A Predator of Information

Our songs will all be silenced, but what of it? Go on singing.

Crocodile Conlang

4 August 2018 1:26 AM (fiction | conlang)

Introduction

I was doing a silly one-off where people were exploring the infrastructure tunnels under a city. Given the urban legends about alligators living in the sewers, I had The Authorities and anyone they ran into from the Department of Water and Power insist there were no alligators at all. Not one.

The punch-line was that there were crocodiles. A small civilization of them, busting open water mains to make basking pools, smashing the valves on steam pipes to get heat to cook with, and stealing parts from monitoring equipment. Someone tried a bit of pointing and speaking slowly to try to talk to them; between that and a friend having mentioned that she wished someone would do a roleplay where the players had to work out how to communicate with speakers of another language, I decided to give it a shot.

Goals

  • Since this is a one-off, we won't be too elaborate. Nor will we introduce irregularity. Put in some case marking, but leave out grammatical number, just for the sake of simplicity. And remove verb agreement since that's one less thing for me to have to get wrong.

    This also makes it easier for the players who are trying to figure out what different endings mean.

  • Use a simple word list, to start.

    Generating vocabulary can be the hardest part, so I grabbed a list of the 1000 most frequently used English words and made a script to generate one list of all the one syllable words in this language and one list of all two syllable words. Then randomized them and picked as convenient. The one syllable words with no coda were used for more common words like pronouns, numerals, and other basic functionals.

Phonemes

Consonants

Really I should have more places of articulation. I imagine something with a long mouth like a crocodile would have distinguishable fore-palate, mid-palate, and rear-palate, say. No labials, though, because crocodiles always smile.

TranscriptionSound
qUvular ejective
kVelar ejective
tAlveolar ejective
xUnvoiced velar affricate
tsUnvoiced alveolar affricate
chUnvoiced palatal fricative
qhUnvoiced uvular fricative
ngVoiced uvular nasal
nVoiced alveolar nasal
grVoiced uvular trill
drVoiced alveolar trill
rRetroflex alveolar approximant

For those of you following along at home, an ejective is a sound made by stopping the flow of air with the tongue at some point, building up pressure behind it, and releasing it. The places of articulation refer to the spot in your mouth you press the tongue or narrow the flow of air: uvular being the uvula (the 'punching bag' in the back of the throat), velar being the soft palate, alveolar being the ridge into which ones top teeth are set, and palatal being the hard palate (roof of the mouth).

Consonants are voiced if the vocal cords are vibrating and unvoiced if it's just air. A fricative involves narrowing the flow of air so it becomes turbulent (like 's' and 'f' in English).

A nasal involves stopping the flow of air but opening the soft palate so it can come out through the nose. An affricate is a stop immediately released into a fricative. A trill is a narrowing beyond a fricative, so that the tongue touches and breaks contact (assisted by air flow) repeatedly.

The Alveolar Retroflex Approximant turns the tongue-tip back so the underside is near the alveolar ridge. This sounds like the way most Americans pronounce the letter 'r'. (Though in reality there are several ways Americans make this sound. Probably the most popular is the 'bunch-tongue', where the middle of the tongue is pulled back and heaved up toward the palate.)

Vowels

TranscriptionSound
yü as in über
uoo as in moo
ueoo as in book
ouawe as in awe
oo as in know
ie as in see
aa as in father
eschwa when unstressed, a as in way when stressed

Phonology

Let C be any consonant and V any vowel. Let F be any affricate, fricative, nasal, or rhotic.

Valid words are (CV)(CV)*F?

Put another way, all syllables must have an onset, and that onset may be any consonant. The nucleus may be any vowel. Only the ultimate syllable in a word may have a coda. That coda may be an affricate, fricative, nasal, or rhotic. (A rhotic is anything kind of like an 'r'.)

If adding a morpheme would cause two consonants in sequence, e is inserted. If adding a morpheme would cause two vowels in sequence, a nasal is inserted, assimilated to the first vowel.

If one word ends in a nasal and the next word begins with a stop, affricate, or trill the nasal assimilates.

If one morpheme ends in the vowels y or i and another morpheme beginning with a nasal is added, the nasal assimilates to become alveolar.

If one morpheme ends in the vowel a and another morpheme beginning with a nasal is added, the nasal assimilates to become uvular.

