Friday, November 9, 2012

Chasing ea-luna: Reconstructing a Dead Conlang

ea-luna (lower case by custom) should have had a Sweet 16 party this year. That is 16 years of existence, not 16 years of development. It suffered from several years of neglect with occasional abusive attempts at reform. It's no wonder the poor thing didn't get a party. I'm a terrible conlang caretaker.

In the last few years, it has had a small revival. This has been a hard road, made all the more difficult by the forgetfulness and poor time management of its creator, as well as major losses in handwritten material, including the entire list of compound words, which make up the bulk of the full range of ea-luna words. There was no choice but to reconstruct from available materials:  The Yellow Notebook*, various other handwritten samples and notes, and material posted online. I even got a little bit of assistance from Amanda Babcock Furrow, who sent me some pre-archive ea-luna posts from CONLANG. (Thank you!)

Gathering the materials turned out to be the easy part. The Six-Million-Dollar Conlang** rebuilding process was the hard part. It involved figuring out my own shorthand notes, picking out and examining those precious compound words, reverse engineering passages written in ea-luna (both in terms of what they were supposed to mean and how they were put together), sorting things into some kind of chronological order to make some sense of the development over time, and then putting those things back together into something that might work. It's Frankenlang to some degree, but I think it maintains a lot of the spirit and charm of ea-luna-as-it-was.

For me, the point of conlanging is to get to something usable and then to use it. When someone starts to tell me about their conlang, I want only the briefest description of what's under the hood. What I really want is to get in and be taken for a ride in it-- I want to see and hear how it runs. I want to know if that engine purrs or growls when you get up to conversational speed. With that in mind, getting ea-luna back on the road was my top priority. I patch up the holes as I find them, and I've been driving it around the block when I can find the time.

The things I write in the 2012 version of ea-luna are not quite the same as the old days. I don't think I have made many changes to the basic structure; the language, as linguistically flawed as it is, is utterly impervious to improvement. I have an overly sentimental attachment to anything I think I could "fix". The compound words I create now to fill in the lost material blanks are only slightly more metaphorical than the examples I have from the earlier era. I think that the end use of the resurrected version feels a little different because I have changed. As I look over these old materials, I can see where I applied a lot of brute force. These days, I am slower, more deliberate, and more thoughtful in both the process of working with the pieces of the language and in putting them together into texts. I spend a lot more time thinking about what something really means and what that would mean in the context of the imaginary culture before I tackle a translation of it. I have a better grasp of subtlety and a broader appreciation for the natural poetry of  (any) language in use. This round of reconstruction has given me a chance to tune it up and buff out the tool marks. The language in use is better than it used to be.

ea-luna remains a joy to me. It's still my favorite toy, even if I leave it on the shelf sometimes. And now we've arrived at the part of this post where I tell you what I've learned from the reconstruction project. Here it is:

  • If you have only a single copy-- handwritten, printed, or digital-- of a vital piece of your conlang, you should probably make another copy and put it somewhere else. You'll miss it when it is gone if you don't.
  • Your notes won't make sense to you in five years if you aren't pretty specific. Vague notes and notes that read "see the other page" are just going to be annoying when you don't have any idea what they mean.
  • Sometimes it is good to go back and look (hard) at old stuff. It really does look different when you see it with fresh eyes.

*The Yellow Notebook is the original home of ea-luna. It contains some notes on grammar and culture, as well as every possible one- and two syllable word (used and unused). It's one of my most prized possessions.

Friday, June 8, 2012

T-shirt translations

I recently posted this on Facebook (merging the status and my comment on it):
I am having the urge to create a line of t-shirts bearing inscriptions in obscure and/or made-up languages that say, "I can't read my own shirt." Or maybe "I bought a shirt in a language I don't know."

I decided to follow that up with translations into Teliya Nevashi and ea-luna, both of which I got slightly wrong. My fantastic Facebook friends followed suit with their own translations into their conlangs and natlangs.

Now on to the good part:

Teliya Nevashi (mine, corrected): Seya vapa nal yam yera cei.
ea-luna (mine, corrected): ewe ate lige la bagu-la-mupa
Carrajina (Adam Walker): Nu pudju ledjeri al mi camisa probja.
Alhursa (Tony Harris): Ñe móv velá lháls-rìtsän.
Tariatta (Tony Harris): A mu felia no sitaþ utte.
Kasshian (Christina Taylor): Kasasfasraç-ku pijasaç
Deini (Dana Nutter): jai kunë ni les mi ejën šyrt.
Celinese (Andy Ayres): Mo blúr né geraní. ("I don't understand my shirt.")

Icelandic: Ég har keypt skyrtu á tungumáli sem ég ekki kannast við ("I bought a shirt in a language I don't know." Thanks to Lars Finsen)
Asturian: Non compriendo lo que ta escritu na mio camiseta ("I don't understand what's written on my shirt." Thanks to Andy Ayres)
Manx:Cha noddym lhaih y lheiney aym pene ("I cannot read my own shirt." Thanks to Thomas Leigh for both Manx translations)
More Manx:Ren mee kionnaghey lheiney nagh noddym lhaih ("I bought a shirt which I can't read.")

