Monday, April 1, 2024

What's in a Name? - Extended Remix

I often hear the question “How do you name your conlangs?” and I have answered parts of it in various fora, but I wanted to put together a comprehensive history here. The short answer is that there is no one source, and often I just don’t bother until I have been working on a project for a while. I’ll try to keep this chronological, so that in the future I will be able to edit it as I add more. It can also serve as a nice overview of my conlanging timeline.

1994: The first and second conlangs I created never got far enough to have names. But one should never talk about their first and second conlangs in polite company anyway. The first conlang I created—okay, the first six or eight words I scribbled down with the intention of creating a language from them—was entirely a priori, but I don’t remember anything about it other than that there was an animacy distinction, and na was the animate definite article. I had a brilliant idea about nouns, and I subsequently “invented” animacy; later I was gutted to learn that it already existed: My first and most devastating anadew! The second language still exists as snippets of terrible poetry, but most of the actual nouns, verbs, and adjectives seem to be made up randomly of French, German, Italian, and Russian, with some Hebrew, Greek, and Italian for good measure. The word ‘whatever’ was shto zhamei. I’m sure I thought that that was very clever.

1995: Dlatci /ˈdla.ʧi/. The name just came to me. I really enjoyed the unusual sound (for someone who only had experience with European languages at the time) of the initial consonant cluster. I can’t remember how I initially spelled the affricate – I don’t think it was ⟨tc⟩, but it’s been ⟨Dlatci⟩ for as long as I can remember now. Dlatci has undergone several revisions over the years, and the current one is “Dlatci v5.1.”

1999: Latinovesa. An early Romance auxlang we are not going to talk about. It was also briefly called “Latinova,” but I later decided to add the -esa ending, which indicates language names. This was still before I had ever heard of any conlangers aside from Tolkien, though I later discovered that there were at least a dozen other Romance auxlangs called “Latinova.”

2000: Northeadish /nɔrˈθi.dɪʃ/, (endonym Druðþþᵫ̄ðesc [dɾʊˈθyːðɛsk]). Initially my Germanic answer to Latinovesa, but I couldn’t compel it into being an auxlang, because I loved my ablauting strong verbs too much! Of course, I had no concept of auxlangs as compared to artlangs at the time; this was during an era when conlangers were just starting to discover each other on the internet and find out that they weren’t the only ones out there with this “secret vice,” and at that time, it was hard to conceive of creating a conlang for any purpose other than to be used in a fantasy novel or an auxiliary language. The original name was not Northeadish, and this was also years before it occurred to me that a decent language should have a proper exonym as well as an endonym: Initially it was called Tsœxisca [ˈʦœçɪskə]. I have no idea where that name came from, but I think it was just a series of sounds that I liked that I thought represented the language. (Almost none of those sounds still exist in the language now.) At some point, initial ts was no longer licit in the language, and since I was on an Old Norse kick at the time, I renamed it Norðiska [ˈnɔɾðɪskə]. Later I had the Brilliant Idea™ to call it Theadish/Þᵫ̄ðesc, from *þeudiskǭ (the same root that gave us Deutsch and Dutch). It wasn’t long before I discovered that there were at least half a dozen “Theadish” languages on the internet at the time (along with variants like Theedish, Thiedish, and Theidish). At this point I had renamed it so many times, I just decided to stick “north” back onto the beginning, and the Northeadish exonym was complete. The endonym, however, had a few more sound shifts to undergo, and Norþᵫ̄ðisc became Nurðþ-þᵫ̄ðesc and eventually Druðþþᵫ̄ðesc. And so it remains, though I haven’t worked on it since Valthungian took over the Germanic side of my conlanging. I think it counts as abandoned by now, though I’ve rolled a lot of what I love about it into Middle Valthungian.

