Let’s make a language – Part 16b: Time (Isian)

I’ve been putting this off for quite a while, but now I have to make a decision for both of our example conlangs. The subject matter of this part is too tied to culture and history to ignore the problem any longer. Something has to be done.

So, here’s the dirty secret I’ve been keeping from you for the first 15 parts of this series: Isian and Ardari are languages spoken by ordinary humans. These humans live in an alternate version of our world, one about 100 years behind us in technology, but whose only other major difference is the existence of these two languages and their (entirely hypothetical) relatives. In particular, Isian fits somewhere in Central Europe, in a remote area untroubled by most of history.

Keeping time

How does this affect the language’s vocabulary of time? Well, it simplifies our job, first of all. We can assume that Isian’s speakers fit into a relatively familiar culture, one influenced enough by Western civilization that it has adopted most of our notions of how time is counted.

Isian timekeeping is centered around the day, or ja. For most, this period is divided into jamet and choc—day and night, respectively. The day starts at sidamay “dawn”, continuing through marchi “morning”, jalo “noon”, and meshul “afternoon”, before ending at sidesto “dusk”. The night begins then, with its first period the evening, or daga. This is followed by choclo “midnight”, and the nebulous, unnamed time until the next dawn.

On a more scientific level, an Isian ja contains 24 eprani “hours”. Each epran is subdivided into 60 indes, and each inde is made up of 60 tofani. (Tofan “second” is also used for the ordinal numeral “second”. This is what’s called a calque or loan translation: Isian speakers borrowed the term from the West, but translated it into their own language.) Smaller units of time aren’t yet needed.

The Isian calendar is a Western one, with a week, or eg, of seven days. Months, or nolosi, are of differing lengths, from 28 to 31 days, just like our own. There are twelve of these in a year, or egal. Two other terms are compounds made in imitation of Western practice: the polegal “decade” and the camboregal “century”, literally “10-year” and “100-year”.

More important than the individual months are kechoni, the seasons. Like many living in temperate climates, Isian speakers divide the year into four of these. Following Western tradition, the year starts in gulis “winter”. In order, the others are lalis, khehas, and awash. And all the seasons have a nice set of holidays, or deljat.

The order of events

The adverb nec refers to “now”, roughly the current time. A number of other adjectives and adverbs exist in Isian to speak of periods relative to this moment. We can, for instance, talk of past, present, and future events: tesman, dandas, and imbas, respectively. Something could have happened opani “recently”, or it may instead occur ebani “soon”.

Most people are marni “on time”. Some lucky few, however, are ker “early”. And we all know someone who is habitually falor “late”.

Today is always neyja, no matter which day it actually is. The day before that, yesterday, is perja. Conversely, tomorrow will ever be boja.

We also have a few time-related verbs to introduce. A specific action can begin (nawe) and end (tarki). Sometimes we have to pause (gahi) it, only to continue (etenawe) again later. Finally, too much time is wasted when we have to wait (holca).

Word List

Instead of a big table containing all the words, I’m formatting these in a series of lists, each covering one broad segment of this post’s topic. The Isian words and phrases are in italics. Also, these words are chosen from Rick Harrison’s excellent Universal Language Dictionary; I’ll likely be using it for future posts in this vein.

Relative terms

These are words which identify a time with respect to another, usually the present. Many are adjectives, and these are regularly converted to adverbs by using hi, as seen in Part 9.

  • early: ker
  • eventually: imbasgo hi
  • future: imbas
  • late: falor
  • long ago: tesmango hi
  • now: nec
  • on time: marni
  • past: tesman
  • present: dandas
  • recently: opani
  • soon: ebani
  • today: neyja (hi)
  • tomorrow: boja (hi)
  • yesterday: perja (hi)

Units of time

This set of words specifically represents amounts of time. Grammatically, they are all nouns.

  • century: camboregal
  • day (period): ja
  • decade: polegal
  • hour: epran
  • minute: inde(s)
  • moment: mim
  • month: nolos
  • period: sudad
  • second: tofan
  • week: eg
  • year: egal


These are terms referring to parts of a day or year. Most are nouns, and a few are compounds formed in the manner described in Part 14.

  • afternoon: meshul
  • date: jani
  • dawn: sidamay
  • day (time): jamet
  • dusk: sidesto
  • evening: daga
  • fall (autumn): awash
  • holiday: delja
  • midnight: choclo
  • morning: marchi(r)
  • night: choc
  • noon: jalo
  • season: kechon
  • spring (season): lalis
  • summer: khehas
  • twilight: jachoc
  • winter: gulis


This is a set of “other” time words. I didn’t really discuss many of these in the body of the post, but Isian is supposed to be familiar, so most are fairly close in connotation to their English glosses.

  • again: jon (or et-)
  • age: res
  • already: nenumi
  • always: sotanum
  • ever: esenum
  • interval: num
  • irregular: anuritan
  • long (duration): lum
  • never: anum
  • new: ekho
  • often: nungo hi
  • old: afed
  • rarely: nuchi hi
  • regular: nurit
  • short (duration): wis
  • still: numida
  • time (abstract): khorom
  • time (instance): num
  • to begin: nawe
  • to continue: etenawe
  • to end: tarki
  • to pause: gahi
  • to stop: tarca
  • to wait: holca
  • young: manir

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