Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Lexember: a Month of Moten Words

A while ago, over on Twiter, two fellow conlangers, Mia Soderquist and Pete Bleackley, got the idea of doing a sort of Conlang Advent, which after a bit of discussion got the name Lexember. The idea was simple: during the month of December, the Lexember participants would create, and post on Twitter, one word of their conlang(s) per day, from the 1st till the 31st. In parallel, those on Google+ would also post their words there.

I thought it was a fantastic idea, and given the gaping holes in Moten's vocabulary, I thought it would be a great way to force me to create new words for the language. Although at first I was concerned that it wouldn't work out (I'm not good at coming up with new vocabulary), it actually did, and I'm very glad I decided to participate! So thanks to Pete and Mia for coming up with the idea. I'll be happy to participate again next year!

Now that Lexember is finished, I've decided to recapitulate it on my blog, so that people who may have missed some of my tweets can check all my new Moten words here. So I'm now going to list all the words I created for Lexember, in the order of publication. I'll also add the comments I made over on Google+, which give a bit more background and depth to those creations. So here they are:

1st word: u|s /ut͡s/, noun:
son; nephew on the same side of the family. Moten's kinship words are... interesting. Moten People don't differentiate between their children and the children of their siblings, but do call the children of their partner's siblings differently. Similarly, people don't actually differentiate between their siblings and their first cousins.
2nd word: mabo /mabo̞/, noun:
ancientness, ancient; seniority, senior; old. I already had odun: "youth, young; new", referring to young people and things that have just appeared (newly built or newly conceived), ukol: "old age, old", referring to old people and things that have been built a long time ago, and amla: "new", referring to people or things that have been newly acquired (but are not necessarily new themselves). Mabo completes the quartet :) .
And yes, I call it a noun, although it's used as an adjective as well. That's because adjectives in Moten are just a specific use of nouns :) .
3rd word: iso|n /iso̞ɲ/, verb:
to precede; to predate; to go before. The stem son can be used as prefix to mean "previous, last".
4th word: izeki /ize̞ki/, verb:
to follow; to go after. Following (see what I did here? ;) ) yesterday's word, I just had to do that one. The root zek can be used as a prefix meaning "next".
5th word: seliz /se̞liz/, noun:
cherry (the fruit only! ;) ). A straight borrowing from French. The only known native speaker of Moten is an amnesiac foundling who was between 7 and 10 when he was found (we're not sure). As a result Moten has some understandable vocabulary gaps. Some of those are being filled by native coinings, others by simple borrowing, sometimes without rhyme nor reason.
As for why I now have a word for cherries, but not for any other fruit or vegetable, let's just say I have my priorities straight :P .
6th word: selizif /se̞lizif/, noun:
cherry tree. Formed by adding the actor/agent suffix -sif: "-er" to yesterday's word :) .
The suffix -sif is normally used to form actor/agent nouns, usually from a verb stem. For instance, from the verb joknestu|l: "to read", one can form oknestulsif: "reader". While the suffix is not always translated as "-er" (for instance, from jolnesi: "to know by heart", one gets olnesif: "expert" —my 300th word!—, and from ivajagi: "to learn", one form vajagzif: "student"), it normally always forms actor/agent nouns.
However, another use of the suffix -sif is with names of fruit, vegetables (and other similar things), and flowers. When added to those, it forms the name of the plant that produces them. An interesting use of the suffix that I must say surprised me :) .
7th word: tales(k) /tale̞s(k)/, noun:
fruit; vegetable; vegetal produce. Just to keep with the food theme :P . Basically, refers to any kind of unprocessed or minimally processed vegetal produce used for sustenance. So under that word fall fruits, vegetables, many herbs, and unprocessed spices. Things that are not directly consumed (like tea leaves and tobacco) are usually not considered tales(k) (although there are edge cases, just like in English the word vegetable can sometimes refer to something that is technically fruit). The plural talses is equivalent to the English phrase "fruit and vegetables". Notice that Moten doesn't classify vegetal produce like it's done in English, so there is no direct equivalent to the words "fruit" and "vegetable" themselves.
By now you must have noticed that I spelled the word tales(k) with the last consonant in parentheses. That's because it's one of those roots that break Moten phonotactics (which prohibit consonant clusters in coda). As a result the last consonant of this root is "fragile", and appears only when inflection and/or compounding moves it into onset of a following syllable. So the nominative singular form of this word is actually tales, while the genitive singular is talveski (the -i suffix allows the k to resurface). Such roots are few, but are usually common words (another one is vel(d): "five").
