Release: Fortress of Steel, part 1 (Modern Minds 4)

It’s time for a new Modern Minds short story. This time around, it’s Part 1 of “Fortress of Steel”. As always, we’ll start with the blurb:

Dirk is a young man looking for his future. His mind holds a secret strength, a defense few can understand, let alone break. Yet that very power will lead him further into the hidden world he has only just glimpsed, a world of mystery, wonder, and danger.

Head on over to my Patreon (at least until it gets shut down!) to pick this one up. All you need is to subscribe at my Serious Reader level, which only costs you $3/month. That’s not much at all. And you’ll get the conclusion of this one when it comes out in August.

To share or not to share

Comic books have a long history of being set in a “shared” universe, and that has, in recent years, bled over into the movies and TV series made from them. Witness Marvel’s numerous offerings, how they all interconnect. Characters cross over, as can villains and plotlines. Major story events can reverberate through half a dozen individual series. (DC tried this, too, but they can’t seem to get it right the way their biggest rival does.)

In the world of “real” books, this kind of thing is not too common. That doesn’t mean it’s unknown, however. And there are a couple of ways to go about it. One might say that the Dune setting, for example, is a shared universe, as it has multiple authors working in the same world, under the same general constraints of style, characterization, and overall feel. The (now-defunct) Star Wars Expanded Universe is another good example: dozens of books, all able to build off one another, but still able to tell individual, independent stories.

The other option is a single-author universe. In this case, the meta-setting isn’t shared by multiple writers, but by multiple series. For this, the best example has to be Stephen King; The Dark Tower was his way of connecting all these disparate stories. Another example of an author placing lots of stories into the same universe is Brandon Sanderson, with his “Cosmere” setting. Again, the general principle is the same: multiple stories, all acting independent, but with signs that they are, in fact, set in the same world. (Or worlds, in this case.)

Even considering something like this is a massive undertaking, but…that’s just what I’ve been doing lately. And I’m fast coming to the conclusion that I’ve already started creating a shared universe for some of my works.

Let’s start with Otherworld, since it’s my biggest work yet. All along, I did intend it to be a place that could be shared. There’s a lot of worldbuilding and backstory that has absolutely no bearing on the main plot of the lost expedition. In fact, I’ve gone so far as to create a language for a race that won’t even show up in any of the planned 50 novellas and short novels that make up the “primary” Otherworld series. But that’s okay. In my mind, that gives me more room to try other stories. And I don’t even mind others trying their hand at something set in the universe. (Seriously. Just ask, and I’ll tell you all you need to know.)

One series does not a universe make, of course, but that’s where it starts getting bigger. My Endless Forms series of paranormal thrillers will soon see its second full release (next month in paperback and ebook formats), and I have slipped in a vague reference to one of the Otherworld “bridge” stories, specifically “The Control Variable”. It’s not overt, and it could easily be explained away as a chance coincidence, but I know the truth. And I know I should probably regret it. Now that I’m writing the third entry in Endless Forms, Change of Heart, I may end up adding more nods to Otherworld.

So that’s two, but not all. In November 2017 I wrote The Soulstone Sorcerer, the first entry in a series I’ve codenamed Gateway. The timing doesn’t work for it to reference either of the two above—it’s set in 2018, the others after—but I have gone the other way. The Second Crossing and Point of Origin, two of the 2nd season Otherworld novels you’ll see this year, both have oblique references to The Soulstone Sorcerer. Again, it’s not so obvious that you can’t miss it. No, this is nothing more than a mention. But it may grow into something more.

Shared universes don’t have to be connected through direct links like this, though. Thus, if I’m going to be doing this, then I have no problem saying that, for instance, Heirs of Divinity is set in the same world. There’s about 300 years of difference between it and any of the others, but it concerns essentially the same idea as Otherworld, Endless Forms, and Gateway: things on this planet are not as they seem.

That one’s a decision for later. The same could be said for “Fallen”, the novella I released for free last year. And “Miracles”, since it’s a direct spin-off of Heirs. Some others I have on my to-do list might also end up being in this shared setting, but we’ll see.

Obviously, not everything I write can fit this mold. Nocturne and The Linear Cycle quite obviously aren’t set on our planet. They’re fantasy stories in fantasy worlds. Orphans of the Stars is meant to be “harder”, so it’s out, too. The same goes for Before I Wake, although I may have made it a book that exists in the shared setting.

Hidden Hills is a tough one, though. On its face, it fits the fantasy theme the same as Nocturne. If you look at it the right way, however, it might actually be a far-future sequel to Orphans of the Stars. Okay, maybe I wouldn’t go that far, but if you read the two, you can see how they could, in theory, be connected.

