Let’s make a language – Part 4a: Nouns (Intro)

A noun, as we learned in school, is a person, place, or thing. Of course, there’s more to it than that. Later in our education, ideas and abstract concepts get added in, but the general notion of “noun” remains the same. All natural languages have nouns, and they almost always use them for the same thing. How they use them is where things get interesting.

The Noun Itself

Nouns are going to be words. In fact, they’re probably going to be the biggest set of words in a language, owing to the vast array of people and objects and ideas in the world. The most basic nouns (i.e., the ones we’re discussing today) are represented by a single morpheme, like “dog” or “car”. Later on, we’ll get into more complicated nouns that are built up (derived) from other words, but we’ll keep it simple this time.

So we have a morpheme, which we’ll call the root. This root is the core bit of meaning; if we change it completely, we change the whole noun. We can modify the root a little, however, and some languages require us to do this. In English, for example, a noun like dog refers to a single dog. If we want to talk about four of them, we have to write dogs. Similarly, the Latin word aqua, meaning “water”, becomes aquam if it’s used as the object of a sentence.

Most languages that mark these shades of meaning (subject vs. object, one vs. many) do so via suffixes, like the English plural -s. A few work more with prefixes; these are mostly lesser-known languages in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. English is a little weird in having yet another way of marking the distinction of number: sound change, as in words like goose and geese. (It inherits this from its Germanic roots.) Semitic languages, particularly Arabic, take this a step further, but Semitic morphology is a vastly overused element of conlangs, so I won’t discuss it much here.

Isolating languages, on the other hand, don’t really go in for this kind of thing. Their nouns mostly stay in the same form, but they can still represent the same ideas in different ways. If you’re working with a language like this, then the grammatical categories we’ll see in the rest of this post will likely be formed by additional words rather than suffixes or prefixes.


Probably the most basic (and most common) distinction made for nouns is that of number. Not every language has it—aficionados of Japanese know that the correct plural of “manga” is still “manga”—and that’s certainly a valid possibility for a conlang.

Besides an absence of number, what possibilities are there? First, there’s a division between one and many, singular and plural, with the singular taken as the default. That’s very common, and it’s familiar from English and most other European languages. But it’s not the only way. Some other number markings include:

  • A dual number, representing two of something. Arabic and Sanskrit have this, and there are remnants of it in English, with words like “both” and “either”.

  • Marking both singular and plural, each differently, as in Swahili mtoto “child” vs. watoto “children”. In this case, the singular prefix isn’t part of the root.

  • A distinction between “mass” and “count” (or “uncountable” and “countable”) nouns. Mass nouns like English “water”, logically enough, don’t appear in the plural.

  • A category of number specifically referring to “a few” or “some”. This is called the paucal, and it pops up here and there. Usually, it means anywhere from two to ten or so, probably because people have ten fingers.

Some languages mark for two of a noun, and some mark for a few. Three is an obvious next choice, and there are indeed a handful of languages with a “trial” number, but they only use it in pronouns (which are the subject of a later post), not the nouns themselves. Four is right out.


Gender in language has almost nothing to do with gender in anything else. For many languages, it’s almost completely arbitrary. Sure, the word for “man” might be in the masculine gender, and “woman” in the feminine, but just about anything else is possible. German Mädchen “girl” is neuter, as is Old English wīf “woman, wife”. Irish has cailín “girl” as a masculine noun, while Spanish gente “people” is feminine, no matter what kind of people it’s talking about. Of course, things don’t have to be this confused. A lot of the gender oddities are caused by historical sound changes. Conlangs don’t generally have this problem, although some authors like to add the semblance of such things.

For those languages that have gender, having two of them is common. Usually, that’s masculine and feminine. Some languages instead distinguish between animate and inanimate nouns, though there aren’t too many of these left around. Swedish managed to merge masculine and feminine at some point, resulting in the dichotomy of “common” and “neuter”.

Neuter is a popular third gender; it might be analyzed as an absence of gender, except that some nouns that do have a sex are classified under it, like those examples above. With a neuter gender, sexless items such as inanimate objects often end up there, but they can also fit into one of the others.

Languages can also make more than two or three distinctions of gender. You could have, for example, a language that has four, where every noun is either masculine or feminine, and either animate or inanimate. Some languages (notably the Bantu languages, including Swahili) have a wide variety of categories that might be called gender, though they’re more of a noun “class”.


Anybody who ever took Latin in school knows about case. And they probably hate it. Case is a way of marking the role a noun has in a sentence, such as subject or object. It can also be used to show finer points of meaning, such as those marked in English by prepositions like “in” or “with”.

A lot of languages don’t have case, or only use it in certain places. English doesn’t for its nouns, but does for pronouns (“he”, “him”, “his”), and that’s actually not that rare. Other languages seem to love cases; Finnish has a dozen or so, depending on who’s counting. Generally speaking, it seems that inflectional languages are especially fond of large case systems. Isolating languages make do with something like prepositions. Conlangs can be absolutely anywhere on the spectrum, from caseless languages to the monstrosity of Ithkuil, which has 96. (Granted, Ithkuil is intended to be unrealistic.)

Closing Thoughts

There’s more to nouns than meets the eye, and I’ve only covered about half of it. Wikipedia’s page on grammatical category has a wealth of knowledge about everything above, plus all the stuff I didn’t cover.

What it can’t tell you, though, is which of these categories nouns in your conlang should have. The answer to that depends on a number of factors. For an auxiliary language, you’ll want to be pretty simple. Alien conlangs can (should, even) break the Western mold.

Number is a fairly easy choice, but there’s a hidden complexity in there. (Just look at all the plural exceptions in English!) Gender has its problems, some of them even political, but it also has the potential to make things truly interesting. A matriarchal culture, for instance, might take offense at the idea that “masculine” is the default gender in a language. Cases make a language harder to learn, I would say, but they do feel like they add a “precision” to meaning. It’s possible to go overboard, though. (Actually, studying Finnish grammar isn’t the worst idea for a budding conlanger. It worked for Tolkien.)

The next two posts are going to cover basic nouns in Isian and Ardari, along with a bunch of added vocabulary. Those, combined with the pointers in this post, should be enough to stimulate your own imagination. After that, we’ll move on to verbs, so that we can make our nouns do things.

More fun with constexpr

Continuing from my earlier post, here’s another look at how we can abuse the compiler and C++11’s compile-time abilities. This one might even be useful!

The Problem

Trigonometry functions are common in a lot of programming. On modern hardware, they’re usually highly optimized, too. But C++ developers are taught to use the compiler as much as possible. That’s why we have templates and constexpr, after all. So, can we do trig calculations this way?

