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The Dêbiua Language

Hans Straub, all rights reserved
News (last updated 2006-03-28)

Inventing artificial languages has for some time been a slightly eccentric hobby of mine. It was through the internet that I discovered there are quite a lot of other people with the same hobby - an impression of how many gives the website Conlang Profiles at Langmaker.com, which lists more than a thousand artificial languages! This is one of the great things of the internet: that people of the most alien interests can come together!

Below is an introduction into my latest constructed language ("conlang"), Dêbiua. It is my first conlang for whose creation I was able to profit from the many informations available on the internet, the one mentioned above as well as, e. g., www.zompist.com, and also the newsgroup alt.language.artificial. I think it came out quite well!

Visitors since 2003-08-26:


Basic ideas

I was inspired to the invention of Dêbiua by the word construction system of arabic, where roots are defined by consonant clusters, with vowels added according to a specific pattern to indicate fine meaning. The main idea for Dêbiua was to use a "dual" system, i.e. roots are defined by vowel clusters and consonants are added for grammatical forms.

The grammatical forms, however, are not related to arabic at all. I used a second idea that I had already been experimenting with in an earlier conlang (Frashish), and which has also been discussed in the newsgroup: the idea of simplifying and unifying the word building process by defining most of the roots in one word class only (in my case: adjectival) and defining, e.g., verbs via combination of roots with a limited number of verbal roots - making all verbs auxiliary verbs, so to say.

Combining the two ideas leads to the obvious system of defining adjective roots via vowel clusters (many), basic noun and verb roots via consonant combinations (few), and the actual words via combinations of the two - and here is the skeleton of Dêbiua!

The rest of the language is more or less straightforward euroclone: concepts for cases, tenses etc. are mainly borrowed from european languages, such as English, German, Latin and French.

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Sounds

A language where roots are defined by vowel clusters favorably has a sound system with many vowels. The task of defining such a sound system - I wanted the vowels to be appear mainly in clusters and yet stay pronounceable and identifiable - is not that trivial!
I came up with the following system of 16 vowels and 11 consonants. Observe that I count l and r as vowels.

Vowels:

Spelling Pronounciation
y like i in English "it". This is not used in roots but only as fill-in (to prevent consonant clusters inside words).
i like ee in English "eel".
o, u, ö, ü like in long syllables in German (o NOT like English "bob" or like Spanish! More like english "sports").
é, è like in French.
a somewhere between a in English "bad" and French à.
somewhere between "Bob" in american english and a in English "father".
ó like eu in French "peur" (similar to u in English "hunt").
, , ê (alternative spellings: an, on, en) nasalized vowels (unfortunately, I could not get the tilde above the e).
l like english "well".
r like english, e.g. in "argh" .

Consonants:

Spelling Pronounciation
p, t, k, b, d, g, m like in english, german, french or italian (there are slight differences here between german and romance languages - these are allowed, according to taste or situations.)
s like in english, always voiceless. This is not used in roots or grammatical forms, but only as a fill-in (between identical vowels and to prevent vowel clusters with more than 4 elements).
th like in english, always voiceless.
ph like f in english, german, french or italian.
kh like german "ach" or j in spanish "ojo".

Vowels usually appear in clusters which can contain up to 4 vowels. These are to be pronounced as one syllable - like in english "pure" (3 vowels) or "quiet" (4 vowels!). Clusters of more than 4 vowels should not appear (if necessary, an "s" is inserted).

Consonant clusters can appear between words (when the first ends with a consonant and the second starts with one). Consonant clusters inside words should not appear (if necessary, one ore several "y" are inserted).

Words with several syllables have stress on the first syllable.

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Word classes

Dêbiua is an inflecting language where the function of a word can be derived from its form, more specifically from its beginning. (I deliberately chose it to be NOT the ending, since this is what Latin and most european languages do!) Here are the word classes and their beginnings that I have defined so far:

Adjectives and adverbs start with a vowel.
Nouns and pronouns start with t, th or d.
Verbs start with k, kh or g.
Prepositions/case markers start with p, ph or b.
Conjunctions start with m.

I am not sure yet whether I will need more different beginnings. Currently, I intend to let all word classes not defined yet start with "m" - but it may well be that I will have to introduce another consonant...

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Adjectives/adverbs

The huge majority of roots in Dêbiua are adjectivals. As said above, they are defined by vowel clusters, more specifically of clusters of 3 (basic) or 4 (less basic) vowels. Any vowel combination (not containing the special vowel y) is allowed,which gives us 15^3 = 3375 possibilities for basic roots and 15^4 = 50625 possibilities for less basic ones - quite enough for a very long time...

