Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Moten, Part II: Nouns and Pronouns

In this post, I finally start focussing on the nitty-gritty of the Moten grammar. This post describes nouns and pronouns (as well as adjectives incidentally), the syntax of the noun phrase, as well as the morphology and semantics of the various declensions.

Nominal Classes

Although I simply speak about nouns, I should more precisely speak about nominals, as nouns in Moten don't fill in the same syntactic space as nouns in for instance English.

Nominals refer to everything that has a noun-like behaviour. In Moten, there are three types of nominals: common nouns, pronouns and proper nouns.

Common nouns are the most populous category of nominals, and contain everything we usually refer to as nouns, and even more (including adjectives, which are actually a specific usage of common nouns). They do not distinguish gender nor any other noun classes, and mass nouns do not behave syntactically differently from count nouns. There is a subclass of common nouns called counters, but those differ from other common nouns only in the way they interact with numbers, and I will talk about them in detail in the next post about Moten. Common nouns inflect for number, case and definition.

Pronouns are nominals whose referents change with context and/or the person talking. They are often used to replace other nominals or complete them. Pronouns in Moten are actually much more similar to common nouns than pronouns in most Indo-European languages. They can freely take nominal complements and adjectives, and be used as adjectives themselves (in which case they correspond to determiners in other languages). Their main difference with common nouns is that they don't inflect for definition (even when they are semantically definite), and only few of them inflect for number. They do inflect for case though.

Proper nouns are nominals with a very specific referent, which they give a name to. Like pronouns, they are actually close to common nouns syntactically, and they freely take nominal complements and adjectives. However, due to their specific meaning they are not often used as adjectives (although it is not forbidden). Like pronouns, they don't inflect for definition (although they are always semantically definite). They inflect for case, and can inflect for number if that is semantically meaningful. In writing, they often, but not always, start with a capital letter.

As I've written above, adjectives are not a separate category of words in the Moten language. In fact, any common noun (if it semantically makes sense), most pronouns and some proper nouns can be used as adjectives. This is done simply through apposition and word order. Basically, when in a noun phrase two or more nominals are juxtaposed, the first one is the head of the phrase, and any other nominal following is an adjective completing the head. For instance, using ufan: great, greatness and bazlo: town, city, one can make bazlo ufan: great town, or ufan bazlo: urban greatness.

Finally, numerals are not considered a separate category of words either. They are just common nouns that can be declined for case and definition. Ordinal numbers also inflect for number. However, cardinal numbers do not, and always use the singular case markings even if they are semantically plural. This is true of any common noun with a lexically plural meaning though, not only of the numerals.

For now I will focus on common nouns and pronouns. Proper nouns will receive treatment in a future post.


Since common nouns have the most complete declension, I will focus on them in this section. In the various sections on pronouns, I will indicate how their inflexions differ from those of nouns.

As indicated in the previous section, nouns inflect for number, case and definition. Moreover, there are no gender nor inflection classes of any kind, so all nouns inflect the same, and do so regularly. Nouns distinguish two numbers (singular and plural), three cases (nominative, accusative and genitive) and two definitions (indefinite and definite). Number and case are marked together, while definition is indicated by a separate affix.

Indefinite nouns are unmarked, while definite nouns are marked with an infix -e-, placed in front of the last vowel of the noun.

Example: linan: a bird, linean: the bird.

Case and number are marked by the combination of an infix (placed in front of the last vowel of the noun, and after the definite infix if it's present) and a suffix. The different affix combinations are:

nominative accusative genitive
singular no affix -d- + -n -v- + -i
plural -s- -|z- + -n -f- + -i

Adding those affixes may create inadmissible clusters. Those are resolved using a set of very strict morphophonemic rules, which follow here (those rules take place once all necessary affixes have been added, including the definite infix if needed):

  • -e- only causes changes when followed by e, i or u:
    • -e- disappears before another e.
    • The sequence -e- + i becomes ej. The new j may react to a following consonant, merging with l and n to form |l and |n respectively, and disappearing otherwise.
    • The sequence -e- + u becomes eju.
  • -s- only reacts when following a consonant:
    • -s- disappears after s, z, |s or |z.
    • The sequence t + -s- becomes |s, the sequence d + -s- becomes |z.
    • The sequence |l + -s- becomes ls, the sequence |n + -s- becomes ns.
    • -s- becomes z after a phonemically voiced consonant (i.e. not after the nasals, laterals and approximant, which are phonemically voice-neutral).
    • In any other case of disallowed cluster, or if those changes would still result in an inadmissible cluster, instead of those changes an u is inserted before -s-.
  • -d- only reacts when following a consonant:
    • t and d disappear before -d-.
    • The sequences s + -d-, z + -d-, |s + -d- and |z + -d- become zd.
    • The sequence |l + -d- becomes ld, the sequence |n + -d- becomes nd.
    • -d- becomes t after a phonemically voiceless consonant.
    • In any other case of disallowed cluster, or if those changes would still result in an inadmissible cluster, instead of those changes an u is inserted before -d-.
  • -|z- only reacts when following a consonant:
    • s, z, |s and |z disappear before -|z-.
    • The sequence t + -|z- becomes |s, the sequence d + -|z- becomes |z.
    • The sequence |l + -|z- becomes lz, the sequence |n + -|z- becomes nz.
    • -|z- becomes s after a phonemically voiceless consonant, z after a phonemically voiced or voice-neutral consonant.
    • In any other case of disallowed cluster, or if those changes would still result in an inadmissible cluster, instead of those changes an u is inserted before -|z-.
  • -v- only reacts when following a consonant:
    • f and v disappear before -v-.
    • The sequences s + -v-, z + -v-, |s + -v- and |z + -v- become zv.
    • The sequence |l + -v- becomes lv, the sequence |n + -v- becomes nv.
    • A phonemically voiceless consonant becomes voiced before -v-.
    • In any other case of disallowed cluster, or if those changes would still result in an inadmissible cluster, instead of those changes an u is inserted before -v-.
  • -f- only reacts when following a consonant:
    • f and v disappear before -f-.
    • The sequences s + -f-, z + -f-, |s + -f- and |z + -f- become sf.
    • The sequence |l + -f- becomes lf, the sequence |n + -f- becomes nf.
    • A phonemically voiced consonant becomes voiceless before -f-.
    • In any other case of disallowed cluster, or if those changes would still result in an inadmissible cluster, instead of those changes an u is inserted before -f-.
  • -n only reacts when following a consonant:
    • -n disappears after n or |n.
    • The sequence j + -n becomes |n, if it's directly after a vowel.
    • In any other case, an u is inserted before -n.
  • -i reacts after both vowels and consonants:
    • -i disappears after i, j, |l or |n.
    • -i becomes j after any other vowel.
    • The sequence l + -i becomes |l, and the sequence n + -i becomes |n, if they are directly after a vowel.