The answer, of course, is “yes”. (If it wasn’t, then this post wouldn’t exist.) We’ll start with the cosine function, since it’s probably the easiest to implement. One way to define the cosine function is as an infinite series that I don’t really want to try to recreate in math notation here. As it turns out, that definition is fairly easily convertible to a recursive function that can be evaluated at compile-time.

The Code

template <int Iterations = 10>
constexpr double cosine (double theta)
    return (power(-1, Iterations) * power(theta, 2 * Iterations)) /
            static_cast<double>(factorial(2ull * Iterations))
        + cosine<Iterations-1>(theta);

template <>
constexpr double cosine<0> (double theta)
    return 1.0;

Since the Taylor series is an infinite one, we obviously can’t run the whole thing. So we approximate. I’ve decided on a default of 10 iterations, but the function, you should note, actually calculates the series “in reverse”. The base (i.e., last) case, when Iterations == 0, is the first term in the series expansion. It’s okay, though. The algorithm still works this way, although it might look a little weird.

Also, note that this cosine function uses two other constexpr functions. The first, power(), is our creation from last time, slightly renamed. The second is a typical factorial function. (It’s a good thing every single constexpr tutorial uses this one, otherwise I’d have to write it myself!) factorial takes an integer and returns another one, so I used an explicit cast to double. You could just change the definition of factorial, though, if you don’t mind the possible loss of precision. You’d probably want to template the whole thing on the type, too, instead of only using doubles.

The other trig functions can, for the most part, work off this base. The sine series raises the angle to the power of 2n+1 instead of 2n (and takes the factorial of 2n+1, as well), but it’s otherwise the same. Tangent, as you know, is sine divided by cosine. The reciprocals (secant, cosecant, cotangent) are trivial. You’d also need conversions between degrees and radians (this function uses radians), but that’s so easy you can do it in your sleep.

In a real application, you might want to combine this with lookup tables or something, especially because of rounding errors and the limited precision of floating-point numbers.

Now What?

If I can find any more constexpr contortions, I’ll definitely be making more posts. There’s still so much of the standard math library left, you know.

On magic as technology

I’ve previously written about the idea of magic and technology coexisting, and I touched briefly on some of the ways that a world would be different from our own, if magic truly did exist the way it’s often described in fantasy literature. This week, I’m taking it to 11. We’re going to look at what happens when magic doesn’t just live alongside technology, but either replaces or supplements it.

A world with magical technology shows up in the occasional mainstream setting. Many Final Fantasy games, FFVII and FFXII for example, have a heavy emphasis on magic working as or with technology. D&D’s Eberron setting has a high-magic world where magical implements take the place of technological devices. And, most familiar of all, the Harry Potter series has a number of “industrial magic” instances: messenger owls, phantom quills, etc.

The core conceit

The first thing we have to ask about a magic-as-technology setting is this: how common is the magic? If only a certain few can wield magic at all, it won’t form a major function of the technological progression. But if objects that use magic can be made and then used by those without magical talent, then you have the basis for a “technomancer” guild, where mages can create enchanted objects for the general public. Give everybody the capability for techno-magic, and many people will use it to make things. Some won’t, though, and magic-based “factories” could spring up, offering production lines and volume discounts. It might be a bit like today’s PC market, where most people buy a computer from a big name like Dell, but a select few learn how to build their own. They might pay a little more, but they get a level of customization not possible for the “big boys”.

Knowing how many magically-aware people we have, we can move on to the second question: how does magic work? I don’t mean in general, but only in comparison to science. If magic and technology work in basically the same way, and they can affect one another, then you have a “magitech” setting where the two almost merge (e.g., Final Fantasy). “Technomancy” is more of a situation where magic replaces tech (e.g., Harry Potter). Both of these have their ups and downs, but we’re not here to debate them today. They both have one thing in common: the notion that magic works in a predictable, testable, repeatable fashion. In other words, magic is scientific.

Branching off

When, in the course of history, was “scientific” magic discovered? The farther back you put this defining event, the less the final result will look like our world. Humans have an amazing capability to adapt new things to their use, and magic would be no different.

Take our own world, for instance. If magic had come into being, say, on December 21, 2012, the world as we know it would be largely the same. (I actually had an idea for a story based on this very topic, years ago, but I never got around to making it.) Three years isn’t that much time, after all. We’d probably just be seeing the first stirrings of a magical revolution right now.

Move the magical zero-hour back, though, and things begin to happen. Anywhere within an average lifetime, and the world doesn’t change enough to be unrecognizable, but you get lots of fun what-if questions. What if Osama bin Laden had access to magic in 2001? What if NASA had magical air-recycling in the 70s? What if the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were magically-enhanced? Or, for that matter, what if the Japanese had magical defenses against them?

Beyond a lifetime, the possibilities start to get too much. World War I is just now at the edge of living memory, but imagine if it was the first magical war. The body counts might have been even higher, the damage to the land far worse. Or things could have been changed for the better. Who knows? Wars are the easiest to speculate about, but any historical event could have gone differently if magic had been involved. And then everything would change.

Once you go back far enough, and once magic gets powerful enough, civilization itself turns out differently. If you have magical means of sending messages across miles, who needs radio? Magical copying can eliminate the need not just for electronic copiers, but for the printing press, too. If running water can be provided by a spirit of a river that anyone can tame, then why would you ever invent the aqueduct?

Not just invention, but every facet of life can be changed through the proper application of magic. Travelers could move about at night with magical illumination sources. A “ray of frost” spell is going to be a big boost to the study of heat transfer. “Flesh to stone” can take the place of mausoleum statues. The list goes on ad infinitum, because there’s nothing that wouldn’t be different in a world full of verifiable, technical magic. Even literature wouldn’t be immune. Sword-and-sorcery fantasy in such a world would probably be more of a satirical, comedic genre, or maybe a stylized look at the real world. The true literary heroes might become those who did great deeds without magical help.

How much do you need?

This is a rabbit hole that goes on forever, and it’s easy to get lost in it. For somebody trying to create the illusion of a techno-magic world, I can only offer a little advice.

First, decide on answers to the two questions above. Figure out where magic changes the “natural” order of history (even if you’re making a fantasy world). Work out what kind of magic the people would have access to, and how many of them can use it. The decisions you make here affect everything else, so they’re the most important.

Second, you can “cheat” by saying that just about everything that happened before magic matches up with our world. The precise details won’t be the same, but a world where magic was discovered in Roman times would probably have something resembling a Stone Age and a Bronze Age before that. Basically, any invention from before your branching point gets in for free, and you can work from there.