In other words, even the notion of a shared setting can lead to false friends, stories that look like they’re linked, but really aren’t. Also, I have to resist the temptation of drawing stories closer together when they’re meant to remain separate. I’m not ready for crossovers. I don’t think they’d fit my writing style at all, and they feel a little too…campy for my tastes.

Still, it’s something to think about.

🖼🗣: the emoji conlang, part 5

As promised, this edition of our series on the emoji conlang 🖼🗣 (aka Pictalk), is going to be focused primarily on building our vocabulary. You saw last time the ways we can combine symbols to create new words, but we’re first going to look at roots, individual symbols that can be used as words in their own right.

The inventory

As of the recently-released Version 12 of the Unicode standard, we have a total of 3,019 emoji at our disposal. That sounds like a lot, for sure, but…it’s not that simple, at least as far as our script is concerned. Gender and skin tone modifiers don’t come into play for us, because their meanings aren’t exactly lexical. (Okay, gender is linguistic, but I’ve decided that it plays no role in 🖼🗣 grammar.) Take those out, take out the various “family” permutations, and do some shuffling, and my best calculation is a total of 1,581.

That’s still a large number, but we’re using quite a lot of them, such as ◻ or ➡, as grammatical particles, suffixes, or other “content-less” morphemes. Also, we’ve got plenty of duplicates, and some, such as the annoying “cat face” emoji, that we just don’t use. What’s left comes out to 1,200 or so symbols, plenty for a vast and diverse vocabulary even before you start compounding.

The roots

We can divide the roots into a number of categories. We’ll look at each of those groups in turn, because they tend to show some similarities. While I won’t describe every emoji in much detail, I hope this overview, along with the examples I give, suffice until I can create a real list.

Faces

Most of the faces (the emoticons, as we old-timers call them) stand for the emotion or state they express:

  • 😄 – happy
  • 😕 – confused
  • 😠 – angry
  • 😫 – tired
  • 😷 – sick

Not all are like this, though. The “basic” face 😀 instead translates as the noun face itself. 😆, 🙃, and 😤 represent verbs laugh, invert, and defeat, respectively. But symbols like these are the exception, and the class-changing suffixes we saw last time work to convert them into something more like their fellows.

Emotions

Unicode is for lovers, apparently, because there’s an awful lot of different hearts. But we’ve got other emotions, too. And most of the hearts turn out to be just color variations; in 🖼🗣, colored version of emoji always represent those colors.

The rest tend to be either adjectives describing the emotion or verbs that define an action, although some get more idiosyncratic meanings instead:

  • 💋 – to kiss
  • 💌 – romance
  • 💖 – emotional
  • ❣ – to compliment
  • 💨 – fast
  • 💤 – sleep (note that this is a noun first)

The standard includes a few others in the “emotion” section, namely speech bubbles. These are important as communication words in our script:

  • 💬 – to say
  • 👁️‍🗨 – the 1st-person pronoun “I” (where needed)
  • 🗨 – to reply
  • 🗯 – to shout
  • 💭 – to think
Body parts

Mostly, body part emoji stand for the that part of the body, or else the sense it provides:

  • 🧠 – intelligence
  • 👂 – ear
  • 🦴 – bone (this is new, so not all fonts support it)
  • 👁 – eye
  • 👀 – to see
  • 👄 – mouth

The various finger-pointing symbols, by contrast, have meanings less often associated with symbolism:

  • 👋 – hello
  • 🖐 – fingers
  • 🎌 – to hope
  • 👉 – to be
  • 👈 – a marker for relative clauses (which we’ll see in a future post)
  • 👆 – that
  • 👇 – this
  • 👍 – good
  • 👎 – bad
  • 🙏 – to pray
  • 🤲 – the 1st-person pronoun “we”

And I think you can guess what 🖕 means.

People

As stated above, 🖼🗣 doesn’t bother with the gender or skin tone modifiers of Unicode. Instead, people are just…people. With very few exceptions, the “person” emoji stand for the specific person represented:

  • 👨 – man
  • 👩 – woman
  • 👶 – baby
  • 🧒 – child
  • 👨‍🎓 or 👩‍🎓 – student
  • 👨‍🎤 or 👩‍🎤 – singer

Some of the exceptions include 🙍, for the verb frown, and 🙅, to indicate prohibition (“may not”, in English).

Also, any of the numerous family permutations is allowed as a substitute for 👪 family. The generic is considered the default, but more specific variants can show a degree of politeness or respect.

