‘Sociolinguistics’ Category Archives



by Geckat in Linguistics, Sociolinguistics

Meadow is an artistic MMO-lite, more of a “forum in game’s clothing” according to its developers. It’s interesting from a design perspective because it focuses entirely on exploration and socialization, with a complete lack of competition, and gameplay limited to the collection of items for brownie points. Most of the time, people are engaged in looking for these items, some of which (“obelisks”) require multiple players to be engaged.

I was just playing it whilst thinking about my conlang, and realized that there’s a good bit that might be gleaned about how players in Meadow communicate. In Meadow, you are an animal, plain and simple, and like an animal, you are unable to speak. There is no typing, no words in gameplay, only symbols representing basic ideas — emoticons, essentially — such as “happy”, “flower”, or “climb”. With a relatively recent patch, you can say two of these at once, in one order or the other.

This has given rise to a sort of syntax, from what I’ve seen in my hours of playtime. For example, a conversation between three animals might go like this:

Badger: “Cave – ?”
Frog: “? – Cave”
Lynx: “Cave – X”
Lynx: “X – Obelisk”

Translated (and it’s astonishing how quickly this form of communication can be picked up):

Badger: “Should we go in the cave?”
Frog: “Where’s the cave?”
Lynx: “Let’s not go in the cave. There are no obelisks in there.”

Along with this, some interesting semantics can take place. A question mark might be literally used just as a question mark, or to say one does not understand, or in place of a WH-word. The “group” symbol becomes more complex: It can mean “let’s group up”, or it can mean “wait for the group”, or, “we need more with us”, depending on the context.

I’m presently working on Rën (more on that once it’s more developed), which like Meadow’s system of communication, only has inanimate referents, lacks animate reference, and is mostly made of single- or double-word sentences. Of course, there’s a lot more grammar involved, but I’m really considering just how creatively such a system could be used.


Languages I Like and Don’t

by Geckat in Sociolinguistics

A large part of being a conlanger, especially for the purpose of fiction writing, at least to me, is creating languages that I enjoy and that I do not.  Naturally, most of the languages we create will be language that we find pleasing on at least some level; however, sometimes we create languages for the exact opposite purpose.  The best example of this, I believe, is Tolkien’s Black Speech, which he famously despised.

The languages that I enjoy seem to have several commonalities to them: languages like Blackfoot, Finnish, Icelandic, Japanese.  Phonotactically, they vary greatly, which is surprising: Finnish and Japanese prefer CV or CVC syllables almost exclusively, while Blackfoot and Icelandic can have some very interesting consonant clusters, with Icelandic adoring its complex onsets and codas, and Blackfoot with its famous nuclear /s/.  Morphologically, however, they are all fairly synthetic.

It is perhaps a little shocking or depressing to say that a linguist has languages he or she hates, but there are certainly languages that I dislike myself, and it’s important to me to know just why so that I can utilize that in conlang creation.  I’m going to list three languages that I really do not enjoy hearing; I’d like to clarify that I do not mean any offence to those who speak or enjoy them: Spanish, Mandarin, and Punjabi.  These follow the opposite pattern from the languages I listed as enjoying: they are all quite isolating.  That having been said, I enjoy English, which is also extremely isolating; I might argue that English as it is spoken is quite a bit more synthetic-sounding, with all its contractions and the laziness of the schwa in everything that is unstressed (see: particles) that makes closed class words sound as though they merge with surrounding open class words.

The real problem with my hypothesis that my enjoyment of languages rests entirely on their morpheme-per-word ratios is that there are a few languages that I don’t mind hearing at all: Portuguese, Cantonese, Hindi.  Although I don’t speak any of these, to my ear the differences between Spanish and Portuguese, Mandarin and Cantonese, and Hindi and Punjabi are like night and day, despite the fact that these languages are all similarly isolating and have much the same phonologies and lexicons.  So now we need to get into some basic psychology: the fact is, although I have nothing against the people who speak them, I have had more experiences with Spanish, Mandarin, and Punjabi than Portuguese, Cantonese and Hindi — more to the point, experiences with very loud fellow students, roommates, or coworkers who speak them.

And that is, to be frank, what it comes down to: it’s a kind of subtle linguistic racism I can’t quite escape, but this resentment of “loudness” in a language agrees with my general preference for synthetic languages as well: a language with more morphemes, more syllables per word, has fewer stressed syllables, and may sound naturally quieter.  Popular culture even seems to pick up on this, with the quiet Native American typical of movies versus the voice of the Chinese man on the street whose voice carries over the entire block.  Is it racism, or a legitimate side-effect of the typology of the language in question?

Whatever it is might be an interesting topic of study in the future.  For now, it’s good to know a piece of what endears me towards certain languages and drives me from others; I have always been a quiet individual, and as is the often unfortunate nature of humans, I am instinctively driven towards familiarity, even in the otherwise haphazard judgement of foreign languages.