Stresses alternate. The ultimate of a word is always stressed. Primary stress is on the antepenult if there is one, on the ultimate otherwise.

In the case of a single syllable word, it is unstressed if following word's initial syllable is stressed, stressed otherwise.

Syntax

Nouns

Nouns are inflected for case. There is no gender. Number (dual and plural) is indicated with an adjective-like particle.

This is an ergative-absolutive language. (The absolutive case is used for the subjects of intransitive verbs and the objects of transitive verbs while the ergative case is used for the subject of transitive verbs.) It possesses the following cases:

  • Absolutive
  • Ergative
  • Dative (Also indicates motion toward)
  • Genitive (Also indicates motion away)
  • Locative (Place where something is/action happens)
  • Instrumental/Accompaniment
  • Vocative

Verbs

Verbs are conjugated for mood and voice. Tense is indicated by adverbs.

Participles may be formed from the indicative mood and any voice.

Voices
Active
A transitive verb with the subject in the ergative is active but has an unspecified/unimportant object.
Middle
Not marked morphologically. A transitive verb with the subject in the absolutive is, semantically, in the middle voice. I love middle voice. I adore middle voice.
Passive
The subject of the verb is the patient of the action. If the agent is specified, it is in the genitive case.
Moods
Indicative
The realis mood for describing things that happened.
Subjunctive
Irrealis used for counterfactuals, or statements of belief for which the speaker implies no claim of truth. (e.g. 'Bill persuaded Dan that…' would take an indicative if the speaker believed the statement of which Dan was persuaded, subjunctive otherwise.) When used as an independent clause, expresses belief of possibility.
Optative
Used for wishes, desires, and orders. When used on its own, indicates a statement the speaker wishes would be carried out or believes to be a claim of obligation.
Interrogative
For questions.
Imperative
For commands.

Word Order

By default, word order is Subject-Object-Verb, adjectives follow the noun they modify, and genitives precede the nouns they modify. Adverbs often precede the verb they modify but may wander about the clause freely.

Prepositions

There are no prepositions.

To hell with prepositions.

The devil take them.

Functions normally performed by prepositions are performed by a combination of case marking and adverbs. Words like 'in' modify verbs rather than nouns. e.g. 'John-Abs house-dat inly walk.'

John walking while he happens to be in the house (pacing, say) ⇒ 'John-ABS house-LOC inly walk.'

Clauses

Subordinating conjunctions are case-marked to indicate their position in the larger clause.

Relative clauses are handled with a relativising adjective (which may be substantive) and resumptive pronoun.

Genitive absolutes may appear anywhere in the sentence, but usually precede the subject. The genitive is used for the subject of the participle and the absolutive for the object, if there is one.

Explicitly marking events as happening in sequence uses the genitive absolute. Bill arrived after Jonathan left ⇒ 'Jonathan having left, Bill afterly arrived.'

Use of the genitive absolute turned out to be a mistake, and a quite grave one. Since I'm using the genitive for absolutes and as the genitive of agent in passive voice constructions, we can't have a genitive absolute in the passive voice with an agent. Or at least not without stuffing something between the subject and the agent. In retrospect I should have used locative absolutes instead. (I use the genitive for a lot. Absolute, agent, comparison, partitive, possession, authority…Pee-Wee Herman is probably going to pop up and go "Well if you love the genitive case so much, why don't you MARRY it?")

Morphology

Case

CaseSuffix
Absolutive
Ergative-ts
Dative-ng
Genitive-ry
Locative-x
Instrumental-k
Vocative-to

Voice

VoiceSuffix
Active∅ (Implied by case structure)
Middle∅ (Implied by case structure)
Passive-ry

Mood

MoodSuffix
Indicative-ko
Subjunctive-nue
Optative-ngy
Interrogative-nen
Imperative

Verbals

Participles (adjectival forms of verbs. Like 'running' in 'the running man') are formed with the infix -ike-. Gerunds (Like 'fishing' in 'fishing is fun') are formed with the infix -exe-.

In participles and gerunds with no object, middle-voice meaning is assumed if appropriate. Explicitly specify a dummy pronoun of 'na' to get active voice.

A substantive, active participle is identical to the agentive. i.e. a 'walking one' is the same as a 'walker'.