To illustrate the effects of those morphophonemic rules, here are the complete declension tables of a few common nouns:

linan: bird

indefinite nominative accusative genitive
singular linan lindan linva|n
plural linsan linzan linfa|n
definite nominative accusative genitive
singular linean linedan lineva|n
plural linesan line|zan linefa|n

bazlo: town, city

indefinite nominative accusative genitive
singular bazlo bazludon bazluvoj
plural bazluso bazlu|zon bazlufoj
definite nominative accusative genitive
singular bazleo bazledon bazlevoj
plural bazleso bazle|zon bazlefoj

ge|sem: father

indefinite nominative accusative genitive
singular ge|sem gezdemun gezvemi
plural ge|sem ge|zemun gesfemi
definite nominative accusative genitive
singular ge|sem ge|sedemun ge|sevemi
plural ge|sesem ge|se|zemun ge|sefemi

ku|lu: language

indefinite nominative accusative genitive
singular ku|lu kuldun kulvuj
plural kulsu kulzun kulfuj
definite nominative accusative genitive
singular ku|leju ku|ledun ku|levuj
plural ku|lesu ku|le|zun ku|lefuj

umpi: house

indefinite nominative accusative genitive
singular umpi umptin umbvi
plural umpsi umpsin umpfi
definite nominative accusative genitive
singular umpej umpedin umpevi
plural umpesi umpe|zin umpefi

vel(d): five

nominative accusative genitive
indefinite vel vudeldun veldi
definite vel vedeldun veveldi

As you can see, although there is a single declension paradigm, the various morphophonemic rules result in very different surface forms depending on the noun.

Case Meanings

Despite their simple names, the meaning of the case distinctions in Moten is more complicated than it seems, and needs a thorough discussion to understand it fully.

The main principle behind case semantics is that all three cases are polysemic: they have three different meanings, that can always be classified under the categories core, spatial and temporal. The naming scheme of the cases used here derives from their core meanings.

The nominative case's core use is as the subject of a verb. However, it is restricted in that sense: the nominative case is always used to indicate the subject of an intransitive verb. However, when the verb is transitive, a subject in the nominative case indicates that it is actively participating in the action, rather than simply experiencing it or suffering under it. For instance, with the verb izunlaj: to be, to stay, and the noun ka|se: man, the following sentence:

Ka|se umpej izunluda|n ito.

means "the man is staying home" (literally: "the man is staying at the house"), no matter whether the subject is actively, voluntarily staying, or forced to stay because of home arrest. However, with the verb ipe|laj: to see, to watch, to look at, the sentence:

Ka|se umpedin ipe|laj ito.

can only mean "the man looks at the house". Since the nominative case can only be used with an actively involved subject, the sentence cannot mean *"the man sees the house" (I will show further in this post how to handle such sentences).

The nominative case is also the case of direct address, when calling out to someone or something. In other words, it also has a vocative meaning.

When used in the spatial or temporal senses, the nominative case is essive, i.e. it indicates the place where (or time when) an action takes place. This use is exemplified in the first sentence above, where umpej (umpi in the definite nominative singular case) is translated as "home", i.e. literally "at the house".

The accusative case's core use is as direct object of a verb, as exemplified by umpedin (umpi in the definite accusative singular case) in the second sentence above. The accusative case is used to indicate the direct object of any transitive verb, but interestingly it is even used with the copula atom: to be. In the Moten language "to be" is considered to be a transitive verb, and the language makes no distinction between equative and transitive sentences:

Ka|se gezdemun ipe|laj ito: the man looks at a father.

Ka|se gezdemun ito: the man is a father.

As you can see, the transitive and equative sentences are identical in structure. It is even true of the meaning of the nominative subject: in the equative sentence above the man is considered to be actively participating in the act of being a father, i.e. it's a role the man took on willingly (I will discuss the use of atom as a copula further in a future blog post. For now, just remember that it can only be used for equative, definitional predicates. For qualitative predicates, i.e. predicate adjectives, another construction must be used).

In the spatial sense, the accusative case is lative, i.e. it indicates the place where you go to or towards. Here is an example, using the intransitive verb juba|si: to come:

Ka|se umpedin juba|si ito: the man comes to the house (or "the man comes home").

In the temporal sense, the accusative case has a durative meaning, i.e. it indicates how long an action is taking place, rather than simply indicating when it is taking place. The difference is exemplified in the next two sentences, using dod: evening, night:

Ka|se umpej deod izunluda|n ito: the man is staying home at night (literally: "the man is staying at the house in the night").

Ka|se umpej dedodun izunluda|n ito: the man is staying home during the night (or: "the man is staying home the whole night").

The genitive case's core us is to allow a noun to complete another noun. It's even the only way a noun phrase can become complement of a noun (other types of noun phrases can only be used predicatively, i.e. as complements of verbs). The meaning of the genitive case can be possession, but also origin, quality, ownership and quite a few other meanings. It is similar in meaning to the English preposition "of". Here is an example:

Ka|sevej umpej: the house of the man, the man's house.

Notice how both the completing and the completed nouns take the definite inflection. Any combination can be used, if the semantics allow it:

Kazvej umpej: the house of a man, a man's house.

Ka|sevej umpi: a house of the man.

Kazvej umpi: a house of a man.

In the spatial sense, the genitive case is delative, i.e. it indicates the origin, the place where you come from. In that sense, the genitive case can be used to complete a noun as well as to complete a verb. For instance:

Ka|se umpevi juba|si ito: the man comes from the house (or "the man comes from home").

In the temporal sense, the genitive case has a frequentative meaning, i.e. it indicates the number of times an action is repeated, or that an action is repeated every so often. Using our temporal example again:

Ka|se umpej devodi izunluda|n ito: the man is staying home every night (or: "the man is staying home at nights").

The polysemy of cases means that sentences can be somewhat ambiguous. Although this is sometimes done on purpose, Moten has ways to reduce ambiguity. This will be shown in the next section.

Functional Prefixes

Besides case declensions, the Moten language has a series of functional prefixes used on nouns to indicate their function in the sentence. The reason why those are not considered case affixes is because they are different in shape (prefixes rather than infix + suffix), some are actually used besides cases to specify their meanings, and they are not restricted to nouns. As I'll show in a future blog post, those prefixes can also be used on verbs to create subclauses. But for now, let's focus on their use with nouns.

There are two classes of functional prefixes. The first one is composed of the prefixes mo- and di-. They are optional prefixes, rather abstract in meaning, and used with declined nouns to disambiguate the meaning of their case. Simply speaking, the prefix mo- indicates that the case used on the inflected noun is used with its spatial meaning, while the prefix di- indicates that the case has its temporal meaning. As any other affix, those trigger some morphophonemic rules:

  • The o of the prefix mo- only causes changes when followed by o, u or i:
    • It disappears before another o or before u.
    • The sequence mo- + i becomes moj. The new j may react to a following consonant, disappearing before |l, |n and j, and merging with l and n to form |l and |n respectively.
  • The i of the prefix di- only causes changes when followed by a vowel, n or l:
    • It disappears before another i.
    • di- becomes dj- before any other vowel.
    • The sequence di- + l becomes di|l if it's followed by a vowel. In the same way, the sequence di- + n becomes di|n if it's followed by a vowel.

Note that when they are used with a noun in the genitive case, this noun cannot be used to complete another noun any more. Use of those prefixes makes the noun phrase predicative. Here are a few examples, done by rewriting the sentences above to use the prefixes as needed:

Ka|se mumpej izunluda|n ito: the man is staying home (mumpej = mo- + umpej).

Ka|se mumpedin juba|si ito: the man comes to the house (mumpedin = mo- + umpedin).

Ka|se mumpej dideod izunluda|n ito: the man is staying home at night (dideod = di- + deod).

Ka|se mumpej didedodun izunluda|n ito: the man is staying home during the night (didedodun = di- + dedodun).

Ka|se mumpevi juba|si ito: the man comes from the house (mumpevi = mo- + umpevi).

Ka|se mumpej didevodi izunluda|n ito: the man is staying home every night (didevodi = di- + devodi).

