Graecum est; non legitur

15.12.10 § 0 commentarii

Tephato it, ā Zeptes, sā chetūs dronthūs rocotriūs, aides cecleset zātrā zaurītrā nain harpeonta de ho Trouisa ton gobran chāleion. To gobrāt epiot asodonta, po to iramūt therrumais epeois sasathet; potho zeiaphet epano hūs garilās ges phoreleot d’ erexatin astaphatin·tho zera hendūt ampha maitara; nan phorelonteia tel eira rexatin to hendūt, zardona tancor zera marritīn, mamāngor de to rīnnīt Pharnoi; chēa·tho namusthonta tos tānus te de rondezoi. Tephato deio it, ā pharsī Pharnoi, sā chēas radreiās, ī chemeasthaus sathēs.

As any classicist will immediately spot, the above is not Greek. It is, however, the invocation to the Muse from the beginning of the Odyssey. In fact, the language above is Classical Tailancan (or, in its own terms, tos thialos arezios the common language), one of my conlangs. Essentially, it is to Greek as Sindarin is to Welsh. An a priori constructed language, designed to echo something of the beauty of the “target language”. Just as Sindarin is not simply a pastiche of Welsh, having its own distinctiveness as well, Tailancan is not identical to Greek. For a start, those u’s are back rounded vowels, not the front rounded vowels found in Attic. Grammatically, too, there are some significant differences. Tailancan’s typology is VSO- in fact, the grammar derives significantly more inspiration from Old Irish than it does from the language of Homer.

Like Sindarin, though, Tailancan was not created in a vacuum. It has a history, relatives, a location in time and place. Of all the areas in linguistics, the field of historical linguistics interests me the most: as such it’s no surprise that this is the aspect of the language which is most elaborately developed. The phonological development of Tailancan from its parent language is by no means identical to that of Greek from Proto-Indo-European: Tailanca’s parent and PIE were not identical after all. In fact, the phonological development owes a lot more to the development of Proto-Celtic from PIE, which means that Tailancan is considerably less “vocalic” than Greek: intervocalic and initial *s are retained, for example, which means there are far fewer crazy diphthongs. Also, following a vaguely Celtic path gives some cool vowel alternations. As an example, let us take the Tailancan word suptūs husband, the dative singular of which is suptāru, with a ū/ā alternation triggered by positional reflexes of *ō in the parent language: the nominative *sutbōrs, with *ō in the final syllable gives ū and the dative *sutbōru, with *ō in a non-final syllable gives ā.

Tailancan, along with Thaerskan, Chegdaran, Posian and Nemassic, is a member of the Kalpan branch of Kalpo-Lacaran family. Proto-Kalpo-Lacaran was spoken some four and a half millenia ago in the Tâgar Highlands, to the north of the Great Lake. After acquiring the wheel and the techniques of horse domestication from the Ḫansu, the community underwent something of a population explosion and started expanding, primarily into the fertile grasslands of the south-west. With their language already diverging significantly from that of their cousins who remained in the Tâgar, these Proto-Lacarans settled in the western Plain of Lacara about -500 NhA (nain hūs ardanās, “after [the foundation of] the city”, referring to the foundation of Šawniq, an Achaunese city. The current year is 2578 NhA, so the Proto-Lacarans settled the plain around three thousand years ago.) Here they set about happily stealing vocabulary, cattle and land from the nameless autochthones, who promptly fled to the northern mountains.

Fast-forward about a thousand years and the dialects of Proto-Lacaran had diverged to the point that it would be fair to refer to them as separate languages. During the intervening period, they acquired rather more than just words for “garlic” (scorda < *ksordā) and “wheat” (drista < *dritsā) from the displaced “Eteolacarans”. Proto-Kalpo-Lacaran had been a rigorously head-final language, with an active-stative morphosyntactic alignment: both traits retained by the Kalpan languages descended from those Kalpo-Lacarans who stayed behind in the Tâgar. Presumably due to areal and substratal influence, the Lacaran languages developed accusative alignment and head-initial typology (with the exception of the outlier Čegdaran, which remained head-final: an example of “archaism of the fringe”).