Other

FunctionSuffix
Adverb to adjective-ne
Noun-to-adjective (-ful)-qhi
Adjective-to-noun (-ness)-qy

Lexicon

Nouns

CrocodilianEnglish
ngueqhstrength/power/ability
grichtime/duration
ngygrtime/moment/event
xoudragree
neqhfront/face/past
chuerair/gas
nuengamount/count/number
qhydrbeast
quchplace/location/area
xouchlimb
drogrart/skill
chenglore/knowledge/science
nygrwright/maker/crafter
kyqhright/leadership/authority
qhuenegg
grangback/rear/future
tsouqhbag/sack/box/container
grydrbank/shore
ngutsriver mouth
qhoudrriver (large, flowing)
tsachpond/pool (still, small)
tsedrlake/ocean (waves, large)
tsoudrcreek (small, flowing, safe)
chanhome/safe spot/bed/basking place
chogrbit/small unimportant thing/speck
chouqhblood/kinship/energy/life
kuedrbuilding material/substance/fabric/substrate/matter
noungbody/torso/tree trunk/main subject
tsueqhparent
nguechclutchmate
kuengcaregiving/elder kin
gruedrcare-receiving/younger kin
qhidrcancer, swelling disease
ruchcase/example/kind/instance
xaqhseat/appropriate place
tsychnature/character/accustomed way
grouxperson
qoudrcommunity/polity/civilization
ngurtype/kind/sort
grexgroup/collection/set/flock/swarm
qounshade/color/hue
ngarthing given up/cost
druetsrun of river/course of process/path/order
nytssin/crime/violation of tradition/peace
xydrduty/virtuous act
ngerday (one sleep cycle, primarily)
ngyrdetail (small important thing)
gronfood
tsixdirection/way/portal/door
ngangwasting disease/premature age
ngixmedicine/salve
chedrforce/power/ability/strength
grachlight
gruxedge/boundary/point in task
terwork/effort/attempt
rygrcircumstance/environment
qhyngevidence/reasons given
chourexample/role model/prototype
tsingeye/faculty of perception
chouland/ground/floor/bottom
quegrsky/outer space/ceiling
chexfilm/scum/surface layer/skin
xordigit (anat)
rotsfire/blaze
qhonfish/open-water beast
qarmud/shallow water beast
xangland beast
kougrbird/air beast
tsirform/shape/figure
qinplay/sport/game (team)
granplay/sport/game (solitaire)
nochgarden/planned life/farm/genetic eng.
noqhwave/generation/rank/(step in process)
nouqhstrand/hair/string/wire/line
chuepart/portion/member/item in a group/piece
xedrhead/top/summit/supreme importance
koungheart/seat of will/essential aspect
druxintestines/seat of compassion/altruism
chogladness/joy/happiness
chigrcontentment/satisfaction
tygrsadness/despair
xueqhrestlessness/disquiet
xonhope
quenglust/intellectual interest/want/desire
qurtask
groqhkey (anything made to fit in some other space/system)
ryqhbreath/speech/language/seat of rational thought/mind
drounlaw/tradition/custom
tudrlist/sequence
toxheap/pile/lot
nguetsengine/machine (obvious moving parts)
kercomputer/subtle machine (electronic/unmoving parts/magic)
kaqhkidneys/memory/store of knowledge
kormethod/way/procedure
qhexmouth/snout/nose
qharmusic/rhythm/poetry (sound arranged aesthetically)
tangnetwork/mesh
kungnews/tidings
roqhfat/grease/oil
chyngpain/suffering
gragrpeace/quiet/calm
tonplant/vegetable
karsecret/private matter
qydrright side of body
ngougrleft side of body
chounstone/rock
tingsoil/earth
kongmud
nerroom/building/large structure/house/container for people
qhouchpure water/clear liquid
grugrmuddy water/emulsion/suspension/cloudy or opaque liquid
qaqhsalt water/solution
tutsseason/month
churyear
qhoungexcrement/foul substance/rot
xatship/shoulder/joint
ngaqhside/flank
droungsituation/circumstances/way things are (contingent)
kouqhsource/origin
qhounlength/area/space/extent
chuetsstar/planet/indicator light
tsunthanks
tongsalutation
nguchblessing/valediction
rungworld (all that is reachable/terrestrial)
nitscosmos (all that exists)
kyrwind/air current/electricity
kedrwall/barrier/obstacle/blockage