The second class of prefixes behaves somewhat differently. Those prefixes have relatively concrete meanings, cannot be used with case declensions (those prefixes can only complete nouns in the nominative case) and cannot be omitted. Basically, they form a sort of oblique case paradigm, although they are not restricted to completing nouns. Those prefixes are:

  • |la-: benefactive. This prefix indicates who benefits from the action, and often corresponds in English to the preposition "for" or the expression "for the sake of". It is also used to indicate the recipient of an action (for instance to whom something is given).
  • go-: originative. This prefix is used to indicate the non-spatial origin of something. It is different from both the genitive case in its core use (which indicates possession and other attributive relationships) and in its spatial use (where it strictly shows the spatial origin of a movement). the originative is typically used to indicate whom the subject received something from.
  • ko-: instrumental. This prefix is used to indicate the instrument or means by which the subject accomplished an action. It can mark companionship (although there is an alternative construction for this, which is more commonly used) and is also used to indicate the material an object is made from, or the manner by which an action is accomplished. Finally, it is also used to mark the experiencing, non-voluntary subject of a transitive verb. It corresponds variously to the English prepositions "with", "by" or "from", or to adverbs of manner.
  • te-: final. This prefix is used to mark the goal of the action (in English, this is mostly rendered by "for").
  • |zu-: causative. This prefix marks the cause or reason for the action (equivalent to English "because of").

As any other affix, they trigger specific morphophonemic rules:

  • The prefixes go- and ko- cause exactly the same changes as the prefix mo-.
  • The prefix |zu- also causes the same changes as the prefix mo-. However, the u of this prefix also disappears before a and e.
  • The e of the prefix te- behaves exactly like the definite infix -e-.
  • The a of the prefix |la- only causes changes when followed by a, e, u or i:
    • It disappears before another a or before e.
    • The sequence |la- + u becomes |laju.
    • The sequence |la- + i becomes |laj. The new j may react to a following consonant, disappearing before |l, |n and j, and merging with l and n to form |l and |n respectively.

Here are a few example sentences using those prefixes:

Ka|se |le|leon zande|n joplej ito: the man gives the woman a ring (|le|leon = |la- + e|lon + -e-, with e|lon: woman).

E|leon goka|se zande|n joplej ito: the woman receives a ring from the man.

As you can see, both sentences use the verb joplej, despite the different translations. A future post will deal with joplej and its counterpart ja|zi|n, and how they can be used to mean "to give", "to take", "to receive" and "to transfer", depending on the participants in the clause.

Ka|se umpedin kosezgeo juba|si etok: the man came home fast (kosezgeo: "with speed". Notice how the noun is definite in this construction).

Koka|se umpedin ipe|laj ito: the man sees the house.

This sentence shows how an experiencing, non-voluntary subject is indicated using a noun phrase with ko-.

Ka|se te|lea |negi etok: the man did it for the sake of peace (te|lea = te- + |la + -e-: "for peace").

The verb is |negi, a transitive verb meaning "to do, to act, to accomplish". This sentence also illustrates the fact that in the Moten language, like in Japanese, one can omit anything not relevant to the discussion or clear by context. Here, the object of the verb is omitted, whereas it cannot be in English (hence the added "it" in the translation).

|Ze|leon, ka|se umpedin juba|si etok: because of the woman, the man came home (|ze|leon = |zu- + e|lon + -e-).

Note that in English, the expression "because of" often has a pejorative meaning, especially if the complement is a person. That is not the case in Moten, where |zu- is completely neutral. For that reason, in the sentence above |ze|leon could just as well mean "thanks to the woman".

As you can see, all those prefixes, along with the various cases, allow one to express a wide range of noun phrase functions already. I'll show in a future post how to express even more functions, using mostly nominal expressions.

Personal Pronouns

After focussing so much on common nouns, it's now time to look at pronouns instead. As I wrote above, their main difference with common nouns is that they never inflect for definition (even when they are semantically definite) and sometimes don't inflect for number either (even when they are semantically plural). Apart from those differences, pronouns can be used wherever nouns are used, and can take exactly the same case inflections and functional prefixes. For our overview, let's start with the personal pronouns.

Moten's personal pronouns are relatively boring. The first person singular pronoun is ga: I, me, while the second person singular pronoun is ba: you (sg), thou. They have plural versions: telga: we, us and telba: you (pl), you all (those are actually transparent compounds with tel: other). There is no third person pronoun in Moten. However, there is a reflexive pronoun, vike: self, used to refer to the subject of the current clause. This reflexive pronoun is used as is even if the subject of the clause is the first or second person, and unlike the other personal pronouns it can inflect in the plural, and does so when the subject is semantically plural. Here are a few examples of the pronouns in use:

Ga umpedin ipe|laj ito: I look at the house.

Koba umpedin ipe|laj ito: you see the house.

Ka|se telgdan ipe|laj ito: the man watches us.

Telba |lavikse isej ito: you (all) talk to yourselves (isej: to say, to talk).

Unlike English, the Moten language is pro-drop, i.e. participants are omitted when it is clear (by context or through other means) who is doing what, or when the speaker just doesn't want to specify everything. In this matter Moten is similar to the Japanese language, and because of this personal pronouns are not as much used in Moten as in English. For instance, the sentence:

Umpedin ipe|laj ito.

is perfectly valid and can mean anything from "I look at the house" to "they see the house", depending on context and possibly non-verbal cues given by the speaker.

There are no possessive adjectives in Moten. Instead, one simply uses the genitive case of the personal pronouns (including the reflexive pronoun):

Gvaj badej: my dog (badej = badi + -e-, with badi meaning "dog").

Gvaj badi: a dog of mine.

Ba vigvej umpej izunluda|n ito: you are staying at your (own) house (or simply: "you are staying home").

Vikfej mumpej izunluda|n ito: (we, you, they) are staying home (the fact that the reflexive pronoun is in the genitive plural indicates that the subject is plural, but it doesn't indicate which person it is).

Because Moten is strongly pro-drop, the next-to-last sentence feels relatively emphatic, and would be equivalent to saying something like: "YOU are staying at YOUR OWN house!" in English (with tone emphasis indicated using capitalisation). Even in the last sentence it would feel natural to omit vikfej, unless the speaker is being precise on purpose (for instance to indicate that each referent is staying at their own house, rather than someone else's).

Like common nouns, the personal pronouns can be used as noun phrase heads, but also attributively, as adjectives. When used in this way, they allow one to form expressions similar to the English "We the People":

Ka|se telga e|lon |latelba isej ito: we men talk to you women (if you don't understand how this sentence is structured, don't worry. Further in this post I explain exactly how noun phrases are formed).

To finish with, while tel is simply a common noun meaning "other", it is also commonly used in the definite form as a reciprocal pronoun equivalent to "each other":

Telba |latel isej ito: you talk to each other (literally: "you (all) talk to the other").

Teve|l mumpej izunluda|n ito: (we, you, they) are staying at each other's house (literally: "is staying at the other's house").

Kotelga te|zelun ipe|laj ito.: we see each other (literally: "we see the others". Here, tel is in the plural, which means that each subgroup that sees the other is formed of more than one individual).

Demonstrative Pronouns

The Moten language has three demonstrative pronouns. They can inflect for number, and are person-oriented rather than distance-oriented:

  • len: this (near the speaker).
  • lam: that (near the listener).
  • los: that over there (away from both the speaker and the listener).

Given that Moten lacks a third person pronoun, the pronoun los is used instead (including its genitive as a third person possessive adjective). The demonstrative pronouns can be used anaphorically and cataphorically (i.e. to refer to something already mentioned or to something that has not been mentioned yet), but can never refer to the subject of the current clause (you have to use the reflexive pronoun for that). And just like common nouns and the personal pronouns, the demonstrative pronouns can be used as noun phrase heads, but also attributively as adjectives. Here are a few examples:

Ka|se |le|leon luden ja|zi|n etok: the man gave this to the woman (typically, this would be used with the speaker having the object they are talking about in their hand).