For reference, and to break up the wall of text, the following map shows the relative positions of the Lacaran-speaking peoples about 450 NhA:

Lacara 450

Lacarans are noted in bold: the Lacaioi are the people who spoke Tailancan. The PKL Urheimat is just to the north of the large lake near the Čegdarai. Non-Lacarans are shown with italics. The area covered by the map is about 2,200,000 km², which is about the same size as Greenland. Greenland’s actually pretty big.

To put some faces, as it were, to all the names mentioned so far, let us pause for a moment and take a quick sampling. Let us start with Proto-Kalpo-Lacaran:

*qʷʰeditraī tʰersa lakanī nadʰasa qǝqlesa. gʰedʰa ʕigʰan ɢʷʰoqʷaī gʰotnutu ʕikʷa dʰebʰemi.
qʷʰeditra-ī tʰersa-Ø lakan-ī nadʰa-sa q~qles-e-ti. gʰe-dʰa ʕigʰan-Ø ɢʷʰoqʷa-ī gʰotnu-tu ʕikʷa dʰebʰ-e-mi
first-ATT tribe-PAT broad-ATT river-ABL PRET~travel-IND-3SG. DEF-LOC I-AGT old-ATT fish-PAT.PL many remember-IND-1SG

The first tribe travelled from the broad river. I recall many old fish there.

Here note the verb standing at the end of the clause, and modifiers preceding their heads: *lakanī nadʰa “the broad river”, as opposed to the normal word order of Tailancan tos dolus lacanios where the adjective follows the noun. Also to note here is that PKL adjectives did not exhibit concord with their heads: rather they indicated whether they stood in an attributive or predicative relationship (the suffix *-ī, glossed as ATT). The typology here is still active-stative: note that mood is indicated only on agentive verbs, i.e. those with an ergative subject, as in the second sentence. Now for the same sentence in Proto-Lacaran:

*tʰersas kʷʰeditri-ɣos naδasa lakani-ɣos keklesa. ɣeδa eɣan ekʷa ɣotnuta wokʷi-ɣot δewemi.
tʰersa-s kʷʰeditr-i=ɣo-s naδa-sa lakan-i-ɣosa ke~kles-a. ɣe-δa eɣan-Ø ekʷa ɣotnu-ta wokʷ-i=ɣot δew-e-mi
tribe-NOM first-ATT=DEF-NOM river-ABL broad-ATT=DEF-ABL PRET~travel-3SG. DEF-LOC I-NOM many fish-ACC.PL old-ATT=DEF-ACC.PL remember-IND-1SG

Phonologically, the voiced aspirates of PKL have become voiced fricatives, and the uvular consonants have merged with the velars. Note also that the pharyngeal approximant has been lost, lowering adjacent vowels. Typologically, Proto-Lacaran is still mainly head-final, with SOV word order. However, something interesting is happening with the adjectives. Not only have they migrated to a position following their heads, but they also appear to have acquired demonstrative postclitics: it is not unlikely that the two phenomena are related. It seems that what has happened here is that instead of saying “the broad river”, PK speakers have begun to say in effect “the river, the broad one”. Unlike PKL adjectives, the demonstratives did mark case: so here we are seeing the beginnings of case concord.

Next up is Chegdaran, grammatically the most archaic of the Lacaran languages. The sample below is somewhat anachronistic: our first attested samples of Chedgaran date to about 1600 NhA, which is almost 1200 years after the other languages on the map. Aside from something of a tendency to greater analysis (but also greater synthesis: both person and mood are indicated by one morpheme), there’s little remarkable about Chegdaran.

