Sunday, December 20, 2020

What’s in a Name? Behind the Origin of the Ox-Yew Language

The real story: When I first started working on the language, E, O, W, X, and Y were the only Latin letters I didn’t use in its orthography, so I thought it would be funny to make the name of the language out of those overlooked letters. (I’ve since started using W, X, and Y in the orthography as well, but that’s a different story.)

Those of you who know me know that I am not much in the way of a con-worlder. I create language, and sometimes just enough detail to make the language work, or make it funny, or make it strange. In this case, the in-world explanation for the name is that a team of linguists sent to study the language inquired about its speakers at a village near where they supposedly lived. This is maybe, vaguely, somewhere in China or Mongolia or eastern Russia (because that's how precise a con-worlder I am), and the linguists were only passably proficient in the local official language; furthermore, the inhabitants of the village they visited spoke a minority language that the researchers didn’t speak at all. So, through garbled second and third languages on both sides, they managed to communicate who they were looking for and find directions. The precise conversation is lost to history, but the researchers’ interpretation was this:

“Oh, yes, the people who live past that mountain. Go there [points]. They are called the Ox-Yew people.”

What the villager actually said:

“Why would you want to go see those people, past that mountain? [gestures] There’s nothing there but cows and trees.”

Large Magical Creatures

Sometime around two millennia ago, word reached the East Germanic people of a mysterious giant magical creature from the south which they called ulbanduz. By the time Gothic rolled around a few hundred years later, the Goths decided this must refer to the only large animal from the south they had encountered at that point, and ulbandus was the name they gave to the lowly camel (specifically to the dromedary, as they had never seen a bactrian camel at this point). 

 After “immigrating” to Rome, where they saw all sorts of things they had never imagined back in the forests of Eastern Europe, they quickly realized that there was another kind of ulbandus which had two humps instead of just the one, and they called this one kamilus after the Greek fashion. 

 Gradually it became clear that neither the dromedary nor the bactrian camel were actually representative of the mysterious ulbandus, and that it must necessarily be some other giant creature from the south. But because the language was changing quite rapidly at this point, a division emerged, and we end up with two words: uvlandus ‘rhinocerus’ and luvandus ‘dromedary’. 

 As the soon-to-be-former Goths were exposed to words like Latin elephantus and Greek ἐλέφᾱς, it was evident that ulbandus was actually an elephant, but by the time that became clear, that semantic ship had sailed, so they just stole the word fíll from the Vikings (because the Vikings had so very many elephants!) and from Late Old Valthungian times, ‘elephant’ has been fīls. Well, the African elephant, at least, though the Vikings’ word fíll was taken from Arabic فِيل‎ (fīl), which in turn came from Persian پیل‎ (pīl), and did specifically refer to the Asian elephant. Later they learned about the existence of the Asian elephant as well, so the Early Middle Valthungians called this smaller-eared variety aabvus (later āvus), from… well, we don’t really know how they came upon this word, but it’s most likely borrowed from Egyptian abu. Which is obviously an African elephant. Because the universe loves balance, especially when it’s funny. 

 The semantic space of luvandus later expanded and came to cover most camelid species, though the bactrian camel continues to be known as kamilus

 And this is how the Valthungian people came to think of llamas as a type of elephant, because the ancient world was truly terrifying and confusing. 
  • āvus Asian elephant. 
  • fīls African elephant. 
  • kamilus Bactrian (“two-humped”) camel. 
  • luvandus Camel, camelid, dromedary. 
  • uvlandus Rhinocerus.

Friday, April 10, 2020

R-stem nouns

A few days ago, I wrote a Word-of-the-Hrmm blurb about the r-stem noun tǣkra, and in it I had mentioned that the r-stems are a very rare noun class consisting of only eleven nouns in Valthungian. In Gothic, only four are attested: fadar ‘father’, swistar ‘sister’, brōþar ‘brother’, and dauhtar ‘daughter’. English has five, adding ‘mother’ to the list (which all attested Gothic had replaced with aiþei), but these aren’t a particularly special class, since noun stem classes don’t really exist in English anymore, though the irregular plural brethren is at least a hat-tip toward its r-stem past.

The r-stems as a class are unique in that they are, in a way, an actual noun class, consisting exclusively of close family members, rather than just a grammatical class based on stem configuration like the a-, i-, and u-stems. 
In Proto-Germanic there are seven nouns reconstructed as r-stems, though one of them, *aihtǣr, is not a family member, but means ‘owner’. The others are: *fadǣr, *mōdǣr, *brōþǣr, *swestǣr, *duhtǣr, and *þeuhtǣr, the last meaning ‘grandson’.

