Some Thoughts On Lowspeak, Part 01
I'm not a linguist, nor do I have much facility with languages. Despite taking up writing as a pastime, I can't even say that my English -- the first and only language I know -- is as anywhere near as solid as it should be. Nonetheless, several languages are mentioned in Stardrifter, and sometimes their existence is important to the plot. Lowspeak is one of these.
I've talked about it before in various places, so I won't retread that ground, except for a thumbnail sketch. Lowspeak is a semi-formalized pidgin language that is mostly spoken along the border between the Empire and the Alliance of Interstellar Nations in this future time. It consists of words in Ingliss (a decedent language of English, mostly spoken the same, but with some significant differences in spelling and grammar), Ceicion (a language spoken mostly by the elite classes in the Empire), Latin, and a smattering of words and phrases directly borrowed from the ethnicities and cultures of Terra. There are also a large number of new words to describe different aspects of life in the future, pulled from various languages.
Today, though, I'd like to cover something unique to this fictional language: the conjoined word and/or phrase.
In Lowspeak, new words can be formed on-the-fly, right in the middle of a conversation. To native speakers, this lends a great deal of efficiency and depth to their expressions. In essence, the speaker can propose two or more words or phrases to combine together and shorten, for the sake of brevity in the conversation to follow.
An example (using English) might be illustrative of the concept.
SPEAKER A: "Tom Cruise is tom'see; his film career is tom'move. Okay, so did you see tom'see's latest film? I just don't get the guy. He used to be a real actor! His tom'move started in character-focused lead roles, but now he's just an action star."
SPEAKER B: "Hollywood film industry is hol'stree. I don't agree with that. His tom'move has been varied. Granted tom'see does stay away from certain kinds of films, or at least, he seems to, but that's a reflection of hol-stree more than anything else. It's hard not to see Tom'see's characters as distinct from each other."
SPEAKER A: "That's exactly my point: not many think of tom'see as one of the great actors of his generation, even though aspects of his tom'move imply that they should. He goes for the money, more than the art. He's a hol'stree product, pure and simple."
SPEAKER B: "Well, what do you expect? Tom'see is hol'stree. You either like that about him, or you don't. Don't choose a fork, if you want to eat soup."
That last phrase is one that may be a common phrase in a particular culture or sub-culture, and if so, it will likely have a conjoining that everyone already knows, such as fork-oup. The sentiment or meaning of the phrase you either like that, or you don't could also be widely known and used in a conjoining, and therefore, there'd be no need to define it. If that's the case, then it could be something such as like'no. Similarly, what do you expect? is a pretty common turn of phrase, so we'll use wa'pect for that. Finally, certain words can be dropped entirely, as they are implicit in context.
Stripping out the cultural and spur-of-the moment conjoinings, in that last line, SPEAKER B said:
SPEAKER B: "Well, what do you expect? (Wa'pect?) Tom Cruise (Tom'see) [is] the Hollywood film industry (hol'stree). You either like that [about him], or you don't. (Like'no.) Don't choose a fork, if you want to eat soup. (Fork'oup.)"
Which in Lowspeak becomes:
SPEAKER B: "Wa'pect? Tom'see hol'stree. Like'no. Fork'oup."
Remember, this is being derived from a single language and culture. Imagine you are working with multiple languages and many cultures stretched along a a border that spans light years. The Lowspeak spoken in one location wouldn't necessarily sound much like that of another, even though both use the same basic structure. For that matter, the Lowspeak spoken in the same location could drift significantly from year to year. The basics might be easily grasped, enough to get by, at least; but Lowspeak is a highly dynamic language, and only those continually living in a particular location where it’s spoken can be said to be truly fluent.
That's it for now, but I'll talk about this some more next week.