Third, think about what you need. Sure, it’s fun to explore the different possibilities, the different paths of the butterfly effect, but you do need to remember the needs of your story. Magical, oceangoing ships without sails might be interesting, but people living in a landlocked city-state probably won’t care about them, so a story set there might only mention them in passing, such as a brief phrase dropped in a traveler’s tale.

Fourth, use logic. That’s the whole point of technological magic, that it works the same as science. Wands of magic missile can replace guns, sure, but if they’re easy (and cheap) enough to make, then they would replace guns just about everywhere. Probably bows, too. Hunters would use them, and so would assassins. If that changeover is far enough in the past, society might completely forget how to make guns. (And that could make an interesting story hook, if I do say so myself.)

Finally, resist the urge to stagnate. If magic replaces technology, that doesn’t mean that progress stops. No, it just starts going in a different direction. It’s humanity’s unspoken desire to evolve, and the history of civilization is that of people coming together to change their environment to better suit them. That won’t stop simply because magic becomes involved. In many cases, industrial magic might cause things to speed up. If we can make things fly using magic in the High Middle Ages, then Da Vinci, the Montgolfiers, and the Wrights never need to design or build gliders, hot-air balloons, and airplanes. Magical airships, ornithopters, or the like would be a common sight to them, so why bother making something less powerful, less efficient, and more dangerous?

Going deeper

In case you couldn’t tell, I really like these thought experiments. I want to do more of them. I want to follow the rabbit hole deeper. Maybe it’s not everybody’s cup of tea. Maybe you’re satisfied with Generic Medieval Europe With Wizards. That’s fine. I understand that, and sometimes it’s just what I need, too. But I definitely want to keep exploring the intersection of magic and science. I can’t promise it will be a regular, weekly thing, but I’ll put them in every now and then.

Let’s make a language – Part 3b: Language Types (Conlangs)

On the 2D “grid” of languages we saw last week, where do our two conlangs fall? We’ll take each of them in turn.


Since Isian is intended to be simple and familiar, I’ve decided to make it similar to English in this respect. Isian will have a lot of isolating features, but compound words can be made through agglutination. However, there will be a few fusional bits here and there. We might consider these “legacy” aspects of the language, something like how English still distinguishes subject and object, but only in pronouns.

Most of the morphemes in Isian will be free. Bound morphemes will be a fairly restricted set of affixes, mostly grammatical in nature, but with a few “learned” compounding affixes, analogous to English’s Latin borrowings: pre-, inter-, etc. Owing to Isian’s smaller phonology, a lot of morphemes will be two or even three syllables, but the most common are the most likely to be short.


With Ardari, we can be more ambitious. We’ll make it a more polysynthetic language, leaning agglutinative, but with some fusional aspects, too. In other words, Ardari will have a lot of word-making suffixes and prefixes, and plenty of grammatical attachments. Some of those will have a single meaning, while others will come in a fusional set.

Like Isian, though, those bits will tend to be older, even antiquated. It’s a common theme in natural languages: fusional aspects tend to disappear over time. Look at Latin and its daughter languages. Sure, Spanish (and Italian, and French, and…) kept the verbal conjugations. But noun case is all but gone, and French shows us that spoken verbs aren’t exactly untouchable. The same thing happened with English, but long ago. (If you don’t believe me, look up some Old English. We lost our cases, too, but our cousin, German, still has them.)

Since we have more sounds to work with, Ardari will have quite a few more morphemes of a single syllable, but two will still be common, and three won’t be entirely unheard of. On the whole, though, an Ardari text will tend to be shorter than its Isian equivalent, if harder to pronounce and translate.

The Words

Now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Here’s the first basic vocabulary list for both of our conlangs, including an even dozen words. Obviously, these are going to be loose translations, but we’ll say that they cover the same ground as their English glosses. Also, these are simple nouns and verbs. No pronouns or adjectives yet, because we don’t really know what form they’ll take. (If you’re wondering, the Ardari verbs end in dashes because those are only the roots. We haven’t yet seen how to make the inflected forms.)

English Isian Ardari
man sam kona
house talar tyèk
dog hu rhasa
sun sida chi
water shos obla
fire cay aghli
food tema fès
walk coto brin-
see chere ivit-
eat hama tum-
live liga derva-
build oste moll-

Next Time

In the next post, we’ll take a break from our methodical, studious approach and digress into the wonderful world of nouns. We’ve already got seven of them up there, but we’ll come out with plenty more. After that, we’ll do the same for verbs, and then we’ll start to look at how we can take both of them and combine them into sentences.

Phaser 2.4 released

A while back I mentioned that I thought Phaser was a good choice for beginners of game development. It’s well-supported, it’s popular on browsers and mobile devices, and it uses the current most popular language: JavaScript.

Now, the guys behind Phaser have released version 2.4, and it has quite a few changes and updates. Most people will be gushing over the support for boned animation and video, but there are a few nuggets hidden in the changelog that might be just as useful. Let’s see what we can find, eh?

  • Phaser.Text no longer extends PIXI.Text but replaces it entirely. Phaser.Text now natively extends a Phaser Sprite, meaning it can be enabled for physics, damaged, etc.

On the surface, not a huge change, mostly just back-end stuff. But look at the second half of the entry: text objects are now sprites in their own right. That actually makes the code for a lot of games much easier, simply because we can use all the sprite methods on text. Think of, say, a word puzzle, where every word (or letter) can be made into its own sprite.

  • Mouse.button and MSPointer.button have been deprecated and are no longer set (they remain at -1). They never supported complex button events such as holding down 2 buttons and releasing just one, or any buttons other than left and right. They have been replaced with the far more robust and accurate Pointer DeviceButton properties such as Pointer.leftButton, Pointer.rightButton and so on.

This (and a handful of entries following it) is another step towards “unifying” control schemes. It’s annoying to have to write separate code to handle the mouse and a touchscreen. Now we don’t have to. Of course, you still need to compensate for the fact that a mouse can have nearly pixel-perfect accuracy, whereas fingers are lucky to get within about a centimeter of their target.

  • Added support for the Creature Automated Animation Tool. You can now create a Phaser.Creature object which uses json data and a texture atlas for the animations. Creature is a powerful animation tool, similar to Spriter or Spine. It is currently limited to WebGL games only, but the new libs should prove a solid starting point for anyone wanting to incorporate Creature animations into their games.

This is the one everybody’s talking about. To be honest, it doesn’t intrigue me as much. Creature is just one commercial, proprietary tool among many. Show me an open standard for 2D bones, and then I’ll get excited.

  • Loader.video allows you to load a video file into Phaser. It works in the same way as Loader.audio, allowing you to pass an array of video files – and it will load the first one the device is capable of playing back. You can optionally load the video via xhr where the video data is converted to a Blob upon successful load.

