Creating A Language - Part 3 - Syllable Structure

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Now that we have chosen our sounds, we need to figure out a few rules of morphology. Morphology is a wide field that in a given language has a lot of rules, so we are only going to think about a few. Even so, this is going to take a few parts to get through.
For starters, morphology is the study of the pattern of when certain sounds occur in a word or collection of words. For instance, a rule of English morphology is that we cannot have stops before nasals at the beginning of a word. "knife" has a silent k because it is a borrowed word, but the kn combination is not allowed (but it is in other languages, such as German). Another rule of English is that when we make plurals, that s can be an s, z, or ez. fish goes to /fishez/, cat goes to /cats/, and dog goes to /dogz/. /t/ is voiceless, so it gets voiceless /s/. /g/ is voiced, so it gets voiced /z/. And sh is a sibilant like an s, so you can't have sh and s next to each other, hence the insertion of the vowel. And then the s there becomes a z because the vowel is voiced.

In this part, we are going to begin looking at the syllable structure.

Syllable structure is looking at what combinations of vowels or consonants are allowed in a single syllable. Consonants and vowels are of course represented by present phonemes, not spelling.

English has a really lenient syllable structure. Pretty much everything is fair game.

We have:
I: V (diphthongs count as one syllable)
we: CV
tar: CVC
star: CCVC
start: CCVCC
are: VC
art: VCC
stray: CCCV
strait: CCCVC
strength: CCCVCC
sixth: CVCCC

(the plural s can make this even more dramatic, ie sixths, but morpheme -s is a special case, I hear).

Because all of these are allowable, but no consonant is required, English's syllable structure is (C)(C)(C)V(C)(C)(C) (or (C)(C)(C)V(C)(C)(C)(C) if you count that plural s). But this is not exactly normal for languages.

Let's look at Japanese (i will do this using multi syllable words):

a-ta-shi V-CV-CV
tsun-de-re: CVC-CV-CV*
un: VC

*I believe ts is an affricate, in which case, tsun would be CVC.

So Japanese's syllable structure is (C)V(C), with a nasal being the only acceptable consonant for the final one.

Some languages never allow the syllable final consonant and have the structure (C)V.

Some languages never allow the syllable final consonant and always require the initial consonant, and have the structure CV.

Some languages allow the syllable final consonant and always require the initial consonant, and have the structure CV(C).

Hopefully you understand the possible combinations now.
(Some languages defy syllable structure as we know it, but we aren't going to get into that).

 Figure out what combinations you want to be able to make with your chosen phonemes, and choose a syllable structure. While you can do something as free as English, I urge you to experiment with a more limited structure. In the next lesson, I will talk a bit more about how syllables work together to create acceptable words of a given structure.

1:3 Dalek Building

Monday, September 17, 2012

I started building a 1:3 size Dalek a couple weeks ago, and while I haven't gotten too far yet, I thought I would record my steps here so far. I am building an Ironside, so I am using these plans (opens a large pdf), which are just the plans for the 2005 Dalek design.

To scale down to 1:3, I simply divide every measurement by 3. The plans are meant for wood and other sturdy, thick materials, so I have made modifications to be able to use only cardboard and paperboard as much as possible. I decided to start by building the base ("bumper"). My friend and I cut all of the slats out of paper board (cereal boxes). It's important to label each one according to the plans, and to label left and right. The plan gives a set for the right side, so you have to draw them backwards for the left side.

After this, I built the flat part on top of the bumper that's between the slanted slats and the "skirt". I had to cut it out in four parts because it was so big. I then mounted it on a piece of corrugated cardboard for stability. The bottom of the skirt will sit against the inner edge of the paper board.

To build the bumper, I started by cutting out 22 wedges like so:

The left edge is the height of the vertical edge of the bumper (3cm in this case). The horizontal pen line is half of that (1.5 cm) and the vertical pen line is slightly longer (1.8 cm in this case). What's important is the angle of the hypotenuse, as that is the angle at which the angled slats will rest, and it must be correct for them to match up together around the bumper. Then 3mm were cut from the top to allow for the corrugated cardboard of the previous step to rest in there.

The next step is the glue the support pieces to the angled slats. I used painters tape to tape the hypotenuse of the triangle to the slat so that the corner meeting the long (3cm) side is flush against the bottom of the slat. The 3mm space is on the top. Once it is taped in place, I used wood glue to strengthen it. I used a right edge and another box to check that the support piece was straight up.

Each slat needs two support pieces, so once I had them both secured on at least one side with dry glue, I attached the vertical slat with more tape and glue:

Once it is dried, it looks like like this:

And that's how far I've gotten so far!

