Friday, December 16, 2022

Conlang Sketchbook 1: Space-Age Pronomials

I still dabble in conlangs, and I still make very little out of that. And so, in an effort to be a little productive with this secret vice, I've started writing up individual grammatical features (often pulling inspiration from something that already exists), which is a whole lot easier to wrangle than a greater conlang project. 

So in that spirit, this is the first installment of what will hopefully be a series of novel conlang components. Maybe they will evolve into something bigger, maybe not, for now they are just bits and pieces I have dreamed up.

This system started with me remixing the verb prefixes in Klingon (as I think they're neat, and remixing things you think are neat is a good way to get started with art), and then expanding them to imply a sci-fi setting more in tune with my own tastes in the genre. (It's not necessarily a language for Mothership, but it's not not that, certainly.)

The Pronoun Prefixes

| 1st Person          |             |
| Singular            | ji- or ja-  |
| Plural (Inclusive)  | cho-        |
| Plural (Exclusive)  | ma-         |

| 2nd Person          |      |
| Singular            | tla- |
| Plural              | kan- |
| Singular (Familiar) | be-  |
| Plural (Familiar)   | san- |

| 3rd Person (Generic)  |                 |
| Person                | khe-, dan-, an- |
| Object / Inanimate    | tsa-            |
| Digital               | we-             |
| Abstract / Conceptual | su-             |

| 3rd Person (Gender) |      |
| Female              | ba-  |
| Male                | ko-  |
| Emphatic Neutral    | shu- |
| Transitional Dual   | han- |
| Simultaneous Dual   | de-  |

| 3rd Person (Other Sapients) |     |
| Aliens (Kin)                | po- |
| Aliens (Non-Kin)            | ye- |
| Thinking Machines           | za- |

| 3rd Person (Other Animate) |               |
| Animals                    | ang-          |
| Plants                     | gi-           |
| Spirits & Divine Forces    | tso-          |
| Celestial Bodies           | tso- or quan- |

| Demonstrative |      |
| Singular      | du-  |
| Plural        | dzo- |

Pronomial affixes have a couple different uses

  • They mark subject and object on verbs. As of the moment there is no separate object variant, but that might change in the future.
  • They can be attached to a noun along with a suffix to form a possessive (alienable vs inalienable determined by suffix, and right now the placeholders are -(n)eh and -ye, respectively)
  • They can be attached to a noun (or adjective, which are basically nouns anyway) to form a copula
  • They can, occasionally, be attached to a noun to further specify its definition, almost like an optional noun class.
  • They can be attached to the relativizer particle "de" to start a relative clause ie "jide" = "I who..."

Now, there's a whole lot here, but it's not as complex as it seems on the surface.

  • This is a pro-drop language - that means that you will only rarely find freestanding pronouns (since they're required on the verb), and those cases will only be where heavy emphesis or clarification is needed.
  • It is an understood thing that a person might change what pronomials they use according to their preference. Using one that is distinctly out of what would be considered ordinary is making a point, and treated as such.
  • "ja-" is the storyteller's I - it's used to indicate that the teller of the story is not the narrator of the story.
  • "khe-", "dan-" and "an-" have some shades of meaning to them; "khe-" is the most generic form usable with all people, "dan-" is specifically for humans / hominids / metahumans, and "an-" is the hypothetical person ie "one goes to the store". I might add a fourth for transhuman persons, but for now they get "tso-".
  • Plural forms of 3p pronomials, if they are marked at all, are marked with an additional affix. (right now it is "pe-" for dual and "i-" for 3+)
  • "Emphatic Neutral" is used by those who explicitly identify themselves as outside the other four.
  • "Transitional Dual" is used by those who are either undergoing a change between sexes or genders, those who so regularly, or those that wish to emphasize that change as part of their identity.
  • "Simultaneous Dual" is used by those who identify as both sexes or genders simultaneously. It may also be used by those who have an exoself or an implanted emulated intelligence that is of a different gender than their endoself ie someone who identifies as male and has a female EI running in their cyberbrain would have this pronomial applied when speaking to the two as a single unit.
  • "Thinking Machine" is most commonly used for AI and robots, but is also used by some cyborgs alongside (or in place of) their metahuman affixes.
  • Use of the divine pronomial for planets is typically the realm of poetry and literature, though some scientists will break it out when they have a Big Announcement.
  • Uplifted animals will tend to use the normal metahuman set or the kin-alien pronomial. A few groups of cultural separatists, in those times when they speak This Unnamed Language instead of their own languages, will use the non-sapient animal pronomial to make a point.
  • Kin-aliens are those that you can meaningfully communicate with. If you can only exchange some math equations, territorial claims, and some very simple trade agreements, that's non-kin. Same goes for those that have to use robot intermediaries or AI interfaces. Same goes for those you can't communicate with at all.
  • Animal and plant affixes do not differentiate between terragen or xenogen life
  • Inanimate objects can and will be given person-pronomials if they hold sentimental value. Spaceships nearly always get this treatment, and there is an obtuse set of rites and superstitions dictating what gender a ship is according to make, model, manufacture, history, and shipmind.

So yeah, there we go. Just a framework of a fragment, but I like what I've come up with. Tolkien was certainly correct in calling language construction the secret vice, but it is very much a puzzle with no end state and there is an appeal to that. Linguistics are fun!


  1. Sorry, I noticed what may be one of your classic hanging sentences "ja-" is the storyteller's I - it's only".

  2. I assume there are some things that take unexpected pronomials for no good reason, like if firer has *tso-* or if oxygen tanks use *we-* and no one knows why.

    1. With how free the association can be there are plenty of ways / reasons to change things, so yeah, definitely - someone came up with something as a gag or as a statement and suddenly it catches on and then that's just the way it is.