Video is cool, no doubt about it. But the whole field of in-browser video is a disaster area. Format support, patents, DRM, it’s all enough to make somebody swear off the whole thing forever. Still, if you can figure out a way to use it safely and easily, more power to you. Maybe it’ll lead to a revival of FMV games.

  • Text.setTextBounds is a rectangular region that allows you to align your text within it, regardless of the number of lines of text or position within the world. [ed: I removed the example, shout-out, and issue number]

More text rendering goodness. I can’t complain. This and other additions simplify the task of making a text-heavy game, something most game engines (not only HTML5, and not only free) make absurdly difficult.

  • Keyboard.addKeys is a practical way to create an object containing user selected hotkeys. [ed: Same removals here.]

Better keyboard support is a good thing in any engine, especially as so many are trying to forget that a physical keyboard even exists. And an easier way to support hotkeys can never be bad, because they’re one of the most annoying parts of a control scheme.

  • All Game Objects and Groups have a new boolean property called pendingDestroy. If you set this to true then the object will automatically destroy itself in the next logic update, rather than immediately. [ed: Removed use case and call-out.]

Godot has this same thing (as queue_free()), and it’s very helpful there. In a language full of callbacks (like JS), it’s even more necessary. Again, this isn’t something you want to scream out from the rooftop, but it’s a subtle change that eliminates a whole class of coding errors. Who could ever argue with that?

  • All Signals now have the ability to carry extra custom arguments with them, which are passed on to the callback you define after any internal arguments. [ed: Same removals here.]

A good customization point that’s never going to be important enough to mention in a press release. But it’s nice to have, and it simplifies some common tasks.

  • Phaser.Create is a new class that allows you to dynamically generate sprite textures from an array of pixel data, without needing any external files. We’ll continue to improve this over the coming releases, but for now please see the new examples showing how to use it.

Depending on how this plays out, it could be a great addition to an already excellent engine. A lot of designers absolutely hate generated textures, but I like them. Get some good noise algorithms in there, and you could do some wonderful things.

There’s a lot more in there, and I do mean a lot. And Phaser 3 should be coming within the next year or so, although release dates always have a tendency to…slip. But this 2.4 release does help cement Phaser as the forerunner for HTML5 game development. For coders rather than designers, there’s really not a better option, and I’ll continue to recommend Phaser for anybody that wants to get started with game coding. Unity’s great and all, but it’s a lot more complicated than popping open a text editor and a browser, you know?

Medieval coinage: fantasy vs. reality

I’ve been writing these posts days (sometimes weeks) in advance. Whenever this one may be posted, it was written on 7/7, at a time when the Greek economy is making all the headlines. The talk of money is in the air, so I can’t help but think of it. And when I think of something, I want to write about it, so here you go. (Also, I’m a coin collector, so this fits into not one, but two of my hobbies.)

We all know that fantasy has a tendency to stay stuck in medieval Europe, particularly England. That time (and place) is pretty much the default setting for fantasy literature and gaming. But it’s not the real Middle Ages, only a facsimile, an idealized, romantic notion of that time. World-builders can do better than that; nowadays, they’re all but expected to. However, money is still one place where even the best games and books can trip up.

The Idea

Money is taken as a given in modern society. Whether we’re holding little discs of metal, folded bits of paper, stiff plastic, or bits and our imagination, we use money all the time. For a lot of people, it’s hard to imagine life without it. Thus, since writers write what they know, fantasy worlds almost always have a monetary system, and it’s usually far closer to ours today than those of the Middle Ages.

Money, as an idea, goes back thousands of years. For example, any coin show worth the name will have Roman specimens for sale at reasonable prices. (I bought one for my cousin as a Christmas present in 2004. It cost \$20, and it was just about the cheapest thing I got.) Since those ancient days, it’s been made pretty much constantly. The barbarian hordes of the Dark Ages minted their own coins, even after they had all but demolished the western half of the Roman Empire. Everywhere you look, there’s money. Maybe not always metal and paper, but something will have value. (In parts of America, they were using things like cocoa beans around this time.)

So there’s nothing wrong with a fantasy world having money, simply on the basis that everyone’s doing it, and they always have been. The problem lies in how that money economy is represented, especially in the time period and location we’re talking about here: Europe in the High Middle Ages.

Buy, Sell, or Trade

Not everyone had money then. Not everyone needed it. For a lot of things, you could get away with barter, especially if you were a member of the lower classes (like most people were). You also had the option of payment “in kind”, which was almost the same thing, except that it was a one-way street: you pay your taxes in grain, or cows, or whatever. In a feudal society with heavy serfdom, this works, since the peasantry wouldn’t be buying much, anyway. For games, though, this has its drawbacks, as players want loot, and they almost always want it in cold, hard cash. (Banished, however, is notable for getting away with a lack of money, since it’s a city-building game emphasizing resource management.)

Players want money. Readers expect it. So what’s a writer to do? Well, if you want medieval money, you need to know what money was like in those times. So the rest of the post can serve as a primer to the currency of the Middle Ages.

A Note on Units

For measuring precious metals such as gold and silver, the traditional “Customary” system uses a few units that may seem odd to non-Americans used to the metric system. (In fact, they can be confusing for Americans, too.)

Specifically, precious metals are measured using troy units. The smallest unit is the grain, which was originally based on the weight of a grain of barley; in metric terms, it’s about 64.8 mg. The troy ounce is 480 grains (~= 31.1 g), and the troy pound is 12 ounces = 5760 grains ~= 373.2 g. (Note that this is not the same as the “regular” avoirdupois pound, where 1 pound = 16 ounces ~= 454 g.) We’ll see these units later on, but I’ll try to add in metric equivalents.

Silver: Economic Workhorse

The most common coins in the Middle Ages were made of silver, sometimes nearly pure, but usually alloyed with base metals. Most countries at the time used a system based on the old Roman coinage, where a pound of silver (hence pound sterling) was divided into 240 parts, each making a penny. (The specific amount of weight varied based on the pound used, as different places had different standard weights, but the nominal value is obviously 24 grains, or ~ 1.56 g.) Between the penny and the pound was the shilling, worth 12 pence or 1/20 of a pound, although no actual shilling coin was minted in Britain until around 1500, well after the High Middle Ages.

These are the English names for these specific coins, but other locales in Europe used their own variations. France had the livre (the French word for “pound”), the sou (1/20 of a livre), and the denier (1/12 of a sou). In Italy, it was the lira, soldo, and denari. The states of the Holy Roman Empire had pfunds, schillings, and pfennigs. All of these are translations or descendants of the Roman libra, solidus, and denarius, the forebears of the system.

