Archive for August, 2010


• Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Glyph of the word 'a’i'.


  • (adj.) white
  • (v.) to be white
  • (v.) to be misty
  • (n.) mist

Mata ei ie a’i o feya tou.
“I can see the white of the waves.”

Notes: Apropos of nothing, that sentence struck me as a good one, so there it is.

The word for “white” comes from the older word for “mist”, it being nice and white most of the time. I’d say both meanings are quite common.

Or, I would if I were saying such things.

But I’m not.

So what is there to say today…? It’s a nice ikunoala, this one. There’s not much from the a in there, but there’s enough to be recognizable.

Here’s the thing. There was something conlang-related that I wanted to report today, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was. Grrr…

If I remember tomorrow, I’ll let you know.


• Monday, August 30th, 2010

Glyph of the word 'okuku'.


  • (pron.) nothing

Iko i okuku i ia!
“There’s nothing here for you!”

Notes: Today is Doug Ball’s birthday, and so I themed today’s entry after what I’m getting him: Nothing! :D

Just kidding (well, not about the nothing, but about the intent behind it). Today, though, I’d like to wish Doug a very happy birthday. Happy birthday, Doug! :D

Doug (currently a professor of linguistics at Truman State) is the inventor of the Skerre language, and is one of the best conlangers I know. We knew each other in our undergraduate days from the Conlang List, and met each other by chance as prospective linguistics graduate students at UCSD. As it turned out, I ended up going to UCSD, and he ended up going to evil (boo, hiss!) Stanfurd. Despite that mistake, we’ve remained friends over the years, and have kept up an e-correspondence in which we talk about our main passions: conlanging, music and sports.

Being able to bounce ideas off Doug has helped to improve my conlanging probably more than anything else. He’s helped me with Kamakawi over the years, and also my more experimental endeavors (often I end up asking him what exactly I can get away with, positing odd diachronic explanations on the fly [I still think /k/ > [h] / C[+nasal]_ makes sense somehow!]). His is a friendship I prize very highly, and today is a special day: He’s turning 30!

So, tikili i ia Doug on thirty grand years, and here’s to thirty more! :mrgreen:


• Sunday, August 29th, 2010

Glyph of the word 'kupiki'.


  • (v.) to wait
  • (adj.) waiting
  • (n.) waiting

Kupiki ei ae panakatá fiti…
“I’m waiting in my cold cell…”

Notes: Yesterday’s song may be the song that epitomizes Iron Maiden, but this song, I think, is their best work ever. Here it is, my number 1 Iron Maiden song:

Number 1
“Hallowed Be Thy Name”

Iron Maiden's single for 'Hallowed Be Thy Name'

The Number of the Beast (1982)

“Hallowed Be Thy Name” is a well-constructed, and well-executed short story in song form. It’s a story about a guy who’s being executed (hanged) for some crime (or crimes). The content of the song is the condemned man’s internal monologue as he reflects upon his life and his predicament. As his final moments draw nearer, the tempo of the music increases, to match his level of desperation. At its height, the prisoner is hanged, and Bruce Dickinson wails out his final words, “Hallowed be thy name.”

In addition to being a well-written song, it’s an excellent performance piece, with the character of the music matching the mood and theme of the lyrical content. It’s something bordering on the theatric, but in a metal—almost operatic—way. It’s about more than just the music: It’s about the experience—about capturing it and communicating it to an audience through music. That, in effect, is what metal’s all about, and this is one of the best metal songs ever written.

There you have it! Thanks for indulging me. I’ve been meaning to write up my top ten Iron Maiden songs somewhere somehow for quite awhile. The Kamakawi Word of the Day is a strange venue for such a thing, but it’s done now: It can’t be undone! Hooray! :D

You may notice that today’s word has been derived from kupi, which means “to sit”. Just hearing it, one might think it was the applicative form of kupi, but not so. The applicative would be more to say something like, “I sit the chair”, meaning “I sit on the chair”, but where “chair” becomes the direct object. This is a metaphorical extension of “sit”. The word focuses on the action one undertakes while waiting for someone—and sitting seems more likely than anything else. So “I sat because of you” would be an overliteral translation of Ka kupiki ei ti ia.