PGmc. Gothic Griutungi O.Val. M.Val. Val.
*brōþǣr brōþar *brōþar *brouðar brôðʀ brōðra ‘brother’
*duhtǣr dauhtar *dohtar *dohtar dꜵtʀ dǭtra ‘daughter’
*fadǣr fadar *fadar faðar faðʀ faðra ‘father’
*mōdǣr - *mōdar *mouðar môðʀ mōðra ‘mother’
*swestǣr swistar *swistar *swistar swistʀ swistra ‘sister’
*þeuhtǣr - *diuhtar *djuhtar dzjûtʀ ǧūtra ‘grandchild’
- *þiuhtar *þjuhtar þjûtʀ þjūtra ‘grandson’
- þjustʀ þjustra ‘granddaughter’
*taikuraz - *tǣkur *taekur tækʀ tǣkra ‘brother-in-law’
*swegrō swaihrō *swehrō *swehrou swæro swǣra ‘mother-in-law’
swaihra *swehra *swehra swæra swǣra ‘father-in-law’

The first anomaly on the winding path to Valthungian’s eleven r-stems: *þeuhtǣr ‘grandson’ came to have a parallel form of *deuhtǣr, probably a dialectal variant somewhere within East Germanic, or possibly even an early borrowing from West Germanic, but more likely an analogy with *duhtǣr ‘daughter’, as this latter form came to mean explicitly ‘granddaughter’. Around 1300ᴀᴅ, however, a new form of þjustʀ for ‘granddaughter’ was innovated in Middle Valthungian, likely an analogy with swistʀ ‘sister’, and *deuhtǣr – by this time dzjûtʀ - underwent an interesting change, being converted to a neuter noun and referring broadly to ‘grandchild’ of either sex. Nouns changing gender is very unusual – though not completely unheard-of in East Germanic – but in this case the change was logical and fairly unremarkable, as the masculine and feminine r-stem nouns had exactly the same declension, and the neuter pronoun was regularly used for plurals containing more than one gender. The only really odd thing about it is that it retains the nominative and accusative plural endings where we would normally expect no ending for the neuter. In modern Valthungian, this word may be found in any gender, as applicable.

Around the same time that Middle Valthungian þjūtʀ was giving rise to þjustʀ and dzjûtʀ was boldly defying the binary, the a-stem tækur ‘brother-in-law’ was being reanalyzed as an r-stem as well, speeding up the dropping of its unstressed vowel.

Finally, well into the age of Early Modern Valthungian, the other in-laws, now merged as swǣra, but initially with slightly different declensions, started losing some of their weak declensions to r-stem endings, possibly initially to avoid confusion during the era of “syllabic unpacking,” during which pretty much all Middle Valthungian endings containing a sonorant (m, n, r, or l) were suddenly bursting out in a flourish of vowels in occasionally unexpected places.

Structurally, the r-stems are distinguished by a few unique features. The nominative, dative, and accusative are all identical in the singular. The nominative plural shows i-umlaut in those which contain a vowel which can be umlauted. (NB: The vowels of þjūtris, þjustris, and ǧūtris are not umlauted, because they originally all come from the /iu/ diphthong which was not subject to umlaut.) The dative and accusative plurals are those of the u-stems. Finally the genitive plural shows a final –o (in Middle Valthungian –u), consistent with other genitive plurals bedecked with their new-found Latin affix, but rather than the full –aro (from –ārum) ending, only the –o carries through, perhaps because the r-stem made the rest feel redundant.

Nom.Sg. Gen.Sg. Dat.Sg. Acc.Sg. Nom.Pl. Gen.Pl. Dat.Pl. Acc.Pl.
‘brother’ brōðra brōðris brōðra brōðra brœuðris brōðro brōðrum brōðruns
‘daughter’ dǭtra dǭtris dǭtra dǭtra dœ̄tris dǭtro dǭtrum dǭtruns
‘father’ faðra faðris faðra faðra feðris faðro faðrum faðruns
‘mother’ mōðra mōðris mōðra mōðra mœuðris mōðro mōðrum mōðruns
‘sister’ swistra swistris swistra swistra swistris swistro swistrum swistruns
‘grandchild’ ǧūtra ǧūtris ǧūtra ǧūtra ǧūtris ǧūtro ǧūtrum ǧūtruns
‘grandson’ þjūtra þjūtris þjūtra þjūtra þjūtris þjūtro þjūtrum þjūtruns
‘granddaughter’ þjustra þjustris þjustra þjustra þjustris þjustro þjustrum þjustruns
‘brother-in-law’ tǣkra tǣkris tǣkra tǣkra tǣkris tǣkro tǣkrum tǣkruns
‘mother-in-law’ swǣra swǣris swǣra swǣra swǣris swǣro swǣrum swǣruns
‘father-in-law’ swǣra swǣris swǣra swǣra swǣris swǣro swǣrum swǣruns

