembling a shamrock) called an apo at the back of their throats, and they create a vowel phonation called stridulant vowels by striking their apo. Hapoish also has a transoral flap (the tongue scrapes back across the entire roof of the mouth as the R in Hapoish is being pronounced).

Then I have the totally alien languages: Bt!apzh (a language telepathically spoken by Greys, reminiscent of Tom Breton's AllNoun), Cetonian (a language spoken through the blowholes of cetaceans called wama, with only eight syllables), and the languages spoken by the parrotpeople of Psittacotia, full of odd syringeals . . . to say nothing of the languages spoken by the tamepo, the sapient cephalopods of Syprian, which entail changing color rather than sound.

Finally, Txabao is a diachronic language, which I'm working on in conjunction with Nachtuil's Kojikeng. It being a human language that isn't Kankonian, I put a fair amount of sound symbolism into it, much like Shaleyan, Tentan, or Hitan, but a lot of the words were just retroengineered forms of Kojikeng words coined by Nachtuil. I have some interesting "qe'u is the word for a round baked good" type assignments I wouldn't have come up with on my own because this language is both diachronic and collaborative.

I don't see the point in making every language beautiful and mellifluous. For me, I just want the make the language sound like something the speakers would speak (much as Tolkien thought Khuzdul "sounded like" the perfect language for Dwarves). I should point out that I'm synaesthetic, which gives me a strong sense of what a sequence of sounds naturally means. I'm guessing that you don't have synaesthesia, since you said you struggle with this (am I right?) I'm also quick to imagine what a language spoken by a people with a given biology and culture would sound like (when I dreamt up my Tentans, for instance, I instantly pictured lots of labials and affricates for a people who listen to trendy music, eat lots of candy and chew lots of gum, and are eager market consumers).

My methods work for me. Txabao now has over 1,200 words, Bodusian aboout 1,300, Achel about 2,400, Shaleyan about 2,800, and Kankonian -- get ready for this -- more than 66,000 words. Oh, and I should probably mention that borrowing and derivation are your friends -- they will increase your lexica quickly.
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My Kankonian-English dictionary: 77,000 words and counting

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Reyzadren
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Re: Choosing the right words

Post by Reyzadren »

I used to heavily think about matching up the sounds to the meaning of words in my conlang, but at some point, I decided to relegate that to be a "perfect language" in the conworld whereby it is just described and handwaved, and decided that I would rather interact with another one of "easy/normaleveryday" language wrt conpeople in that conworld anyway, so it removes a lot of responsbility and pressure. (Also, vowels do matter [:D])
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Vlürch
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Re: Choosing the right words

Post by Vlürch »

Khunjund wrote: 25 Sep 2020 20:29Do any of you experience this feeling as well?
Practically every time I do any conlanging... [:'(]
Khunjund wrote: 25 Sep 2020 20:29If so, do you have any methods of dealing with it?
If it's a priori, then I often do what sangi39 said and use a random word generator, pretty much always this one, set up to spit out the suitable kind of phonaesthetic gibberish, pick words I like and assign meanings to them according to what I think they should mean. If I just can't decide, I might use a random English word generator until it spits out some words that fit the gibberish words.

I think it can help if you list a bunch of meaningless words, then use them in sentences in whatever language you speak while thinking about what they should mean. So, for example, with a couple of randomly generated words that I decided are nouns:
miwas
yumna
kimut
kerreh

Then, if I thought about sentences...
the miwas is ___ -> the miwas is red -> "a-ha, miwas should mean flower!"
I want to ___ yumna -> I want to eat yumna -> "a-ha, yumna should be a dish of rice and beef with black pepper, garlic, ginger and chili!"
why is your kimut ___? -> why is your kimut sad? -> "a-ha, kimut should mean friend!"
are there kerreh in ___? -> are there kerreh in America? -> "a-ha, kerreh should mean elk/moose!"

