Tag Archives: Inamali

The language of magic, part 6 of lots

29 Oct

Inamali is the language of magic – the language of the Inamali people and their writings, including their spell books. It is the language Karia must master if she is to understand how to destroy magic.

And I thought you may enjoy the books a lot more if you understand a few things about the Inamali language.

Spoiler alert: If you have not read The House in the Old Wood, you will not want to read the rest of this post.

Quick, how many tenses does English have?

A lot of people would reply, “Three.” Past, present and future, right? That’s all most of normally think of, and that seems to cover it all.

Now, grammatically speaking, English has twelve tenses, from past all the way through future perfect progressive, but we don’t need to go there in order to discuss tenses in Inamali.

Karia thinks of Teneka as having three tenses, and at one point feels she has identified seven tenses in Inamali. Seven tenses? How’s that work?

Precision.

Some languages – and Inamali is among them – have multiple past and future tenses, depending on how far in the past or future an event is. In Inamali, it breaks down like this:

  • Legendary past – for something that is said to have taken place in the distant past.
  • Past – a general past tense.
  • Recent past – for something that took place recently.
  • Present – as in English.
  • Near future – for something that is imminent.
  • Future – a general future tense.
  • Prophetic future – for something that is said to be taking place in the distant future.

You might at first think this would be confusing. But think about this. If I say, “I will be going to the store,” you don’t know if I mean I’m leaving in five minutes, or if I mean that eventually, someday, I will be going to the store. Or maybe it’s prophetic – I’m prophesying that I will be going to the store. You can’t tell.

There is no such confusion in Inamali; from the tense itself, you can tell which is which.

This is why, when I was talking in our last installment about the verb infixes lina and lita, I wrote that they are sort of past and future.

Actually, those are general past and general future, and can be used in Inamali as you would use them in English. And that’s another important key distinction of Inamali. Where there is an uncertaintly about whether an event is near future, future or prophetic future, or where an event spans one or more of those, the general future is acceptable.

So in Tsilinakaya, the hope that is being referred to is near future, future and prophetic future.

But in Talitakaya, the event that is being remembered is simply past – it certainly was not recent, but neither was it in the legendary past.

One other thing to understand is that “recent past” and “near future” have more to do with the concepts than with calendars.

What I mean is, if Karia were to declare in Inamali, “I will end Magic,” she would use near future tense. In her mind, this is imminent, whether it actually takes days or years.

Or consider sleeping and eating. She normally sleeps once a day and eats three times a day. So she would likely use recent past tense for sleeping for six or eight hours. But she would be unlikely to use recent past for eating for more than three hours or so.

These tenses are another way Inamali constructs verbs – puts meaning into the actual words – instead of adding words as English does. “I just ate” – three words in English – becomes one word in Inamali, as does, “He will be eating soon.”

So this precision in tenses is another way Inamali eliminates words and loads more meaning into verbs.

Want to see how much Inamali you can pick up? Get your copy of The House in the Old Wood and Karia’s Path.

The language of magic, part 5 of lots

22 Oct

Inamali is the language of magic – the language of the Inamali people and their writings, including their spell books. It is the language Karia must master if she is to understand how to destroy magic.

And I thought you may enjoy the books a lot more if you understand a few things about the Inamali language.

Spoiler alert: If you have not read The House in the Old Wood, you will not want to read the rest of this post.

One key facet of the Inamali language is its use of what we call “constructed verbs.”

In English, we modify verbs based on the subject:

I walk, she walks, etc.

We also modify verbs based on the tense:

I walked, she walks, etc.

Sometimes we’ll add words for those reasons, as in, “I will walk” or “she will be walking.”

But aside from a few irregular verbs, some of which we do next to nothing to (such as bid), that’s about all we do with verbs, and we call that conjugation.

Some languages, such as Inamali, go much further with their verbs. Concepts that we would use separate words for get combined into the verb in constructed verbs. Pronouns, for instance. In English, we would say, “He hit me.” But in Inamali, it would be something like “Hehitme.”

Let’s back up and take this more slowly.

Inamali verbs have a basic form. Tsika, for example, means to hope. Taka means to remember. I’ve previously mentioned that tsiva means to fish.

To those we can add prefixes. You’ve heard of those – they’re something that’s added to the front of a word to change its meaning. We can also add suffixes – those go at the end of the word. What we don’t do in English is add infixes – stuff that drops into the middle of the word to change the meaning. (OK, we do in slang and some technical terms, but really, no, we don’t.)

