Question about languages in an 'unstable' conworld

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Jampot911
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Question about languages in an 'unstable' conworld

Post by Jampot911 » Wed 06 Dec 2017, 20:24

...that statement probably needs a bit more explanation. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure if this is the correct place to post such a question (since it kind of borders conlangery and conworldry) but I think it's more relevant to the former. So here goes!

In my current conworld (tentatively dubbed 'A World of Sand and Glass'), the basis is a planet ruled over by Onlookers - nature spirits, basically. The main premise is that humans keep trying to build up civilisations. They do so rapidly, developing technology at extreme speeds. Why? The Onlookers are continuously seeking to find a way to reclaim nature and destroy these civilisations, so they have to develop as quickly as possible (each still lasts for a few hundred years though). Every time a civilisation crumbles is entombed by sand, a new one arises from the dunes. Therefore, new civilisations spring up independently of one another, except for the technology they recover from the ruins of prior civilisations. Even then, they only know how this works through experimentation and often end up using the technology for the incorrect purpose. Those of you who are familiar with the RPG Numenera may understand the idea that I'm looking for here. Thus there is little continuity between civilisations (i.e. NOT like the continuity from the Roman Empire to the Byzantines). Let me just stress that this is definitely a science-fantasy type world that's not TOO concerned with realism!

Nonetheless, my question is essentially HOW (if at all) would language evolve? I'm sort of at a loss! [:'(] The easiest solution would appear to have some sort of 'common' tongue (like in D&D, for example) but that seems like a bit of a cop-out for my perfectionist heart and, frankly, a tad boring.

I'm not asking yous all to do the work for me (that would take the fun out of it), but I would love to hear your takes on this! Thanks in advance. [:D]
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eldin raigmore
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Re: Question about languages in an 'unstable' conworld

Post by eldin raigmore » Wed 06 Dec 2017, 20:39

Why should language depend on civilization?
The parts of each language that are still relevant to non-history-writing, non-city-building, non-metallurgy-using life, will continue to evolve as normal.
(Or do the Onlookers always knock them back to before the Neolithic and therefore before farming?)
They'll probably still have pots, tools like you could make out of stone or other natural substances, domesticated plants and animals, and so on.

The writing, maybe, may have to be re-invented every time; or maybe not.
Architectural terms and smithing terms (and maybe also glass-making terms?) probably have to be re-invented every time.
But when a civilization falls, maybe some (or even many!) of its language's technical terms survive, re-purposed to have non-"civilization"-dependent meanings.
And when a new civilization arises, it will probably generate most of its technical terms from terms it already has; and many of these might be near-revivals of meanings the terms in the last sentence once had.

I'd say; In terms that are useful only to "civilized" people, language will evolve much more quickly and perhaps erratically; while in terms useful mostly to people without civilization (which I take to mean without city-dwelling (or at least without city-building), without historiography, and without metallurgy), language evolution will go at a normal pace.

BTW is their "palette" of "basic colorterms" (where "basic" means "monomorphemic and underived") something that will be affected?
I once read that having lots (six to twelve? not sure) of basic colorterms was typical of "civilized" people, while having just a few (three to six? not sure) was typical of non-civilized people.
But I don't know that that's true; and, even if it is true, once a language has a colorterm, why should they lose it? Especially in just a few centuries?
Last edited by eldin raigmore on Fri 08 Dec 2017, 15:26, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Question about languages in an 'unstable' conworld

Post by Jampot911 » Thu 07 Dec 2017, 17:28

eldin raigmore wrote:
Wed 06 Dec 2017, 20:39
Why should language depend on civilization?
The parts of each language that are still relevant to non-history-writing, non-city-building, non-metallurgy-using life, will continue to evolve as normal.
(Or do the Onlookers always knock them back to before the Neolithic and therefore before farming?)
They'll probably still have pots, tools like you could make out of stone or other natural substances, domesticated plants and animals, and so on.

The writing, maybe, may have to be re-invented every time; or maybe not.
Architectural terms and smithing terms (and maybe also glass-making terms?) probably have to be re-invented every time.
But when a civilization falls, maybe some (or even many!) of its language's technical terms survive, re-purposed to have non-"civilization"-dependent meanings.
And when a new civilization arises, it will probably generate most of its technical terms from terms it already has; and many of these might be near-revivals of meanings the terms in the last sentence once had.

I'd say; In terms that are useful only to "civilized" people, language will evolve much more quickly and perhaps erratically; while in terms useful mostly to people without civilization (which I take to mean without city-dwelling (or at least without city-building), without historiography, and without metallurgy), language evolution will go at a normal pace.