Rene's Third Faceup

Sunday, August 26, 2012


I gave Rene a new faceup this week. I had a hard time figuring out what I wanted to do, except that I wanted him to have face tattoos, and for him to have a happier, less broody look. Jinas are naturally brooding or at least serious, so I was going to have a bit of a struggle combating that. Things actually turned out quite well, and I was very pleased with the results. Here are some photos from before glossing:

I had a lot of fun with the small details and the design. I actually modded/carved his mouth to curve up. It was a bit of an amateur job and it's not he best paint job because I had a hard time getting the old lip color out, but it turned out pretty good despite those things.

I still have a lot to learn when it comes to taking photographs though. The above photo was edited in photoshop a lot. I really like photos that minimize contrast without losing detail, or have a lot of bright spots without seeming overexposed, so that was what I was aiming for. I also only use a limited point and shoot, but it has a decent close-up setting and focuses pretty easily. I wish it had more options for blurring the background, but that's beyond its abilities so I have to do that in PS.

I wasn't going to bring him to Germany with me, but I will now that he is so adorable. As for Alain, I'm not sure whether he'll be going. I would like to sell his body before I go, but I have to finish modding the other arm first so they match. I was thinking of the new feeple60 body for him due to his first body being delf, but when I went back and looked at pictures of him on that body, the neck is so small that I don't think i want to. Maybe I will still plan on eventually getting an sdgr body, but in that case, maybe I shouldn't sell his current one yet. I wish Volks didn't have such huge hands though. Maybe I could find some matching ones that are smaller and fit on the wrist. I wonder if SD13 girl hands fit?

 He's changed a bit over the two years I've had him. I've had a really hard time getting him to the point where I actually loved the way he looked. When I look back now, his first faceup is better than the second, but he seems very tired. The second was artistically superior, but I had so many moments of hating his expression most likely due to his skinny arched eyebrows. I am in love with his current faceup though. While there are a few things I wish were different (his eyebrows are too reddish for the wig, which is fixed in the photos), I have to say that I'm extremely pleased and he finally looks a way that I love looking at. I think before I leave, I will finish cleaning his body and will blush at least his hands. 

Making a Planet Map

Saturday, August 4, 2012

If your world is the size of a whole planet, you've probably tried at least a few times to draw a permanently accurate map of your planet. It's almost impossible to make something 2D that's both accurate and easy to read and understand. Even if you manage to make something nice looking, the size is distorted by the expansion of the polar regions. Really, you have to have a 3D model.

I've thought of buying a large white bouncy ball, a large wooden ball, or a large styrofoam ball.. or the mother of them all, a yoga ball, in order to make a globe map. But I don't have the money for the ball or the right materials to color them with (paint or sharpies, etc). Then today, I came up with the idea of making a globe out of paper, and of course the wonderful people on the internet have already done this for me.

Here is the best of what I found for making a paper globe.

The PDF comes with a pattern for three sizes: small, medium, and large. I haven't done it yet, but I will very soon.

Little Rabbit

Sunday, December 25, 2011


 This stuffed rabbit is Steiff but his only tag says "Made in US-Zone Germany" which means he was made in the late 40s.

Creating A Language - Part 2 - Choose your Phonemes

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Creating A Language Part 2

Choose your phonemes!Woo! Now we are ready to pick some phonemes for our language. This is the first major step! You can look at the IPA chart and pick as many or few phonemes as you want, but do keep in mind the following:

A phoneme is a distinct sound which cannot be replaced with another without changing the meaning of a word. /i/ and /u/ are distinct English phonemes because /bi/ (bee) and /bu/ (boo) are different words.

Even if you can't hear the difference, if two phonemes are different letters of the IPA, native speakers would be able to. Many non-English speakers probably think it is nuts that we can easily tell the difference between the words beat, bit, bet, bought, boot, but, bat, boat, bite, bout, boyt (not a word, but it could be), etc.

There are "language universals" which means that every language follows a certain rule. There are universals that are mandatory, and universals which are only a very strong trend. When choosing your phonemes, you must follow the mandatory ones if you wish your language to be realistic, and you should truly consider following the non-mandatory ones. (It is possible for there to be exceptions to these rules, but the incidences are so minute as to not be very important for our purposes).

So print out a copy of the IPA, pull out a pen, and start circling your sounds based on the following rules:

(this is not a complete list, but I think it is good enough for this project)

- All languages have at least two vowels, but tend to have at least three, which tend to be /i/ (as in bee), /u/ (as in boo), and /a/ (which we don't use by itself in English, but is common in many other languages. It is between the a in father and the a in cat.). You can have more of course!