Activities

Technically, Unicode classes these as a subset of the “person” group, but they’re very different in our script. For most of these, the meaning is verbal, rather than nominal. Again, gender doesn’t matter, although it can be considered polite to use it where it matters. (Where available, the generic “person” forms are to be preferred as default.)

  • 🚶 – to walk
  • 🏌 – to play golf
  • 🏊 – to swim
  • 🛀 – to wash/bathe
  • 🛌 – to rest
Animals

Unicode has a bunch of animal emoji symbols, and we use almost all of them to represent those animals by themselves. Reduplicated forms (doubling the symbol) form a “pack”, “flock”, or any other collective noun, while the adjective and verb class-changing suffixes form words concerning the nature and actions of each individual animal.

  • 🐕 – dog
  • 🐈 – cat
  • 🐴 – horse
  • 🐁 – mouse
  • 🐔 – chicken
  • 🐳 – whale
  • 🐜 – ant

One of the few exceptions in this class is 🐽, which instead stands for the verb smell.

Plants

Plants aren’t as numerous as animals in the Unicode emoji set, and 🖼🗣 tends to use many of them for more abstract meanings. Still, the specific types of plant, such as 🌷 and 🌵, stand for their individual kinds.

Examples of the abstract set include:

  • 🌱 – plant
  • 🍀 – luck
  • 🍂 – autumn
Food and drink

People love to eat, and Unicode definitely has them covered there. As with plants and animals, most of these are specific foods or beverages, so their basic meanings encode those:

  • 🍔 – hamburger
  • 🍕 – pizza
  • 🍓 – strawberry
  • 🍪 – cookie
  • 🍺 – beer

A couple of abstract symbols include:

  • 🍳 – to cook (specifically fry, but any kind of cooking is a valid translation)
  • 🥘 – food

Also, the 🍴 and 🍽 symbols translate as eat and meal, respectively.

Places

Once more, we have a large set of emoji symbols whose meanings are fairly transparent. The numerous places, whether geographic or constructed, tend to represent in language what they look like:

  • ⛰ – mountain
  • 🏠 – house
  • 🏥 – hospital
  • 🏫 – school
Transportation

Unicode gives us a lot of vehicles, and we use them about how you’d expect. I know this is sounding like a tired refrain by now, but it’s just how it is.

  • 🚕 – taxi
  • 🚓 – police
  • 🚃 – train

A little wrinkle here is that 🛣 is the abstract road rather than something more specific; if you want something more concrete (sorry about the pun), you can use compounding.

Clocks

Clocks representing half-hour intervals should be self-explanatory. The ⌛ emoji represents time in the abstract, while the verb measure (specifically for time) can be translated as ⏱.

Sky and weather

Most of these are fairly obvious. Cloudy and sunny skies represent just that. The various kinds of weather emoji mostly encode that sort of state. 💧 is abstract water, however, and 🌊 is ocean rather than something specifically to do with waves.

Recreation

Games, sports, and activities mostly function the same as any other “this is what it looks like” emoji:

  • ⚾ – baseball
  • ⛷ – to ski

Some are different, though: 🕹 is control, 🃏 simply joke.

Clothing

Once more, it’s the same general idea: 👕 is shirt, etc. Some of the oddities here include:

  • 🎓 – to graduate
  • 🛍 – to shop
  • 🎒 – student
Technology

Many of the technology-oriented emoji are used for grammatical purposes. Most of the rest tend to be of the “object” sort we’ve seen so many times already:

  • 💿 – CD
  • 🎥 – film
  • 📸 – to take a picture
Tools

Most of the tools are of the “object” sort, representing the objects they appear to be. An important exception is 🔫, which always translates as a real gun, not a toy, when used alone. (Unicode quite clearly defines the symbol as “pistol”, but PC-crazed tech companies try to pass it off as a harmless water gun instead.)

A few other interesting symbols in this group include:

  • ⚖ – law
  • ⚙ – machine
  • 🗜 – to compress
  • ⛓ – to hold back
Household

These are more “object” type emoji, and they tend to fall under the same rules as above.

Keycaps

I’m skipping most of the symbols in this post for a very good reason: they’re symbolic. They don’t have well-defined meanings to begin with, so I felt no shame in recycling them for grammatical use. That includes things like audio controls, punctuation, and the multitude of arrows.