2000: Maltcégj /malˈʧɛɡʒ/. I often tell people that “I literally pulled letters out of a hat,” and I’m not quite sure why I started saying that, because it’s not true. It was a legal-sized inter-departmental mailing envelope—you know the kind with holes and a red string that you can “seal” it with by winding it around two paper disks by the flap? I guess that just doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as easily. But once I had got the basics of the phonology sketched out, I wrote out all my phonemes on scraps of paper, threw them in the envelope, and then pulled out a handful and tried to arrange it in a way that was vaguely pronounceable. At the time I documented it, poorly, here. I’m pretty sure that’s originally where Maltcégj’s signature [ɡʒ] cluster came from. This was a period in my conlanging life when I didn’t really understand the concept of “less is more,” and I was under the impression that if you could pronounce a particular cluster or sequence, it wouldn’t be fair not to include it in the language. FF’s sake, the word for ‘fish’ is ðbrukc [ðbɾukʃ]. Anyway, the name hasn’t changed much over the years aside from a few minor orthographic variations: For a while [ɛ] was ɛ, and that made the mandatory stress-marking diacritics time-consuming to type on a regular basis. Also, [ʃ] went through a number of iterations including ж and even § before I finally reassigned /k/ to k and assigned /ʃ/ to the now-free c.

2001: Something called “Fricative Chant Project.” I dunno, man. It’s just a few pages of lists of syllables. Not a plosive in sight. I think this was the abandoned project that taught me that languages without stops end up feeling a bit “floppy.”

2002: Baraq /baˈɾaq/. For the record, this was a few years before I’d ever heard of Mr. Obama: no relation. I have no idea where the name came from, but I later created/imagined a language family called Baraqesh, of which Maltcégj and Dlatci were also a part. There were so many vowels, and so many declensions. It was really ridiculous.

2002: Bálabhádh /baːlaˈvaːð/. My first collablang, with the incomparable Zeke Fordsmender and William Annis. This was an adorable little language, and I’m still quite fond of the orthography we came up with for it. As with most collablangs, we all got distracted and sort of wandered away before very long, though I like to say it collapsed under the weight of its own pronouns: We had had the idea that there should be a complete array of pronouns to describe every gender and sexuality on the spectrum, and this was still back when there were really only four letters. I think we made it up to something like 21 first-person pronouns before it caved in. (These days I lean towards completely non-gendered pronouns. It makes life a lot simpler: I recommend it.)

2002: Bruga (/ˈbruɡa/, I guess). Aside from the name, a short phonology, a list of all possible syllables, and a handwritten present tense conjugation scrawled in a notebook, nothing ever really came of this one. In fact, I didn’t even remember that it existed until I found it while compiling this list.

2003: ɮaxu /ˈɮa.xu/. An early stab at a philosophengelang. 49 cases. 63 screeves. No idea where the name came from. I don’t even want to talk about it. It was a lot.

2004: Iatu Nukta Amat /ˈijatu ˈnukta aˈmat’/. I never did much with this conlang, but the name was shouted at me by some demonic force in a nightmare. This was later conflated with something I called the “4x4 weekend challenge,” in which I had 44 hours to create a minilang using 16 phonemes (4 stops, 4 fricatives, 4 sonorants, 4 vowels). That itself was an extension of an earlier 3x3 challenge, which never had a name and is probably lost to history, though some of the “3-based” elements later found a home in Ox-Yew.

2010: Valthungian /valˈθʊn.ʤi.ən/, (endonym Grējutungiška [ɡrai̮juˈtuŋɡiɕka] or So Grējuga Tunga [so̞ ˈɡrai̯juɡa ˈtuŋɡa]). This started out as Gutish/Gytiska, which was horrible from the start, but the logical diachronic development of Gutiskō ‘Gothic’. There’s a whole story about when and why I changed it in 2018, here: The Grey Tongue. Tl;dr, the important take-away here is that the exonym is an English mispronunciation of a Latinate mispronunciation of the name of the wrong tribe of Ostrogoths (the Walthungi, cf. Tervingi), and the endonym is a Valthungian rebracketing of a different tribe, Greut-ungōs (“the Gravel-people,” perhaps referring to the rocky shores of the Black Sea) as Grēw-tungōs (“Grey-Tongues”).  I’ve been toying with the idea of changing it again, slightly, to “Valthingian” or “Valthengian,” for reasons I won’t go into, but I think it’s probably permanent now. In addition to Valthungian/Grējutingiška, there are also historic forms – Old and Middle Valthungian (nothing too interesting there, name-wise), and Griutungi/Griutuggō (basically a dialect of Gothic which is how Greutungi would have been rendered in Gothic).