Adjectives

CrocodilianEnglish
techtrue/certain/thus/yes/real
drongmature/complete/ripe
qoall/every
gruno/none
ngaany
roungunused, available, gratis
nguqhunripe/incomplete/immature
druechbad/rotten/spoiled/unfit
tsydrbad/unstable/unsafe/evil
qhugrbad/crooked/warped/shoddy/unskillful
ngotsround/spherical
tsiqhgood/beautiful/skillfully made/healthy
qhixgood/useful/robust/morally worthy/safe
ngodrmost/greatest/largest
xiqhmore/greater/larger (comp. to. gen)
chitsless/smaller (comp. to gen)
tydrleast/smallest
touchequal in quantity/degree/same/similar
chorlarge/great/big
tsotssmall/unimpressive
rychdark/black
xoqhbright/white/reflective
taqhwooden/of plant matter
graxcentral/middle/important
drougrdifficult
qhuqhsocial/political
tsinclear/transparent/unsalted/unmuddied
nguexnear/close/exactly
raxcold
drichcommon/communal/shared/widely known
grindeep/high
ningearly
qheqhlate
tsoucheasy/light
kixbeginning
touwhole/entire/in total
tsanespecially/notable
teqheven/level/just/fair
rogrfine/on a small scale
nguxwise/expert/elder
ketsfirm/hard
kuxfear
nuxfull/satisfied
dronempty/hungry/lacking
nudrhand/foot
xodrstrange/alien
rexformer/preceding
nychfree, unrestrained, libre
qingwide/general
ngexnarrow/specific
qhanhot
qhouqhheavy/weighty/tired
dringbenevolent/altruistic/kind
nguegrcorrect/fitting/appropriate
tsechstraight
gruqhbent/curved (appropriately/well)
ruqhlong
ngonshort (distance)
qexshort/low (in vertical extent)
ruexhigh/tall (in vertical extent)
qagrmale
qonfemale
drouxmiddling/average/mean
nuchunkind/cruel
nydrvaluable/precious/dear
druengcalm/patient/quiet/longsuffering/enduring
drengrave/serious
ngyngrainy/granular
xounfew

Adverbs

CrocodilianEnglish
ngyxup/abovely/over
ryrdown/belowly/beneath
chetsaccordingly (source in genitive)
kouracrossly
qhouafterly
keqhagain/returning
droragainst
tsangpast/before
grunenot/no
qhagralong
qhuengalready
ngechalso
tsenalways/ever
qhyin/among/between
tsatsin response/reply/reaction
netsaround/concerning/on the topic of
rennow (simultaneous with)
narneedful/seeking
qourfar(gen/dat)/widely(loc)
tsurcausally (because w/gen abs)
kodrbeginningly (starting an action/process)
dragrbeyond/far side/other side
xengthis side/near side/closer
chuchby/passingly/along and past
griqhuncertain/unlikely
druerlikely (but not absolutely certain
rodreasily/clearly/doubtlessly
grynresumptively
nouchsatisfying obligation (ind)/ought (subj)
nynpurposefully (with gen. abs. purpose of main)
tixenough
tsytsfast/quick
newhy? (By what cause?)
kouwhy? (For what reason?)
nuehow? (Int. Pron. in instr. may be idiomatic)
qengwhen?
dryinitiation/expectation of other act/questioningly
drein/into/inwardly
ngothrough/across
tsuto
kyfro
kachwrong/false (mistakenly)
kexwrong/false (deceptively)
xuegrpermitted (subj)/prosocial wish (opt)
drunforbidden (subj)/shameful wish (opt)
rytsexplicitly not the case (subj)/futile (opt)
qechwithin a short time of now/soon/recently
roualmost
tannever
tatsoff
xyngoften/frequently
qhuedrsometimes/infrequently
kochover/for a long time
ngungover/for a short time
nagron/atop/onto
gruenuniqueness/only
rudrout
drourat/along/away from the side of
kinsuddenly/unexpectedly/without warning
droqhofferingly/tentatively
kueintent/will
ngeqhwhether, Yes/no questions with interrogative
qotsnevertheless/definitely
drytswell/competently
ngydrhaltingly/badly/uncertainly
grirtogether/in accord/in unison/in coordination
xuedrto excess/too much

Verbs

Copula

The copula is irregular because the copula is always irregular.