But one set of exceptions should be pointed out here, I think. The Unicode standard has a kind of generic method of constructing keycaps (boxed numerals that look like they’re on buttons), and it defines about a dozen of them. The numerical ones, such as 1, are ordinals: first, second, etc. The others are:

  • #️⃣ – number
  • *️⃣ – any
Flags

Lastly, about 300 of the available emoji are national or regional flags. These are a little special in 🖼🗣, for they can function as both nouns and adjectives without needing class-changing suffixes. The role they fill is implied based on position, defaulting to nominal:

  • 🇺🇸 – USA, American
  • 🇪🇺 – Europe, European
  • 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 – England, English (note: not the same as 🇬🇧)

Conclusion

Whew. That’s a lot to take in, and I didn’t even cover everything. Fortunately, it’s a lot smoother sailing from here on out. I’ll illustrate new words when they come up, and I’ll point out non-obvious compounds or derivations. Other than that, the next post will get back to grammar. Fun, isn’t it?

Release: Alignment Adjustment (Return to the Otherworld 2)

And here we go again. Return to the Otherworld continues with its second installment, Alignment Adjustment.

Things have changed.

The other world isn’t the same, nor are those whose lives have been touched by it. To truly understand how best to live in this new land, those who came from another must accept that first impressions are not everything. Only by recognizing their mistakes will they have the chance to avoid them in the future.

For the second expedition, readjustment is a necessity. Now that they have begun to dive deeper into the cultural waters of this world, they can no longer deny their place in it. Some may not like that place. Some may struggle with the preconceived notions of their new neighbors, their friends and lovers. But even that forces them into the mold they so desperately wish to escape.

Not a lot happens in this one, I’ll admit. It’s more getting things set up, moving people around, and a lot of character interaction. The expedition was gone for nearly a year, after all. It’ll take time to get back in the saddle.

As ever, Otherworld stories are Patreon exclusives for the time being. That means you can head on over to my Patreon and pick up Alignment Adjustment for a pledge of $3/month. And the list of things you can get for that low price keeps on growing.

Coming up next is Part 3 of the series, Waters Rising. Look for it soon, and remember to keep reading!

🖼🗣 : the emoji conlang, part 4

🖼🗣 is becoming quite the little language. In the first three parts, you saw the basic outline of how we can take the wide array of emoji characters available in Unicode and contort them into a hieroglyphic script for modern times. Now, we’ll take another step by looking into the many ways in which we can construct new words from the building blocks we’ve been given.

Derivation

First of all, we need to make a distinction between the two different types of combining we can do. Derivation is mostly a grammatical process; it turns nouns into verbs, for example. Almost all languages have at least some derivational processes, and they tend to fall into a few major categories. 🖼🗣 is no exception, so we’ll look at these now. Later, we’ll turn to compounding, where we take individual words and combine them to create something new.

All of the script’s derivations are suffixes. We’ve already met a few, but here’s a complete list. (Note that tense markers, the plural and singular markers, and others like those are considered inflectional, so they’re not listed here.)

  • 〰 – This sign converts a word into an adjective. Usually, it’s a “quality” adjective: a 🧒 (child) is young, so 🧒〰 means “young”.

  • ▪ – This sign forms diminutives. These are “small” forms of words (typically nouns or adjectives) that indicate a lesser degree or amount: 🏙 “city” becomes 🏙▪ “town”, and ❄ “cold” turns into ❄▪ “chilly”.

  • ◼ – This sign changes an adjective or verb into a noun representing something to do with them. So we might turn 🍴 “to eat” into 🍴◼ “meal”, because a meal is something you eat.

  • ⬛ – The opposite of ▪, this sign creates superlative or augmentative forms. Linguistically, those are two different things, but they both pertain to an increase of a quality. With adjectives, ⬛ forms a superlative: 💪 “strong” becomes 💪⬛ “strongest”; this is really an inflection rather than a derivation. When used on a noun, however, the connotation is slightly different: 🌧 “rain” can become 🌧⬛ “torrent, flood”.

  • 🔻 – This marks a negative or inverse connotation. Usually, there’s already another word available, but using this suffix means you’re focusing on what something is not. An example might be 👍 “good” becoming 👍🔻 “not good”. It’s not quite the same as 👎 “bad”, but it’s close.

  • 🔺 – This is the counterpart to 🔻. It marks a positive connotation, which you may think has little use, but it can also function as an intensifier, a bit like “definitely” or (in colloquial speech) “literally” in English.

  • ➡ – As we have seen in previous parts, this forms verbs from other words. No examples needed here, because you should already get the gist.

These are the main derivations in 🖼🗣. Others do exist, but they have more specialized meanings, and they’re probably better analyzed as compounds, which we’ll get to right now.

