July 31st, 2009

Kastelo Verda

A Story of a Tonguesmith

Rakonto pri Krelingvisto

Viktor Medrano

My roots as a tonguesmith, or language inventor, started when I was very little when I made up childish nonsense words that only the family circle and nannies could understand, like 'brábintai' for dragonfly, 'numnumbúbit' for wanting a drink, and 'múninghai' for a full moon high in the sky. I grew up in the tropics, in the big northern island of Luzon in the Philippines. My main speaking language then was Tagalog, but as I went through elementary school, a private school called La Salle Greenhills, my language for reading was mainly English, but with some Tagalog in specialized subjects. Such was the diglossia that existed there. Diglossia was the "functional differentiation between languages" such as when one used one language at home or in the neighbourhood, and another one for more formal purposes. My teachers taught in what was known as Taglish, the code-switching between Tagalog and English, so that in the same utterance or even in the same sentence, both languages would be used. The language situation in the Philippines was in flux with over 165 indigenous languages spoken, eight of which were spoken by over a million people at the time (1970's), and one of which was the national language (Tagalog, also known as Pilipino, also known as Filipino), with which English was co-official. The indigenous Philippine languages, including Tagalog, were of the Austronesian ("South Islands") language family, more specifically of the Malayo-Polynesian subfamily, which also included the languages Hawaiian and Indonesian.

When my family and I moved to Anglophone Canada, leaving behind my beloved toy robot collection and my favourite toy tank, I was 10 years old. The Tagalog-English diglossia tilted in favour of English as I rapidly accustomed myself to speaking only English full-time, but retaining my Tagalog comprehension. The multitude of science fiction and fantasy books spurred my reading ability in English. When I was 11 and 12 years old, Grades 6 and 7, I was enthralled by the works of Tove Jansson, a Swede-Finn who wrote the Moomintroll series of fantasy books. Also then, I read some works of J.R.R. Tolkien of The Lord of the Rings fame. Therefrom I discovered invented languages such as Quenya, the Elven Tongue, as well as the elegant alphabets called Tengwar and Runes. I started making up alphabets and scripts on my spare time.

During my high school days, in the public library, I discovered a captivating comic strip in Heavy Metal magazine; therein soldiers in the story used a bizarre language with funny accents. Only later did I ascertain that it was Esperanto, the famous language invented by Dr. L.L. Zamenhof in 1887 in Russian-occupied Poland. I found out about Esperanto in the public library from a book called Teach Yourself Esperanto. I browsed the book only sparingly then. I took French in school because I thought that it would look good on my future résumé, or that I could get a government job; and after all, it was the other official language in Canada.

In university, I found in the stacks of an ancient library some plays and such written long ago in Esperanto. I only considered them a curiosity at the time. My course was cybernetics and I learned artificial languages for computers. I imagined at the time that if there were engineered languages for computers, then why not for people? As art electives, I took courses in French, Japanese, and Spanish, languages in the so-called "real world."

After university and during a break from an era of working full-time, in 1997, I started to more seriously study and commit to Esperanto. I joined club meetings and newsgroups. It was then that my adult years in conlanging, the hobby of constructed languages or conlangs, started to crystallize. There was a cryptic word, glossopoeisis, which came straight from the Greek for "language invention." In conlanging jargon, so-called "real" languages or "natural" languages like English and Spanish were designated natlangs.

In 1998, I created a modified Esperanto clone (L1) called Verdigo ("The Rendering Green") or Verdovo ("Green Egg"). It encapsulated my initial reaction to Esperanto's accents, since I was accustomed to accentless English. It was cathartic as all of my subsequent conlangs. I later realized that the use of Esperanto diacritics depended on available technology. After all, Japanese and Chinese could type in their logograms through the use of a simple keyboard, just as the Europeans their accented letters. Unicode, the encoding system that was intended to encompass all living scripts in the world, was still embryonic in the 1990's; the computing world was still fragmented in using many different encoding schemes for the different languages.

Also in 1998, I created Pingk (L2), which was the phonemization of English whose unsystematic spellings bothered me since Kindergarten. I thought there were better ways to spell English words. I also thought Spelling Bee contests were silly and a waste of time.

In 2001, I invented Vong (L3) whose inspiration was tonal natlangs, Vietnamese and Mandarin. The motif was the sunflower. Having discovered the conlanging tool LangMaker on the Web, I was able to create a vocabulary of 1600 accented words in Roman script randomly with specified parameters that moulded the ambiance of an East Asian language. LangMaker was providential for my hobby. In the same year and with the same tool, I created Viko (L4), inspired by Polynesian languages and Japanese. All Viko syllables were of the consonant-plus-vowel variety, so words took the shape like 'vitakivo', 'nisativo', and so forth. After the discovery on the Web of Lojban, a computer-like language meant for human beings, I branched Viko into Pahumu/Viku (L5), a kind of crucible for melting Polynesian primitivism with the modernism of a logical language or loglang. I based the script thereof on Inuktitut, an Arctic natlang.