Tarras kedžiřas nās lakeňas klasa. Tara ą aka ľembut vačat dzavą.
Tarra-s kedziřa-s ež nā-s lakeňa-s klas-a. Tara ą-Ø aka-t ľembu-t vača-t dzav-ą.
tribe-NOM first-NOM from river-GEN broad-GEN come-PRET.3SG. there I-NOM many-ACC.PL fish-ACC.PL old-ACC remember-IND.1SG

Thærskan is slightly more interesting. Below is a sample of Common Thærskan, which finds its first attestations in writing around the 11th century. The word-order has become SVO, and the language in general has become more analytic, developing a definite article þaz and using prepositional phrases instead of case forms. In fact, Thærskan reduced PKL’s nine cases to just three: nominative, accusative and prepositional. Note also that reduplication no longer marks the past tense, instead a periphrasis with the PKL verb *ʕot- “to do” has been grammaticalised.

þaz tærraz kʷeðirþijaz χlæzijaþa ju naðuną laχaniją. ejā ðāumi jeχʷa ʒaþnuþ falsijaþ ʒeþrað.
þa-z tærra-z kʷeðirþ-i-jaz χlæz-ijaþ-a ju þą naðun-ą laχan-i-ją. ejā-Ø ðāu-mi jeχʷa-þ ʒaþn-uþ fals-i-jaþ ʒeþrað.
DEF-NOM tribe-NOM first-ATT-NOM travel-PRET-3SG from DEF.ACC river-ACC broad-ATT-ACC. I-NOM remember-1SG many-ACC.PL fish-ACC.PL old-ATT-ACC.PL there

Posian, Nemassic and Tailancan all form the central core of the Lacaran languages, and differ only slightly in their grammatical structures: some have even gone so far as to describe Nemassic as a particularly divergent dialect of Tailancan. As such, we shall content ourselves finally with only a sample sentence from Tailancan:

Ceclesa tos therrumas thedirios ī tūs dolūs. Dēn traza epiot hontut ocriot.
ce~cles-e to-s therruma-s thedir-i-os ī tūs dol-ūs. Dē-n traza ep-i-ot hont-ut ocr-i-ot.
PRET~travel-3SG DEF.NOM tribe-NOM first-ATT-NOM from DEF.ABL river-ABL. remember-1SG there many-ATT-ACC.PL fish-ACC.PL old-ATT-ACC.PL

All three languages have fully adopted VSO word order, although Tailancan is the only language to have fully developed the definite article. All three retain the old attributive/predicative distinction in adjectives. An interesting phonetic development common only to Tailancan and Nemassic is the simplification of the old labiovelar consonants: in both languages original * changes to b. The fate of *kʷ(ʰ) is somewhat more complex, becoming a simple labial in Nemassic, but undergoing a conditioned split in Tailancan, becoming a dental before front vowels and a labial before back vowels. Thus we have Tailancan thediros for Nemassic peditros.

Going back on ourselves, the map above dates to about the same time as our first written records of Tailancan. By this point, the easternmost Lacarn peoples, the Posiī and the Lacaioi, had fallen under the cultural domination of the far more advanced and civilised Achaunese (the Aqawin of the map), who supplied not only a wealth of loanwords, but also their syllabary to write them with. While the Eteolacarans supplied loanwords for local flora and fauna and agricultural terminology, the Achaunese bequest was words relating to civilised living. The Lacaioi learnt music (armūcū flautist < ǝrmuxkun), seafaring (cemachis fleet < kemaq “boats”), mathematics (zairo number < dzayǝr) and writing (carthū scroll < karṭun). They also learnt about ostenation and domination: much of the Tailancan vocabulary relating to government and power derives from Achaunese, such as mencolis throne, from the Achaunese men-t-kawli “place of gold”.

After half a millenium of Achaunese dominance, the Lacaioi eventually got their act together and conquered the plain, arranging the untidy city-states and petty kingdoms of the Achaunese and their Lacaran cousins into a neat empire, based in the city of Carasta (which was situated about where the a of Lacaioi is on the map). By this point as well the Carastans (as we should rightly call them now) had developed the Achaunese syllabary into a true alphabet, ho rhalma. Coming full circle, the first few words of the passage quoted above would look like this in the Carastan script:

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