The Conlang FAQ

Pitfalls of conlanging

adapted from a 26 Nov 96 post by Herman Miller

I've been putting together some examples that illustrate some of the pitfalls in creating languages. Eventually, these will all be illustrated with examples from my own languages and language sketches. (Especially some of the older ones, when I still had some bad habits from English, like writing "ee" for an [i] sound.) Many of the phonetic symbols are unreadable, since I used the SILDoulosIPA font, but I'll eventually convert everything over to one of the ASCII-IPA encodings. Keep in mind that this is a preliminary sketch, and only a few pitfalls are illustrated so far. (And all the underlining and italics are lost, but those will be converted to HTML.)Note:The HTML version of this report was never recieved.

English spelling conventions

Double consonants:

It's probably best to reserve these for cases where the consonant is actually pronounced twice (such as ttanissyn [tHtHAnIssn]), elongated, or different in some other way from a single consonant. For instance, it's often convenient to use double consonants to distinguish two different sounds, such as Olaetyan "r" [R] and "rr" [r], or Zoray "d" [d] and "dd" [d5]. But Olaetyan also uses double consonants to indicate where the stress is placed. Olaetyan atezze, for instance, is [ŒtEzE]. If it were spelled ateze or atteze, the pronunciation would be [AtEzE].

Double vowels:

Uncommon English sounds

(use these infrequently, in human languages at least): [I] Not many languages distinguish between [i] and [I], but this distinction is common in some of my languages. Olaetyan at least has the excuse of having 23 distinct vowel sounds, but Siralla had only the six vowels [AEIiou]. Fortunately, there were few minimal pairs in the Siralla vocabulary. With a few slight modifications, it was possible to treat [i] and [I] as allophones of a single /i/ phoneme.

[T], [D] Besides English, these sounds are found in languages such as Welsh, Greek, Icelandic, Albanian, Arabic, and Swahili. These sounds are appropriate for a language that is meant to be reminiscent of Welsh (such as Sindarin), but might not be suitable for other languages, such as those designed for international communication. I use these sounds frequently for Thirrian and Elvish languages, as well as the languages of human cultures that have close ties to elves (Olaetyan, Nisklz), but not in other human languages such as Kazat 'akkorou or the languages of the Mizarian rodent-people.

[] American English "r", which I would characterize as a slightly rounded retroflex approximant, is an extremely uncommon sound. Mandarin Chinese "r" is close, but it's less rounded and more fricative, closer to []. Many languages have the tap [R], the trill [r], or both. Other languages have a uvular trill or fricative. Rynnan Elvish has both a trilled r and an American English r in the word yrrrana [irAnA].



English prepositions often don't correspond directly with prepositions in other languages. Consider the sentence "I'm sitting in a chair in the living room reading a book written in Nisklz." The Olaetyan translation= of this sentence uses a different word for each occurrence of the word "in":
"rzae a lenika akt taskran olzl taeya kal ti Nsklz." The sentence "Put the coin in the slot" uses still another different word, meaning "into":
emplaz brezek enakt relkta." "I'll be back in a minute." uses the word for "after":
"kleryrae sanye lin ralyme" (although a ralyme is actually about a minute and a half). Olaetyan prepositions have their own idiomatic usages (for instance, ti is used for both languages and certain place names), but they don't correspond directly to English usages.

Don't forget to include a guide to pronunciation.

Unless you are using a standard phonetic alphabet (such as the IPA), you may look back at your language notes years later and discover that you've forgotten how it's supposed to be pronounced. An example of this is the language Ejnarxieteir. See if you can guess how this is supposed to sound (note that the "@" is really a schwa in the original):

i-Ra-Jr'@še bh tz^l khiew a ^lubb@ qwa ieatir bv^l= jie-Jr'@=9Ae n'Ejnarxieteir

There isn't enough information from this to figure out what pronunciation was originally intended. Was the "^l" sound a voiced lateral fricative, [L], or a velar lateral, [;], or maybe something entirely different? Was "j" a sound like English "y" or French "j"? The Olaetyan name of the planet, Enyrkyte, suggests that "jn" is supposed to be pronounced [nj] (which also suggests that "jr" might be [Rj]), and that "ie" is pronounced [i]. But then this would be another language that distinguishes between [i] and [I]. So in the modernized version of Ejnarxieteir, I assume that "ie" represents [je].

i-Ra-Ryshe bh dh tswl khyew a wlubbdh qwa yeatir bvwl ye-Ryshe dh n’Enyarktsyeteir

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Copyright 1997, Jack Durst,
Last updated: 21 Jun, 1997