2014: Brooding /ˈbrudɪŋ/ (endonym: Brooding [ˈbru.dɪŋ] ‘Related to the Brood/Family’ or Baus Broodingee [baʊ̯s ˈbru.dɪ.ŋi] ‘Language of that which is Related to the Brood/Family’) This is the first conlang I worked on that I wasn’t directly involved in naming, and the first “professional” conlang I worked on. I didn’t create Brooding – I was originally created in 2012 by V. Hamilton for the Riddlesbrood Touring Theatre Company, and I “adopted” it and have been expanding it ever since. The origin, though, is interesting and worth mentioning here: I’m not sure where the name “Riddlesbrood” came from – I believe it was just imagined by the troupe’s director, Ryan Long (a.k.a. Clyde Riddlesbrood), but the name and logo were both elements that Vee took into account while creating the language, and ‘Riddlesbrood’ riduhlzbrood ended up meaning something akin to “family of mystery,” from riduhz ‘mystery’ + -l- (possessive) + brood ‘family, troupe, tribe, social unit’. The language itself was named for Brood ‘family’ + -ing ‘relation/association’, or Baus ‘language’ + Brood ‘family’ + -ing ‘relation/association’ + -ee (adjectivizer).

2014: Nurbia Nacura. This was a very short-lived project that still makes me a little anxious to talk about. It was never really a proper conlang or even an attempt at one, but rather a sort of cipher I created to convert Latin or Latin-sounding words into something unrecognizable that still had the same general phonaesthetics of a generic Romance language. The name “Nurbia Nacura” is literally just Lingua Latina run through that cipher. I hadn’t got far beyond just setting up the formula, though, when I posted a little blurb about it on social media, and some jerk immediately commented, “Wow, so cool. I’m going to use this!” and proceeded to rip off the idea wholesale. I wouldn’t even have minded if they wanted to do something similar, but they literally took the entire formula, ran a Latin word-list through it, and then started posting about “their” new conlang. It made me feel kind of gross and violated. You know that meme about English chasing  other languages into dark alleys and beating them up for their grammar? Yeah, I was lingui-mugged.

2018: Grayis /ˈɡreɪ̯.əs/ (endonym: Grayis [ɡrä.jɪs]). Another name I didn’t create, directly, but it’s an interesting story. I had posted something on social media about Valthungian (a.k.a. “The Grey Tongue,” as described above) and I was subsequently contacted by a game designer who noticed the post because the name was similar to one of six alien races he had created, the Grayis Kin; he needed a language for them, and subsequently hired me to create it. The game, Pilots of Gallaxia, was eventually released in 2020, and as far as I can tell, had no trace of the language in it, but in case you play it, just know that they do have a language out there!

2019: Ox-Yew (endonym: Adzaay [adɮaːtɬ’]). When I initially created the language, I used all of the Latin letters except for E, O, W, X, and Y, so I put them together and made up a crazy back-story about the Ox-Yew people, or the People of Cows and Trees.

2019: Veonic /veɪ̯ˈjɑ.nɪk/ (endonym: Veionasi (Uthral) [ve.joˈ (uˈθral)]). Another professional conlang; not really allowed to say much about it other than “Veonic” was the author’s working name for it and the Veiona-si of the endonym is the genitive of the same. Uthral just means ‘language’.

2019: Iskan /ˈɪskən/ (endonym: Iskān (Shaskua) [is.kaːn (ˈʃas.kua̯)]) Another professional conlang, for author Gavin Hamilton. A nice little Greek-meets-Hebrew-flavoured language I created for an upcoming novel. The author had already created a number of names in the language; Iskā is the name of the ancient homeland of the protagonist culture; Iskān is the genitive thereof. Shaskua means ‘language’. It readily ported over into English as “Iskan.”