Also in 2001, I became a heretic once again and created an Esperanto clone with all the silly changes that I wanted. I called it Mondezo (L6). I was dissatisfied by my heresy and went back to being a patriotic Esperantist. I realized that by then Esperanto was becoming part of my personality. I knew about Ido, which branched off Esperanto in 1907; it was a schism that caused much heartache in the Esperanto community. I later thought that Dr. L.L. Zamenhof was more than a mere intellectual, but a kind of saint or bodhisattva, for lack of a better term.

In 2002, my trip to glorious Greece inspired me to create a conlang using Greek letters and this I called Atho/Latho (L7). Then came Kwaadakw (L8), my first conlang involving Native Indian elements. The main inspiration was the islands of Haida Gwaii, a heavily forested sacred place of the Haida Indians. Then I created Krv (L9), a "Vampiric Language" with elements from Czech and with a clicking consonant as in Xhosa, an African natlang with lots of clicking sounds. Lilipu (L10) came next. I was exposed to Sonja Elen Kisa's fantastic creation of Toki Pona, a conlang which encapsulated "small is beautiful" with its simple pidgin-like grammar and reduced vocabulary. Lilipu was my answer, a language for creating haiku poetry. Then came Bluish/Trangzhik (L11), which had a Tagalog-like "focus grammar" and a phonology reminiscent of Cantonese, Thai, and Czech. Later in 2002, I invented Jalogga (L12), based on the Asian Indian natlangs of Pali and Sanskrit. I imagined it as a language for chanting in some esoteric religion.

Sometime in 2002, I also made a scant outline of an imagined pidgin for international communication and this I called Wold Pijin (K10), which I intended to be rather something like the English-based pidgin natlang, Tok Pisin, spoken in Papua New Guinea.

In 2003, I started on a conlang with an Esperanto-like grammar and with an intended vocabulary based on farflung source natlangs, Japanese, Indonesian, Finnish, and Swahili. I called it Harapanto (L13); 'harap' meant 'hope' in Indonesian, analogous to 'espero' (hope) in Esperanto. This was my first attempt at an 'a posteriori' conlang which would mean a slow piece by piece gathering of vocabulary from pre-existing natlangs. All my other conlangs were 'a priori'; with LangMaker, it took only minutes to create hundreds of words. Well, Harapanto was started, but never finished. Then came Bonjang (L14), which I did finish because it was 'a priori'. Bonjang was mainly based on the sounds of Indonesian, but with an Esperanto-like grammar: The endings told which part of speech a word was, whether it was a noun, adjective, verb, adverb, et cetera. My next creation was Vling (L15), the "rocketship" of all my conlangs thus far. It had a rather comprehensive and very systematic grammar. It had an East Asian flavour with five tones.

Vling was a model of what would be a good language if one focused on the syntacic structure, not necessarily the phonology whose ambiance was that of an East Asian language, an aesthetic preference.

On one occasion in 2003, I made an attempt to streamline Tibetan into an easy-to-learn conlang which I called Tibetoon (M3). My motivation was that I thought Tibetan was too difficult to learn as it was.

2004 was the year for Jasminese (L16), which was an Afro-Asian-Amerindian fusion with influences from the natlangs Yoruba, Japanese, Tibetan, Pali, Indonesian, Haida, and Central Pomo. It was a tonal polysyllabic language, much like Yoruba, an African language.

2005 began with L17. It was based on Australian aboriginal languages. I considered it the most exotic of all my creations and involved considerable research. I did not even give it a definite name, just the number designation L17. L18 was a silly experiment on whether I could write Esperanto using the Japanese Katakana syllabary. I just wrote sample text for this. Ludanto (L19) was another silly project; I wanted to see what would happen to Esperanto if it had multitudinous case endings like Finnish, Latin, and Russian. It was definitely just a thought experiment.

Also in 2005 was Ymide (M1), which was a modification of Andrew Nowicki's freeware masterpiece Ygyde, a philosophical 'a priori' language. I changed Ygyde's alphabet to the Korean Hangul alphabet. I copied my Ymide and created a better version called Ozode (M2).

Also in 2005, I started Pilitok (P1), a project I had only in my mind for several years: the 'a posteriori' Philippine cocktail of the three regional linguae francae, Tagalog, Cebuano, and Ilokano, plus the two historical colonial languages, Spanish and English. The chance of finishing this project was slim due to the slow building of the vocabulary.

In 2006, I ventured into Kanataga (P2), which was Tagalog or Taglish written in the Japanese Katakana syllabary. I did also consider using the Cyrillic script as an alternative. Then I revisited the idea of reforming English orthography, this time using the elegant mystique of the Devanāgarī script, which Hindi and Sanskrit used. This I called Sanskreng (P3).

Also in 2006, I made a sketch of Aqqiik (P4), inspired by the Arctic natlang, Inuktitut, and Finnish, both of which I thought had fascinating phonologies, weirdly reminiscent of each other. Then I refurbished L17, the Australian Aboriginal conlang, and upgraded it with the new designation M17. Thereto I added the feature of code-switching between the native Australian and Interlingua, an established conlang.