Inflection:

Adjective inflection is used to express: comparative, superlative, function in sentence.

Comparative is formed from the root form by inserting a "b" after the first vowel. Superlative is formed from the compatative by inserting an additional "b" after the second vowel. Examples:
a (big), ba (bigger), bab (biggest).

An adjective's function in a sentence can be: predicative (e.g. like "the tree is big") or modifier ("a big tree"). This is modeled through the adjective's ending.
Adjectives in predicative position end with a vowel (usually the root form), noun modifiers end with -ph, verb modifiers end with -th, adjective/adverb modifiers end with -k, and preposition modifiers end with -kh.

The first two variants include what is usually called "adjective", while the other variants include what is usually called "adverb". This system may seem complicated - but it is still easier than in latin (no cases!), and I think it is quite useful for the structuring of compound expressions (to differ "a strange, colourful hat" from "a strangely colourful hat" - or to resolve the ambiguity in "he is driving fucking slowly").

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Nouns/pronouns

Basic noun roots (auxiliary nouns) are defined by consonant pairs. The first consonant is t, th or d while the second consonant can by any except s. This gives us maximally 3*10 = 30 possibilities to form auxiliary nouns.

The first consonant divides the nouns into 3 groups, which differ by meaning (so Dêbiua has elements of philosophical languages as well!). Nouns starting with th describe living things, those starting with t describe non-living things and those starting with d describe abstractions. Examples:
th-ph (man, human being), t-t (thing), t-d (material, stuff), t-th (place), d-d (-ness), d-b (way of doing).

The huge majority of nouns is formed via combining an adjective root with one of the basic nouns in the way that the two consonants encircle the first vowel of the adjective. Examples:
a (big), óoó (male), thpha (giant), thóphoó (man, male human being), dda (bigness).

Noun roots can, of course, also appear without an adjective; in this case "y" are filled in. Examples:
dyby (way of doing), tyty (thing), thyphy (man, human being) - to distinguish from thóphoó!

Inflection:

Noun inflection is used to express plural only, which is formed by shifting the second consonant one position to the right. Examples:
thpha (giant), thaph (giants).

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Verbs

Basic verbal roots (auxiliary verbs) are defined by consonant pairs, the first consonant being k, kh or g while the second consonant can by any except s. This gives us maximally 3*10 = 30 possibilities to form basic auxiliary verbs.

The first consonant, as in the case of nouns, determines the meaning: verbs starting with k describe something "static" (not changing in time), those starting with kh describe something "dynamic" (developing over time), and those starting with g describe a "point" in time, a beginning or an ending. This latter is actually a kind of aspect (aspects, generally, are expressed mainly through the choice of the verb root). Most "dynamic" verbs have a "point" variant. Examples:
k-th (to be), k-d (to be progressively, like spanish "estar"), kh-ph (to become, "slowly"), g-ph (to become, "suddenly").

In the same way as nouns, the majority of verbs is formed via combining an adjective root with one of the basic verbal roots, the two consonants encircling the first vowel of the adjective. Verb roots without adjectives appear with "y" filled in. Examples:
kydy (is progressively). aéo (near), kadéo (is near), khadéo (approach), gadéo (arrive).

Inflection:

Verb inflection is used to express: tense (present, past, future) and reality (real, unsure, unreal).

Tense is expressed by a verbs ending:
Verbs ending with a vowel (root form) are in present tense, Verbs ending with b are in past tense, Verbs ending with d are in future tense. Examples:
kadéo (is near), kadéob (was near), kadéod (will be near).

Reality is expressed by the consonant between the second-to-last and the last vowel:
No consonant (root form) means real (indicative), "g" means unsure (french: subjonctif; german: Konjunktiv I), "kh" means unreal (french: conditionnel; german: Konjunktiv II). Examples:
kadéo (is near), kadégo (no direct correspondence in english; to be used like subjonctif in french to express that something is not sure - "may be near" - or like Konjunktiv I in german in indirect speech - "they say is near"), kadékho (would be near). kadékhob (would have been near, kadégod (might be near in the future) etc.

This full orthogonality might not be exactly necessary - some of the variants will obviously be used not very often - but OTOH, it is not that difficult and, I think, quite clear and easy to learn! (A little less easy, however, is my current concept to express all other things like progressive aspect, passive, perfect etc. through the choice of the verb root. I am not sure yet whether this will work in all circumstances.))

