For my short story, “Stone and String,” and for The Wishing Blade series, I’ve been trying to develop a functional conlang (constructed language) to add flavor to the world and for use as plot points. However, I ran into a problem… how do I ask questions in my Cantingen language?
See, I’ve been developing this over a period of time. Figuring out potential words and jotting them down for future use… figuring out a grammar rule (researched a whole slew of grammar rules from various languages to figure out the previous grammar rule)… and adding them to the dictionary as I go. I already had verb conjugations figured out (at least for an imperative style phrase in present tense), numbers, possessives (sort of) and adjectives. Apparently I already figured out adverbs, too, but hadn’t realized it. (And so I jotted that down, too).
But then it hit me that I hadn’t figured out how to ask a question in the Cantingen language.
I considered not having them use questions at all… then decided that would be just a bit too bossy for them. While word magic based on the language isn’t likely to use questions (though Isaac has challenge me to figure out how they might make it work) since it’s based on commanding magic to do what they want, the casual speaker is going to want to ask questions.
So I did some quick internet research on interrogative language stuff… (it may become quickly apparent that while I am trying to learn what the various mechanics are, I have trouble remembering the names for those mechanics)… and began formatting how to create the questions.
First off, I knew that I couldn’t use tone to imply that something is a question. That’s because word magic is intended to be read and still be clear… without the use of a question mark. I didn’t want to mess with swapping sentence structure around to make a question. And I didn’t want to inflect the verb in order to suggest that it’s a question.
Somehow, the result ended up reminding of an elementary school English lesson:
How does the dog run? The dog runs quickly. The dog runs how? Quickly.
And thus I decided on these rules:
- Questions are to be phrased so that the interrogative portion of the question replaces the who/what/etc portion of the question.
- (Ex. The dog runs how? vs The dog runs quickly.)
- To form a question, the who/what/etc suffix is attached before the word quéth, thus forming the phrase which replaces the part of the sentence in question.
- (Ex. nanlli mean “how,”quéth indicates that the sentence is question. Together, they create nanlliquéth.)
- Because the question is indicated in the sentence, there is no need for a question mark.
- (Ex. In English, it would look like the person says: “The dog runs how.” It should read flatter, without the rise in tone that a question in English would have. )
- Yes/No questions simply attach quéth to the verb in question.
- (Ex. hasil is “dog” and nivé is “to run.” “The dog runs,” translates to Hasil nivétra. If you say “The dog runs?” in English, you would say Hasil nivétraquéth. in Cantingen.
The questions ended up looking something like this:
Who – ka
Who is that girl? Edyli is that girl.
Kaquéth dratethol ali doran. Edyli dratethol ali doran.
What – kas
That sound is of what? That sound is of leaves.
Ali runin dratetha so kasqueth. Ali runin dratethtra so inarame.
When – vésa
We leave when? We leave soon.
Yliav vésaquéth. Yliav jano.
Where – uru
The scroll is where? The scroll is in the box.
Kev dratethtra da uruquéth.Kev dratethtra da vari.
Why – ji
She weaves why? She enjoys to weave.
Walol jiquéth. Kaviol wal.
How – nanlli
She weaves how? She weaves quickly.
Walol nanlliquéth. Walol naf.
This is the girl I seek?
Éda dratetholquéth doran somaria.
It’s still rough, and probably needs some polishing, but that’s what I have so far. It came in handy while working on The Shadow War. While there aren’t anyone asking questions directly in the Cantingen language, there are a few times when the main characters are speaking to people who are from the Cantingen Islands. Knowing how their primary language worked, I was able to change the sentence structure to add to the voice of those character.
For example, there’s a scene that takes place at the marketplace outside of Ashan.
The merchant bowed politely to the horses. She spoke softly in a Cantingen dialect, nothing Toranih understood, before finally turning to her customers and smiling. “Something attracts your eye?” she asked. Her Cirenan speech was articulate and careful, common among the Islanders. A rich blue sash wrapped around her hips and across her slender, bronze shoulders. Her dark hair had been pulled into loose curls and silver ribbons.
Daernan gestured to a pastry with a flaky, golden-brown crust, apricot paste, and streaks of yogurt frosting. “I’ll have that.”
Though I use the question mark here to mark correct English grammar, note how the question is phrased… “Something attracts your eye?” rather than “Does something attract your eye?” or “Do you see anything you like?” Theoretically, you could read it as a statement: “Something attracts your eye.” But if the merchant were to be speaking in the Cantingen language, she would use “quéth” to designate the question. “Eliaved nicolquéth naenlli.” (Literally, it translates to “Unknown sweet bread attracts your attention.” but the merchant knows enough Cirenan to phrase the question in a more familiar way).
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I hope you enjoyed this post. 🙂 Have you tried constructing your own language, and if so, what problems have you run into?
If you want to read more about conlangs, I also have a post about Developing a Fictional Language (Cantingen) and Developing a Fictional Language (Maijevan).