In 2007, I endeavoured to create Ginkgonese (M15), a twin sibling of Vling. Ginkgonese used accent marks over letters, while Vling used numerals, to indicate tone. Ginkgonese was named after the Ginkgo biloba tree. By winter, I thought of Purpurweiss (pronounced /'purpurvais/, and meaning "Purple White") with the objective of Lojbanizing the syntax of Standard German to an extent that it (L41) would be easily learnable, leveraging the vocabulary of Standard German as much as possible, and adding new words when necessary for enabling the new syntax. Then about a few days later, I thought of a similar Lojbanic paradigm, but instead of using Standard German, I would leverage Spanish vocabulary and a bit of Basque orthography; I proposed to call it (M41) Txokolate, pronounced /tʃoko'late/.

En la jaro 2008, mi etendis mian kolekton Oranĝaro 15, aŭ Franclingve Orangerie 15: Vling (L15), Dzëg (M15), Noi-Noi (N15), Phaai (P15), Zbing (Q15), Reng (R15), kaj S'rau (S15). Ili havis variajn influojn, inkluzive de la Kamboĝa kaj aliaj Indoĉinaj lingvoj, kaj ankaŭ la Pra-Tibeta kaj la Ĉinaj lingvoj. Zbing kaj S'rau havis evidentajn influojn de ankaŭ Loĵban. Poste, mi daŭrigis mian vojaĝon al la fridaj Arktaj landoj kaj kreis alian Eskiman lingvon L42, kiu estis rememoriga pri Aqqiik (P4). Mi decidis, ke ekde nun la lingva numersistemo sekvu mian Teran jaraĝon. Poste, mi decidis reverki pri Xoqolat (M41), prononcata /ʃoko'lat/. Mi uzis la vortaron de Interlingŭa anstataŭ la Hispana. Xoqolat havis la inspiron el la Ĉavakana, ia kreolaĵo en Filipinoj. Sekvante tion, mi revenis al Ameriko kaj kreis novan Indianan lingvon M42 kun inspiro el la Nahŭatla, alinome la Azteka. Poste, mi vojaĝis al Barato kaj kreis alian Barateskan lingvon N42.

En Marto de la jaro 2009, mi komencis la krelingvon L43, bazatan sur la skribsistemo de la Korea lingvo. Ĝi havis 38 vokalojn kaj 35 konsonantojn.

Name*Influential Languages
L11998Verdigo, VerdovoEsperanto
L21998PingkEnglish, Greek
L32001VongVietnamese, Mandarin
L42001VikoPolynesian, Japanese
L52001Viku, PahumuPolynesian, Japanese, Lojban, Rotokas, Inuktitut
L62001MondezoEsperanto, English, Chinese, Russian, Swahili
L72002Atho, LathoGreek, Polynesian
L82002KwaadakwHixkaryana, Haida, Central Pomo, Upper Chinook, Yup'ik
L92002KrvCzech, Xhosa, Chinese
K102002Wold PijinTok Pisin
L102002LilipuPolynesian, Japanese, Rotokas, Tagalog
L112002Trangzhik, BluishThai, Cantonese, Tagalog, Khmer, Czech
L122002JaloggaPali, Sanskrit
L132003Harapanto, Pasifiko, Pasifiki, PasifikaJapanese, Indonesian, Finnish, Swahili
L142003BonjangIndonesian, Tagalog, Swahili, Japanese, Esperanto
L152003VlingThai, Vietnamese, Cantonese, Esperanto, Lojban, Mandarin, Japanese
L162004JasmineseYoruba, Japanese, Tibetan, Pali, Indonesian, Haida, Central Pomo
L172005L17Australian Aboriginal
L182005KanaesperantoEsperanto, Japanese Katakana
L192005LudantoEsperanto, Latin, Quenya, Australian Aboriginal, Pali, Finnish, Russian
M12005YmidePhilosophical, Korean
M22005OzodePhilosophical, Korean
P12005PilitokTagalog, Cebuano, Ilokano, Spanish, English
P22006KanatagaTagalog, Japanese
P32006SanskrengEnglish, Sanskrit, Hindi
P42006AqqiikInuktitut, Finnish
M172006M17Australian Aboriginal
M152007Dzëg, GinkgoneseThai, Vietnamese, Cantonese, Esperanto, Lojban, Mandarin, Japanese
L412007PurpurweissGerman, Lojban
M412007Xoqolat, TxokolateInterlingua, Spanish, Chavacano, Basque, Lojban, Catalan
N152008Noi-NoiIndochinese, Chinese
P152008PhaaiIndochinese, Chinese
Q152008ZbingIndochinese, Chinese, Lojban, Classical Tibetan
R152008RengKhmer (Cambodian)
S152008S'rau, S'vengIndochinese, Chinese, Lojban, Classical Tibetan
L422008L42Arctic, Inuktitut, Lojban
M422008M42Amerindian, Nahuatl, Lojban
N422008N42Pali, Sanskrit
P422008P42Polynesian, Japanese

*Some languages underwent renaming; names of a language are in reverse chronological order.

Initialized: 2005.12.18
Last Updated: 2009.07.31