Compounding

Most vocabulary in the script is formed by compounding. This process, much more general (yet also a bit more idiosyncratic) than derivation, allows us to express essentially any concept through a combination of 🖼🗣 symbols. The rules are a little involved, so pay close attention.

General compounding rules
  1. Any lexical symbol can be used in a compound. Those with a purely grammatical function (such as the derivational affixes above) aren’t allowed, except in very specific circumstances. (These form what’s called a closed class of words, and they don’t really concern us here.)

  2. The minimum number of symbols is 2, but the only upper limit is imagination. Realistically, however, most compounds will have at most 4 symbols.

  3. One element of the compound is the head, while the rest are considered modifiers. (Linguists note that the head element isn’t necessarily the semantic head, but it usually is.)

  4. The head determines the part of speech of the compound. Thus, compounds with heads that are nouns will be nouns themselves.

  5. Verb compounds are head-initial, while all others are head-final.

Noun-noun compounds

Compounds of multiple nouns are probably the easiest to understand. Almost all of them tend to denote specificity. In other words, the modifiers define a specific type of the noun represented by the head. We’ve already seen 🐕🏠 “doghouse”, for instance, but here are a few more:

  • 🐦🛁, “birdbath”
  • 🚲🛣, “bike path”
  • ✋🔫, “handgun”
  • 📰📄, “newspaper”

Simple enough, right? These are mostly English-oriented, but the same principles are common across many languages.

Adjective-noun compounds

These are almost the same as the noun-noun compounds above, but the modifier is an adjective instead:

  • 💨🛣, “fast lane”
  • ♨🛁, “hot tub”
  • 🤓☎, “smartphone”

Again, there’s not much to it.

Adjective-headed compounds

When an adjective is the head, the modifiers shift the base meaning toward their own. It’s a little hard to explain in prose, so we’ll try a few examples instead:

  • 🌹🔴, “rose red”
  • 🏛👴, “ancient”
  • 👿🖤, “devilish”

Unlike nominal compounds, these are often less transparent, but that’s okay.

Verb-headed compounds

Verbal compounds are the hardest. For one thing, they’re “inverted”, with the head coming first. For another, pinning down their meaning isn’t easy. In general, more active verbs tend to form compounds whose meanings are related to the head, while “static” verbs function a lot more like adjectives.

  • 🏃💨, “sprint”
  • 🤝💬, “introduce”
  • 👐🆓, “donate”

Moving on

Part 5 of this series will be a chance to pause and take stock. Instead of grammar and word-building, I’ll provide a lot more vocabulary, roots and compounds alike. I hope to see you then!

Release: The Second Crossing (Return to the Otherworld 1)

It’s a new year, and that means it’s time for a new season in the Otherworld. 2019 brings Return to the Otherworld, a new eight-part series following the further adventures of those who have visited this strange land, those who stayed behind a year ago, and the new faces seeking their first opportunity to glimpse the alien world for themselves.

Opening up this time is The Second Crossing:

A year ago, eleven college students stumbled into another world by virtue of an accident. An unforeseen, yet ultimately beneficial, accident. Now, they plan to return, this time with purpose.

New faces will join them. Old friends will welcome them. Enemies will show themselves. And the second crossing will test this expedition in ways they never anticipated. What new discoveries await? What new dangers lurk on the other side of the strange, inexplicable portal between worlds?

None can say, but the students and their companions know one thing for sure: they must return to the other world.

It’s going to be a fun ride, and you can see it all through the year over at my Patreon. All I ask is a simple pledge of $3/month, which gets you access to Return to the Otherworld and the previous series, as well as much more. How can you go wrong?

Look for Alignment Adjustment in six weeks. Until then, have fun and keep reading!

Release: Beyond the Horizon (Orphans of the Stars 2)

Let’s get back to space. Back to the future, even.

They were lost, but they found themselves. Now, they will find a piece of their past that brings about a new chapter in humanity’s future.

Seventeen children inherited a ship, a mission, a legacy. Few among them truly understand what it means to be an officer, an engineer, or a medic. Youth is bold, however, bold and adventurous. Thus, the immature crew of the Innocence yet believe they know what they are doing. They believe they can navigate not only the endless void of space, but also the turbulent waters of life, a life marked by their shared history.

Something lurks out among the stars. Something turned these young people into orphans, into the last survivors of Marshall Colony. Only they have seen the truth and lived to speak of it. Only they are prepared to find what lies beyond the horizon.

I was really excited when I released Innocence Reborn last year. Rarely have I ever felt so good about a book, like it had so much promise. Maybe I consider Nocturne my best work, but Innocence Reborn was by far the most fun.

