Dánafála and the next steps for the Qári lexicon

Reflections on dánafála* or “derviation from roots” in Qári, and next steps for the lexicon.

Since 10 November, I have created from scratch one hundred and one “roots” for Old Qári, and derived from them a total of five hundred and seventy-two independent lexical items. The intention behind this task was a sense of major dissatisfaction with the Qári lexicon as it stood: by training and inclination I’m very much a historical conlanger, and having essentially made up most of the words in the Qári Lexicon 1.0 by simply plucking sounds at random, I was very conscious after a while that the words had no foundation or history. 

Similarly, they lacked any real coherence. This in turn made it more difficult to memorise them, and as one of the aims I have for the language beyond its place in my conworld is to use it for journalling purposes, this was obviously a major impediment. Implementing a historical basis for the words of the language was therefore very much an urgent desideratum.

What have I learnt from the experience?

  • deriving a large number of words in one go in a consistent-ish manner is hard! My initial list of root concepts was drawn from the Leipzig-Jakarta list, and sometimes I just ran out of inspiration for words that could conceivably derive from that root.
  • you are actively conculturing as you go. For example, I did not realise that the Qáritu associated blood with courage until I came to derive the word gáxrṇt ‘courageous’ from gərá ‘blood’
  • by the same token, avoiding anachronism can be challenging. Old Qári is contemporaneous with the beginnings of urbanism in the Vale of Ukxár, and is spoken in an environment not dissimilar to ancient Mesopotamia. I had to check on several occasions when coming up with a cool derivation from a root whether the concept or object would have been known at that time (sometimes I was surprised that it did – evidence for sewers in Mesopotamia predates evidence for writing!)
  • the list of roots you start with shapes the semantic fields you end up with, leading to some rather glaring lexical gaps. For example, Old Qári has a word kitébir ‘magistrate who administers the grain dole’ (note the concultural details implicit in that gloss!), but no words for family members as yet.
  • you’ll forget that you’ve already created words for a concept and end up with several words for one concept. So I have two words for beer: yédyṣti and yáptə. But that’s okay: look at the number of roots we reconstruct for “to strike” in Proto-Indo-European.

At the same time as creating the Old Qári words, I was also developing the sound changes which will take them to Middle Qári (which is when the writing system was formalised) and Classical Qári†. Running the 572 Old Qári lemmata through these sound changes now gives me a number of fun opportunities: if you fancy a peek yourself I’ve uploaded a csv version of the raw lexicon here.

I can go through and look for interesting homonymy, and whether it’ll be kept or not. For example, Old Qári əkʷtá ‘old age’ and ʔɨkʷxá ‘dry season’ both give Classical Qári áqá – this is a nice bit of polysemy that I think I’ll keep, and it lays down a nice conceptual metaphor dry is old that I can use elsewhere in the lexicon. On the other hand, ṣ́dṣn ‘clumsy’ and ṣ́dux ‘pulp’ both result in itsi, which is not something I’m minded to keep.

The derivational affixes of Old Qári have largely become opaque in Classical Qári, which means I can go through the lexicon and look for patterns that I can extract and generalise. At the moment, I note that most verbs end in –á or –ó, which I can easily see becoming a productive synchronic derivational affix.

Classical Qári has little in the way of morphology, but one of the main selling features of a lexicon with a history is naturalistic irregularities. Therefore, I’m going to have to inflect all of the nouns for number, the adjectives for gender and the verbs for telicity to see what alternations arise.

All in all, this means that I have a very good foundation for the coming #lexember challenge!

*) This is a direct calque of Tolkien’s sundocarmë: a compound of dána ‘root’ and fála ‘creation’;

†) I avoid “Modern” Qári as from the point of view of the “now” of my conworld, Qári ceased to be spoken about two millennia ago.

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