Thanks again for sitting through my top ten favorite Iron Maiden songs! I’m glad they made it up somewhere.

(By the way, the new album is good, but had no single song good enough to knock any of these out of the top ten.)


• Saturday, August 28th, 2010

Glyph of the word 'ata'.


  • (v.) to be dry
  • (adj.) dry
  • (n.) dryness

Hena kepo o ei a ata hoya o ei…
“My body’s numb and my throat is dry…”

Notes: Here it is: Probably the most popular song ever written about the Crimean War, coming in at number 2…

Number 2
“The Trooper”

Iron Maiden's single for 'The Trooper'

Piece of Mind (1983)

“The Trooper” is an Iron Maiden classic: Dueling guitars, their characteristic “galloping” rhythm, a song about an obscure historical event also loosely based on a famous British poem… If one were to ask for a single song that epitomizes Iron Maiden, this is that song.

The lyrics draw inspiration from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade”. Bruce Dickinson will sometimes read portions of the poem before performing the song live (the part with the lines “Cannon to right of them / Cannon to left of them”). I think it also showcases their somewhat tangled relationship with war. Iron Maiden have a lot of songs about war (especially about famous historical battles), but, at the same time, they reject it (cf. “These Colours Don’t Run”, for example). During their songs, though, they revel in the content.

“The Trooper” is a good example. I was fortunate enough to see Iron Maiden live in San Diego, and, of course, they played “The Trooper” (I don’t think they can play a live show without playing it). At the beginning of the performance, Bruce Dickinson picks up this gigantic Union Jack flag and races to either side of the stage waving, and everyone cheers—including me—even though none of us are English. Furthermore, this song is about an English soldier who charges forth in the Battle of Balaclava and is killed. It’s a high-energy number, and sounds quite menacing, but what is being reported is an ultimately meaningless death and a folly (echoed in the lines “The bugle sounds; the charge begins / But on this battlefield no one winds”).

But to get into the spirit of the song is kind of like wearing a costume on Halloween. One adopts the attitude of the courageous soldier plunging on into certain death for a little while just to try it out. The goal, I think, is to try to imagine what it must have been like. It’s not glorifying a tragedy, but is an attempt at musical empathy. I think it’s quite effective.

Funny Kamakawi aside. I can never—ever—remember the right genitive pronoun to use; I have to look it up every single time. You’d think I’d eventually get it—or at least remember one of them consistently—but no: I just keep forgetting. I knew that bodies are inalienably possessed, and that that meant they took a particular genitive marker, but I couldn’t remember which one it was, even though it was the easiest (o). So it goes…

[Update: This is the funniest and most appalling thing I’ve seen in quite some time: A gentleman playing Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper” by making farting noises with his hands. He calls himself a “manualist”. It must be seen—and heard—to be believed.]


• Friday, August 27th, 2010

Glyph of the word 'umeke'.


  • (v.) to twist (something)
  • (adj.) twisted

Ea. Umeke ei i ika tou.
“Yeah. I can twist.”


I came across my cat in such an incredible position the other day that I just had to take a picture of it:

Keli all twisted up.

Check that out! Her forepaws are faced one way, and her hindpaws are faced the other! Just to make sure this is clear, I’ve superimposed an arrow showing just how she’s contorted:

Keli all twisted up--with an arrow!

Look at that! Cats are something else.

So words like “turn” and “twist” are words that really trouble me. I was hoping (I always do) that I’d already created a word for “twist” in Kamakawi, but when I went to check, I hadn’t. I decided to derive it from “turn”, which…might work. Seems plausible, anyway. Personally, I think we could do without the concepts entirely. If it weren’t for fantastic creatures like cats, I bet we wouldn’t even need them.

And yet, cats be… They be all over the place. They be hugely. They keep being all over our rugs, being on our couches, and being on our keyboards. I guess there’s nothing for it. Let the twisting continue!


• Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Glyph of the word 'pika'.


  • (n.) thunder
  • (v.) for there to be thunder, to thunder
  • (adj.) thunderous, like thunder

Li ioku pika ti’ia poiu…
“Take not thy thunder from us…”

Notes: But take away our pride… There is way too much to say about this, so let’s get right to it!

