Let’s make a language – Part 14b: Derivation (Isian)

Both of our conlangs have a wide variety of ways to construct new words without having to resort to full-on coinages. We’ll start with Isian, as always, since it tends to be the simpler of the two.

Isian compounds

Isian is a bit more like German or Swedish than English, in that it prefers compounds of whole words rather than tacking on bound affixes. That’s not to say the language doesn’t have a sizable collection of those, but they’re more situational. Compounding is the preferred way of making new terms.

Isian compounds are mostly head-final, and the most common by far are combinations of two or more nouns:

  • hu “dog” + talar “house” → hutalar “doghouse”
  • acros “war” + sam “man” → acrosam “soldier” (“war-man”)
  • tor “land” + domo “lord” → tordomo “landlord”

Note that acrosam shows a loss of one s. This is a common occurrence in Isian compounds. Anytime two of the same letter would meet, they merge into one. (In writing, they might remain separate.) Two sounds that “can’t” go together are instead linked by -r- or -e-, whichever fits better.

Adjectives can combine with nouns, too. The noun always goes last. Only the stress patterns and the occasional added or deleted sound tell you that you’re dealing with a compound rather than a noun phrase:

  • sush “blue” + firin “bird” → sufirin “bluebird”
  • bid “white” + ficha “river” → bificha “rapids” (“white river”)

In the latter example, which shows elision, the noun phrase “a white river” would be ta bid ficha, with bid receiving its own stress. The compound “some rapids” is instead ta bificha, with only one stress.

Most verbs can’t combine directly with anything else; they have to be changed to adjectives first. A few “dynamic” verbs, however, can be derived from wasa “to go” plus another verb. An example might be wasotasi “to grab”, from otasi “to hold”.

Changing class

Isian does have ways of deriving, say, a noun from an adjective. The language has a total of eight of these class-changing morphemes that are fairly regular and productive. All of them are suffixes, and the table below shows their meaning, an example, and their closest English equivalent.

Suffix Function English Example
-do State adjective from verb -ly ligado “lovely”
-(t)e Verb from noun -fy safe “to snow”
-el Adjective from noun -y, -al lakhel “royal”
-m Agent noun from verb -er ostanim “hunter”
-mer Adjective from verb -able cheremer “visible”
-nas Abstract noun from verb -ance gonas “speech”
-(r)os Noun from adjective -ness yaliros “happiness”
-(a)ti Verb from adjective en- haykati “to anger”

For the most part, these can’t be combined. Instead, compounds are formed. As an example, “visibility” can be translated as cheremered “visible one”, compounding cheremer with the generic pronoun ed.

-do is very commonly used to make compounds of verbs (in the form of gerund-like adjectives) and nouns. An example might be sipedototac “woodcutting”, from which we could also derive sipedototakem “woodcutter”.

More derivation

The other productive derivational affixes don’t change a word’s part of speech, but slightly alter some other aspect. While the class-changers are all suffixes, this small set contains suffixes, prefixes, and even a couple of circumfixes. (We already met one of those in the Babel Text, as you’ll recall.)

  • -chi and -go are diminutive and augmentative suffixes for nouns. Most nouns can take these, although the meanings are often idiosyncratic. For example, jedechi, from jed “boy”, means “little boy”, and secago “greatsword” derives from seca “sword”.

  • -cat, as we saw in the Babel Text, turns a noun into a “mass” noun, one that represents a material or some other uncountable. One instance there was gadocat “brick”, meaning the material of brick, not an individual block.

  • a-an was also in the Babel Text. It’s a circumfix: the a- part is a prefix, the -an a suffix. Thus, we can make ayalian “unhappy” from yali “happy”.

  • Two other productive circumfixes are i-se and o-ca, the diminutive and augmentative for adjectives, respectively. With these, we can make triplets like hul “cold”, ihulse “cool”, and ohulca “frigid”.

  • The prefix et- works almost exactly like English re-, except that you can put it on just about any verb: roco “to write”, eteroco or etroco “to rewrite”.

  • ha-, another verbal prefix, makes “inverse” forms of verbs. For example, hachere might mean “to not see” or “to miss”. It’s different from the modal adverb an.

  • mo- is similar in meaning, but it’s a “reverse”: mochere “to unsee”.

That’s not all

Isian has a few other derivation affixes, but they’re mostly “legacy”. They aren’t productive, and some of them are quite irregular. We’ll meet them as we go on, though. For now, it’s time to switch to Ardari.

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