The r-stems – and, indeed, most familial nouns in Valthungian – tend to be more highly specialized than English, most having some sort of indication of patrilineage. Among the above terms, *þeuhtǣr and all of its descendants, while they do translate to ‘grandchild’, all refer specifically to children of the son. The daughter’s children are all variants of aninkliþ. Also tǣkra fails to cover the entire semantic space of ‘brother-in-law’, referring only to the brother of one’s spouse, while the husband of one’s sibling is ǣðums.

For reference, here are some of the family members beyond the r-stems:
  • aunt, father’s sister: faða (ō-stem)
  • aunt, mother’s sister: mœuðria (jǭ-stem)
  • brother: brōðra (r-stem)
  • brother-in-law, sibling’s husband: ǣðums (a-stem), swigra-brōðra (r-stem) 
  • brother-in-law, spouse’s brother: tǣkra (r-stem), swigra-brōðra (r-stem) 
  • daughter: dǭtra (r-stem)
  • daughter-in-law: brūþs (i-stem), snuža (ō-stem) 
  • father: faðra (r-stem), āta (ô-stem)
  • father-in-law: swǣra (r-stem) 
  • grandfather, mother’s father: auga (ô-stem)
  • grandchild, daughter’s child: aninkliþ (a-stem, neuter)
  • grandchild, son’s child: ǧūtra (r-stem, neuter)
  • granddaughter, daughter’s daughter: aninkliði (į̄-stem)
  • granddaughter, son’s daughter: þjustra (r-stem)
  • grandfather, father’s father: ana (ô-stem)
  • grandmother, father’s mother: atna (ǭ-stem)
  • grandmother, mother’s mother: atma (ǭ-stem)
  • grandson, daughter’s son: aninkliþs (a-stem)
  • grandson, son’s son: þjūtra (r-stem)
  • mother: mōðra (r-stem), ǣði (į̄-stem) 
  • mother-in-law: swǣra (r-stem) 
  • nephew, brother’s son: sūtruǧa (jô-stem)
  • nephew, sister’s son: niva (ô-stem)
  • niece, brother’s daughter: nift (i-stem)
  • niece, sister’s daughter: nifča (jô-stem)
  • sister: swistra (r-stem)
  • sister-in-law, sibling’s wife: swigra-swistra (r-stem) 
  • sister-in-law, spouse’s sister: swigra-swistra (r-stem) 
  • son: sunus (u-stem)
  • son-in-law: mēǧ (a-stem) 
  • uncle, father’s brother: faðruǧa (jô-stem)
  • uncle, mother’s brother: augahǣms (a-stem)

Friday, April 3, 2020

WotM Valthungian: tǣkra

Tǣkra [ˈte̞ːkrɑ] n. brother-in-law; spouse’s brother.

Edit: The genitive plural in the image should be tǣkro. That’s what you get for automation!

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Teens and Prosody in Early Modern Valthungian

Aside from sone regularizing of the orthography, one of the key features that distinguishes Middle Valthungian from Modern is a series of changes made to the vowels. All of the “weak” vowels present in Middle Valthungian – the schwas, the lax vowels, and the syllabic sonorants – were either elided completely or strengthened / fortified / tensed. This is a secondary process to the Old Valthungian “Vowel Tensing” that was experienced some thousand years previously after the language’s initial sustained contact with Latin.

The most immediately noticeable result of this is in infinitives, gerunds, and 3pl. present verbs which suddenly end in –na(þ)(s) after the syllabic /n̩/ in the ending was forced back into a sonorant-vowel sequence. (At some point I’ll put together another post about the complexities of how to figure out whether an infinitive should have –na or –an, but that’s for another day.)

A slightly less immediately apparent consequence of this fortition is a type of epenthesis which has often been attributed to the language’s proximity to certain types of poetry, but the result is that unstressed mystery syllables occasionally spring up unbidden to maintain the language’s iambic nature, especially in words containing more than one stressed vowel. By the beginning of the seventeenth century, it was almost impossible to find any word with two consecutive stressed syllables.

Epenthesis of this kind didn’t usually alter the words themselves much aside from having an extra vowel to play with (usually /a/), but in some particularly changeable classes of words, the changes were more extensive. The best example of this is the series of “teen” numbers (13‒19).