FormFunction
ruindicative
tsungsubjunctive
chinoptative
gredrinterrogative
xaximperative
chaparticiple
qhegerund
CrocodilianEnglish
rochadd to/improve (added thing in inst.)/grow (mid)
nuedrallow
tsodrexcept/minus/exclude (act)/decrease (mid)
nutsthink (mid, topic in loc), solve/analyze (act)
kyxspeak/say/tell
kidrfight/attack/row
dritsattend/heed/listen/aid
tsongchange (act)/become (mid) w/dat
togrguides/drives (act)/behaves (mid)
qhonginforms/convinces (dat) of (abs)
qhetsknows/believes (act)/is self-aware/conscious (mid)
regrmake/build
qoungexchange (dat: trader. abs: got. inst: given)
gregrcall/summon/attract attention
qouchcare/nourish/moisten/remember (subj. ABS, obj. DAT)
qhengcatch/arrest/hinder (ind)/stop/abandom action (mid)
qhychorder/command
richcheck/inspect/ensure
qhorselect/choose
qhenassert/claim/demand
tserclose/shut/block up
qegropen/unblock/make a path/become opportune (mid)
kugrcompare/measure/count
grengdiscuss/confer/have a parliament
tsoungformally hear/decide as a group/civic function
tsogrcover/conceal/brood/warm (ind)/wear (mid)
tsugrflow
qhercut, unravel, implies purpose/precision
grochreason/decide
ruengdefend/guard
qhoqhplan/design/consider/imagine
ruechforget (act), die (mid)
kuexdiffer (erg differs from abs), be unusual (mid)
grouqhfind/discover
grerheal/minister medicinally
kydrwrite/draw/carve/make meaningful marks
kyngsleep
drandrop (act)/fall (mid)
ridreat/burn
ngychlike/enjoy/appreciate
qytsexpect/await
ngounlose (act)/fail/fall short (mid)
xentouch/feel/investigate/test
rarsee/notice/perceive
ngucause/enact/bring about (often w/participial phrase
chuxfly
titsfollow/come after
tuchget/take
nouxgive/release
drirguess
xechstrike/hit
ngedrhang/suspend (act), dangle (mid)
qonghappen/come about/come to term
rouchhear
druegrhelp/aid
chuexrescue/save
rixABS is named INST / ERG calls/identifies ABS with INST
grouchpoint at/indicate/imply
tuedrwork/do tasks of social utility
qhatsABS is replaced with INST
grunattach/fasten (ind)/join together w/dat (mid)
tsorkill (other than for food/agriculture)
nguebellow with emotion (laughter/shock/pain)
xytsbend/manipulate/tame
routslay (act)/lie (mid)
qatslay egg/drop fruit
tegrhatch/sprout
nganbreak/damage/harm
drechcarry/bear/lead
tsourstudy/learn/examine closely
qudrallow/let/sanction
tsidrlive/other autonomous process continuing
grixlove/be friends with
kynoversee/manage
xuchhave sex with (symmetric)
drynmeet/come together
nunneeds/requires
qhuechpresent/offer
qhyqhperform/sing/tell story
drudrpush/press
texpull/drag
xuenput/place (ind)/sit/situate oneself (mid)
grungquite/vary/done with heightened intensity
gridrlift/raise/stand (ind)/stand up/rise (mid)
naxjudge/evaluate/appraise (ind)/confess (mid)
xegrERG prefers ABS to GEN/
qhodrreach/touch/extend into/achieve
choxdecode/find meaning in/read/understand
ngoudrERG is ready for ABS/ABS is awake/ready to act/primed
gringreturn/give back/strike back
ryxreveal (ind)/appear (mid)
qhurendanger/threaten (ind)/take risk (mid)
tsygrlook/intensely observe/examine/investigate
kychsend
xuexshake/agitate
ngichshare/distribute/hold in common
ngochshow/display/demonstrate
nyrto such a degree/so
tsuegrarrange by kinds/order/sort
tuqhsucceed/accomplish
kirwait/tarry
gritstwist/turn
ngouattempt/try
grygrthrow/hurl
roudrdo/act
chargo/move
tsuerhold/keep/have (act) maintain oneself/stay (mid)
tyxcook/prepare

