How I write a lexicon

Yeah, another conlanging post. I’ll move on to other things sooner or later.

So, I have the sprawling mess of a grammar for Ŋyjichɯn (which I need to upload again), but that’s not where I story my lexicon (or dictionary, or whatever you personally want to call it). The way I do it is culled from experience and things I’ve learned, mostly from the CBB board (aka, the conlang forum – there are others out there though) and Zompist (linking to the online Language Construction Kit, but looking through his other stuff is helpful as well).

I do it in Excel, because I tend to work on several computers and I haven’t found a portable lexicon program. It always starts with three columns: (conlang), English, and notes. Then columns get added in as I need them. The Ŋyjichɯn lexicon has the following columns, in order:

  • Alpha – the Ŋyjichɯn alphabetical order. It looks like gibberish because I use find and replace in another sheet or text document (or Zompist’s Sound Change Applier 2, aka SCA2) to change every letter to something else.
  • Group – a temporary column, to pull things out that I want to work on. Right now there are three groups: 1) 75 words I pulled out to completely fill in, 2) words that need I want to fix right now, and blank, aka everything else.
  • Lexeme – a lexeme is the basic form of the word before inflection. This is so I can sort it in English alphabetical order, because of the next column.
  • Modern – Ŋyjichɯn is going to get split into two dialects with the same grammar (mostly), but differect vocabulary. Modern Ŋyjichɯn is what I’m working on right now. This column has the words, with some inflections. It also screws up the sorting, because somethings (mostly pronouns) start with notes like ‘subject singular’ or something in parenthesis because the singular form isn’t used (eg, “(sing: rɯs)”). It could have been done in a better way. In the same cell, on a different cell is the paucal (small group) and plural of each noun, and the full inflection of the pronouns.
  • Stress – using no Unicode, I spell out the stress pattern of each word. This then gets run through SCA2 to give me the next column
  • Phonetic – like most languages, spoken Ŋyjichɯn doesn’t exactly fit the written version. It’s not as bad as some, but stress, phonemes interacting, and other factors leads to things like ‘nyma’ being pronounced ‘mima’ or ‘miftyk’ becoming ‘mistych’.
  • Combo – an abbreviated form of the words is used in certain situations.
  • Part of speech – normal stuff, except in Ŋyjichɯn most words can be used as verbs, so I’ve split the parts of speech into things like ‘descriptive (verb)’, ‘noun/static verb’, and then the normal stuff.
  • English – self explanatory, but it’s important not to have one-to-one relations as much as possible
  • Irr? – notes of whether and how a word is irregular
  • Etymology – Mostly empty (or actually marked ‘same’), but has things like ‘onomatopoeic’ and what words compounded to make another word.
  • Category – this is so I can find similarly themed words when I want to. I’ve got things like color, language, directions, anmials, etc, in a drop-down list (which I keep breaking when I add new columns) (I got the code for how to do it here.)
  • Notes – basically, anything else, including usage notes, historical notes, and what words it’s related to.
  • Wanrin & Tajin – these two columns are empty right now.

This is what it ends up looking like:

nyji-lexicon-example.gif

(you’ll probably have to click on it to actually be able to read it)

I also keep adding worksheets. Besides the lexicon, I’ve got the notes for alphabetizing, the category list, and a list of parts of speech. And I have most of the numbers in a seperate file altogether. There’s also an Excel file of words I need to translate, along with notes about etymology and stuff.

So, does every lexicon need all this junk?

Nope. It depends on the language and what you’re doing with it. If you’re just making a naming language that will end up with a couple handfuls of words, you’ll probably need less detail. You have to customize it to what you need. Some people end up programming things for themselves (I can’t do that). If I wasn’t using multiple computers, I’d love to use Lexique Pro, which is designed for linguists. But Excel works well for sorting and finding things.

Conlanging – Nyjichun

Okay, I’ve finally uploaded the Ŋyjichɯn tiddlywiki*. I’ve also updated lesson one there, with more stuff and assignments (working with the idea that it’s meant to be a textbook). As any conlanger would tell you, it’s very much a work in progress and pretty much everything is subject to change at any time. But now I can go to the conlang forum and ask for input without having to rewrite things. Which is what I’m going to do next.

Notes for using the tiddlywiki: You can navigate from the Table of Contents or tagCloud. Links open below in the same window. I’ve got it set up so the last 20 or whatever links you follow show up on top. And no, you can’t edit it.

*  I should do a blog post about tiddlywikis. They’re very awesome.

Conlanging – Ŋyjichɯn – Lesson 1

As I said last time, this is one of my languages that I made for Thundercats fandom. Specifically, this one is the one that Wilykit and Wilykat speak, along with one of my original characters, Felino. First of all, I haven’t seen all of the 2011 revival, so all of this is from the original series and the 80s comics. Second, my personal theory is that Wilykit and Kat are adults, but that their clan don’t get as tall as other Thunderians and grow up slower.