Pennies, whatever name they go by, were the main currency (when currency was used) for everyone outside the nobility, but they were tiny. The baseline for fantasy RPGs, Dungeons & Dragons (or simply D&D), has its generic “silver piece” coin defined as 50 to the pound, or about 9.4 g. Real pennies were far smaller, rarely heavier than 1.5 g, and often less than one gram. (Not only that, but they often became debased as time went on, meaning you got less and less actual silver content. It was the medieval equivalent to inflation.) Clearly, D&D is way off.

There were other silver coins in use at the time, though, and many of these were bigger. In England, for instance, we have the groat, equal to 4 pence and weighing 4.67 g in 1351. This larger coin was a model going around Europe at the time, also appearing as the French gros, Italian grosso, and German groschen. Most of the time it was valued as four pennies, like in England, but some places had it as six (Genoa), twelve (France and some of Italy), or twenty (Venice). Some places also had a half-groat (2 pence in England) to split the difference between the two main silver coins.

For larger “purchases”, you didn’t necessarily have to have a bag full of coins. Silver bars were still commonly used for trade in the medieval period, and the closest thing to a standard unit for them was the mark, equal to half a pound = 8 ounces ~= 186.6 g. (In D&D terms, this would be around 30 silver pieces.)

Gold: Ooh, Shiny!

Gold, of course, has been valuable forever, and for good reason. Gold coins are some of the oldest in existence, dating back millennia. Focusing on our medieval period, we can see that gold is still valuable, still in use here. Early in the Middle Ages, it wasn’t quite as visible, a bit like \$100 (or €100, I think?) bills today. Later on, though, as wages went up and fineness came down, gold coins became more popular.

The gold standard (see what I did there?) of coinage in medieval Europe was the florin. Obviously, it originally came from Florence, but it was soon copied all over the continent. Florence’s version was as pure as they could make it, and it weighed in around 3.5 g, with a value equal to 1 pound (lira) of silver. Venice followed with the ducat, France with the ècu, and so on. England, after an aborted attempt at mimicking the Continent, made its “noble”, equal to 1/3 of a pound sterling (80 pence) and weighing almost 9 g. (This was very close, in fact, to a D&D gold piece.)

Spain, too, went its own way, taking the maravedi from Arabic coinage. It started out roughly the same as a florin (albeit a century earlier), but greed and inflation took their toll. By 1300, the maravedi no longer had any gold in it. Debasement had turned it into a silver coin. Fifty years later, it wasn’t even that, relegated to a unit of account until the colonization of the New World brought a greater need for Spanish small change.

Copper: Of Little Worth

Copper pieces are a staple of fantasy, especially “low” fantasy more interested in the peasantry than the gentry. But that’s a bit of an anachronism. Copper coinage wasn’t widely used in the High Middle Ages. There simply wasn’t much need, as nobody really wanted to buy anything worth so little that copper would be useful. Later in the period, though, copper coins did become popular, starting as heavily-debased silver “white money”, then becoming the even worse “black money”, before finally removing the precious metal altogether.

It’s really in the later 14th century that copper money gets its start. Usually, it comes about as prices fall and cities grow. Urbanites need more small change than rural farmers, as they tend to deal in smaller quantities. In Italy, where urbanism was at its strongest, copper comes into its own, but the whole thing was a mess of different denominations from different cities.

In general, by 1400 a lot of pennies were on their way to becoming full copper, but they were still technically considered silver coins. England, that favorite of fantasy, was the exception: official copper pieces weren’t minted at all until well after the Middle Ages. Instead, tokens of lead were made to trade in smaller amounts.

For roleplayers, copper pieces are all but useless, almost a joke. But fantasy writers might need small change to put in the pockets of their poor. Well, as long as they’re in a city.

Platinum: Not Even There

D&D defines a platinum piece as 10 gold pieces (or 100, if you’re playing 4th Edition). But there’s a big problem: platinum effectively didn’t exist in the Middle Ages, at least not in Europe. There is evidence of its use among natives in South America, but it wasn’t actually used by Europeans until the 18th century. So, if you’re going for realism, you won’t have platinum coins at all. Of course, fantasy dwarves might use it, and magic may make it easier to find, but that’s a topic for a different day.

Paper: Folding Money

Paper money quite obviously requires paper, which didn’t get big in Europe until the end of the High Middle Ages. Bills of sale existed, though, and these eventually evolved into checks, then to paper money.

A serious paper currency requires a printing press, which, strictly speaking, puts it just outside the Middle Ages. But older methods of printing (woodblocks, for example) could work, too. It wouldn’t be anything like today’s paper economy, but there’s nothing stopping it. It’s just not entirely historical. Obviously, fantasy doesn’t have to worry about that; magic might be able to replace the press. (One of my favorite book series, Daniel Abraham’s Dagger and the Coin, actually uses the invention of paper money as a plot point.)

The Buck Stops Here

Cultures in Middle Ages Europe, broadly speaking, did have a monetary system. It’s not much like our own, but it’s equally distinct from the faux-medieval ideas shown in fantasy literature and gaming. Players of RPGs might not like the complexity of the real thing, but authors surely do. But even they are guilty of anachronism. Even the notion of decimal currency (100 cents to the dollar, pennies to the pound, etc.) was unfamiliar seven centuries ago. Standard weights existed, but each country (in some cases, each city) had its own standard. I doubt anyone would want to play out the process of getting your foreign loot exchanged into local coin, but it wouldn’t be nearly as out of place as knights carrying platinum pieces.

Okay, I’ve gone on far longer than I first anticipated. Time to stop.

Let’s make a language – Part 3a: Language Types (Intro)

The sounds a language contains can go a long way toward giving that language a specific “feel”. But the very structure of the words themselves creates another kind of feel. Think of German, with its immensely long words full of consonants. Compare that to Chinese words, short and to the point, but combined in numerous ways to make new phrases. Latin has tables of declensions, as any student knows, while English gets by with only a few variations in its word forms.

All of this comes under the field of morphology, which is, in essence, a parallel to phonology. Where phonology is concerned with a language’s sound inventory, morphology goes up to the next step: the building blocks of words. Not necessarily the words themselves, as we shall see. But first, we need to meet the morpheme.

The Morpheme

A phoneme, as we know, is the most basic unit of sound distinguished in a language. By analogy, then, a morpheme is the basic unit of grammar. This may surprise some people. After all, aren’t words the smallest part of grammar?

Well, sometimes. Words can be made of a single morpheme, and English has plenty of examples: dog, walk, I. These are called free morphemes, because they can stand alone as words in their own right. In contrast, the English plural ending -s and the past tense suffix -ed can’t be alone. They have to be attached to other morphemes to create a legitimate word, so we call them bound morphemes. Thus, the English sentence I walked the dogs has four words, but a total of six morphemes.