Number 3

Iron Maiden's album Piece of Mind

Piece of Mind (1983)

“Revelations” is a true heavy metal anthem. It begins (after a kind of prelude) with the recitation of a poem by the enigmatical G. K. Chesterton (good writer, despite all else), and then dives into a kind of symbolic Egyptian tale that encompasses all that’s epic. Years before Nirvana (and even the Pyxies [though several years after Black Sabbath, who invented the trick (and several centuries after Beethoven, who probably had the prior claim)]), this song moves from a slow, lilting tempo in the verse to a fast-paced solo, back to the slow verse, and then to the intro bit which is somewhere in between. It’s strong the whole way through, and has a great finish (“Bind all of us together / Ablaze with hope, and free / No storm or heavy weather / Will rock the boat, you’ll see”). I stood and saluted the first time I heard it. Truly one of their very best.

Now to the word of the day. As you may have guessed, something inspired me to coin this word. What, you might ask? Well, even though I’ve posted about him once before, here he is again!


Yes, Pikachu, that darling little thunder mouse, directly inspired the Kamakawi word for “thunder”. But choosing pika for the word for “thunder” led to no small amount of other coincidences.

You may have noticed that this iku is tagged as both an ikunoala and an ikuleyaka. In fact, when I went to make the image for this iku, I went to the section of my font where ikunoala are stored and couldn’t find it. Turns out it was in the ikuleyaka section, and that’s when I realized that this iku is kind of a “pun”, in the visual sense.

The overall body of the iku is, of course, the glyph for pi. The line down the middle, though, can either be the glyph for ka, or the “bad” line determinative. Evidently when I created the glyph, I was thinking first of the “bad” line determinative. It’s there to indicate the danger of thunder (in that it’s commonly associated with lightning, which can be dangerous [but, hey, thunder’s loud, and it can kind of hurt your ears, if they’re tender… Or if it’s really loud, you might not hear someone say, “Don’t step on that sea urchin!”, and then you’d be in for it!]), but serves well as a reminder of the ka in the second half of the word.

If you look at this iku kind of slantwise, though, it kind of looks like a crouching Pikachu with a line going through him (and even another way of looking at it is to imagine the zigzags of pi being something like lightning zigzags. It kind of works!). That, as it turns out, is reminiscent of something from my life.

Back in 1999, all my friends became obsessed with this Nintendo game called Smash Bros. Whenever we got together, they would insist on playing it. This persisted when the sequel came out, and started up again in 2008 when the third one came out. They loved this game to death.

I, of course, hated it. No idea why. I like the characters, and like fighting games and competition in general (I was raised on Street Fighter and Bomberman). I’ve just never—ever—liked this game. I’ve never liked any incarnation of it, and still don’t. I’ve played it a lot, though. And, both as a matter of tradition and so I don’t have to learn any other character’s moves, I always choose the same character to play when I have to: Pikachu.


Pikachu basically has three moves (he has a fourth, but I could never do it right): He can stand at a distance and shoot little thunderbolts at people, which annoys the crunk out of them; he can teleport around, deftly avoiding attacks; and he can call down a lightning bolt on himself that hits anyone who touches it, and when he does so, he shouts out, “PIKA!” It actually kind of looks like the iku for pika, too!

Pika calling down lightning!

So basically, whenever I play, I stand far, far away and shoot people until they get annoyed and come at me, at which point in time I start calling down lightning—and if they get too close, I dash away and hide.

Oh, but I forgot to mention the best part. If you play Pikachu, you can change his palette, and give him a series of darling little hats! Here’s the set for the 2008 game:

Pikachu wearing different little hats!

When I play that one, I usually go with the goggles, but my favorite was always the blue wizard hat, which you could use in the first or second game (the palette choices for the second game are shown below):

Pikachu wearing more cute little hats!

Pikachu may not be the strongest character, but he is, by far, the cutest. And, hey, if you look at it the right way, the iku for pika kind of looks like Pikachu wearing a little hat!

Use your imagination. :)


• Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Glyph of the word 'ua'.