8th word: abal /abal/, noun:
dreadfulness; lousiness; bad. Nothing to do with my current feelings :P . I mean, conlangs need words to describe bad things just as well as good ones, don't they? :)
9th word: be|s /be̞t͡s/, noun:
height, average height; medium, middle. I already had a word for "low height" and one for "high height", but not one for just "height". That's the weirdness of having adjectives that are just abstract nouns, without wanting one end of the scale to refer to the whole scale itself :P (in the same way, I have a word for "high speed", one for "low speed" and one meaning approximately "velocity", i.e. "speed in general").
10th word: bivo /bivo̞/, noun:
quantity; number. Just correcting the issue of having a word for "digit" but not one for "number".
11th word: poga /po̞ga/, noun:
rank; level; number. Unlike English, Moten doesn't have a single, generic word for "number", but gives separate names for the uses of numbers for measuring (cardinal numbers) and ordering (ordinal numbers).
This actually shows in little things like the age-old (at least since telephones were invented) "what's your number?". After all, a your telephone number doesn't measure anything, and it doesn't rank you either. So, what is a phone number? A bivo or a poga? Or something else entirely?
Well, as it happens, phone numbers are seen as part of a list, so one uses the word poga for them. So "what's your number?" becomes kopoga mudutun ito?. It could also mean "what's your rank?" or "what's your level?" depending on context. But context is generally more than enough to disambiguate (I mean, how often do you ask for someone's rank while chatting them up at a bar? :P).
12th word: ibivostu|l /ibivo̞stuʎ/, verb:
to count; to measure. Means "to count" when the object refers to a group of discrete items, and "to measure" when it refers to a continuous thing. It's a compound of the 10th Lexember word bivo and the verb istu|l: "to summon, to call, to bring along", so it means literally "to quantity-call".
Somehow, the verb istu|l is used as the second item in many compounds, where its meaning is often taken very metaphorically. Besides ibivostu|l, we've got for instance ipogastu|l: "to rank" (literally: "to rank-call") and joknestu|l: "to read, to peruse" (literally: "to story-call"). It's also commonly used in dvandva compounds with other verbs, like jelojmastu|l: "to be remembered by" (from jelojmaj: "to be thought about by", so literally: "to be summoned and thought about by"), ipe|lastu|l: "to show, to reveal" (from ipe|laj: "to see, to watch", so literally "to summon and watch") and isestu|l: "to recite, to read aloud" (from isej: "to say", so literally "to summon and say"). All in all, a very productive word in compounds. So expect it to crop up a few more times before the end of the month :) .
13th word: ipenlastu|l /ipe̞nlastuʎ/, verb:
to invite, to ask out. Literally: "to summon and wait". It's another one of those dvandva compounds with istu|l I mentioned yesterday, this time with ipenlaj: "to wait for". Little istu|l is getting a lot of mileage in Moten! :)
14th word: teolsif /te̞o̞lsif/, noun:
friend, companion; acquaintance. A generic word for friends that are not very close. In terms of derivation, it's the root of the verb iteo|l: "to please, to be liked by" with the agent/actor suffix -sif.
Very close friends are normally named using the nouns |suko and amo, respectively "same-sex sibling/first cousin" and "different-sex sibling/first cousin", extended metaphorically to refer to people who are not family but who you consider just as such.
15th word: pe|laz /pe̞ʎaz/, noun:
acquaintance. It's the participle form of the verb ipe|laj: "to see, to look at, to meet", so it literally means "someone seen, someone met". Although teolsif can refer to anything from simple friends to people you've met only once, Moten speakers prefer to refer to mere acquaintances with pe|laz, and reserve teolsif to people between close friends and acquaintances.
16th word: topum /to̞pum/, onomatopoeia:
the sound of a heart beating. Moten speakers like to use onomatopoeia when speaking informally, a bit like Japanese people do. And as in Japanese, onomatopoeia can be used in sentences with a grammatical function (usually adverbial). In Moten, that's done by over-inflecting them. So with topum, one can form kotopejum (the onomatopoeia over-inflected with the definite infix, and then the instrumental prefix), which means something like "excitedly".
Topum is hardly the only onomatopoeia to be used this way. One can also use kinkan (the sound of a clock ticking) to form kokinkean: "very regularly, like clockwork", or even zutuun (the sound of absolute silence :) ) to form kozutejuun: "very silently, stealthily".
Using onomatopoeia correctly is quite difficult, but it's necessary to master Moten's informal registers :) .
17th word: mea /me̞a/, noun:
nephew on the other side of the family. Refers to the sons of one's partner's siblings. Counterpart of my very first Lexember word: u|s: "son; nephew on one's side of the family".