Languages can divide up their morphemes, free and bound, in numerous ways, but they can all be defined in two dimensions. First, how many morphemes are there in a word? Or, to put it another way, what’s the ratio of free to bound?

Isolating vs. Polysynthetic

This distinction is an easy one to think about. Look at English words like predestination or internationalization. They’re big words, and they have a lot of morphemes. “Internationalization”, as an example, has the free (“root”) morpheme nation surrounded by the bound morphemes inter-, -al, -ize, and -ation, for a total of five.

Not every language is like English, though. Many, instead, only really allow one or two morphemes per word, preferring to build their larger “words” as phrases constructed from multiple free roots. The Chinese languages are well-known examples of this style. They, and those like them, are called isolating languages, since their words are “isolated”, or able to stand alone.

The other extreme is exemplified by languages such as those of the Eskimo and Inuit peoples. Here, words can be constructed to mean entire sentences, and they are full of bound morphemes. Not only is the marker for tense stuck to the verb, but verbs and nouns themselves are welded together, and the whole thing becomes a single word. To demonstrate, I’ll copy Wikipedia’s example, the Yupik word tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq, meaning “He had not yet said again that he was going to hunt reindeer.” Wow. (By the way, this is one reason for the linguistic urban legend that the Eskimos have a hundred words for snow. Sure they do, if you count something that means “it’s going to snow tomorrow morning” as a word. But they certainly don’t have that many free morphemes that convey the meaning of “snow”.) Languages like these, where there are often many morphemes in a word, most of them bound, not allowed to stand by themselves, are called polysynthetic languages.

Of course, a language can be in the middle of this spectrum. Isolating versus polysynthetic isn’t a binary choice. English, after all, has plenty of cases of both isolation and (mild) polysynthesis. Indeed, most of the more common languages of the world fall near the muddy center of the continuum. Chinese, of course, is very isolating. English is kind of right in the middle. Turkish and Finnish are quite polysynthetic, though more of a type that we’ll see below. French manages to put one foot in either world, with a highly isolating written language that’s often spoken like it’s polysynthetic.

Conlangs tend to follow their authors’ leanings. Some like the exotic allure of polysynthetic languages, while others choose the stark simplicity of the isolating. Most, though, are somewhere in between, like the native tongues of their creators. Certainly, an auxiliary language shouldn’t be nearly as polysynthetic as Inuktitut. But that same style can definitely give an alien vibe to an otherwise simple language. An isolating style, on the other hand, could conjure up images of the East, or of Pacific pidgins and creoles.

Agglutinating vs. Fusional

For those languages that have them (purely isolating languages need not apply), bound morphemes are often used to indicate grammatical relationships. Again, we can look at English: plural -s, past tense -ed, etc. Most of these have a specific meaning, but not all. On verbs, -s marks the third person, but only the singular version: compare “he walks” and “they walk”. This is the second “dimension” of a language, and it asks, “How much meaning does a bound morpheme have?”

Like above, there are two paths we can choose. With a few exceptions (like verbal -s), English takes the “one morpheme, one meaning” approach. Thus, it’s fair to say that English is an agglutinating language. Turkish is a popular example of taking this to the extreme, as Turkish verbs can have a string of suffixes: one for person, one for tense, and so on. German’s interminable compounds are much the same, but with more “meaning” for each morpheme beyond mere grammatical marking.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have the fusional languages including, for instance, the Romance family. Take the Spanish word amó, which we can translate as “she loved”. We’ve got a root am- (amar in its dictionary form) and a suffix , and that’s it. But we know that it’s in the third person, past tense, and singular. (Spanish doesn’t distinguish gender in verb conjugation, though, so it could equally mean “he loved”.) Three separate meanings “fused” into a single suffix. And we know this by looking at a Spanish conjugation table. Change the person to first, and the word must become amé. Plural instead of singular? You have to say amaron. Want it to be in the future, rather than the past? It’s now amará. Alter any one part, and you need a whole new morpheme.

Like in the first case above, few languages fall on the absolute extremes of the agglutinative/fusional spectrum. English is mostly agglutinative, Spanish mostly fusional, but both have exceptions. The fusional type, though, seems a bit more popular in Europe (as you can see from the number of languages with declensions and inflections and make it stop), meaning that it’s better represented at the top of the chart. But even Europe has its agglutinative sect: English and Finnish, among others. Elsewhere, it really depends.

For conlangs, it still depends. Westerners are familiar with fusional languages, but agglutinating has a mechanical appeal, and it’s definitely a lot easier to work with. Auxiliary languages might be best served by a hybrid approach, where there are mostly agglutinative elements, but a few fusional aspects added where they can simplify things (like English’s verbal -s). (And if you’re making a purely isolating language, you can completely ignore the whole thing!)

Next Time

In the next post, we’ll look at Isian and Ardari and how they fit into the two-dimensional world of isolating and fusional and agglutinating and polysynthetic. The results may shock you! Oh, and we’ll also start making actual words in our two conlangs. Yes, finally.

A simple constexpr power function (C++)

Since C++11, programmers have been given the power of compile-time calculation without the hassles of template metaprogramming. (And they are hassles, believe me.) The canonical example is a factorial function completely evaluated by the compiler, but here’s another, different use, one that has much more utility.

The Power Function

It’s a sad fact that C++ has no power operator. Sure, we have the std::pow function inherited from C, but that works at runtime, which means we can’t use it in template arguments. Most notably, we can’t say something like array<int, pow(4,4)>. In other words, we aren’t allowed to use a power function when declaring the size of a C++11 array. Most users, of course, will never need it, but you never know when it might come in handy, so here it is:

template <typename T>
constexpr T ipow(T num, unsigned int pow)
    return (pow >= sizeof(unsigned int)*8) ? 0 :
        pow == 0 ? 1 : num * ipow(num, pow-1);

There are a few caveats. First, it’s (obviously) a template, so you can use it on integers, doubles, or anything else that has a binary operator* (i.e., the arithmetic one, not the pointer one). All it does is the classic “raise to a power” algorithm: repeatedly multiply a number by itself. Like the typical factorial function, it’s really written in a function mode. It even has a proper tail call, if you’re into that sort of thing. Incidentally, that’s why the second argument (the power to raise to) must be an unsigned int: you can’t use the elementary-school method with fractional powers, and raising an integer to a negative power gives you a fraction, which means that there could be type issues.

The second thing to notice is that it could use some better error handling. I put a check in to keep somebody from calling it with some huge power like 1,000,000, but all it does is return 0. It should probably throw an exception, instead. Maybe I’ll change it in version 2.