Coordinating Conjunction

CrocodilianEnglish
ngeand
xubut
chyor
kefor
tiyet
niso/then

Subordinating Conjunction

CrocodilianEnglish
ngithat
droulest
xiintroduces relative clause
quif (subj/opt) / when (ind)
cheuntil

Pronoun

CrocodilianEnglish
drathis/here
tsithat/there
xeother one/far/yonder
kiI/we/(potentially inclusive)
kitswe (but not you)
gryyou
druhe/she/it
nawhichever/whoever/whatever one
xyone/someone/something
droone (resumptive)
teInterrog. What/who/which?

Cardinal Numbers

CrocodilianEnglish
qhaa (one)
kuentwo (dual)
notsmany (plural)
kafive
tatwenty
qahundred, uncountably many

Ordinal Numbers

CrocodilianEnglish
qhadrfirst
kuenedrsecond
notsedrsubsequent
kadrfifth
tadrtwentieth
qadrhundredth, 'final'

Distributive Numbers

CrocodilianEnglish
qhaxone-by-one
kuenextwo-by-two
notsexin larger groups
kaxfive-by-five
taxtwenty-by-twenty
qaxin large groups

Repetitive Numbers (adverbs)

CrocodilianEnglish
qhaneonce
kuenenetwice
notsenethrice
kanefive times
tanetwenty times
qanehundred/uncountably many times

A Small Corpus

  • One is able to do. ⇒ xyts roudrikeng chedr tsuereko ⇒ One-ERG do-GER-DAT power-ABS holds-IND
  • This tells that something. ⇒ drats tsin xy kyxeko ⇒ This-ERG that-DAT something-ABS tell-IND
  • He/she/it has come. ⇒ dru dran drongene chareko ⇒ He/she/it-ABS this-DAT completely moves-IND
  • This seems (appears, looks) dark. ⇒ dra rych rareryko ⇒ This-ABS dark-ABS see-PASSIVE-IND
  • Water pipe ⇒ tsoudrery tsouqh ⇒ stream-GEN container-ABS
  • Steam ⇒ qhouchery chuer qhan ⇒ water-GEN gas-ABS hot-ABS
  • Electric wire ⇒ kyrery nouqh ⇒ electricity-GEN wire-ABS
  • Those strangers approach. ⇒ xodr tsi tsu chareko ⇒ strangers-ABS that-ABS to go-IND
  • We (but not you) are people. ⇒ kits groux ru we-ABS person-ABS is-IND
  • Why are they here again? ⇒ tsi drax kou keqh tsuerenen ⇒ That-ABS this-LOC why? again have-INT
  • You greet them. ⇒ gry tsongek tsin roudr You-ABS salutation-INST that-DAT do-IMP
  • Hello. ⇒ gry tsiqh xax ⇒ You-ABS healthy-ABS be-IMP
  • Goodbye. ⇒ gryts cho tsuer ⇒ You-ERG joy-ABS hold-IMP
  • I ate before you came. ⇒ kiry tsan ridrikery gry tsu chareko ⇒ I-GEN before eat-PART-GEN you-ABS to go-IND
  • I wonder whether they might be thinking beasts. ⇒ ki ngix tsi qhydr nutsike ngeqh tsun dry nutseko ⇒ I-ABS that-LOC that-ABS beast-ABS think-PART-ABS be-SUBJ wonder think-IND
  • I cook for the one who opened the pipe. ⇒ kits xin drots tsugrery tsouqh tsang qegreko tyxeko ⇒ I-ERG relwho-DAT resone-ERG flow-GEN container-ABS before open-IND cook-IND
  • One of them made the electricity again when they came. ⇒ tsiry notsery qhiry kyr keqh ren regrikery tsu tsan chareko ⇒ that-GEN plural-GEN one-GEN electricity-ABS again simultaneous fixed-PART-GEN to before go-IND
  • What do we do? ⇒ kits notsets te roudrenen ⇒ I-ERG plural-ERG what?-ABS do-INTERROG

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