An Introduction to Kēlen LINKS

Welcome to my attempt to create a non-human language called Kēlen.

I've always been fascinated by language, having grown up with two or three of them. When, in Junior High, I encountered Tolkien, his world inspired me to create my own fantasy world populated with elves and dragons and characters from my reading. My early play with language creation resulted in a handful of names that shaped Kēlen phonology and still survive in Kēlen mythology. Later, as I grew older and more knowledgeable, the elves became the Kēleñi people and the dragons became the Tērji. Otherwise, things remained static.

Later, in college, I happened to take a Linguistics course. This proved to be a major turning point in my life, as I ended up majoring in linguistics and completely revising my language at least a dozen times. Kēlen went through so many revisions during those four years that I lost track of them. Linguistics was also responsible for showing me the sheer diversity of language and getting me interested in those underlying patterns that go by the name of linguistic universals.

Learning about universals made me wonder what a language would be like that violated them. So Kēlen became my laboratory for exploring the line between a human and a non-human language. There are a few inherent difficulties to this task. For one thing, since we haven't found any intelligent aliens, there are no non-human languages to look at for comparison. So, my strategy was to take a universal and violate it.

Linguistic universals tend to be highly abstract, the better to cover everything that is possible in human language. For example:

The distinction between nouns and verbs is one of the few apparently universal parts-of-speech distinctions. While the universality of even that distinction has sometimes been questioned, it now seems that the alleged counter-examples have been based on incomplete data, and that there are no languages that cannot be said to show a noun-verb distinction when all relevant facts are taken into account. [Schachter: 1985]

In other words, sometimes the distinction is subtle, but it's always there. Since that is one of the more simple and understandable universals, I decided to violate it, and Kēlen lost all of its verbs and became a language of nouns and particles.

So, what would a verb-less language look like? Possibly the language would have a small number of words that do the functions of verbs without any of the semantic content. In other words, words that would tell how many arguments to expect and what the relationship is between these various arguments. This is what I have done with Kēlen— given it a closed class of "relationals" that perform the syntactic function of verbs.

There are only four relationals: LA, which asserts that an argument exists in a location or a state; NI, which asserts that an argument is or has relocated or changed its state; SE, which asserts that an argument is related to a source and/or a goal; and PA, which asserts that one argument contains another. Combine these with case markers, mood markers, and various modifiers, and we have even more ways to express the relationships between the various arguments in the sentence.

Some would argue that since a human mind (mine) came up with this language it cannot be a non-human language. That's fine by me. I'm just having fun.

Update: (Aug, 2011) I've rearranged the dictionary again. I hope you like it. And, I added Proper Names, which details naming practices and gives lists of names.

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Last modified: June 07, 2019