Ka etea ei i mano kiko!
“I petted a donkey today!”
Notes: Remember yesterday how I mentioned I’d met a couple donkeys? Well, of course I had to get a picture of it.
What could be more exciting than greeting a charming animal? And I got to greet two of them!
This one’s name is Donkey Xote (or maybe just Don Quixote…? I only heard it; didn’t see it spelled), and, of course, his female companion is Dulcinea. (Sylvia asked of the caretaker, “Not Sancho Panza?” and she replied, “No. That’s the feral cat that hangs around here.”) They were quite amiable, even while being petted. It was a red letter day!
Couple things about this word. First, it doesn’t ever look right to me, but I chose the form on purpose. See, if one isn’t careful, one will accidentally replicate one’s phonological biases when coining new words. (That’s why you see a lot of conlangs where the word for “water” is something like ayala, or lorea, or shayula, or lelea [oh. Oops].) To overcome this, some conlangers use word generators (by the way, if you’re looking for one, Awkwords is a nice free one that’s online). I’ve tried that, but don’t really rely on it too much.
Instead, I take words that I have a really intuitive form for, and give it some form that’s completely different (bearing in mind the phonosemantic tendencies one creates for the language in question), or, in the case of mano, I take a word that’s familiar to me (Spanish mano, “hand”, is one of the first words I learned) and apply it to a completely unrelated concept. And that’s how mano became “donkey” in Kamakawi.
Secondly, the definition of mano in my dictionary reads as follows:
mano (n.) donkey, mule, ass
There’s a problem here, though: donkeys ≠ mules. They’re different animals (and, in fact, there may be no mules on the Kamakawi islands). I didn’t learn this until late in life, though, because I grew up in an urban/suburban setting, and thought that “donkey” and “mule” were synonyms.
This is one of the major problems that many conlangers face when creating a vocabulary: Often one does not have the experiential basis to create words for a given cultural environment.
I’ve heard many conlangers remark on how a number of so-called artlangs have vocabularies that presume a bronze age culture (or earlier). There are several good reasons for this. First of all, the languages we speak nowadays didn’t spring from Zeus’s head fully armed with monosyllabic words for “cell phone”, “internet” and “text message”. These languages began way, way, way back when. If you’re creating a language that’s intended to look like a natural language, that means you need to start way, way, way back when. Unless one is working with a very bizarre culture that’s operated in a way completely different from any we’ve known on Earth, one is going to need the word for “pestle” before one gets to the word for “gigabyte”.
Second, if one invents a word for something like “DVD player”, that assumes A LOT. I think it’s pretty safe to assume that any culture is going to have words for the floræ and faunæ it encounters, and words for basic actions and structures. But how can one assume that from those beginnings they will actually evolve in such a way as to duplicate our modern technology? There may be something roughly equivalent to a television, but will it work like a television? Will there be television stations? Will channels be associated with numbers? Why not letters? Or colors? And even if they’re roughly the same, how can one assume that they’ll be freestanding? What if all houses come built with a television hollow into which one puts a set? What if it has no cords, but just a set of plugs that fit directly into the grooves in that hollow, like a headlight into the space for a headlight in a car?
In other words, to coin a word for “television”, one has to evolve the entire world, and it has to miraculously go just as it did on Earth. This seems highly improbable. (At least, for a language that’s intended to look like a natural language. Obviously if you’re creating an auxlang, or some other language you want to use day-to-day, you need a word for cell phone, if you don’t want to end up using one in a natlang.)
Anyway, in a language like Kamakawi, I’m already assuming too much by assuming in some alternate universe, the animals and plants will be the same. Realistically, one should evolve new animals and new plants. That I’m not going to do. But I draw the line at modern tech. If I get to a modern era, I’m going to do my best to evolve some native technology.
That’s if I get there before I die (which, of course, will probably not happen).