Last, this clearly won’t be useful for a class where “raise to a power” isn’t the same thing as “multiply by itself over and over”. But if I had to guess, I’d say that there aren’t too many places where you’d want to raise that kind of object to a power at compile-time. I’d love to see a counterexample, though.

Anyway, that’s all for this time. I intend to expand on this idea (complex arithmetic at compile-time) later, so I’ll see you then.

On magic and technology

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” says Clarke’s third law. But the reverse is true, too, especially in fantasy. It’s a staple of the genre that magic exists (at some level), but there are few authors who take the time to truly illustrate that fact. If magic exists in any predictable form (not just, for example, as the powers of capricious gods), then it can and will be predicted, if human evolution is any indication. In a few thousand years, we’ve gone from hunters and gatherers to spacefarers, and we’ve used everything at our disposal to get there. Why wouldn’t we use magic, too, if we could?

Fantasy, particularly high fantasy, apparently doesn’t work that way. Magic is often seen as a natural force that can’t truly be harnessed, even by those mages who wield it. Very rarely are its effects on society shown, and then usually as something like an evil wizard overlord terrorizing his subjects or a land made inhospitable by a magical explosion.

But we can do better. Indeed, some authors do go to the trouble of working out the consequences of their world-building. (Whatever your opinions on his writing and stories, Brandon Sanderson is certainly one of these, and he’s only one of the most popular.) Fantasy doesn’t have to be restricted to the generic European Middle Ages setting, nor should it be. In science fiction, it’s common to take a single development (the invention of faster-than-light travel, say) and write a story around the fallout of that development. My argument, then, is that fantasy authors should do the same kind of world-building, even if it’s only for background, because it creates a deeper, more immersive world.

So, we’ll assume that we all agree that fantasy needs world-building, too. And fantasy’s replacement for advanced technology is magic. Thus, it stands to reason that magic is the focal point for our world. Now, we can ask a few questions about that magic, and we can follow a logical path to a magical world.

How many mages?

First, just how common is magic? Are there only a few mages in the world? Or even a single one? Lord of the Rings, for instance, only has a handful of magic users in all of Middle-Earth. Although they’re pivotal to the plot, they don’t really affect the world all that much. By contrast, a series like Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera has a world where essentially everybody uses magic, and it’s a whole different place.

If magic is all-powerful (or even just plain powerful), and there aren’t that many mages, then those lucky few are probably going to be in positions of power. There’s no real reason they won’t be. Think of Watchmen, but imagine that they’re wizards instead of superheroes. For that matter, think of Sauron. If there are only, say, a dozen wizards in the world, but they can call down the wrath of the gods, they won’t be advisors to kings. They’ll be the kings. You’ll need some serious contrivances to make a realistic case that a handful of powerful mages won’t be the leaders of the known world. Gandalf, for example, is truly good, but even he admits he can be tempted by the power of the One Ring. The same for Galadriel, with her “in place of the dark lord, you would have a queen” speech.

Give the world more magic users, and things begin to change, as long as their power is “diluted” by numbers. One mage in every city, easily killed if you can get the jump on him, might still lust for power, but he won’t be able to get as much of it. Put a low-level mage in every village and town, and it becomes just another craft like smithing. This is the default assumption of the sword and sorcery genre, especially that based on tabletop RPGs.

With magic slightly uncommon (somewhere on the order of one wizard for every thousand people), users will be respected, but not deified. And that’s a lot of mages: that same ratio would give us seven million magic users today. In other words, everybody in Hong Kong is a wizard. Somewhere around this point, the medieval/D&D assumptions go out the window. Sure, you’d probably have magical schools and guilds, but the world would change drastically.

Go to the extreme, let everybody tap the power of the arcane, and the world is a totally different place. At this point, you’re not really writing about the human race anymore. You’re writing about a race of mages that look human. If magic is that common, it won’t live alongside technology at all. Instead, it might entirely take technology’s place. Why invent a lighter when a fire spell works even better? If you can concentrate energy into a tiny ball of lightning, then who needs electricity? Working out the specifics of a “ubiquitous magic” setting is a topic for a later post, but you should try to imagine the repercussions of giving magic to the whole world.

What kind of magic?

What does magic do? Can it be used to create, or only destroy? In Scott Bakker’s Prince of Nothing series (and its sequels), it’s an overriding theme that sorcerers can only mar the world’s perfection, like a child’s scribbles across a painting. They can’t make things truly beautiful. They can’t remake things. Magic is, to a first approximation, only destructive. (There’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s the general idea.) D&D’s Dark Sun setting is another take on this “creation and destruction” dichotomy.

In a world like this, where magic can only be used to harm, not help, it will certainly be weaponized. That’s just human nature. We’re always looking for better ways to kill (and to protect ourselves). But destructive magic will also have use outside of warfare, just like guns today. Destructive magic could still be used for the benefit of society. Think building demolition, clearing weeds from a field, mining, and even simple hunting.

If you allow for creative magics, then a whole new world opens up. Magic can become an art form, a craftsman’s tool, in addition to being a weapon of conquest or defense. In a “binary” world of creative and destructive magic, users of either side might actually work together, each using their own specialties. After all, building a house takes more than a construction crew. Sometimes, you need bulldozers.

With a magic system that divides the arcane into smaller pieces (elements, colleges, or whatever you want to call them), you start to get a rich background ripe for factional conflict. But there will also be knock-on effects in society at large. Fire mages would be awfully popular in the frozen wastelands of the north, while water or weather wizards could take the place of irrigation systems in arid regions. Magic then becomes a trade, and therefore subject to economic forces like supply and demand. (Again, the full ramifications can wait until a future post, but feel free to speculate.)

Other ideas

There are so many “what if?” questions one could ask about magic that a single post can never answer them. I couldn’t even begin to try. But here are a few that I feel are worthy of note. What if…:

  • …magic is technology? Namely, it’s the machinery of a long-lost civilization. This neatly ties back into Clarke’s law by making magic and advanced tech equal, instead of merely equivalent.

  • …magic is new to the world? If we discovered magic next year (i.e., 2016), then the world in, say, 2066 would be far different than if magic was first found in 1066.

  • …magic is religious? Honestly, I don’t see that changing much. Clerics and wizards aren’t that different. As long as it’s predictable and testable, it doesn’t matter whether magic comes from God, the earth, ley lines, or solar radiation.

  • …our enemies obtain magic? It’s no different from any other weapon of mass destruction, really. Sure, the idea of ISIS with guns and fireballs might be terrifying, but, unless magic makes them invincible, there’s only so much they can do.