Koga lu|zamun ipe|laj ito: I see those (next to you).

Ka|se umpi los izunluda|n ito: the man is staying at that house over there.

Ka|se luvosi umpedin ipe|laj ito: the man looks at his (i.e. someone else's) house.

Spatial and Temporal Pronouns

The spatial and temporal pronouns are two series of pronouns that share the same orientation as the demonstrative pronouns. However, unlike the demonstrative pronouns, they can never be used anaphorically or cataphorically. Instead, they refer to more or less general areas of space or time. They are difficult to define very clearly, as they have no equivalents in English or French. Rather, they are often used in ways where English would use adverbs of time or place (using the temporal or spatial meaning of the noun cases).

There are three spatial pronouns, corresponding to the demonstrative pronouns, and similarly person-oriented. They are:

  • e: this place (near the speaker), "here".
  • a: that place (near the listener), "there".
  • o: that place over there (away from both the speaker and the listener), "over there".

Similarly, there are three temporal pronouns:

  • et: this time (near the speaker), "now".
  • at: that time (near the listener), "then".
  • ot: that time then (away from both the speaker and the listener), "at time time, formerly, in the future, once upon a time".

As indicated by their translations, at and ot can refer to the past as well as to the future.

A few examples might help you to understand how they are used:

Ot ga badin egek: I used to have a dog (literally: "at that time then, I had a dog", with agem: to have).

Datun mumpedin juba|si etok: Meanwhile, you came home (literally: "during that time, came home").

Ka|se vej juba|si ito: The man comes from here.

Ka|se fej juba|si ito: The man comes from around here.

As you can see in this last example, those pronouns can inflect in the plural as well as in the singular. However, their plural forms have an approximate rather than numerically plural meaning.

Like the demonstrative pronouns, they can also be used attributively as adjectives, although that use is relatively infrequent. When used this way, they have the sense of demonstrative adjectives with a strictly spatial or temporal sense.

Interrogative Pronouns

The Moten language has three interrogative pronouns. Two are used to ask questions of identity, and differ only because one is animate and the other one inanimate. The animate interrogative pronoun is mik: who, while the inanimate interrogative pronoun is mut: what. The third interrogative pronoun is used to ask for a choice, and can be used for both inanimate and animate referrents. It is: mun: which one. Here are a few examples of their use:

Umpedin mik juba|si etok?: Who came home? (literally: "home came who?")

Ba mudikun ito?: Who are you? (literally: "you are who?")

Ka|se zande|n |lamik joplej etok?: Who did the man give the ring to? (literally: "the man gave the ring to whom?")

Ka|se |le|leon mudutun joplej etok?: What did the man give to the woman? (literally: "the man gave what to the woman?")

Ka|se |le|leon mudun joplej etok?: Which one did the man give to the woman? (literally: "the man gave which one to the woman?")

Ka|se temut |negi etok?: What did the man do it for? (literally: "the man did it for whose sake?")

Ka|se umpedin |zumut juba|si etok?: Why did the man come home? (literally: "the man came home because of what?")

Ka|se momut izunluda|n ito?: where is the man staying? (literally: "the man is staying at what?")

As you can see in those examples, the interrogative pronouns are not fronted as in English. Instead, they normally appear directly in front of the verb (as we'll see in a future post, the position directly in front of the verb is the focus of the sentence, i.e. where the speaker gives new information, or asks for it). They inflect only in the singular, never in the plural, even when their referent is plural (so mun can mean "which ones" as well as "which one"). What you can also see from those examples is that what in English is rendered using various interrogative pronouns and adverbs is always rendered by inflected forms of the interrogative pronouns in Moten. This is a general truth: the Moten language has only three interrogative words, and all the other question words are formed using them.

As any other pronoun, the interrogative pronouns can be used attributively as adjectives. In that usage, mun can be translated simply as "which", while mik and mut both translate as "what kind of". The only difference between those last two is that mik can only complete animate nouns, while mut can only be used with inanimate referrents. Animateness isn't a strict category in Moten though, although using mut with persons is only ever done when one wants to be insulting. Here are a few examples:

Ka|se umpi mun izunluda|n ito?: Which house is the man staying at?

Len badi mudikun ito?: What kind of dog is this?

Lam zanej mudutun ito?: What kind of ring is that?

As I wrote before, pronouns can take adjectives, just like common nouns. This is also true of the interrogative pronouns. In particular, it is quite common to use tel with them, in the sense of "else":

mik tel?: who else?

mut tel?: what else?

mut motel?: where else?

Indefinite Pronouns

The indefinite pronouns are pronouns that refer to one or more unspecified beings or objects. In Moten, they are regularly and systematically formed by adding prefixes on the interrogative pronouns. There are five prefixes, which are presented below:

  • ta-: existential. It corresponds mostly to "some" in English (however, see below the discussion about se-).
  • nu-: universal. It corresponds to "every", "each" or "all".
  • me-: negative. It corresponds to "no". As in English, negative indefinite pronouns make the whole clause negative in meaning.
  • |le-: elective. It corresponds sometimes to the suffix "-ever", sometimes to "any". Unlike "any" though, it does not have a negative meaning when in a negative clause.
  • se-: unknown. While the elective prefix |le- indicates that the referent is irrelevant, and the existential prefix ta- indicates that the referent exists but doesn't define it any further, this one indicates that the referent exists, but is unknown to the speaker. In English, indefinite pronouns using "some" somewhat cover the semantic space taken by this prefix.

Using those prefixes and the interrogative pronouns, you end up with fifteen indefinite pronouns. They are used much like the interrogative pronouns themselves: pronouns derived from mik refer to persons, those derived from mut refer to things, while those derived from mun can refer to both persons and things, and indicate choice within a set. Also, they only inflect in the singular, and their inflected forms can be used to translate indefinite adverbs like "somewhere", "nowhere" and "anyhow". Here is the list of pronouns and their translations:

  • Based on mik:
    • tamik: someone, somebody (but I'm not telling whom).
    • numik: everyone, everybody, all.
    • memik: no one, nobody.
    • |lemik: anyone, anybody, whoever.
    • semik: someone, somebody (but I don't know whom).
  • Based on mut:
    • tamut: something (but I'm not telling what).
    • numut: everything, all.
    • memut: nothing.
    • |lemut: anything, whatever, whatsoever.
    • semut: something (but I don't know what).
  • Based on mun:
    • tamun: one, some (of them, but I'm not telling which one(s)).
    • numun: each one (of them), all (of them).
    • memun: none (of them).
    • |lemun: any one (of them), whichever.
    • semun: one, some (of them, but I don't know which one(s)).

Here are a few examples:

Semik umpej izunluda|n ito: someone is staying at the house (but I don't know who it is).

Koga memdutun ipe|laj ito: I see nothing.

Ka|se numdun ige: the man has all of them.

Ka|se umpedin kotamut juba|si etok: the man came home somehow (but I'm not telling how).

The indefinite pronouns can also be used as adjectives, with the same restrictions and meaning as the interrogative pronouns. And like the interrogative pronouns, the indefinite pronouns can take adjectives, in particular tel in the sense of "else". Here are a few sentences for illustration:

Ka|se tamik umpej izunluda|n ito: some (kind of) man is staying at the house.

Ka|se semut modve|l juba|si ito: the man comes from somewhere else.

Structure of the Noun Phrase

I think I've introduced enough new concepts and vocabulary for now, so I will conclude this post by explaining in more detail how noun phrases are formed in the Moten language. This will probably clarify some of the examples I used before.