Basically, Moten cuts the generation following yours in different groups from English. Instead of treating your children one way, and the children of your siblings and of your partner's siblings another way (but the same way), in Moten your children and your siblings' children are treated the same way, and your partner's siblings' children are treated another way.
18th word: ko /ko̞/, noun:
daughter; niece on the same side of the family. Female counterpart of u|s. Similarity to Japanese is purely coincidental :) .
19th word: teba /te̞ba/, noun:
niece on the other side of the family. Counterpart of ko and female version of mea. Refers to daughters of one's partner's siblings.
20th word: kfezi /kfe̞zi/, noun:
grandchild; descendant. With this word, I now have a relatively complete set of kinship terms. Starting with a random person, I have:
  • words for family members in the same generation: |suko: "same-sex sibling/first cousin" and amo: "different-sex sibling/first cousin";
  • words for family members a generation older: ge|sem: "father", di|la: "mother", ge|suko: "paternal uncle", ge|samo: "paternal aunt", di|lamo: "maternal uncle" and di|luko: "maternal aunt";
  • words for family members two generations older: zda: "paternal grandparent" and lomin: "maternal grandparent" (in Moten, one doesn't distinguish grandparents by gender, but by whether they are the parents of your father or mother);
  • words for family members one generation younger: u|s: "son; nephew on the same side of the family", mea: "nephew on the other side of the family", ko: "daughter; niece on the same side of the family" and teba: "niece on the other side of the family";
  • and finally a word for family members two generations younger: kfezi: "grandchild", which like the words for grandparents does not distinguish gender.
The only thing I still miss is the word members of multiple births (twins, triplets, etc.) use to call their siblings of the same birth, which I know is different from |suko and amo, but I don't know yet what it is (or even if there's more than one of those :) ).
21st word: meno /me̞no̞/, noun:
glove; mitten. Basically anything used to protect hands or keep them warm. Yes, it's snowing today, why do you ask? ;)
22nd word: bnameno /bname̞no̞/, noun:
shoe; boot. Literally "foot glove". Wonder what Moten speakers make of the Vibram :P .
23rd word: dloa /dlo̞a/, noun:
pear. Most people have a weird fixation on apples. I prefer pears myself :) .
Naturally, dloasif means "pear tree" :) .
Edit: one thing I forgot to add was that dloa is the basis of quite a few derivative nouns, all originally diminutives. The generic diminutive dloasin, for instance, is the common day-to-day word for "light bulb". As for the male and female diminutives dloamas and dloazes (respectively), they are rather disparaging names for overweight men and women. Think of it as calling someone "pear-shaped". I don't advise you to do it though :) .
24th word: talu /talu/, noun:
flower, blossom. Refers specifically to flowers growing on trees, bushes and shrubs, like cherry blossoms or roses (which by the way are sentalu, i.e. "thousand-flower" in Moten). Flowers coming from other types of plants, especially woodless ones, like daisies, tulips or even sunflowers, are called knamafin, literally "grass top".
This time of the year was originally a celebration of the promise of the return of the spring, wasn't it? :) Hence the theme today :) . Tomorrow, a very surprising word!
25th word: Noel /no̞e̞l/, proper noun:
Christmas. Surprisingly :P . A straight borrowing from French.
"Merry Christmas" is Noel |ledan, with the second word being |la: "peace" (in the definite accusative singular). Thanks to Moten's grammar, and the ambiguity due to the lack of a verb, this phrase can have multiple meanings. Possibilities are "have a peaceful Christmas", "let it be a peaceful Christmas", "may (your) Christmas be peaceful", or even "have peace at Christmas". According to my informant, all those meanings are valid, and the phrase is kept that way exactly because the ambiguity lets it pack so many different shades of meaning.
This structure, by the way, is not unique to Christmas (which may very well be unknown to Moten speakers. There's a reason the word is a borrowing from my native language :P). It seems Moten speakers like to wish peace onto people on various occasions :) .
So Noel |ledan everyone!
26th word: miko /miko̞/, noun:
remoteness, long distance; far. This word sees a lot of mileage in Moten (pun intended :P).
Basically not much to say about this word, I'm just setting things up for the next two days :P .
27th word: imikostu|l /imiko̞stuʎ/, verb:
to phone, to call on the phone. Literally "to call afar", or "to summon from afar". Also a noun meaning "telephone" (refers to the device).
Still setting things up for tomorrow's word :) .
28th word: imsin /imsin/, noun:
mobile phone (or cell phone, or whatever you want to call it :) ). Refers to all mobile phones, including smartphones.
In terms of derivation, it's the diminutive of yesterday's word imikostu|l: "telephone".
So that's it! Moten has a word for smartphones (and yet still none for apples!).
29th word: tegoga /te̞go̞ga/, phrase:
personally, for one's part. Strictly used as a disjunct (as in: "personally, I don't get what he's talking about" ;) ).