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Art of the Inside Joke

I take my conlanging seriously, even if the tone I use in talking about it is light-hearted. I may frequently experiment with different methods of language creation, but no matter what particular process I am using, I have goals for that I am working to achieve, and often it really is work. Conlanging takes too much time, effort, and brainpower for me to not take my own projects seriously, even if I write about them in a less-than-completely-serious tone.

Nonetheless, I do find ways to integrate some humor and personally meaningful references into my languages in subtle (or not-so-subtle) ways, hidden in places that it can delight me without standing out as a joke to anyone else. For example, I recently created a word for "dragonfly" in Nevashi, ti'izirí. The word literally means "catfly" being made up of the words for "cat" (ti'i) and a general term for "flying insect" (zirí). It contains both a meaningful personal reference from my life and an inside joke: ti'i was the way my youngest daughter pronounced "kitty" when she was first learning to talk, and now that she is 7-years-old, we have long discussions in which I claim to not be able to tell the difference between a cat and a dragon because they look identical to me, and she patiently explains to me again the ways in which they are different, hence the substitution of "cat" for "dragon". The official explanation (if anyone asks) will be that the long tail and big eyes of a dragonfly remind Nevashi speakers of a cat, but now you know the truth.

Then there is the less subtle case of dali in ea-luna, meaning "to paint" in the artistic sense, not in the "covering something in a coat of paint" sense. This is a reference to Salvador Dalí, one of my favorite painters, but in this instance, the word pre-existed the reference in a raw list of potential 1- and 2-syllable words. When I came to that particular combination of syllables in the list, I knew what it had to mean. It's that sort of little thing that makes me smile when I come across it again in my notes, even if I never have a need to use that word in public where other people might see and get the reference.

An inside joke that you have with yourself about your personal life encoded into a conlang (as with ti'izirí) is just about as inside as an inside joke can get, but who cares if nobody else gets your little joke? I find the most subtle ones are the ones that make me happiest, especially when they are in a more serious project.

Friday, March 23, 2012

My conlangs bring all the boys to the yard...

Hello, Reader!

I am so glad you showed up. I thought I was going to be all alone here, talking to myself. Again.  I assume you're here because you're interested in constructing languages or languages other people have constructed. Or maybe you know me or know of me, and you're just curious about my hobbies.

My hobbies are awesome, especially this one.

This, of course, is my obligatory introduction post, so I might as well get on with introducing myself. I'm Mia. I've been around the online conlanging community for a good long while, posting as Mia Soderquist, M.S. Soderquist, or more recently as Mia Harper. I tend to sign my posts, "Mia." (Facebook won't let me put "Mia." as my alternate name because it has too many periods in it. Seriously.)

I've been making languages up since I was 19. Before that, I was just a huge fan of natural languages. I was aware of Esperanto and had thought the language bits were the best part of The Lord of the Rings, but it didn't strike me as something I could do... until I did.

My first conlang was called Muhilamanyani. There really wasn't much to it, and I've long since lost the tattered and faded pages that served as its documentation. I only mention it because it was first. That was about 1990.

Later, after a few other failed experiments that didn't even have names, I found the CONLANG list. Inspired by all the cool stuff other people were doing, I decided to scrap everything I'd been doing and to do something that was completely different. The result was ea-luna. I worked very hard on it in the summer and fall of 1996, and it remains my most usable language. There's virtually no real documentation for it beyond the original vocabulary list; it was mostly documented in the form of cryptic notes and examples in the first place, and then most of those, along with the full list of known compound words, have gotten lost over the years. In the last year or so, I've reconstructed and revived ea-luna. It's full of flaws and holes, but I still love it.

After ea-luna, there were a bunch of sketchy projects that reached various states of development before I stopped caring about them. Then, in 2007, I started Teliya Nevashi (or just Nevashi, in English). I had some ideas I wanted to try, and I wanted to try to develop a conlang in a format that would be easier to share with people online. Its been developing very, very slowly in a public way. Nevashi's home online is at

I continue to mess around on the side with potential new languages. There are three main reasons why I start sketching out the beginnings of new projects on a fairly regular basis:
  1. I come up with an idea I want to explore more fully that won't fit in the languages I already have lying around.
  2. I start to see flaws in the language I am working on, and feel like I can't correct them without losing what I do like about the language.
  3. I suddenly feel creative and/or bored and think, "Gee, I could start a new language while I am waiting here for the doctor/banker/pirates!" 
Most of these sketches end up on scraps of paper in the back of my van*, and I never do anything else with them. If I find them while I am looking for something else, I say to myself, "Oh, that was clever!" or "Oh... What was I thinking?" and that's the end of it. 

Now, at least some of the time, those little sketches may end up here, for everyone's amusement. Mainly my amusement, but possibly yours as well.

(* This extremely old, extremely obscure reference included for the sake of one or two oldtimers. I love you guys.)