Forgetting inflection for the moment, the structure of the noun phrase can be described simply as: (sub-noun phrase(s)) head (adjective(s)), i.e. zero or more sub-noun phrases, a mandatory head, and zero or more adjectives. Sub-noun phrases are just like any other noun phrase, except that they must be in the genitive case (no other function can be used attributively). The head is any nominal: common noun, pronoun or proper noun. As for the adjectives, as I explained at the beginning of the post, they are not a separate category, and nearly any nominal can be used as an adjective. And as an exception to the rule that Moten is head-final, adjectives normally appear after the head of the noun phrase. Here are a few examples of non-inflected noun phrases, in order of complexity:

Ga: me.

Ka|se: man.

Badi odun: young dog (odun: youth).

*Ga ukol: old me (ukol: old age).

Bvaj umpi: house of yours.

Bazluvoj ga: me from a town.

Kazvej mjan bontu: slow cat of a man (mjan: cat, bontu: slowness).

Telgvaj bazlo ufan ukol: old and great town of ours.

Kazvej elvo|n badi sezgo odun: young and quick dog of a man and a woman.

These examples, and especially their translations, are a bit stilted, since they are all non-inflected and thus indefinite (the example marked with * is even ungrammatical as it stands, as will become clear in the next paragraph. To be grammatical, it would have to be ga ukeol). However, they all illustrate well how noun phrases work in Moten.

Now comes maybe the most difficult thing to grasp when it comes to the structure of the noun phrase in Moten: each noun phrase has a number (singular or plural), a definition (definite or indefinite) and a function in the sentence. Those characteristics are indicated by the definite infix, the casual affixes and/or the functional prefixes. The difficulty about this is that those affixes are added to only one word in the noun phrase, and that word needn't be the head of the noun phrase. Rather, they are put on the last nominal of the noun phrase, and all the other nominals in front of it are left in their bare form, including the head of the phrase itself. Moreover, the affixes are added to the last nominal according to its nature. So if the last nominal in the phrase is an indefinite pronoun used as adjective, it will only be inflected in the indefinite singular, even if the phrase has a plural meaning. Conversely, if the last nominal is a common noun completing a personal pronoun, it will take the definite infix, because the noun phrase is definite due to its head being semantically definite (the adjective may even have to be declined in the plural if the personal pronoun is plural). The fact that personal pronouns themselves can't take the definite article (and normally take singular case affixes even when they are semantically plural) doesn't matter here, since the personal pronoun is not the inflected nominal in the phrase.

Here are a few examples of inflected noun phrases in sentences, to illustrate the point made in the previous paragraph (the noun phrases are emphasised for clarity):

Ka|se vigvej umpi mukeol izunluda|n ito: the man is staying at his own old house.

E|lon |laba zande|n joplej ito: I give a ring to you woman.

Koka|se mjan bontu ukedolun ipe|laj ito: the man sees the old and slow cat.

What's Next

OK, I believe this post has been long and dense enough for now. I do think it was necessary though, as nominal grammar is the cornerstone of Moten grammar, and what I've been describing here will reappear in other places, including in verbal grammar.

However, although I'm stopping here for now, it doesn't mean we're done with nominals. On the contrary, there is still plenty to say. So the next post will still be about nominals. It will focus on numbers, counters (a subclass of common nouns with a peculiar behaviour around numbers and a few other words) and the expression of time. I may also talk about the degrees of comparison.

I hope you have enjoyed the last post of the year. If you have a question, remark, or see a mistake in this post (very possible, I'm bad at editing myself), don't hesitate to leave a comment, and I'll get back to you as quickly as possible.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Moten, Part I: Background and Phonology

Today I realised one thing: my blog is subtitled "Arts and Crafts of Words and Tongues", but I've got only two posts tagged "language", and absolutely no post about conlanging, despite it being my second most favourite hobby! (everybody will agree that my most favourite hobby is procrastinating). So I've decided to fill this hole by writing a series of articles about my conlangs, starting with a few grammars (which will be spanned over a few articles). Doing so I'm actually killing two birds with one stone: not only I generate a bit of contents for a blog that desperately needs it, but I also create more exposure to my invented languages, for which until now information has only been available on the archives of the Conlang Mailing List, or in French.

To inaugurate this series, I've decided to publish the grammar of the Moten language, starting with a background introduction and its phonology (and related fields, like phonotactics, morphophonemics and the writing system). Moten is one of my first languages, and to this day still the most developed one (it has even got a lexicon!), so it's the best place to start. So without further ado, here is the first part of the Moten grammar!

Background Information (External)

Moten is one of the "First Five", i.e. the last five languages I had invented before joining the Conlang Mailing List, and the first ones that were not shamefully bad and forgettable. Of them, it is the most developed one, and still my favourite. According to my notes, I originally created this language because I wanted to create something that looked as if it had a lot of irregularities, but was actually very regular (the seemingly irregular surface forms actually being the result of completely regular morphophonemic mechanisms). Also, I had just learned some Basque grammar, and wanted to emulate some of its features (mainly the periphrastic conjugations and the fact that only the last word of noun phrases gets declined). Finally, I had discovered infixes, and wanted to see whether I was able to develop a conlang using them. Whether I managed to reach those goals is arguable. In any case, the result was a language not quite like anything I had created so far, and something I still think has got lots of character.

Background Information (Internal)

Languages don't always need a fictional background. Some are invented "just 'cause". Actually, that's how Moten started. But in time, a kind of weird fictional history crept in, without me trying to consciously create it. It just appeared in bits and pieces as I was designing the language, and eventually became too strong for me to ignore. It's this internal history I'm presenting here:

On the 25th of March 1984, a boy was found wandering in the Walloon countryside by a couple of Belgian farmers. He was naked, looked hungry, and despite being visibly frightened, he was so exhausted he didn't resist when the farmers took him and brought him to the nearest hospital. There, he was found to be about eight years old, and, despite the ordeal he seemed to have gone through, to be relatively healthy. Still, he was kept in observation as he had the symptoms of a profound shock: he refused to speak, was afraid of everyone and everything, and suffered from panic attacks and nightmares.

His picture was broadcasted, but without success. After two months, nobody had yet contacted the police. During this time, the boy slowly recovered, until he started to speak again. That's when the second mystery began: the boy didn't speak French, and nobody seemed to recognise his language. Interpreters were brought in, but all in vain. People started wondering whether he was a feral child. However, a speech therapist who was working in the hospital and had taken a liking for the boy quickly recognised that he didn't suffer the usual impairments of feral children: he walked upright, didn't display any sign of animal behaviour, ate normally, and his language ability sounded well developed, although his language was still unknown. Also, the boy showed signs of picking up French words without even being encouraged to, another clue that his language capacity wasn't limited.

With the help of a child psychiatrist, the speech therapist started testing the boy's intelligence using non-verbal tests. The results were surprising: the boy scored very high on those tests, showing a superior intelligence! Also, he began to learn French at an accelerated rate, although at first he had difficulties with some of the sounds. The speech therapist helped him, and he started getting attached to her. After a year and a half, he left the hospital, and the speech therapist got custody of him. She ended up fully adopting him a year later. In this time, he had learned to speak French with only a slight foreign accent, and went to school like all children his age (he had to learn writing and reading first, but got up to speed very fast). Despite him being able to communicate, his past remained a mystery: he had no recollection whatsoever of his life prior to being found, and that amnesia resisted all treatments. But that didn't matter, as he was starting to get a normal life.