As you can see, I'm calling it a word, then a phrase. Which one is it?
Strictly speaking, it's an adverbial phrase, and a prime example of how surdéclinaison permeates Moten. It's basically the pronoun ga: "I", inflected with the originative prefix ­go- (used variously to indicate the origin of gifts or what something is about), and then over-inflected with the final prefix te- (indicating goal). The result is an adverbial phrase, used strictly for the disjunctive meaning of "personally", "for my part".
So it's a phrase, with a transparent morphology. So why do I classify it as a "word"? (it even has a place in my lexicon) That's because this form of surdéclinaison does not belong to a pattern! You can't add ­go- and te- to anything else (not even another pronoun) and expect it to make sense. It's a one-off, an isolated case of surdéclinaison, that might have been productive in the past, but has survived in Modern Moten only in this form. It's a set phrase, despite the transparent morphology and somewhat understandable semantics. It's so fossilised that it's used even when the point of view of the "personally" isn't the speaker (i.e. the speaker can use it on behalf of someone else), in spite of the base of this word being the pronoun ga: "I".
So for all intents and purposes, I treat it as a word, the closest thing to an adverb Moten has got. There are quite a few of those, usually (but not always) used as disjuncts.
30th word: elojmastulsif /e̞lo̞jmastulsif/, noun:
memory. It's the time to reminisce :) .
In terms of derivation, it's the actor noun (suffix -sif) of the verb jelojmastu|l: "to be remembered by", itself a dvandva compound of jelojmaj: "to be thought of by" and istu|l: "to call, to summon", i.e. "something summoned and thought of".
Notice the translations of both jelojmastu|l and jelojmaj. Like iteo|l: "to please, to be liked by", they are transitive, but with the opposite orientation compared to their usual English translations: the thing thought of, remembered or liked is the subject, and the person doing the thinking, remembering or liking is the object. Verbs referring to mental activities such as those often have this orientation in Moten.
31st word: Adodun /ado̞dun/, proper noun:
New Year. Refers to the New Year itself, i.e. in our case to 2013 as a whole.
In terms of derivation, it's an example of a head-first compound. Most compounds in Moten are head-last or dvandva compounds. But Moten features also some (slightly less common) head-first compounds. They are always of the form noun+adjective, and are usually proper nouns. In this case, Adodun is ada: "year" + odun: "youth, young, new".
As for the celebration itself, i.e. the passing from one year to the next, my informant tells me it's called Imonuj: "the Turning" (simply the verb imonuj: "to turn" nominalised as an action noun), and covers both New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.
Finally, the equivalent to "Happy New Year" is Imonuj |ledan, i.e. "(Have a ) peaceful Turning" (among others. Check again my 25th word for more info on this phrase :) ). Why wishing peace for the celebration only and not for the New Year itself? My informant tells me *Adodun |ledan would sound too presumptuous: you just don't know what's going to happen during 365 days. How can you know all of them will be peaceful? How do you even know people actually want all their year to be peaceful? That said, my informant is an amnesiac foundling whose age was probably still in the single digits when he was found, so take this explanation with a grain of salt ;) .
So there, two words for the price of one, a true New Year's treat :) .

As you can see, those words are all over the place, from very basic, useful words to things a bit more esoteric. I did try to keep it practical, but my creative processes are a bit chaotic, and I can't always move them freely to the direction I want! Well, this keeps things interesting, and at least I can brag that Moten has a word for "mobile phone"! (as long as I don't mention that I still don't have a word for "apple"...)

To finish with, here are a few numbers, to show you the effect of Lexember on the Moten vocabulary. On the 31st of November, the Moten lexicon contained 278 separate entries, for 572 (not necessarily unique) glosses. Now, on the 1st of January, the Moten lexicon has 326 entries, and 686 glosses! The vocabulary itself has grown by 17%, while the glosses have increased by 20%. Not too shabby!

You might have noticed that from 278 to 326 is more than 32 words (it's 48 to be exact). That's because the creative processes that led me to create the 32 words I eventually tweeted about caused some "collateral creation", i.e. words that were created at the same time, but which I felt were not interesting enough to make them into official Lexember entries.

In any case, I'm glad I participated in this Twitter event. Lexember was interesting, intellectually challenging, and a great way to expand my conlang's vocabulary. But most of all it was fun! It was fun to read other people's entries. It was fun to try and come up with interesting comments on my words. Lexember was a fun exercise, and I will definitely partake in it again next year!