  • (phon.) glyph for the sequence ua
  • (n.) hill

Takama iu ua…
“Run to the hills…”

Notes: Run for your lives! Here it is, Iron Maiden’s most famous song, coming in at number 4:

Number 4
“Run to the Hills”

Iron Maiden's single for 'Run to the Hills'

The Number of the Beast (1982)

I mentioned earlier how I came to hear “Run to the Hills”. It was back when they still played heavy metal on the radio in Southern California (even if it was only a two hour show). What I neglected to mention was how thoroughly off my socks were knocked by the experience. (Ha! How’s that for a sentence? Maybe that’ll finally get me onto Language Log. Or do I have to change it to “knocks were socked” to make it interesting enough…?) “Run to the Hills” is a veritable sonic assault; it’s pure energy.

I’ll refrain from trying to capture the music of it in print. Allow me, though, to comment on the lyrics. The song is divided into two parts. The first part is a kind of lament by a Native American tribe (the Cree, according to the lyrics) about the devastation that Europeans have visited upon their lands and their people. This is followed up by a much faster section that’s the point of view of the Europeans. The Europeans, in this tale, are a rather rapacious and vicious bunch. They’re certainly not portrayed sympathetically.

And yet, the tempo is so lively, and the chorus so unbelievably catchy, that one can’t help but be swept up in it. The goal, I think, is to force the listener to adopt the point of view of the invaders, and to accept it, for the duration the song, in order ultimately to reject it. It’s a splendid musical example of what it’s like to be swept up in the hysteria of unbridled jingoism, to the point where lines like “Murder for freedom / A stab in the back” sound exciting. All in all, I’d say it’s a good meditation on the nature of exploitation.

There is a very definite reason that the iku for ua looks the way it does. Or at least I thought there was—for quite awhile, in fact. But now that I look at it, it simply cannot be an ikunoala. No way. It does kind of look like a hill, but why wouldn’t I have made it look more like a hill…? That’s what’s got me now.

Let’s say, for the time being, that it is a hill. What’s the line in there for…? I mean, if that were a mountain, maybe the line is telling you, “If it comes up to here, it’s a hill. If it goes beyond that, it’s a mountain.” I wish I could take a time machine back to when I came up with the whole system… I should have actually written down what I was doing. I always assume that I’ll know precisely what I was thinking by glancing at what I was doing. What I didn’t anticipate was how aging has frazzled my brain… I often feel like that old “this is your brain on drugs” commercial, even though I’ve never gone near the stuff.

Ale Ko

• Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Glyph of the word 'ale...ko'.


  • (v.) to come, to arrive

Ale ei ko ele male li i ia…
“I’m coming to get you…”

Notes: Technically, this is a rock song, but, man, it cooks!

Number 5

Iron Maiden's album Killers

Killers (1981)

Taken literally, this song is just about a guy searching for his father whom he doesn’t know. It sounds quite menacing, though; it’s got an edge. It’s also got that classic Iron Maiden sound, which starts with Steve Harris’s bass. Steve Harris is the main songwriter for Maiden (unusual for a bass player), and a byproduct of that is that many of Iron Maiden’s best songs have an incredible bass line. This song features one of Harris’s best. Add that to Paul Di’Anno’s best vocal performance (in my opinion), an incredibly catchy bridge, and killer guitar, and you have one of the best song’s Iron Maiden’s ever put together.

This is the second word of the day featuring ale, even though I haven’t done ale on its own yet. I almost did it today, but it just wouldn’t be right; the lexeme really is ale…ko. Some day…


• Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Glyph of the word 'ti’a'.


  • (n.) time
  • (v.) to take time, to last

Male ale ti’a li’ia ko!
“Your time will come!”

Notes: What a triumphant return this was! This is the refrain from a true classic:

Number 6
“The Wicker Man”

Iron Maiden's single for 'The Wicker Man'

Brave New World (2000)

Wow. Now the release of this song was an event.

To give you some background, the first Iron Maiden album I bought was The X Factor, which came out in 1995. This was the first album with their third studio lead singer Blaze Bayley. Being a fan of metal, I had heard of Iron Maiden, and heard they were great, so I picked up this album and tried it out.

It was terrible.