...and so on. Going back and forth between the sentences and figuring out phonaesthetic matches, you're pretty much guaranteed to get some results.

Sometimes I'll do some pseudoscientific language comparison until I perceive some kind of patterns/similarities in the words meaning certain things between unrelated languages, then come up with something that fits those insanely loose criteria for how the word should be. For example, if I wanted a word for butterfly, I'd be like "hmm, a lot of languages have /p/, liquids and/or (at least partial) reduplication in their words for butterfly" and come up with /pelpel/ or /lupunupu/ or something. That's one of the easiest words to do it with, though, since there factually are those similarities for whatever reason... but eh, it can be done with any word if you turn your brain off hard enough. Which is easy for me, but might be harder for smarter people.
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Re: Choosing the right words

Post by Salmoneus »

Khunjund wrote: 25 Sep 2020 20:29 Most of my conlangs aren’t very far along, because I struggle to decide on what the words should be on a basic phonetic level. It’s as though I feel that every word should somehow have the perfect combination of phonemes to go along with its meaning. In the words of Mark Rosenfelder, I can never decide “what the word for ‘fish’ should be”. It’s really frustrating, because it’s not even about whether I should derive it from “swim-thing” or make it its own root or anything; it’s about whether it should start with and S or an L, and what the vowel should be (i.e. something that really doesn’t matter on the whole).

Do any of you experience this feeling as well? If so, do you have any methods of dealing with it?
I suggest ignoring it.

If you try to find the perfect sound to match a meaning, then you'll never succeed, unless you're cursed with extreme synaesthesia. It's like that thing where people want to repeat an action until they've done it the 'correct' number of times - but the 'correct' number just keeps getting bigger because when you really ask "does this feel right?", it never quite does.

What's more, the more you try to make your conlang match 'what it sounds like', the more you're just unconsciously importing your own linguistic and cultural assumptions - because to the limited extent that there are any generally shared impressions of what sound goes with what word, they're almost entirely language-specific. And do you really want to make a language that is just the most English-sympathetic language you can make?

In the same way, because you tend to gravitate toward the same phonemes or phonotactics, this results in a more monotonous, less phonologically diverse, language, with fewer rare phonemes or sequences.

[yes, onomatopoeia does exist, but it's very limited in real languages. And yes, there are very, very limited cross-linguistic synaesthesias - basically, physically big, round, deep and masculine things are more likely to have rounded, back and low vowels and rounded and voiced consonants, whereas small, sharp or feminine things, and hence diminutives, are more likely to have unrounded, front and high vowels. "Bojo" is more likely to be bigger and blobbier than "tisi". But it's important to remember that a) this effect is extremely limited in scope, not affecting the vast majority of words/concepts; and b) it's a statistically detectable but nonetheless very small effect with almost as many counterexamples as examples]


I'd suggest bearing in mind two things:

- no matter how much you work to get the 'right' word, it won't sound 'right' to other people anyway; and it probably won't sound 'right' to you in the future either (which is one reason why this leads to paralysis and vacillation - what's 'right' today won't be 'right' tomorrow)

- once you assign a meaning to a word and get used to it, it'll usually soon stop sounding 'wrong'.


So just push on!



------------------------------

Personal bit:

- in Rawàng Ata, I've had two versions of this. First, I can't get the phonology and diachronics quite right. I'm OK with this: while it's frustrating, it's more important to get the language as a whole sounding right than to get the individual words right, because the impression of the language is more meaningful and more persistant. [it's another reason not to worry about the words. One reason it can be hard to nail down what the language should sound like is that looking at words in isolation tends not to be the best way to judge the language in practice - again, smoothing out each word tends to result in a more monotonous, less diverse language; to get paragraphs looking sufficiently interesting and diverse, you have to put up with some individual words not being perfectly to your liking]

And second, because I don't worry about the 'right' word, I tend not to remember words or feel attached to them, so end up just remaking them rather than looking them up. This is partly why I have dozens and dozens of pages of grammar, but probably only about ten actually secure words...