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Prepositions/case markers

Preposition roots have the form CW, where C is p, ph or b and W is y or a two-vowel cluster without y.
Prepositions standing before a noun start with p or ph, where p indicates something "static" (not changing over time) and ph something "dynamic". Prepositions standing before a verb or subordinate clause start with b.
A number of prepositions exist in a static and a dynamic variant, and most have a "subordinate clause" variant.

A number of basic prepositions have the character of noun cases. Examples:
pi (static locative, on/in), phi ("dynamic locative", onto/into), pöa or böa (instrumental, with the help of), pli or bli (Finalis, with the purpose of).

The most basic prepositions are, of course, those without vowel clusters: py, phy and by. These are "unspecific case markers", indicating simply that something is not a subject - usually translated best as accusative. "By" is used to form the infinitive of verbs, as english "to".

Prepositions can be modified with adjectives. example: èkh pi (inside, in).

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Loan words, proper names

<coming later>

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Sentence structure

Basic sentence elements are, like in most european languages, subject, verb, and object. Word order is a little flexible: objects, being identifiable on their case marker, can stand anywhere while the order S-V is fix. So we have the following possible word orders: S-V-O (english), S-O-V (standard in latin), O-S-V ("Yoda talk").
Adjectives/adverbs that act as modifiers stand before the item they modify. (This is like in english for noun modifiers - but not, e.g., for verb modifiers!)

These rules are not iron when poetry is involved. For example, noun modifiers can be placed anywhere in a sentence if there is only one noun in it. As a general guideline, anything is allowed as long as the meaning is unambiguous.

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Example 1: A little poem

The following poem, written by Gustavo Salvini, once was posted into the newsgroup alt.language.artificial, and a number of participants have translated it into their conlangs. The complete collection of all translations (including many natural languages, too) is available on Gustavo's homepage. I think it is well-suited for a first translation exercise with a new language, for the occurring grammatical structures are quite elementary, and yet the poem is not trivial.

English:

You are with me always
your name in a thousand tongues
in every note
in every arpeggio
in every scent.

Dêbiua:

thüpor s óüth kadéo aéokh pi thapiu
üorph dédri pöa s auèph ykykyph dysyb
èkh pi ióph titu
èkh pi ióph uóoph trtiu
èkh pi ióph dèduó .

Analysis:

üor: your, yours. th-p: personal pronoun. thüpor: you.
s: inserted to prevent a 5-vowel cluster.
óü: always. -th: ending for verb modifiers. aéo: near, close. k-d: to be (progressively, spanish "estar"). kadéo: to be near.
-kh: ending for preposition modifiers. pi: locative case.
aiu: my, mine. thapiu: I, me.

-ph: ending for noun modifiers. éri: named. d-d: abstraction, -ness. dédri: name.
pöa: instrumental case. auè: thousand. k-k: speak. ykyky: speaking (participe). d-b: way (of doing). ykykyph dyby: language. dysyb: plural of dyby.

è: inside.ió: every. iu: (beautifully) sounding. t-t: thing. titu: tone, note.

uóo: distributed. riu: polyphonous, consonant, "chordy". trtiu: chord.

èuó: fragrant. dèduó: scent.

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Example 2: The "ring" poem by J.R.R. Tolkien

The following poem stands at the beginning of J.R.R: Tolkien's "Lord of the rings". It is grammatically slightly more complicated than the first example (e.g. it contains relative pronouns and subordinate clauses) and thus another excellent elementary translating exercise. Anyway, to translate it into a conlang appears as a quite natural idea, since Tolkien himself is famous for the languages he invented! Translations into many natural and artificial languages have indeed been done; collections of those (together with the original) can be found here and here.

The following translation is a literal one, without poetic considerations involved.

alêph tritê phi Ykuèêdiph throphil ilkh pi titha
troti phi Ykhasadyph thlupil èôkh pi pi thysyp óióph tuthrl
tèuti phi èuékhöphoph thysyp uö bli khöpho
tltur phi roph thlpuil pi pi thypy roph luilph tltiè
pi pèr Mordor tthrl, pi tuthri thrikuo kathlé.
lurph trtiê bli klthuil py thipó, lurph trtiê bli khaphiê py thysyp
lurph trtiê bli khithêu py thipó mou bli èkh pi dgro khuthö py thysyp
pi pèr Mordor tthrl, pi tuthri thrikuo kathlé.

<Analysis coming later>

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Hans Straub
Date: 2006-03-28

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