Inamali uses all of those, but most especially, for the construction of verbs, infixes.

Lina is future tense, and lita is past tense (well, not precisely, but we’ll deal with that later), and those are infixes, so tsilinaka (tsika split by lina) means something like “will hope” and talitaka (taka split by lita) carries a meaning similar to “remembered.”

Pronouns are also built into the verbs in Inamali, rather than being separate words as they are in English. In ancient Inamali these are present in every verb. In the Inamali of Karia’s day, they appear irregularly. They are in the process of disappearing in cases where they are not needed – for instance, in sentences with a subject and an object. Let me give you an example:

Tlisilitar’ulukali Karia Failean.

This literally translates as, “Karia she has walked slowly toward her (formal) Failean.” The verb alone translates as “She has walked slowly toward her (formal),” because we’re talking about Karia and her mom. Here’s how it breaks down:

Tli is a prefix indicating that the subject is singular and feminine.

Sili is the root verb, to walk slowly.

Lita is an infix – falling between si and li – that shows past tense (sort of). But here it’s pronounced litar because of the glottal stop (‘) following.

ulu is an infix – after the tense, before the last part of the verb – that indicates that the object is feminine, singular and respected.

Ka is an infix indicating direction, in this case, toward.

This gives you an idea of the order of infixes, too, which is important: Tense, object marker, then direction. You could also have infixes here for intent (such as evil, or friendly), pace (which is unnecessary in this case since sili means to walk slowly), whether they are causative – and more.

For the sake of all our sanity, please don’t ask me to explain “causative.” And the “more”? Let’s let that one lie, too, OK?

So it’s possible, in modern Inamali, that the sentence we had above could also be written:

Silitakali Karia Failean.

This verb translates simply as “walked slowly toward.” But in this case, it is unlikely the markers for the subject (the prefix tli) and object (the infix ‘ulu) would be dropped because the object is formal.

Next time: Am I making you tense?

Have you read the second part of Karia’s tale, Karia’s Path? Get it on Amazon.

The language of magic, part 4 of lots

17 Oct

Inamali is the language of magic – the language of the Inamali people and their writings, including their spell books. It is the language Karia must master if she is to understand how to destroy magic.

And I thought you may enjoy the books a lot more if you understand a few things about the Inamali language.

Spoiler alert: If you have not read The House in the Old Wood, you will not want to read the rest of this post.

Real languages have variations and irregularities.

You don’t have to look past English to see that. Look at how many different ways we spell words. The one I love? Phonetic – spelled with a ph. Really?

So to make Inamali more realistic, I inserted a few things don’t seem to make much sense, two of which the astute reader will have noticed in The House in the Old Wood.

One has to do with the way the syllable na is pronounced. Karia notes that sometimes it can be pronounced as “nar.” Why? There’s not a solid reason, but I based the variation on something my daughter Meghan encountered in China. She learned some Mandarin in Beijing, and as soon as she tried to use in Inner Mongolia (which is also part of China and where Mandarin is also the most common language), people would say, “Oh, you’re from Beijing.” They knew that because some words pronounced with “ah” sounds elsewhere were pronounced as “ar” in Beijing.

So in Inamali, in some words at least, na is prounounced nar.

Wait a minute, however, you say. You remember that I said Inamali syllables are all open – that is, they all end in vowels. So how can nar be a legitimate syllable in Inamali if there are no closed syllables in the language – no syllables that end in consonants?

That’s easy. R isn’t a consonant.

Huh?

Phonetically speaking, a vowel is a sound formed when the breath is modified to make a sound, and a consonant is the sound formed when the breath is partially or completely blocked to make a sound.

But where do you draw the line between modifying the breath and partially obstructing it?

It’s somewhere around W, Y and R. This is why these are sometimes referred to as semi-vowels. (That would be the American English R, by the way. Not the flapped or trilled R of other languages, nor the softer R of British English.)

So nar is not a closed syllable; it does not end with a consonant, but with a semi-vowel.

Now that all that is clear as mud, let’s look at the other thing Karia notices in The House in the Old Wood: the word tsilinki. Karia notes that this is the only place she’s come across where li is pronounced “lin.” Actually, she’s wrong. There are no closed syllables in Inamali – no syllables that end in consonants. Li is pronounced “li” in that word; the variation comes in ki. In this word, it’s pronounced “ngki.”