The first song, “The Sign of the Cross”, had promise, but thereafter, the off-key caterwauling of Bayley and the uninspired song writing left me cold. I immediately wrote Iron Maiden off as a band that had aged and was no longer any good (and, perhaps, was never any good). It wasn’t until, by chance, I heard “Run to the Hills” on a metal show on a local radio station that I decided to give them another chance. I proceeded to get their earlier albums, and the rest was history.

The discovery that Iron Maiden was one of the best metal bands in history, however, made me sad, more than anything else, because I thought, “Wow. This band was so good, and I missed them!” Bruce Dickinson was gone, and the band was…well, writing songs like “Fortunes of War” (or “Como Estais Amigos”, for that matter).

Then came the year 2000. On the radio, I heard an advertisement for Iron Maiden playing a concert, which struck me as odd (why would a non-metal radio station be advertising a concert of a band that had lost its way so irrevocably?), until they played a brief snippet of the chorus of “The Wicker Man”: “Your time will come!”

That was Bruce Dickinson; it was unmistakable. But is this some song I hadn’t heard before—some B-side? I thought. Unlikely. But does that mean that—! And, sure enough, it was true: Bruce Dickinson was back. And…wow.

It wasn’t like a return to form. It was much more than that. “The Wicker Man” opens with a single guitar playing some riffs that sound faded, distant; a little unimpressive. And then at the end of the measure a second guitar comes in loud and forceful, and there’s no looking back from there. This song grabs you by the throat and reminds you why you listen to metal, and why it’s good to be alive. And the best thing is that the rest of the album is fantastic. Iron Maiden didn’t reunite to get more money, or to produce some songs that sounded like the old ones, but to take the band to new heights undreamt of prior. This wasn’t a new Iron Maiden album, but a new classic. After a terrible hiatus, they came back and produced some of the best songs they’ve ever recorded, and this is the best of the bunch.

And, just to further illustrate how everything’s coming on back, I got the chance to see Iron Maiden (with Bruce Dickinson) a few years back in San Diego. Now I just need to see David Bowie and I’ll be set!

The iku for ti’a is very close to the original iku for ha; there’s just an added line. You can kind of see the ti in there, but its presence is barely noticeable. The result, though, is pretty cool, I think.

I’ve always been uncomfortable coining words for “time” in conlangs. They demand a lot of attention; a lot of thought. I think that’s why this word’s definition hasn’t been elaborated very much. The word should bespeak a system, or at least bring a long with it a host of other words. These words will help to shape the culture in important ways. Words for time, and related concepts, can’t be coined lightly. I think it’s for that reason that I always leave them until last, and spend so much time avoiding them. (For example, I haven’t even touched time in Dothraki.) Some day I’ll work it all out.


• Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

Glyph of the word 'kawau'.


  • (v.) to fall
  • (v.) to fall down
  • (n.) falling
  • (adj.) falling

Aeiu hopeke kawau ei…
“Into the abyss I fall…”

Notes: This is the opening to one of my all-time favorite songs…

Number 7

Iron Maiden's album Powerslave

Powerslave (1984)

Going to back to what I mentioned in the first post in this series, this is a song that can be appreciated on a kind of separate aesthetic level.

See, a lot of heavy metal songs take a fantastical (and sometimes silly) premise and treat it seriously. Without lyrics, music is excellent at setting a mood. The music in this song, then, sets the tone, and forces (or allows?) the listener to take the content of the lyrics seriously.

The song itself is about a hypothetical pharaoh facing his imminent death. See, these are the type of nonsensical or silly premises that metal can explore and take seriously (hard to imagine a Justin Bieber song about the same). It explores the classical tragic theme of the futility of limitless power in the face of the ultimate power: death. The lyrics of the chorus are especially poignant (if you can call this poignant; I lack a better word at the moment):

Tell me why I had to be a powerslave
I don’t want to do die; I’m a god—why can’t I live on?
When the Life Giver dies, all around is laid waste
And in my last hour I’m a slave to the power of death.

Good stuff—and a nice companion piece to Metallica’s “Creeping Death”, which came out in the same year.

Up next, possibly the best comeback since Star Trek: The Next Generation.