BTW is their "palette" of "basic colorterms" (where "basic" means "monomorphemic and underived" something that will be affected?
I once read that having lots (six to twelve? not sure) of basic colorterms was typical of "civilized" people, while having just a few (three to six? not sure) was typical of non-civilized people.
But I don't know that that's true; and, even if it is true, once a language has a colorterm, why should they lose it? Especially in just a few centuries?
Hmm! This has given me a lot to think about!

I think this makes a lot of sense, and it means that I don't have to worry about COMPLETELY reinventing the wheel (pun intended [:P] ) every time a civilisation goes bust. And I really appreciate the idea of technical terms being re-purposed into more "mundane" (for lack of a better word) terms; I think that this would add a lot more depth to the etymologies and such of many of my words.

On colours: I haven't actually started sketching anything, but I think that argument seems persuasive; it seems reasonable that colour terms wouldn't necessarily be lost.

Thanks very much! I love hearing different people's takes on things. Hopefully (when I've worked up some semblance of a resolve to work on it...), I'll be able to do a post on the evolution of different words, but I can't promise anything soon.
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Re: Question about languages in an 'unstable' conworld

Post by eldin raigmore » Thu 07 Dec 2017, 18:22

Jampot911 wrote:
Thu 07 Dec 2017, 17:28
I think this makes a lot of sense, and it means that I don't have to worry about COMPLETELY reinventing the wheel (pun intended [:P] ) every time a civilisation goes bust. And I really appreciate the idea of technical terms being re-purposed into more "mundane" (for lack of a better word) terms; I think that this would add a lot more depth to the etymologies and such of many of my words.
....
Thanks very much! I love hearing different people's takes on things. Hopefully (when I've worked up some semblance of a resolve to work on it...), I'll be able to do a post on the evolution of different words, but I can't promise anything soon.
I, for one, am definitely looking forward to it!
Thanks for your reply; it's nice to find out I actually helped somebody!
I'm surprised more people haven't also responded.
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Re: Question about languages in an 'unstable' conworld

Post by gestaltist » Fri 08 Dec 2017, 22:16

I like your premise. I would like to hear more about the Onlookers, if you don't mind.
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Re: Question about languages in an 'unstable' conworld

Post by Jampot911 » Sat 09 Dec 2017, 19:01

gestaltist wrote:
Fri 08 Dec 2017, 22:16
I like your premise. I would like to hear more about the Onlookers, if you don't mind.
I'm just glad that you like it!

I suppose an explanation of the Onlookers definitely comes more under worldbuilding but I figure that I may as well talk about them here, rather than starting a new topic.

The Onlookers are essentially nature spirits, as I mentioned before, taking a vaguely humanoid form and size. However, they appear see-through and blurred, rather like the jittering air above an open fire, for example. This means that for all intents and purposes the Onlookers are invisible to humans, although it is still technically possible to see them, but only if you're really looking for them. Rustling bushes, a pan suddenly dropping, the feeling of being watched ... these are the sorts of events that announce the presence of the Onlookers. However, humans, for the most part, are unaware that the Onlookers even exist. (Some humans may have come into contact with them, but this is an exceptionally rare occurrence.)

So - what do they do? They pretty much work towards ensuring the survival of nature. What happens to civilisations is of no consequence to them. They don't outright hate humans or civilisation, but they simply care about safeguarding the natural world. What is natural in their world, though, doesn't necessarily equate to what's natural in ours. The Onlookers all pour their emotions into the way they reclaim nature, constructing a new landscape according to their own whims and personalities. This can lead to some strange places - valleys of glass (the reason for the inclusion of glass in the project's current title), blue sands, floating rock formations, etc. Obviously, this world isn't really rooted in reality!

Really, though, they act like humans for the most part. They fight, they love, they live. And they completely fail to realise the irony in their actions of manufacturing their own,
twisted versions of nature rather than letting nature reclaim its own kingdom.

This is the rough idea in my head so far. I'll post up more information in the future perhaps, probably making a new topic in the Conworld section, though I don't feel as if I have enough material yet to justify it at this point.

Thanks for showing an interest though!
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Re: Question about languages in an 'unstable' conworld

Post by gestaltist » Sat 09 Dec 2017, 21:34

I like it so far. When you create the thread, I would like to know about the origin story for the Onlookers.
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Re: Question about languages in an 'unstable' conworld

Post by qwed117 » Sun 10 Dec 2017, 01:56

Well, language is spread by civilizations, so the instability would suggest that world-languages would be unlikely. On the other hand the instability would encourage frequent migrations, so I'd guess this implies that sprachebundes would be less common, and most languages would have a relatively heterogeneous history, encouraged by dialectalism.
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