That’s all I ask from the Orphans of the Stars series. It’s my chance to have fun, to show that space opera and science fiction can still be fun. Whatever you think about our future, the one I’ve created in these books is bright. In my darker times, it’s one of the few lights that shines through. In better days, it outshines the sun.

You can head on over to my Patreon if you want to check this one out. It’s currently in the Serious Reader tier, which requires only a monthly pledge of $3. A cup of coffee, a small meal, or the future. It’s your choice.

And, in case you’re wondering, I’m already planning out Part 3 of Orphans of the Stars, tentatively titled Time in the Sun. Keep watching this space for more info on that.

🖼🗣 : the emoji conlang, part 3

As we have seen, 🖼🗣 is perfectly capable of writing simple sentences using nothing but emoji along with standard English punctuation. In this post, we’ll delve a little deeper into the script, focusing first on verbs.

Preliminaries

Before we get started, let’s add in a few more simple words. All of these are verbs that represent actions, and I’ve tried to choose those best suited to “dynamic” phrasing.

  • 🛬 – to come
  • 💃 – to dance
  • ✈ – to fly
  • 🛫 – to go
  • 👊 – to hit
  • 🤗 – to hug
  • 😆 – to laugh
  • ⛹ – to play
  • 🏃 – to run
  • 💺 – to sit
  • 🏊 – to swim
  • 💼 – to work
  • ✍ – to write
  • 🔥➡ – to burn
  • 🚗➡ – to drive
  • 💕➡ – to love

Of course, most nouns can be “verbalized” by adding the ➡ suffix. In most cases, the resulting word can be interpreted in one of two ways. It’s either an action that uses the root noun (e.g., you drive a car), or one that is caused by the root (fire burns).

Adjectives can also take ➡, but their meaning is a lot simpler. Most of the time, the verb created is one that represents being in a specific state. Thus, 😃➡ translates as “to be happy”. Those are far more regular than verbs derived from nouns, but not nearly as flashy, so we don’t really need a list yet.

The usual suspects

🖼🗣 verbs express actions. As in English, they can also express when an action occurs. In other words, verbs have tense.

You’re probably expecting a table showing the different tenses in the script, because that’s what most language-learning texts offer right about now. But hold on just a minute. This is a little different. We don’t just have a simple three-way distinction, because 🖼🗣 combines tense and the linguistic notion of aspect into a single marker. So let’s slow down and take these things one at a time, since they can trip you up if you’re not careful.

First off, the present tense is simply the lack of any other marker. It’s the default. (Linguists can argue the point that non-finite verbs are also unmarked, but we’ll ignore them.) Also, the present tense here is best interpreted as the “imperfective” or “progressive” kind. That’s more in line with typical English speech, which is what 🖼🗣 tries to follow. Thus, a phrase like ♂ ✍ should read as “he is writing” rather than “he writes”. Obviously, that’s not set in stone, but it’s a good rule of thumb.

Next up, we have your basic past and future tenses. These are ◀ and ▶, respectively, and it’s not hard to get the symbolism. As opposed to the present, you can assume both of these are “perfective” by default: ♂ ✍◀ “he wrote”, ♂ ✍▶ “he will write”.

Here’s where it gets tricky. If you’re familiar with both English and Romance languages such as French or Spanish, you’ll also know the perfect tenses. They’re the “have” forms of an English verb, or the separate conjugations in Latin, or however you like to look at them. They’re hard to explain without resorting to linguistic nastiness, so I’ll keep it simple. A verb in a perfect tense refers to an action that took place before the time it’s talking about. It talks about something that, from the point of view of the verb, has already finished.

For 🖼🗣, we’ve got a trio of perfect markers. Each simple tense has a corresponding perfect form, and they look similar enough to the basics that you can almost imagine they fit. ⏯ marks the present perfect (“he has written”), ⏮ the past perfect (“he had written”), and ⏭ the future perfect (“he will have written”).

Last are two linguistic aspects that English doesn’t mark in a simple way. Other languages do, however, and two emoji perfectly fit the bill for them. Rather than use the technical terms, I’ll describe them more informally. ⏺ marks an action that is beginning (“he is starting to write”), while ⏹ says that an action is ending (“he isn’t writing anymore”). As you can see, these aren’t easy to translate, but the concepts aren’t too hard to grasp.

Combining the tense and aspect markers works just fine. You can use one of each, and the order doesn’t matter. Add in the adverb 🚫 “not”, and you can express some fairly complex ideas in just a few symbols. 🤳 🚫 ✍⏭⏹ “I will not have stopped writing”. Wow.