However, he was still known as "the child that had been found in the fields", and his celebrity was in the way of his social development. To try and provide him with a normal childhood, his adopted mother decided to leave Belgium. She changed their names, found a job in France, and settled there in anonymity. As it would happen, she settled in a town close to where I lived, and one day, I met the boy.

Although I had no idea about his past, our encounter was still a shock: we were nearly exactly alike, as alike as identical twins could be! That was not all: our birthdays were identical! (in his case, the day he was found was used as his birthday) Those coincidences created a near-instant bond, and we became the best of friends. In time, I learned all about him (at least what he remembered, which was still nothing prior to him being found in the Belgian fields), and started getting interested in the language he spoke prior to learning French (yes, even in this fictional history, I'm still a language geek!). That's how I discovered that not only he still had a perfect recollection of his language, but also a very good idea of how to describe it grammatically, far better than what you would expect for a guy who presumably lost any contact with other speakers of that language when he was eight.

It took me a while, but I eventually convinced him to write down as much as he could about his language, arguing that the only link he had to his mysterious past was something too precious to let it disappear. C.G. (that's his nickname, what this means exactly will be revealed in a future post) was reticent at first, but eventually relented, and the result was the first description of the Moten tongue this world has ever seen. I also started to learn the language, and together we started speaking it, creating new compounds and loaning words from other languages for concepts (especially place names) that didn't seem to have already existing equivalents in Moten.

General Language Information

Now that this is out of the way, let's focus on the Moten language itself. Moten is, as far as anyone knows, a language isolate with a very non-Indo-European grammar (but a very simple phonology for generic European speakers). It is strictly head final (especially verb final), although attributes normally follow the noun. It is generally SOV and pro-drop, although not to the same extent as Japanese. Apart from two auxiliaries, verbal conjugation in Moten is strictly periphrastic. Word formation is mostly done by compounding, although Moten has a few derivational suffixes. Nouns inflect for case, number and definition. Fully inflected nominal and verbal forms can receive further nominal inflections to change their meaning or their role in the clause (a phenomenon usually called by its French name: surdéclinaison). Inflection uses a combination of suffixes and infixes, and sometimes also prefixes. When those combine with nouns, various phonological phenomena can happen, but those are always regular. Moten is a very regular language, with irregularities few and far between.


Moten has a relatively simple phonemic inventory with little to no allophony. It has 5 vowels and 18 consonants.

Moten's vowel inventory is simply the 5 main cardinal vowels: /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/ and /u/, like the Spanish and Modern Greek languages. As in those languages, the two mid vowels /e/ and /o/ in Moten are truly mid, i.e. they are slightly lower than the ideal versions described by their IPA characters. They would be more correctly transcribed as /e̞/ and /o̞/ (or as /ɛ̝/ and /ɔ̝/), but the versions without diacritics are used for simplicity. Moten also lacks diphthongs (two consecutive vowels always have a syllable break between them) as well as long vowels (except in a few interjections, but it is common for those to break the phonology of a language). Vowels are only very slightly nasalised when followed by a nasal consonant, and nasalisation isn't phonemic anyway.

Moten's consonant inventory is about as boring as its vowel inventory. It is relatively symmetrical, and features sounds common in most Western European languages. The following table shows the full inventory (using the IPA):

bilabial labiod. dental alveolar palatal velar
plosive p b t d k g
fricative f v s z
affricate ts dz
nasal m n ɲ
lateral l ʎ
approx. j

When two phonemes appear in the same cell, the first one is voiceless and the second one voiced. Phonemes appearing alone in a cell are considered voice-neutral, but are normally realised as voiced. Moten's consonant inventory lacks any rhotic consonant (loanwords with rhotic consonants normally replace them with /l/). Also, while most coronal consonants are alveolar, /t/ and /d/ are realised as dental. As I wrote above, phonemes in Moten usually have a single perceivable realisation. The only exceptions are /n/ and /l/, which are usually realised as [ŋ] and [ɫ] when followed by a velar consonant (but this is a rare occurrence). /l/ is otherwise always clear in any position (unlike in English where it darkens in codas).

Writing System

Due to its peculiar history, it is unknown whether the Moten language has a native script (if it has one, eight-year-old C.G. hadn't learnt it yet, or forgot it as part of his amnesia). So when C.G. and I started talking about writing a grammar of the language, the question of a written transcription came early. Eventually, C.G. created an alphabet for it, based on the Roman alphabet. The simple phonemic inventory allowed him to create a phonemic transcription where one letter is exactly one phoneme (the system is truly phonemic: morphophonemic sound changes are always reflected in writing) without having to divert much from the standard Roman alphabet as used in French or English.

The Moten alphabet has 23 letters, corresponding exactly to the 23 phonemes of its inventory. Of those, 19 are taken straight from the Roman alphabet, while 4 were invented specially for Moten. However, even those can be approximated in typography by digraphs using the pipe | followed by another letter. This is the convention used here.

The following table lists all the letters of the Moten alphabet in alphabetic order, in capital and small form, followed by the phoneme they transcribe in IPA, the name of the letter (used when spelling), and an example Moten word starting with the letter.

Moten letter phoneme name example
A, a /a/ a at: fire
B, b /b/ ba bazlo: town
D, d /d/ da di|la: mother
E, e /e/ e elej: sleep
F, f /f/ efa fuli: gold
G, g /g/ ga ge|sem: father
I, i /i/ i ibo: air
J, j /j/ eja jem: brook, river
K, k /k/ ka ku|lu: language
L, l /l/ ela linan: bird
|L, |l /ʎ/ e|lo |la: peace
M, m /m/ ema mosu: paw
N, n /n/ ena nudel: respect
|N, |n /ɲ/ e|no |nuba: letter, character
O, o /o/ o oskana|not: ceremony
P, p /p/ pa pe|la: to see, to watch
S, s /s/ esa sigoj: name
|S, |s /ts/ e|so |suko: brother
T, t /t/ ta tina: room
U, u /u/ u umpi: house
V, v /v/ eva vone: (cold) water
Z, z /z/ eza zanej: (finger) ring
|Z, |z /dz/ e|zo |zika: mountain

As you can see, Moten lacks the letters c, h, q, r, w, x and y. Those are not used in loanwords either. Rather, loanwords are adapted to fit the phonology (and in some measure the phonotactics) of Moten.


Moten has a relatively strict syllable structure (not as strict as for instance Japanese, but stricter than English). Syllables, no matter their position in the word, have the following shape: (C)(C)V(C), i.e. an optional onset of one or two consonants, a single vowel, and an optional coda with no more than one consonant. In particular, sequences of two vowels are always separated by a syllable break. Agreeing with this syllable structure, up to three consonants can appear between vowels. Syllabification is then done with a preference for the onset of the second syllable, although clusters of two consonants are separated equally between the syllables.

Vowel sequences are quite limited in Moten, despite the fact that a syllable break is always present between two vowels. Basically, only a, e and o can freely follow each other. I and u are never allowed next to another vowel.