None of that is incredibly relevant to the language itself, to be honest. This post will cover phonology (the sounds of the language) and colors. Here we go.

Phonology

IPA / Trans labiodental alveolar post-alveolar velar
nasal ɱ m n n ŋ ŋ
plosive t t k k
affricative tʃ dʒ ch j
fricative f v f v s z s z
approximant ɰ w
tap β ɽ r
lateral approximant l l

The International Phonetic Alphabet notation is given in red. The standard transcription is given in black. Honestly, the only reason I use β is because the IPA symbol doesn’t show up in my browser. It looks better than β, but what are you gonna do?

My accent is Standard American English. Since this is a conlang, it honestly doesn’t matter that much if you pronounce things incorrectly, but I’ll be giving approximate sounds based on my accent, with heavy help from Wikipedia.

The majority of consonants should not give students trouble, although Ŋyjichɯn speakers may detect an accent on the ‘m’ and ‘w’. If you wish to prevent that, pronounce ‘m’ against your top teeth and ‘w’ in the back of your throat.

  • ‘ŋ’ is equivalent to ‘ng’ in ‘sing.’
  • ‘r’ should be pronounced cleanly and shortly, a tap at the top of the mouth, like the ‘d’ in ‘rider’.
  • ‘β’ is similar, a short tap against the upper teeth.
IPA / Trans front near-front central near-back back
close i y ɯ ɯ
near-close ʏ i ʊ u
mid ɜ o
open a a ɒ ɒ

The pairs ‘i’ & ‘y’ and ‘ɯ’ and ‘u’ are primarily distinguished by how rounded the lips are. Vowels are most likely to give students trouble, but the approximations below will generally be sufficient.

  • y as in free
  • i as in bit, but with the lips rounded
  • a approximately as in cat
  • o approximately as in strut
  • ɯ as in boot but with the lips very rounded
  • u as in hook
  • ɒ as in hot but with lips very rounded

(If I don’t have IPA available or it’s too much hassle, I cheat and use ‘h’ for ‘ŋ’, ‘B’ for ‘β’, ‘x’ for ‘ɯ’, and ‘p’ for ‘ɒ’.)

Doubled vowels are pronounced twice as long. Any vowel may combine with another to form a diphthong, and are pronounced long. On the occasion that a vowel is meant as a syllable it is written with apostrophes separating it. For example ro’ɒ’ryi, za’yr’ta, ny’i’an, kyo’yt.

And now for some fun stuff.

Colors

Color words in Ŋyjichɯn are heavily associated with nature and the exact color meant is heavily context specific. The pictures below give a sampling of the hues associated. If you’ve checked out the link dumps, there was a long article about how different cultures see color. Wikipedia also has a fair overview here.

jpxw

hafnxh jasakyijio     kixklyasim kouch

To reference the color itself (or to create new color terms), the color is incorporated into chanyki, thus chajɒɯwnyki, white; chawaovonyki, fire colored (waovo, fire), etc. Native speakers would say that metal terms would fall under lyasim, even if the shade itself might fall under ŋafnɯŋ or kiɯk.

You’ll note that most of the words have meaning beyond colors. Words will be given in Ŋyjichɯn alphabetical order.

Modern Ŋyjichɯn English Notes
chanyki skin, surface, color
jɒɯw day, to be daytime, white, light
jio water, to be wet, to be liquid, juicy, black, brown, blue, green, blue For colors it describes deep cool colors like black, brown, green, and blue. The base color is black/brown. May also be used how we would use ‘tomato red’ to evoke the flavor
jasa fruit, flower, pink, red, magenta, purple References flowers and describes anything from pale pink to vibrant purple
ŋafnɯŋ child, unripe, green, raw, yellow, pale When used as a color it’s the color of unripe fruit, early morning sky, young shoots and grass, and can cover white, yellow, and light greens
kyi ripe, adult, mature, full-size, green, blue When used for colors it means the green of ripe vegetables, or noon-sky (vibrant greens and blues)
kiɯkjio red-brown Given as an example of combining colors. From kiɯk and jio
kiɯk blood, red, orange Describes the color of blood.
kouch night, dark, black Describes the dark, usually blue and unsaturated colors, you would observe at night.
lyasim stone, grey, beige, pale, yellow, tan, off-white Primarily inorganic colors (the color of stones), but also pale bark, the yellow of wheat, etc

I’m creating all this using a combination of Excel, Tiddlywiki (basically a wiki in a single file. It’s awesome), and various text files. At some point I’m going to write up an in-character description of Ŋyjichɯn, but I have to figure out how I want to approach it. And probably the next post will be simply ‘I’ve changed this in the tiddlywiki, here’s a link!’ rather than making it work in WordPress, which is somewhat of a pain. I have to get the tiddlywiki uploaded.

(Editted 2-18-13, because I screwed up when I derived kiɯkjio.)