Back to pronouns

About that last example, though. You’ll notice I used 🤳 as the first-person pronoun. Last time, as you may recall, I mentioned that this is an acceptable substitute, and now it’s time to explain why.

Any 🖼🗣 pronoun can take 🤳 as a suffix meaning “-self”. (Get it? Because it’s a selfie.) Most of the time, you’d use this as the object of a phrase: ♀ 👀 ♀🤳 “she sees herself”. But that’s a little repetitive, so there are other ways. Placing this “reflexive” pronoun as the subject lets you say the same thing in a more concise way: ♀🤳 👀.

So far, so good. But the other meaning for 🤳 is as an “intensifier”. Those of you who know Spanish may recall that subject pronouns are optional in that language. Indeed, using them regularly is one of the hallmarks of beginner speakers. But when they do appear, it’s usually to indicate emphasis. In effect, they say that I’m doing this, not somebody else.

While our emoji script doesn’t allow omitting most pronouns, the emphatic use of 🤳 works just fine. And that’s our loophole to let us use 🤳 as an acceptable alternative to 👁️‍🗨. Language geeks rejoice.

We’ve also got a few other pronouns to cover before we go. These are the indefinite sort, and they’re all formed as compounds using 🔳 “some”. Thus, you have the following:

  • 🔳◻ – something
  • 🔳👤 – someone/somebody
  • 🔳📍 – somewhere
  • 🔳⌛ – sometime
  • 🔳〰◼ – somehow

Moving forward

So that about wraps it up for this one. Next time around, I promise we’ll get more into making actual sentences. We’ll also go a little deeper into what makes up words, including some of the more regular compounding constructions. 👀▶ 💮 🔜!

Release: Smoke and Mirrors (Modern Minds 3)

Another four months have passed since the last release in the Modern Minds series, so now it’s time for the third entry. Here’s “Smoke and Mirrors” for you:

In her old life, Tabitha had nothing. Now, she possesses a secret weapon, a talent to protect her mind from the invasion of others. And she has friends, friends with talents of their own. By exploring their minds, she hopes to unlock the full potential of her own.

Head on over to my Patreon (at least until it gets shut down!) to pick this one up. All you need is to subscribe at my Serious Reader level, which only costs you $3/month. That’s not much at all. Think of it as your Christmas present to me.

🖼🗣 : the emoji conlang, part 2

In the previous article, I showed that it is possible to create a kind of modern-day hieroglyphic script using the ~1200 emoji characters available in Unicode. Now, let’s expand on that.

Rather than go through a formal grammar, we’ll work our way up from a few simple phrases and sentences, much in the same way as a student learning a new language. 🖼🗣 is, after all, a bit like it’s own language.

Preliminaries

First off, let’s define a few very simple words. These are all “content” words, as you’ll see; grammatical particles (what few we truly need in 🖼🗣) can come later.

  • 👨 – man
  • 👩 – woman
  • 👤 – person
  • 🧒 – child
  • 🐕 – dog
  • 🐈 – cat
  • 👁 – eye
  • 👄 – mouth
  • ✋ – hand
  • 👣 – foot
  • 🍴 – to eat
  • 🥤➡ – to drink
  • 👀 – to see
  • 👂➡ – to hear
  • 🧠➡ – to know
  • 🚶 – to walk
  • 💧 – water
  • 🌬 – air
  • 🔥 – fire
  • 🌐 – earth
  • 🌞 – sun
  • 🌝 – moon
  • ⛅ – sky
  • 🔴 – red
  • 💚 – green
  • 🔷 – blue
  • ◻🌈 – white
  • ◼🌈 – black
  • ♨ – hot
  • ❄ – cold
  • 😃 – happy
  • 😢 – sad
  • 💪 – strong
  • ⬜ – big
  • 🧠〰 – smart

For most of these, the meanings should be fairly obvious. Some, however, are compounds. As an example, the color terms for white and black, ◻🌈 and ◼🌈, combine their first glyphs (ordinarily simple nominal particles) with 🌈, a regular derivation that makes color terms. Similarly, the numerous verbs with ➡ are derived from nouns; the second symbol here acts as a verbalizing suffix. And for adjectives, you can often use 〰, as we did with “smart”: 🧠〰.

Simplicity

The simplest sentences are those with nothing more than a subject, verb, and object. And, to make things even simpler, we’ll start with the most basic verb of all: “to be”. In 🖼🗣, that’s 👉. No need to worry about agreement suffixes or anything like that, though. For our purposes here, 👉 is all we need. (We’ll get to tenses in a later part.)