Oh, that clears everything up, right?

Try saying it with me. Most people, when they see, “linki,” would not pronounce it “lin-ki,” but “ling-ki.” But in a language with only open syllables, it would be written – and thought of – as “li-ngki.”

But why?

Who knows? That’s what remainders in linguistics are all about: stuff that doesn’t seem to make sense.

By the way, “ng” is one of those fascinating consonants – and phonetically, it is one consonant – that we use all the time in English but struggle with when we see it in other languages. We just never use it at the beginning of a word, like other languages sometimes do. (Others are flapped Rs and glottal stops, both of which are actually quite common in English.)

Next time, we’ll look at something supremely confusing …

The language of magic, part 3 of lots

7 Oct

Inamali is the language of magic – the language of the Inamali people and their writings, including their spell books. It is the language Karia must master if she is to understand how to destroy magic.

And I thought you may enjoy the books a lot more if you understand a few things about the Inamali language.

Spoiler alert: If you have not read The House in the Old Wood, you will not want to read the rest of this post.

OK, English speaker, whose language is written with an alphabet. What’s the relationship between the following syllables: a, ka, ma, sa, va?

They all have the same vowel, right?

Well done.

But what’s the relationship between the following symbols?

a, ka, ma, sa, va

Those are a, ka, ma, sa and va in Inamali. And someone who spoke Inamali would see no more relationship between them than you see in the symbols.

An Inamali speaker is not thinking in terms of the sounds individual letters make, because their language has no individual letters. They’re not thinking, “Oh, those all end in ‘a,’” because a is a distinct and different syllable from ka.

But knowing that, if you were to peruse an Inamali syllabary, you would see something strange. Some of the symbols for syllables with the same vowel are similar.

For instance, here are a, la, ra and sha:

a, la, ra, sha

Why the similarities?

Inamali arose among people who spoke and wrote the language commonly known as Teneka – the language of all people, based on the language of Nymph, written with an alphabet. Inamali is based on the language of Sylph.

It bears similarities to Analiki, which was the previous language of magic, and also arose among people who spoke and read Teneka and also is based on the language of Sylph.

So the influence of an alphabet shows up in both Analiki and Inamali.

Next we’ll look at the stuff that really doesn’t make sense.

The language of magic — part 2 of lots

4 Oct

Inamali is the language of magic – the language of the Inamali people and their writings, including their spell books. It is the language Karia must master if she is to understand how to destroy magic.

And I thought you may enjoy the books a lot more if you understand a few things about the Inamali language.

Spoiler alert: If you have not read The House in the Old Wood, you will not want to read the rest of this post.

With so few ways to make syllables, leading to a total of 37 possible syllables, many Inamali words look and sound alike. Is this confusing?

Possibly, but think about this: Have you ever heard someone use to, two or too in a conversation? Of course you have. Now, how many times were you confused over whether it was a preposition, a number or a synonym for also? Even once?

Why were you not confused? Context.

So let’s look at a sentence using our Inamali example: the word sili, which can mean playful, redfish, cumulonimbus or walk slowly. If I were to write, Tsikalitar’uluva Karia sili, or actually,

Tsikalitar’uluva Karia sili

you would know, if you spoke and read Inamali, that the first word is a verb, the second is the subject and the third is the object. So just from basic grammar you would know that in this case, sili must be a noun, so it could not mean playful or walk slowly. It has to mean redfish or cumulonimbus.

Now, if you strip away all the modifiers from the verb, you would see tsiva – to fish. We’ll talk about how that works when we talk about “heavily modified verbs” later on. For now, let’s keep our focus on sili. We have “Karia fished sili.” Let’s see now, what makes sense here? Did she go fishing for redfish or clouds? Hmmm. Let me think …

Someone who spoke Inamali would not be puzzled at all by that.

That’s not to say confusion isn’t possible. It happens. But we can usually work out what someone is saying. For instance, if I showed you a photo of a field full of purple flowers, and you heard me say, “Look at all the flocks,” you would probably look for bunches of birds in the photo. But seeing none, you would likely soon figure out I had actually said, “Look at all the phlox.”

This same type of “difficulty” exists in written Chinese, where the same character can mean different things, depending on the context. And it doesn’t seem to be keeping the Chinese from doing just about anything.

Next time we’ll take a look how a syllabary influences the way an Inamali speaker thinks about words and sounds.

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