13 — Thirteen itself is kind of an anomaly in Valthungian. Historically it seems to have had two forms as far back as the Gothic era, where Griutungi *þrītehun and *þrijatehun are assumed to have been used in free variation, and indeed both þrītǣn and þrižjetǣn were found in Middle Valthungian. However, þrītǣn fell out of use in Middle Valthungian, after which exclusively þrižatǣn is found in the language. This is notable here only because it demonstrates that this number did not undergo epenthesis like the others, settling instead on an alternate form. Had the þrižjetǣn form disappeared earlier, we would expect epenthesis in this number to look more like **þrījatǣn. One more mystery to add to this number is that from þrīžjetǣn we would normally expect **þrīžitǣn in the modern language – with an /i/ – rather than þrižatǣn. Theories abound, but the generally accepted explanation is that /a/ was assimilated by analogy with the following teen numbers. 

14 — Fourteen is a little less interesting. The only change there is that the “emphasis form,” fiður, was replaced in most compounds by the more lax form, resulting in fiðratǣn replacing all previous instances of fiðurtǣn

15 — Fifteen is the first to really undergo true epenthesis, initially by analogy with fiðratǣn before it. At this time, fim ‘five’ had already lost its final –f, but it was retained in the compound fimf-tǣn, and /a/ was added unceremoniously after it. This sequence of /mfat/, awkward at best, initially seems to have caused a reduplication of the /t/, likely by analogy with the ordinal fimfta, but the form fimftatǣn disappeared as quickly as it had appeared sometime in the mid eighteenth century.

16 — Sixteen built on fifteen’s weirdness, but kept the reduplicated /t/, and sǣstǣn quickly became and remained sǣstatǣn.

17 — Seventeen followed in the manner of fourteen, with a lax form sivnatǣn replacing earlier sivuntǣn, though sivuntǣn is still occasionally found as an alternative (whereas fiðurtǣn has vanished completely).

18 — Eighteen is the only “regular” teen, āta already having a handy unstressed syllable built in: ātatǣn.

19 — Nineteen faces the same awkwardness as fifteen, and while the “proper, correct, and official” rendering is njunatǣn, the occasional njundatǣn still occurs in the wild, which is even more problematic than fimftatǣn, because /d/ is not something that should ever occur in that position, the ordinal of nine being njunþa, rather than the more Gothic-flavoured **njunda.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Style Crumbs: Avoid Repetition in “ǭk ǭk”

Minor grammar note: Well, really more of a style note, I guess, since it’s not really “wrong,” per se… In Valthungian, one of the various words for “and” is ǭk (cognate with German auch, Swedish och, Old Norse ok, &c.) This ultimately comes from the class 7 strong verb *aukaną ‘to increase; to augment’. In Valthungian, *aukaną becomes ǭkna ‘to add.’

I was just writing up a recipe, and it turns out there are a lot of instances of “…and add…” which readily translates to “…ǭk ǭk…” which sounds dumb.

So new rule from the Valthungian Manual of Style’s guide to prescriptivist journalism: Use the suffix form in cases like this! Hence, “ǭku” (cf. Gothic auk-uh), which sounds much nicer!

WotM Valthungian: agiþǣša

I’d like to start posting a regular “Word-of-the-Day,” but I’m still getting settled on a decent format to use. Actually, it will be more of a “Word-of-the-Moment,” because I know I’m not disciplined enough to put something up consistently every day.

Please bear with me while I get some of the technical stuff sorted out and figure out the best way to post and keep this updated! In the meantime, here’s the first take:

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Aesop's Fables: The Goatherd and the Goat

I haven’t posted about Maltcégj in a while, so here’s a little translation I did today:

aknatcéi ulaðrói’l ei natcéi’l

dydgiksá’m natcéi mrástanaho nétcni, rakfák pul zatcínt uğmína. dydbjýn badtcǫ́c nem aknatcéi ulaðrói’l pʌ́a, mal márdjal wirb. bleg dydnagɮatnúc pʌ. dydbrán nos pul éþryla, ei dydẏakt pul pája, ei dydnaxád paj ubícta natcéi’l. dydék cax aknatcéi ulaðrói’lok.

“vreiblegðák laðvéiǧulað,” dyðbrám pul natcéi’la.

“blei,” dydðák natcéi’l, “patáx ðak mes bict raknaxáduli péibji.”

blegnagkanrakstafád akólks.

The Goatherd & the Goat

A Goat strayed away from the flock, tempted by a patch of clover. The Goatherd tried to call it back, but in vain. It would not obey him. Then he picked up a stone and threw it, breaking the Goat’s horn.
The Goatherd was frightened.

“Do not tell the master,” he begged the Goat.

“No,” said the Goat, “that broken horn can speak for itself!”

Wicked deeds will not stay hid.