2020: Zjenavi (endonym, Zjenav [ʒeˈnav]) Another professional conlang, for author Luca-Fabio Di Franco. The author had already created a number of names in the language, and there was a lot of dithering about the exact name of the language itself, and I’m not sure the dithering is done; as far as I know, the name is currently fixed at Zjenav (it was formerly Zjenaviv), with Zjenav-i as its exonym. It is the language of the Rahavahi people.

2020: Modern Standard Imperial (endonym: Drikva Yakke [ˈdɾi.kva ˈjak.ʃe]) The first of seven languages I’ve created (or am still in the process of creating) for graphic novelist Anthony Gutierrez. Many of the names of his languages have exonyms already as they are translated into the graphic novel The Lost Children; the endonyms have been a little trickier to come up with, but Imperial (or, officially Modern Standard Imperial) was easy: drikva ‘language’ and yakke ‘of the Empire’. It is also known colloquially as mekra lekron ‘the common tongue’, because every evil empire needs to have a Common Tongue that the Common People speak! (NB: The writing system is called kuggi yakke ‘Script of the Empire’. One does not say exactly “I speak Modern Standard Imperial,” but rather “I say the words of the Empire.”)

2020: Lezyalu (Okau) [ˈleʒalu (oˈkaw)] A language I created for author and musician Ty Sheetz. It doesn’t really have an exonym. There’s not much I’m able to say about it yet except that the full name means ‘Language of the Holy Ones’, and it’s very cool and I’m very happy with how it turned out and I can’t wait to be able to tell folks about it when the book comes out!

2021: Gothic Romance (and periphery) (endonym: Gotica Romana) Officially, the backstory here is that Valthungian was originally slated to be “What if the Goths who sacked Rome in 410ᴀᴅ just kept speaking Gothic and it continued to evolve within the Romance Sprachbund,” but it ended up going in a very different direction, and Gothic Romance was my attempt to complete that original goal. But mostly it was born of puns. Not only do I have an immediate audience of every member of the Dark and Spooky Nation who would want to learn it (especially because it really does sound kind of dark and spooky in a lovely way), but its direct ancestor on the Germanic side is called Bad Romance, and Romance Novelle on the Italic side. I’ll show myself out, but there’s some background here. I continue to fool around with this language every few months, and it’s far from ready for primetime (as you can see from this past Lexember), but one day soon it will be a deliciously dark and sumptuous language.

2021: Northern ~ Alder’mane /ˈɑldərˌmeɪ̯n/ (endonym: Alderxmanuvgöm [al.der..ˈman.uvˌɡɤm] ‘Language of the Cradle’ ~ Dhënuvgöm [ˈðøn.uvˌɡɤm] ‘Language of the North’) This is the second of seven languages created for Anthony Gutierrez’ graphic novel The Lost Children. The name came pre-baked; I just added the -uvgöm ‘language of’ suffix.

2021: Nymeran /ˈnɪ.mə.rən/, (endonym Tlíl Nime [tlil ˈnɪmɛ] “Language of Nim” or Ní Tlíl [ni tlil] “Our Language”). I didn’t originally create this language or choose the name. The language was created by Niamh Doyle in 2015, and I believe the exonym existed even before that, created by Ray Chou and Vince Ferreiro, founders of MythWorks (formerly Mythopoeia) and creators of the comic Glow, taking place in the land of Nym where Nymeran is spoken. I’ve heard it called both / ˈnɪmərən/ and /naɪˈmiri.ən/, so do with that information what you will.

2021: Arbulian /ɑrˈən/ (endonym: Seprotu Baet [sɛˈpro.tu bäˈɛt] ‘our way of speaking’) The third language created for The Lost Children. The endonym is a little half-assed, I’ll admit; the exonym refers to the shadow realm of Arbul, where the deities who speak the language dwell in exile.

