Creating an IAL using only Estonian vocabulary

Monday, August 02, 2010

Robert Winter has recently been considering the idea of creating an IAL from a single source, much in the same way that Latino sine Flexione was created but with one large difference: Latin even then was lacking in modern vocabulary (and is even more so now), whereas choosing a modern language means not having to worry about that. Pan-Romance has been done to death, so perhaps a new approach with a relatively small language could suffice. Estonian is interesting as though it is Finno-Ugric it also has a large amount of loanwords, especially from German. Here is an example of where the vocabulary comes from.

The point of making such a language would be the ability to teach students a few basic rules, arm them with a dictionary, and then let them begin using it right away. Since Estonian-(insert language here) dictionaries are already available, it would mean being able to use it to write anything immediately after its creation.

So let's take a look at what such a language might look like. As always, keep in mind that the language is not an attempt to simulate Estonian, but rather to make use of it in being its own language. It's not an attempt to be a pan-Finno-Ugric tongue.

First of all, nouns and cases. This might be a good way to go about it:

Nominative: no change
Genitive: -i if ends with consonant, -yi if ends with vowel. In some cases (words that end with -er, for example) it will also remove the last vowel before the consonant. Thus söber (Estonian sõber) becomes söbri (Estonian sõbra)
Partitive: -t or -it.
All other cases: same as Estonian with genitive ending plus whatever the case may be (-ga, -ni, -ta, etc.)


Nominative: -d, with -i buffer vowel in between if necessary. As with the genitive above it also removes the last vowel at the end before a consonant (söber -- söbrid, friend -- friends).
Genitive: nominative plural plus -i
Partitive: nominative plural plus -it. (note: may want to do away with the partitive however)
All other cases: as above.

Before showing a few example sentences we will need to establish how to use verbs. Verbs would end with -ma as is the case with Estonian verbs (actually there's also a -da infinitive for verbs but we'll ignore that form), except that it won't be exactly the same as the Estonian verb infinitive; it will simply be the third person singular with -ma tacked on the end. The reason for this is that sometimes one will find irregular verbs such as lugema (to read), which becomes loe- (ma loen, sa loed, etc.), and so in this language the infinitive form will be loema, not lugema.

1st person: -n
2nd person singular: -d
3rd person singular: no ending
1st person plural: -me
2nd person plural/polite: -te
3rd person plural: -vad

Same as in Estonian. The verb to be (olema) is now almost the same: Ma olen, sa oled, ta ole (Estonian here is on, but negative uses ole as in ei ole), te olete, nad olevad.

Okay, so how would you say they are in the school? (Nad) olevad koolis. The are in the schools: (Nad) olevad koolidis.

Negative: Estonian simply uses ei plus the stem to form the negative, but I wonder if this language wouldn't prefer simply using ei and the conjugated verb. Ei olete (you aren't) instead of te ei ole.

Vowels: õ and ö aren't distinguished in Saaremaa (or so I was told) so that distinction could probably be removed, and that would leave the vowels a, i, e, o, u, ö, ä, and ü.

To go: this could be either lähema or minema. Let's go with the former for now.

I go with the doctor: (Ma) lähen arstiga.
I go with the doctor's children: (Ma) lähen arsti lapsidiga.

Past tense would be easy: add -si before the verb ending. Ma olesin (I was), sa olesid (you were), ta olesi (Estonian: oli), te olesite (you were), nad olesivad.

Future tense is uncertain, as Estonian doesn't have any specific future tense but people using this hypothetical language may want to use it. One option to appease both sides would be to make the future tense optional (I'm in Tallin tomorrow - homme olen Tallinis - Estonian this would be Tallinas) but also give a future tense form for those who really want to use it. Perhaps something simple like a prefix.

Passive: olema + -tud. Uks ole suletud - the door is closed. (Estonian Uks on suletud).

Pronouns: the question here is whether to go with more natural-sounding Estonian forms for cases, or to go with the case rules outlined above. I have money (mul on raha in Estonian) could either be mul ole raha, or mal ole raha. I would probably prefer the former as it is not much extra to learn, and avoids the somewhat awkward mayil ole raha (ma = me + genitive + l).

Kas is obviously perfect as is for asking questions. Kas teil ole raha? Ei, mul ei ole raha. -- Do you have any money? No, I don't have money.

Miks ma pean olema New Yorkis? -- Why do I have to be in New York?
Sa pead olema New Yorkis, sest lähesid lennukiga ja nüüd sul ei ole raha tulema tagasi. -- You have to be in New York, because you went by plane and now you don't have money to come back.

Adjectives: comparative would be formed with -em, or -yem if it ends with a vowel. Suur (big) becomes suurem, kiire (fast) becomes kiireyem. Kui means 'than'. 'Most' is -im. Another possibility for most is köige + adjective (suurim, or köige suur). Given the similarity between -em and -im the latter might be a better option.

  • Eesti ei ole maailmi suurim (köige suur) maa. -- Estonia is not the largest country in the world.
  • Venemaa ole maalmi suurim (köige suur) maa, aga ei ole maailmi rikasim (köige rikas) maa. -- Russia is the world's largest country, but is not the world's richest country.

Other random examples:
  • Kas te tahate lähema söbridiga, vöi söbridita? -- Do you want to go with or without the friends?
  • Kus ole vesi? -- Where is (the) water?
  • Vesi ole su söbri majas. -- The water is in your friend's house.
  • Eestiyi pealinni nimi ole Tallinn, aga ajalugus pealinni nimi olesi Reval. -- Estonia's capital's name is Tallinn, but in history the capital's name was Reval.
  • Täna ilm ole külm, aga ei külmem kui eile. -- Today the weather is cold, but not colder than yesterday.
  • Ma armastan kirjutama raamatid, ja olen önnelik mu raamatidiga. -- I like writing books, and I am happy with my books.

I may update this post with a few more examples later on. As you can see though Estonian really is pretty easy to use right from the start. One thing to watch out for with a dictionary though are compound words using the genitive, like postimees (postman). Luckily that's the same as our IAL genitive (-i) but sometimes it's a different vowel.

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