Monday, October 26, 2020

Babel Unmanutha (An Adventurer's Conlang) v.1


This originally came about from a twitter post by Luka Rejec, which was mostly about how the existence of unquestioned clerical magic leads to theocratic totalitarianism and how PCs would be folks on the fringes of society. That didn't pan out precisely as I had wanted, but it got me to fall down the rabbit hole of Conlang Critic and Biblardion so it's not all bad.

This isn't meant to be for a specific setting, though since it originated with some words I use in Mother stole fire, there's at least a small bit of my personal idiom for flavoring.

1. Phonetic Inventory 

Vulgar is a great tool for this.

The consonants are not particularly out there - the only one that isn't found in typical English is the rolled r. G is always hard. Th is unvoiced (as in myth, rather than that)

Vowels are the standard 5, for simplicity's sake: a (ah), e (ey), i (ee), o (oh), u (oo). There are no dipthongs, so if you see two vowels next to each other, they are pronounced separately.

Syllable structure is (C)V(C).

2. Syntax

  • Word order is Subject | Verb | Object, because I am a basic babby, but I don't think SOV is too big a stretch or difficulty.
  • Nouns are head-leading, so adjectives follow the noun they modify.
  • Compound words are common, and typically drop some letters from the middle syllables.
  • Adjectives can be used as nouns themselves, with or without a suffix. (i.e. "big" with no noun to modify would be "a big thing".)
  • Adverbs don't really exist on their own - adjectives are simply placed after the verb as they would be after a noun (so there would be no difference between "quick" and "quickly"). Prepositions are treated the same way.

For a practical example

"Joseph's large brown dog jumped over the frozen creek"

would be rendered as

"dog large brown [of, belonging to] Joseph  {evidentiality] jump [tense marker] over creek frozen"

3. Grammar


By default, nouns are ungendered. If specification is desired, prefixes are added: a- for female, e- for male. o- may be used for specifically nongendered, but this is typically (but not always) reserved for specific priesthoods.


  • Two things: -e, -pe
  • Some things: -in, -n
  • Many things: -atha, -tha

There is no strict rule as the difference between "some" and "many", but the dividing line is generally whether or not it can be counted on the fingers.

Connection and Possession

 "Of" might be rendered in two different prefixes attached to the possessing noun, which followed the possessed noun.

  • Connection or relation: Adi-
    • Used to denote a non-possessive relationship - familial bond, citizenship, etc.
  • Possession: Un-
    • Used to denote possession of an object. Never used when the subject is a person.


Pronouns use normal plural endings.

  • I / Me: Ji
  • We / Us (Inclusive): je, jin, jatha
  • We / Us (Non-inclusive): ije, ijin, ijatha
  • You (sing): Ki
  • You (pl): ke, kin, katha
  • They (sing): Ri
  • They (pl): re, rin, ratha
  • It (sing): Ni
  • It (pl): ne, nin, natha


Tense is marked by adding an auxiliary after the primary verb. While these originated as individual words, they have been since turned into suffixes, though sometimes a separate word is still used..

  • Present - (/)
  • Past - desh, -esh
  • Future - eo
  • Potential - una, -na
  • Habitual - ota, -ta


These are special words used to specify the source of information, which are added as a prefix to the verb.

If the prefix is left out, it is because the information is either completely trivial, obvious to all present, or direct experience where specificity would not be needed (ie: "It's cold today", when one can see their breath)

  • Via direct experience: zef-, ze-
  • Via inference: aji-, aj-
  • Via hearsay (trusted): ibi-, ib-
  • Via hearsay (not trusted): mur-, mu-


Inquiry is marked by the inclusion of "ena" at the beginning of a sentence, plus tone and context. This can be modified for more specificity.

  • Enam - a question about a person
  • Enaj - a question about a place
  • Enash - a question about a thing
  • Enap - a question about time
  • Enaz - a question about purpose


Suffixes added to the ends of words

  • Practitioner of: -t, -et
  • Inhabitant of: -do, -ido
  • Tool that does: -cha, -acha
  • Place of noun or verb: -je, -aje
  • Noun -> Verb (to act like a): -s, -as
  • Noun -> Adjective (characteristics of): -n, -an 
  • Verb -> Noun (the act of): -lev, -ev
  • Diminutive: -fio, -io
  • Augmentative: -zar, -ar


A (very, very very very inadequate and in-progress) word list can be found here. It's barely a thing, it's certainly not speakable, I am going to brute-force a lot of words with Vulgar...but it's fun all the same.


  1. There is a very certain and specific calm that comes over you when putting something like this together. It is a puzzle to assemble, but the end state is whatever investment you wish to put into it, and you end up learning a thing or two just because.

  2. So, Ama Adimatha = maternal ancestor, mother of many?

    1. Mother of Many, Mother of Multitudes, Mother of the Peoples, all work out as good translations.

  3. Heck yeah, more OSR conlang work!

  4. Would be neat if overly involved to have a magic word-based magic system using a conlang.

    There's some good dialectic between oblidsessjfdfrrpgtych and lexi on magic word systems (I can't be bothered to track down), the weight of adjudication placed on the DM, access, stuff like that, and having the magic words be in a conlang (perhaps also requiring coherent/grammatically correct phrases/passsages to go off) could be one way to hit that sweet spot. Also conlang basis enables bits of knowledge as treasure, encourages investigation of the game world.

    1. @semiurge: I have actually been thinking about that very idea for weeks & months now. I did not know Vulgar existed until a little bit ago, so I'm going to dive right in!!