- in Wenthish, I do try to find the right word, but this is because Wenthish is an a posteriori Germanic language that intentionally echoes English - I'm not subconsciously importing English biases, I'm intentionally playing with them, finding words that either intentionally mimic the English word, or else are ironically opposite from what an English speaker might expect.
Khunjund
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Re: Choosing the right words

Post by Khunjund »

For the record, when I say “the perfect combination of phonemes to go along with the meaning”, I mean it in regards to that particular language, not in an absolute sense; if the word for “one thousand” is mŷr in one language, it can very well be sjang in another. I don’t think I’m gravitating towards the same phonemes (at least not cross-linguistically; I do have favourites within each particular language), and I especially don’t think I’m prone to making English-like phonologies.
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Re: Choosing the right words

Post by Vlürch »

Salmoneus wrote: 26 Sep 2020 13:17"Bojo" is more likely to be bigger and blobbier than "tisi".
I thought that's funny because in Finnish, tissi is an informal word meaning "boob", and some boobs can get pretty big and blobby. It's borrowed form a Swedish word for nipple, which is presume a cognate with English teat. Meanwhile, povi is the native Uralic word for breasts in Finnish, which does sound bigger and blobbier than tissit...
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Re: Choosing the right words

Post by Salmoneus »

Vlürch wrote: 26 Sep 2020 17:23
Salmoneus wrote: 26 Sep 2020 13:17"Bojo" is more likely to be bigger and blobbier than "tisi".
I thought that's funny because in Finnish, tissi is an informal word meaning "boob", and some boobs can get pretty big and blobby. It's borrowed form a Swedish word for nipple, which is presume a cognate with English teat. Meanwhile, povi is the native Uralic word for breasts in Finnish, which does sound bigger and blobbier than tissit...
Yes, teat/tit is a very common exception to this, because of babytalk. Likewise otherwise baby-influenced words are often counterintuitive in this sense - in English, for example, baba happens to be smaller than both dada and mama, and dada is usually bigger than mama, even though bouba/kiki would suggest the opposite.

As I say, the bouba/kiki generalisation is extremely weak!
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Re: Choosing the right words

Post by lsd »

Otherness and exoticism are powerful drivers of conlanging...
so it is important to accept unpleasant words, usage and links in the new lexicon will take care of giving them some unexpected flavour...

for my part, I work on an a priori philosophical language, the words are composed according to meaning and their phonos are given to me with no choice..
even if at first the non-chosen phonotactics of the language and even its "philosophy" was foreign to me and sometimes unpleasant, with the long years of closeness with it I made them mine ...
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Re: Choosing the right words

Post by Larryrl »

My biggest problem, is that I'm a programmer therefore I tend to use a basic compiler in windows, to create a random function to make words. I write my own generator based on my needs at the time for the language I am working on. Then I have to cull out the obvious screw-ups like "kv" with no vowel or "dhkp" or some other seemingly unpronounceable consonant cluster. Then I pick a word for a word then later I modify it because I decide for whaever reason I don't like it. I eventually get part of the way through the language creation phase and realize that the grammar is to screwed up to be of any use, and I'd too bored with the project by that time to care what happens, so I move on to another language idea and start creating again.

My current language Shu, is the first one that actually looks and feels satisfying enough to me, that I will be able to finish it. I have 3636 words, nearing the 4000 mark. :mrred: The only advice I can give the noobs is to keep reaching for the brass ring, no mater how far away it seems, or how many times it looks like it is moving farther away as you try getting closer.
DESH ABONUK KE NI NA
(IT) IS A PLEASURE TO KNOW YOU

NUK KE DESHT
PLEASE SIT DOWN (LITERALLY, PLEASE TO SIT)

DESH ŶN MODA KE ŶM AMSPA
THERE IS A METHOD TO THE MADNESS
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