Consonant clusters have other limitations besides number of consonants allowed. The main rule is that consonants in clusters always agree in voicing (the nasals, laterals and approximant are considered voice-neutral for this purpose, and thus can appear next to voiceless consonants as well as voiced ones). The second rule is that two identical consonants never appear next to each other (even across a syllable boundary). The third rule limits the occurrence of the consonants |l, |n, |s and |z. Those behave sometimes as a single consonant, sometimes as if they were clusters of two consonants. So they can appear in syllable codas, except when they are followed by a consonant, onset of the following syllable. When they appear in an onset, no other consonant is allowed in that onset. Note that this rule is not always followed in loanwords. Since they were all adopted at a time when C.G. could speak other languages (like French and English) with freer phonotatctics, some loanwords allow those consonants to appear in situations where they are disallowed in native words. An example is the word Doj|slan: Germany, which was loaned from German Deutschland. It is syllabified as Doj.|slan, which shows a |sl onset that is normally disallowed in Moten. If the word had been borrowed following all the phonotactic rules, it would have been *Doj|sulan, but C.G. and I just don't use this form. Notice however how the ending of the word was simplified to fit Moten's strict syllable structure. Moten's phonotactic rules are still in place. It's just that in borrowings, those four letters behave like single consonants whatever their position. The last rule forbids the *ts and *dz sequences, even across syllable boundaries. As I'll show below in the section about morphophonemics, those are always simplified to |s and |z respectively. In a similar fashion, the sequences *lj and *nj never appear in Moten. More surprisingly, neither do the sequences *jl and *jn.

Besides those rules, consonant clusters (whether in onsets or across syllables) are quite free. Plosive + plosive or fricative sequences are considered normal even in syllable onsets, and both s and z can be followed by another consonant (including plosives). Other continuants don't allow such freedom, and actually continuant + continuant sequences are quite limited in onsets (they are very free across syllables). Mostly only those starting with s or z are allowed. In the same way, all consonants can appear in coda (even absolute codas at the end of words), including plosives. Continuants are preferred in that situation though.


Moten is relatively free in allowing word compounding, and inflects using a combination of prefixes, infixes and suffixes. This means that it is common for words and/or affixes to combine in ways that result in forbidden clusters according to phonotactic rules. This section gives an overview of the possible ways those clusters are resolved, although the rules are complex and not always regularly followed (when it comes to compounds. Inflections always follow regular morphophonemic rules).

The simplest case is when two vowels meet. As indicated in the section above, a, e and o can happily coexist (although the sequence ae is sometimes simplified to e). The other rules are:

  • When two identical vowels meet, they are simplified into one.
  • When i meets another vowel, it becomes j. That j might then interact with neighbouring consonants.
  • When u meets another vowel, j is inserted to break the sequence.

Consonants are more complicated, as there are many more possible cases of disallowed clusters. Nevertheless, the number of rules governing the treatment of disallowed clusters is still relatively limited.

There are two overarching rules that affect consonantal clusters before any other rule is applied:

  • Consecutive consonants must be all voiced or all voiceless (keeping in mind that the nasals, laterals and approximant are voice-neutral). When consonants of different voicing meet, at least one will change to meet the other consonant's voicing. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a single rule that states which consonant should change in which case. There are some tendencies, like the fact that s and z will always be the ones to change voicing when meeting another consonant, while f and v, on the other hand, always impose their voicing to neighbouring consonants. But there doesn't seem to be any such rules for other consonants.
  • Two identical consonants (possibly after voicing agreement) will merge in one.

Next are a series of rules for cluster simplification and breaking. Note that those rules don't have any inherent order. They happen more or less simultaneously or in different orders depending on the context:

  • The sequences *ts and *dz become respectively |s and |z. In a similar manner, the sequences *lj and *jl become |l, while the sequences *nj and *jn become |n.
  • The consonants |l, |n, |s and |z are simplified to l, n, s and z respectively, when in a position where they are disallowed. This rule has exceptions though. In particular, when next to s or z, it's not |s and |z that are simplified, but rather s or z that disappear. Also, when |l and |n appear next to a continuant (other than j, which disappears) and simplifying them would still result in a disallowed cluster (for instance two consonants in coda position), they are not simplified. Rather, an u is inserted to break up the cluster.
  • If, despite simplifications, impossible clusters still appear, those are broken by an epenthetic u.

This last rule has a lexical exception. In Moten some roots break the phonotactics of the language by ending with two consonants. Those roots are used as is for inflection and compounding, but rather than using an epenthetic vowel, disallowed clusters involving this coda cluster are resolved by deleting the last consonant of the root. This last consonant is fragile, and will tend to disappear as well when forming a cluster onset in a following syllable, unless it was simplified in another way.

The most typical example of such a root is the numeral vel(d): five. In the nominative, it will surface as vel, while its genitive is veldi. In compounds, in some cases the final (d) is present (even if simplified): vel|ziza: the fifth of the month (vel(d): five + siza: day). In others it's absent: velmune: May (vel(d): five + mune: month). In some cases, it's absent, but its influence is present in voicing effects: velbele: five minutes (vel(d): five + pele: minute, used when telling the time).

Such roots are relatively uncommon, so I will always make them obvious when citing them by putting their last consonant in parentheses, as I did here.

Stress and Pitch

Stress in Moten is usually not distinctive, and very weak in any case. All syllables in a phrase are pronounced equal in time, strength and pitch, except the first syllable of the phrasal head, which receives a very weak high-pitch stress. This stress pattern helps identify the head of a phrase, but it is usually superfluous. For this reason, stress is not indicated in writing.

What's Next

OK, I believe this will do for now. Sorry for the relatively dry post. I promise the next ones will be more lively, including more examples of the Moten language. Hopefully you still enjoyed it. If you have questions (whatever they are), don't hesitate to ask them in the comments. I will try to answer them to my best ability.

Next post will be about nominal morphology and syntax. I will present noun declension, pronouns, and noun phrase formation. I will also discuss the meaning of the various noun declensions, which can be surprising at first. So stay tuned!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Reports of my death have been highly exaggerated

No, really! I'm sorry I haven't posted anything on this blog for *gasp* more than six months. It could look like I've been neglecting it, focussing solely on Twitter for my Internet bragging needs. But nothing could be further from the truth: I've actually spent a lot of time on this blog!

The problem is that that spent time is just invisible for you: I've been preparing something special for this blog, a secret project I've actually alluded to a few times on Twitter. This project is going on, and has resulted so far in something like 25 (!) posts that are just waiting for the right moment to be published. That right moment is approaching (the posts will be published weekly), but I just have quite a bit of work left to do before I can actually publish them.

Part of this work is to actually get a few more posts ready (I am trying to build myself a comfortable buffer, so that publishing can carry on even if I'm not able to write new posts at the necessary speed). But another part of that work (and one that has been time-consuming) is to create bits of artwork to go with those posts. Given that I'm bad at drawing, and have little experience with graphics software, this has been a uphill battle, but one I feel I'm actually winning!

So in order to prove that I'm not pulling everyone's leg here, I thought I'd show some kind of teaser of the work I've been doing. Here it is:


Like it? I've made this bit of 3D graphics using Blender (that Blender for Dummies book really came in handy!). It's not finished yet, but I think it looks great already (for something done by an amateur). And it should give you some clue of what I am actually preparing (people who remember my original website will know exactly what I'm talking about).

So there. I'm really working on a project that I will unveil as soon as possible (I can't be more precise about the time-line as I don't know myself when I'll be ready, but I think beginning November is as good a bet as anything). In the mean time, I'll try posting a few things here, but I can't promise anything. And there's my Twitter stream anyway.

All right then, have fun trying to understand what this teaser is all about! Don't hesitate to comment on this post with your theories, however wild they are!

Monday, 16 February 2009

I'm all a-Twitter!

If you've come here in the last week or so, you've noticed that things have changed a bit in the sidebar. I've added quite a bit of contents there in the last weeks, like the blog roll, but the most important thing here is just under my profile: yes, I'm on Twitter!