  • …magic changes you? Plenty of authors have tried this one. (Hopefully, I’ll be guilty of it by this time next year.) The use of sorcery–since it’s usually called such in those settings–taints your soul, destroys your mind, or wrecks your body. In that case, yeah, mages might limit the use of their power, but that would actually serve to make magic seem more…magical. Fireworks would lose their luster if they weren’t limited to the Fourth of July and New Year’s. Plus, magic that can only be used so many times would be saved for the times when it’s really needed, and that sounds like an interesting story to me.

The end…?

I’ll write more on this subject later. An idea I have (that I may not actually do) is a whole constructed culture, similar to the “Let’s make a language” series, but exploring the ways a culture is shaped by its environment, its history, and itself. That’s for later, though. For the next post, I want to take our idea above–magic as technology–and run it to its logical conclusion: “magitech”.

Let’s make a language – Part 2b: Syllables and Stress (Conlangs)

Okay, last time we ran a bit long. This one should be fairly short. Today, we’ll look at the syllable structure and stress patterns of our two conlangs, Isian and Ardari. There’s no sense wasting time; let’s get right to it!


Isian, remember, is going to be the simpler of the two, so we’ll start with it. Isian syllables, for the sake of simplicity, will be of the form CVC. In other words, we can have a consonant on either side of a vowel. We don’t have to, of course. Syllables like an or de are just fine. CVC is the “maximum” complexity we can have.

Obviously, the V can stand for any vowel. (It’d be kind of silly to have a vowel you couldn’t use, wouldn’t it?) Similarly, the first C stands for any consonant. For the second C, the coda, that’s where things get a little more complicated. Two rules come into effect here. First, h isn’t allowed as a final consonant. That makes a lot of sense for English speakers, who find it hard to pronounce a final /h/, although it might upset speakers of other languages. Again, simple is the name of the game.

The second rule concerns diphthongs. If you’ll recall from Part 1, Isian has six of them. Here, we’ll say that /w/ and /j/ (written w and y) can only be the final consonant if they follow a, e, or o. This matches our phonology, where /ij/, /iw/, /uj/, and /uw/ aren’t allowed. Thus, diphthongs can be neatly analyzed as nothing more than a combination of vowel and consonant.

Moving on, we’ll give Isian a fixed stress: always on the penultimate syllable. So a word like baro will always be pronounced /ˈbaro/, never /baˈro/. Words with three syllables follow the same pattern: lamani is /laˈmani/. Since a diphthong is just a vowel plus a consonant, they don’t affect stress at all: paylow will be /ˈpajlow/.

In longer words, we’ll extend this stress in the same way. Or, to put it another way, every other syllable will get some sort of stress. A hypothetical word like solantafayan would have a secondary stress: /soˌlantaˈfajan/.

There won’t be any vowel reduction in Isian. Like Spanish, every vowel will be sounded in full, and each syllable will take up about the same time. This, combined with the regular stress, will probably give the conlang a distinct rhythm. (The dominant form of poetic meter, for example, will definitely be trochaic, and Isian musicians would probably find Western 4/4 rhythms very appealing.)


As usual, Ardari is a bit more complicated. For this language, syllables will have the structure CCVCC, and each of the four C’s will have a different set of possibilities:

  1. The first C can be any stop consonant, /m/, or /n/.
  2. The second C can be any fricative or liquid except /ɫ/, except a fricative can’t follow a nasal.
  3. V, of course, stands for any of the ten Ardari vowels.
  4. The third C is restricted to four liquid sounds: /w j ɫ ɾ/
  5. Finally, the fourth C can be any consonant except those four liquids.

Now, in addition to these definitions, Ardari syllables have a few rules about which clusters of consonants are available. In the onset, there are three broad categories: stop + fricative, stop + liquid, and nasal + liquid. The last is the smallest, so we’ll deal with it first. For that combination, there are eight possibilities: /mw mj ml mɾ nw nj nl nɾ/. Of these, we’ll say that Ardari doesn’t allow a nasal followed by /l/. Also, /nj/ isn’t that much different from /ɲ/, so we’ll say that those two sounds merge, allowing a syllable that starts with /ɲ/, but nothing else. The remaining five clusters can go in as they are.

For the combination of stop and fricative, things get trickier, because of Ardari’s rules about voicing and palatalization. Rather than a system, it might be best to show precisely which clusters are allowed:

  • Bilabial + fricative: /pɸ bβ pʁ bʁ/
  • Alveolar + fricative: /ts dz tɬ tʲs dʲz tʁ dʁ/
  • Velar + fricative: /kʁ gʁ kʲɕ gʲʑ/

For stops and liquids, we’ll do the same thing:

  • Bilabial + liquid: /pl pɾ pʲʎ pw bl bɾ bʲʎ bw/
  • Alveolar + liquid: /tw tɾ tʲɾ dw dr dʲr/
  • Velar + liquid: /kw kl kɾ kʲɾ kʲʎ gw gl gʲɾ gʲʎ/

At the end of a syllable, the clusters /ɫʁ ɾʁ ɫl ɫʎ wʎ ɾʎ ɫɲ ɾɲ/ aren’t allowed, but any others that fit the syllable structure are. (This is mainly because I find them too hard to pronounce.)

Ardari stress is free, but predictable. Syllables that have coda consonants other than just /w/ or /j/ are considered heavy, while all others are light. For most words, the stress will be on the last heavy syllable. (Secondary stress will fall on any heavy syllable not adjacent to another one.) Words with only light syllables are stressed on the penultimate, as are all words with exactly two syllables. For all of these rules, there is an overriding exception: /ɨ/ and /ə/ can never be stressed. If they would be, then the stress is moved to the next syllable. So, examples of all of these, using hypothetical words:

  • Basic stress pattern: sembina /ˈsembina/, karosti /kaˈɾosti/, dyëfar /dʲəˈfaɾ/.
  • Secondary stress in long words: andanyeskaro /ˌandaˈɲeskaɾo/.
  • Two syllables: meto /ˈmeto/, kyasayn /ˈkʲasajn/.
  • All light syllables: taralèko /taɾaˈlɛko/.
  • Stress moved because of vowel: lysmo /lɨsˈmo/, mönchado /mənˈɕado/.

Because of the vowel reduction, Ardari will likely be a more free-form language than Isian, poetically speaking. Indeed, it will probably sound a lot more like English.

Next Time

With this post, we now have enough information to start making words in both our conlangs. That may even be enough for some people. If all you need is a “naming” language, you don’t have to worry too much about grammar. That said, stick around, because there’s plenty more to see. Next up is a theory post where we begin to give our words meaning, and we find out just how many words the Eskimos have for snow. See you then!