2021: Ashian (endonym: Kéðryňa [ˌkeːðˈrʏ.ɲa] ‘Language of the Kaede’) The fourth language created for The Lost Children: The Exonym was created by the author. The endonym is a little more roundabout: The author required that the name of the Ashian people contain certain sounds and be derived from a particular sequence of letters that had historical importance. That name ended up being Kéðaš, which, paired with the word for language, ʀýňa, gave the endonym Kéðryňa.

2022: Hakdor /ˈhæk.dor/ (endonym: Iuqilol (Taqetis) [juˈʤilol taˈʤedis] ‘The Language (of the Hakdor)’) The fifth language for The Lost Children, this language was a lot of fun to construct. The Hakdor are a genetically modified race of humanoids who do not think in quite the same abstract and symbolic terms that humans do. They are very literal and procedural, and that comes through in the language. The exonym was provided by the author; the endonym just means “the language” – itself a compound meaning “word-collection” – though it can be modified with Taqetis ‘of the Hakdor’ if further specification is necessary. The word Taqet ‘Hakdor’ had a particular meaning – maybe something that the Hakdor were called by the Alder’mane? I can’t remember – but I forgot to write it down and now it is lost forever.

2022: Braereth /ˈbraɪ̯.ərˌeθ/ (endonym: idem [ˈbrae̯.re̞θ]) I was approached by author CJ Kavanaugh to create a dialect or creole of French for The Chronicles of Braereth, a novel series she was writing, and after some initial discussions, we concluded that a dialect wasn’t quite right, and instead we would need a separate branch of Romance languages that should still be more or less intelligible to other Romance speakers, but didn’t “belong” to any particular area. She came up with the name Braereth (and I fiddled around with the spelling a bit). It is also the name of the Shadowland where it is spoken by a range of fairy-tale creatures. I created a Classical (extinct) dialect and a modern “official” dialect. We later added three additional dialects, which are not quite mutually intelligible: Tenibvreth /ˈtɛnɪvrɛθ/ (endonym: idem [teˈnivreθ] ‘Language of Darkness (Tenebres)’) spoken by Vampires, Eomentesa /eɪ̯̯(j)oʊ.mɛnˈtɛ.sə/ (endonym: idem [e̞̞nˈte̞.sa) ‘Elemental Langauge’) spoken by witches, and Merineth /ˈme.rə.nɛθ/ (endonym: idem [ma.riˈnit’] ‘Language of the Sea’) spoken by Mer-folk and Shapeshifters. The latter has some pretty dramatic sound changes that make it particularly unintelligible with the usual Romance crowd, but make it much easier to distinguish the sounds under water.

2022: Western (endonym: Nƛeňǰax [dɮeɲˈʥax]) The sixth language for The Lost Children. This one really took it out of me! I don’t think the name means anything specific – at least, if it does, I don’t remember and I didn’t write anything in the notes about it. Nƛe ňǰa means ‘the mysteriously unknowable red one’, so I’m pretty sure that’s not where it came from. I’m almost positive I just ginned up a word and declared it a name.

2022: Chardane. The seventh (and final… so far?) language for The Lost Children, spoken by a sort of sentient pack-animal with independently movable eye-stalks. This one is still under construction and currently paused while I finish other projects, so no endonym yet. The name Chardane was provided by the author.

2023: “Pulselang” – a sketch of a language created for B.A. Bellec’s 2023 Novel Pulse: Book Two, for which I will come up with a proper name if it becomes appropriate later on. I’m credited in the book with creating an “Alien Language,” but it’s really not from an alien source, which won’t be revealed until book 3: Stay tuned!

2023: Europic  ~ Eulingo ~ Fauxperanto (endonym: Yuropicu [ju.roˈpi.ʃu] ‘Europese’) This is ostensibly a proto-language for a series of languages spoken about two millennia from the present. It is very Euro-centric, by design, but not quite as transparently as Esperanto (though it went by the code-name “Faux-speranto” for a while before I had really hammered out a lot of the details). I’m keeping this one pretty tightly under my hat until things get worked out a little more fully, because frankly, people are horrible, and the internet is dark and full of terrors.

Wow, did you really just read all of that? Thanks, but why?