For a long time, looking from the sidelines, I felt Twitter was a waste of time. So what made me change my mind? Well, I discovered lately that a lot of people I respect were already on Twitter, and they've been praising the micro-blogging platform. Since there was just no way all those people could be wrong (most of them aren't known for falling for the latest Internet fad), I decided to look into the phenomenon more closely. Doing so, I discovered not only that there seems to be something to this Twitter craze other than hype, but also that it may even be of use for me! Indeed, I know that my Internet presence (basically this blog) suffers from two issues:

  • I don't update nearly often enough to achieve a sustainable readership. Unfortunately, I'm a slow writer, and I don't often find a subject I feel comfortable writing about. I have quite a few posts lined up, but none is anywhere ready for release. And that brings me to the second point.
  • My posts are generally too long-winded. I lose myself in the details, can't seem to be able to write a paragraph less than 20 lines long, and my style lacks punch.

Twitter's format seems particularly fit to help me tackle these problems:

  • It embraces short, frequent updates, and feels more informal than a fully fledged weblog. It encourages updating even when you haven't got much to say, and since I have to confine my updates to 140 characters I don't suffer from the fear of not knowing what to write about.
  • By strictly enforcing the 140 characters rule, Twitter forces me to concentrate my thoughts and use less words to express them. This can only be good for my writing style.

So I've decided to give Twitter a try, and so far I like it. And to make it official, there's nothing better than blogging about it!

So what can you expect from my tweeting?

  • Expect it to be more personal than my blog articles are. I blog only about things I find important, but I still try to keep my personal life out of it. Twitter is more of an immediate reaction kind of medium, so expect to see glimpses of my personal life in there, once in a while.
  • Twitter's motto is What are you doing? I'll personally try and focus more on What are you thinking about? Do expect some tweets to be simply about what I'm doing at the moment though, if I feel it is exemplary and/or interesting.
  • I'll try and send links to sites, articles, videos, and other things I find around that I find interesting, as often as possible. I've never really been able to do so with the blog because of the time it takes me to write an article. By the time I'm finished, the issue/article/blog post has been debated to death, has become out-of-date, or has simply been forgotten, and whatever I had to say has become meaningless. The Internet is a bit too fast for me at times. However, with Twitter I can quickly send a link with a few words of my own, five minutes after I've discovered the site.
  • Expect my tweets to be even more random than my posts, although the same themes will probably recur. I have a wide range of interests, and the Twitter format is even better than the blog format to let me talk about it all.
  • If you follow me, I'll make sure to follow you back. It's the least I can do.

Besides what you can expect of me on Twitter, here's what you cannot expect of me:

  • Don't expect me to update my status 50 times a day. I'm no Stephen Fry!
  • Don't expect me to tweet much during the weekends or holidays. I don't have a smartphone, and I only have a company-owned mobile phone. So currently I can only tweet when in front of the computer, and that's mostly at work or in the evening.
  • I'll try to use the social features of Twitter as well, rather than only soliloquying, but don't expect me to be a champion replier from the get go. I still need to dip my toe in to check how hot the water is.
  • Don't expect me to suddenly show up on Facebook, Myspace, Hyves, or any other social network. It's nice and all, but a Twitter account, a blog and a website are about all that I can manage (given that my website still hasn't been updated after all this time, this shows you how well I can manage).

So, here I am, all a-Twitter! You can follow my tweets here, or via the RSS feed. And if you're on Twitter yourself, don't hesitate to follow me and/or give me a shout! Happy tweeting!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

The State of My Linux Desktop

First, let me get this out the way: Happy New Year everyone!

Now, on to the meat of this post. A little over a year ago, I was complaining that I wasn't able to move away from my GNOME desktop, despite it being a resource hog on my then 6-year-old computer. Now my computer has grown a year older (but I'm still using it. I'm amazed that even its original hard drive is still working), so I thought it was time to give an update on the situation here at the front.

During last year, things only got worse between me and GNOME. Although I could still use it and be relatively productive, it was obvious from the noise my computer's fan made that it was suffering from the load. Clearly, my computer with its Pentium 4 1.6GHz and 512MB of RAM was starting to tire. I needed to switch to something more lightweight. KDE fell out of the equation pretty quickly (I actually removed it completely in order to free a bit of space in my root partition), and although I tried it again, Xfce still failed to stick (I've decided to wait until version 4.6 appears. Somehow, version 4.4 has all kinds of weird little issues that spoil an otherwise enjoyable experience. I'm not even sure those issues are even strictly Xfce's fault, but I have neither the time nor the will to look into it right now. Maybe some other time...). I looked at all kinds of window managers, but couldn't find anything that really interested me (well, except maybe Enlightenment 17, but I am a bit wary of trying something that is considered pre-alpha by its authors, however stable it may look at first sight).

And then one day, while browsing through packages in Synaptic, I discovered a suspicious little package called lxde. This led me to discover LXDE, the Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment. Reading through its website, I realised that it may be the solution to my woes, and at least it looked stable enough. So I installed it and started it up, and was pleasantly surprised by its speed: it took about 3 seconds to fully load, which was a relief compared to slugs like GNOME. Of course, it didn't look good, but its theming options were easy to find, and within a few minutes I had a nice and light little desktop with a look and feel similar to the one I had given GNOME. I kept on using it, tweaking things here and there but mostly browsing, watching movies and doing all kinds of other things, and was happy that my computer was staying silent all this time. Before I knew it, I had set LXDE as my default desktop, and was always logging into it.

Of course, LXDE is far from perfect:

  • Customisation is very limited: adding items to panels, moving them around, controlling the amounts and names of virtual desktops, choose a background image and a screensaver, and that's basically it.
  • It lacks advanced volume management: don't expect to see a file manager open by itself when you put in a DVD or plug in a USB key (but they do appear in the sidebar in the file manager when you open it, so it's not really an issue). And it's completely unaware of network drives (so when I bought myself a shiny new 1TB network hard drive to simplify the sharing of files within my home network and finally set up some much needed back-up routines, I had to switch temporarily back to GNOME just to see whether Linux could find the shares, at least until I set them to mount statically via fstab).
  • It doesn't support much in the way of modern desktop effects. I've read that one can make it work with a compositing manager, but it looks like it's more trouble than is worth. But then it's a desktop designed to work with low end and old computers, so it's understandable that it doesn't bother with typically resource-hungry, fancy effects.
  • You can't get the desktop icons to open on single-click. I had the same problem with Xfce, and it's still annoying me.
  • The list of panel applets is rather short. I'm especially missing a uim status applet, and LXDE doesn't seem to support GNOME applets, unlike Xfce. Uim itself still works, but using it blind is not fun.
  • It doesn't support the Debian Menu System. I still need to send a bug report about this, as this is an oversight of the package maintainer, rather than a problem with LXDE itself.

Still, it has a lot going for it:

  • It's blazingly fast on my ancient computer. Since it doesn't bother with fancy effects and services, it really uses a minimum of resources. Of course, it means the experience is rather bare-bones, but I'm willing to put up with that as long as the basics I find important are covered.
  • Despite being based on independent components, it feels nicely integrated.
  • It stays out of the way of other installed desktops (I'm still annoyed at how Xfce somehow managed to mess up my GNOME desktop. I could recover without much problem, but it still shouldn't have happened).
  • It uses the GTK+ library, so it plays nicely with other GTK applications, including GNOME programs. It also can use the same themes as GNOME, so I could set it up to have a similar look-and-feel.

Still, as it stands, and for my use, it works well enough that I can see myself using LXDE in the foreseeable future. However, I'm also thinking of building myself a new computer this year, so while it's very possible that LXDE stays my desktop of choice on this computer, I don't think I'll use it on a more modern one. If I've got the power to do it, why shouldn't I enjoy it? I do like me some eye candy, after all!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]