-Back vowels tend to be rounded (o, u, etc) (your lips are rounded)

-Front vowels tend to be unrounded (i, a, etc) (your lips are unrounded). (of course there are languages with rounded front vowels like German umlaut o and u, but they also have the unrounded versions too).

- All languages have consonants.

- All languages have stops. (you must have at least one sound from the row on the IPA labeled plosive: ie t, d, k, g, p, b, in English (and the glottal stop is also in English));

- All languages tend to have voiceless stops (left side of column in plosive row), nasals (nasal row), fricatives, and /h/

- Approximants tend to be voiced (normal and lateral) (right side of column)(if you have voiceless ones, you probably have their voiced counterparts)

- Stops and Fricatives tend to be voiceless (left side of column) (if you have voiced ones, you probably have their voiceless counterpart, with the exception of /p/ and /b/ where you can have /b/ without /p/)

- If a language has nasal vowels (vowels that sound.. nasally...), they tend to be on vowels the language already has in a non-nasal form (this is indicated with a ~ on top of the vowel).

- Every language has at least 11 phonemes and no more than 112.

- Every language has at least 6 consonant phonemes and no more than 81.

- Every language has at least 2 vowels and no more than 31 (O_o).

- The most common sounds are /p/, /t/, /k/, /m/, /n/.

So if you would like somewhere to start, begin your language with the sounds /p/, /t/, /k/, /m/, /n/, /h/, /i/, /u/, /a/... and then add and modify it from that point.

As always, if you have any questions, please leave me a comment. Also, feel free to leave your phoneme list (please copy and paste IPA letters from this keyboard.) and I will tell you if it's a good one that follows the rules!

If you have a phoneme list you are confident and happy with, you are ready to move on!

Sources and more rules for the truly dedicated:

Creating A Language - Part I - IPA

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Creating A Language Part I

Introduction to Phonetics

Before we can take our language anywhere, we need to familiarize ourselves with the international phonetic alphabet. You know those funny letters in the dictionary that are supposed to tell you how to pronounce something but nobody can actually read? That's IPA (and linguists can read it).

It is imperative that you learn some IPA before beginning. Luckily, there are a lot of resources on the internet to help you out.

So I'll try not to reinvent the wheel here.

This is the IPA chart. Try not to get scared.

The large table has the "pulmonic" consonants; that is, they are made the normal way, by breathing out with our lungs through our mouth or nose.

The rows represent the way the sound is made in the mouth. For example, Plosives are sounds like t, p, and k, which have a sudden release of air. They are also called stops. Nasals and trills are fairly self explanatory. Fricatives are ones that have a continuous, but obstructed, airflow. Sounds like s, f, sh. So, the air is only flowing through a narrow opening which makes a hissing sound. The other most important category for our purposes is approximants--sounds like l and r. There is airflow, and it's unobstructed, but not so much so that it's a vowel.

The columns represent where in the mouth it's being made. The left side of the chart is the front of the mouth, and the right side is the back of the mouth, into the throat even.

So almost all sounds are a combination of where your tongue is and how much air is passing through.

The little nonsquare diagram on the right represents the vowels. The rows represent how much the mouth is open and the columns represent whether its made near the front or back of the mouth. Vowels come in pairs. The one on the right of the line is the one with rounded lips, and the one on the left of the line is the one with relaxed lips (o vs a for example).

The other letters outside of those two areas are sounds which are made by suction or other methods besides the "normal" way (such as clicks like in African languages).

Luckily for us, a lot of the letters correspond straight to what we are familiar with. Ones to watch out for are /j/ which is the english y sound (like German). /y/ is not an English sound. /r/ is a rolled r, not an English r. English r is represented by /ɹ /. There are other different ones too. J as in Judy and ch are not on the chart. They are "affricates," a combination of a stop and a fricative (J is d and the voiced sh... which is like the french J, ie Jean-Luc Picard. Ch is a combination of t and sh). They are written with the stop and fricative symbols touching. The vowels are also similar but different, so be sure to study them.

The reason I am attacking you with all this information is because the uninformed tend to be very narrow in their thought about what sounds a language can have. There are many, many sounds on those charts that don't occur in English, and we want them to be fair game for our made up language.

The best thing you can do now is familiarize yourself with the sounds. There are good videos on youtube for this if you want to go that route.

UCLA has a website that I used while in Phonetics class. You can explore the IPA there and click on the chart to hear the sound which corresponds to each letter, both syllable-initially and between vowels.

If you think you've got a good idea of how the IPA works, and have a better familiarity with the range of sounds in the world's language, then you are ready to move on to....!

Choosing Phonemes