Here are a few examples to show what I mean:

  • 🧒 👉 😃. – The child is happy.
  • 👩 👉 🧠〰. – The woman is smart.
  • 👨 👉 💪. – The man is strong.
  • 🔥 👉 ♨ – Fire is hot.

Note that we don’t need any special word for “the”, either. It’s understood. (If you really think you need it, you can use 👇, though its meaning is closer to “this”.)

Our other verbs aren’t quite as easy to work with, but we can manage. The principle’s the same, after all:

  • 🧒 👀 🐕. – The child sees a dog.
  • 👨➿ 🚶. – The men are walking.
  • 🐈 🥤➡ 💧. – The cat drinks water.

Once again, don’t worry about the difference between English simple and progressive forms. 🖼🗣 doesn’t bother distinguishing the two.

You, me, and all the rest

Today, everybody’s worried about pronouns. Well, I’ve got you covered there, because 🖼🗣 has plenty of them.

Most languages make a distinction between persons: first, second, and third. To some extent, that’s what we’ll do here, but modern communication, especially on the Internet, is more geared towards a distinction between speaker, audience, and others. (Technically, that’s all the three degrees of person represent, but bear with me.)

A speaker’s solo pronoun is 👁️‍🗨. If they’re including others (whether inside or outside their audience), then this becomes 🤲. These are like “I” and “we”, respectively:

  • 👁️‍🗨 👉 🧠〰. – I am smart.
  • 🤲 👉 😃. – We’re happy.
  • 👁️‍🗨️ 👀 🔷 ⛅ – I see the blue sky.

(Important note: Some systems are not able to display or input the “compound” emoji 👁️‍🗨️. If yours is one of them, don’t despair. You can use 🤳 instead. It doesn’t mean exactly the same thing, as we’ll see in the next part, but it’s close enough.)

But here’s where it gets interesting. If you’re only speaking of yourself, there’s really no reason to need that cumbersome pronoun. It’s implied, because you’re the one talking. So that first sentence can become “👉 🧠〰.” instead, and it’ll mean the same thing.

Only the singular speaker pronoun can be dropped like this, which is far different from most spoken languages which allow such things.

The listener pronouns are much simpler. In fact, they’re not even pronouns at all, because there’s only one of them: 💮. Example:

  • 👁️‍🗨️️ 👀 💮. – I see you.

As with English “you”, this works for both singular and plural.

Last are what most languages call the third-person pronouns. Here, 🖼🗣 has a wide variety to choose from, so let’s take a look.

  • For talking about people in general: singular 👤, plural 👥
  • For talking about anything not human: singular ◻, plural ◻◻
  • For talking about only men: singular ♂, plural 👥♂
  • For talking about only women: singular ♀, plural 👥♀

Mostly, the first two pairs should be preferred, and the “general” form is required when you’re referring to mixed groups. And, of course, using the “non-human” pronouns when you want to talk about people is just wrong.

Some examples using these pronouns:

  • 👥 👉 😃. – They are happy.
  • ♂ 👉 ⬜ 👨. – He is a big man.
  • 👀 ◻. – I see it.
  • 👥♀ 👂➡ 💮. – They (i.e., those women) can hear you.

Possessed

Last in this little lesson, we’ll discuss the possessive form. As with many parts of 🖼🗣, that’s a little different from what you might expect. In fact, it’s one of the few cases where the script recycles English punctuation.

Our key here is the apostrophe, or single quote mark: ‘. When put between two nouns (pronouns included), it indicates that the first possesses the second. So we might say 🧒’🐈 for “the child’s cat” or ♂’✋ for “his hand”.

These aren’t exactly compound nouns, but they can function much like them, fitting into sentences with ease.

  • 👁️‍🗨️’👁 👉 🔷. – My eyes are blue.
  • ♀’🧒➿ 👉 😃. – Her children are happy.
  • 👀 ⬜ 👨’🐕➿. – I see the man’s big dogs.

In the last example above, you can see a difference between the script and English, as far as word order is concerned. The possessive “attaches” to the head noun, even if there are modifying adjectives before it.

Also, you can “chain” possessives, as in ♂’🧒’👁➿ “his child’s eyes”.

Moving forward

Now that you’ve seen a little bit more of this experiment, does it still seem so outlandish? Stay tuned, as this series will delve even deeper into the weird world of emoji, and the strange things we can accomplish when our language is allowed to use nothing else. 👀▶ 💮 🔜!