Codon is a language I am currently inventing based (loosely) off the rules governing RNA. It consists of a 64-word vocabulary.
This week, we start in on the complicated process of creating the skeleton of a grammar. Next week, we’ll flesh that grammar out some, and in our final entry we’ll tie it all together with a writing system and a few language exercises.
The full vocabulary of Codon is available for free: Codon Vocab.
First, finishing up from last week. The last two extra words will be used for punctuation: like commas, parentheses, or dashes, they’ll denote a clause.
UCCUUC: start of a clause
UCCUAG: end of a clause
This will come up more next week.
We’ll go through grammar in the same way we went through vocabulary, section by section. This week will cover basic word order and structure, and next week we’ll deal with more complicated clauses.
Basic Word Order
Let’s look at the following phrase”
I unlocked the door.
An English speaker knows that “I” is the noun that performs the action, and “door” is the noun that the action is performed upon. To take it a little further:
I unlocked the door for my grandmother.
The purposes that “I” and “door” serve are unchanged, but further information has been provided. We know that the door is being opened for the sake of the grandmother: it’s pretty clear that the door does not belong to the grandmother, and that the grandmother is not the one opening the door.
This is because, in English, we use word order to discern the purpose a noun serves in a sentence. This isn’t always the case. In Latin, for example, the purpose of nouns are determined by word endings. Word order in Latin conveys emphasis instead.
Codon, for lack of endings, will follow English’s model.
There are three very basic parts of a sentence: the subject (a noun that performs an action), a direct object (the noun to which an action is performed), and a verb. In addition, Codon has a few extra words: our punctuation words that start and stop a sentence, and determine its tense. For the purpose of simplicity, the word order of Codon will go as follows:
START — SUBJECT — VERB — DIRECT OBJECT –END/TENSE
Just like English.
Let’s make things a little more complicated: say we want to give something to someone, or do something for a reason. This second noun is the indirect object, and these slightly-more-complicated sentences will go as follows:
START — SUBJECT — VERB — DIRECT OBJECT — INDIRECT OBJECT — END/TENSE
This covers most simple ideas.
Here’s the tough part of Codon: we’re stringing a bunch of words together in order to create complex ideas. This doesn’t really mesh well with a language that depends on word order to be understood. So we need to standardize how we connect those words.
We’re going to do this by clustering words together in sets of three. Why three? Because the words have three syllables and it seems nice and neat. In writing, these clusters can be denoted by using apostrophes instead of spaces (when using the Roman alphabet; we’ll cover the writing system soon). In speech, it’d probably be a little harder– maybe denoted by clear and obvious pauses between words.
I’ll reiterate: this is not a practical language.
A regular old compound would look something like this:
aggauc’aggauc’aggaga: “One-place-world”, or “planet”
However, as the compound got more specific, the word would get longer. Let’s compound a compound:
aggauc’agcuag’aggacu”aggauc’aggauc’aggaga”gacuga’agucag’gagaag: “three(binary)-set:one-place-world-:of-spectrum-expending energy”
That is a very clunky way of me saying “third planet from the sun” or “Earth”. But it can be done!
Let’s try a sentence!
I’m going to try and translate the door sentence from the start of this article: “I opened the door”. Let’s see how it goes.
ucucga cugacu gaagcu’gacuag’agcuag cuagag agagga’aggaag’gaagcu’ ucucuc
“Start I move-to-zero the place-part-move end(presently occurring).”
Super ambiguous but, were you trapped on a planet with people who used this horribly inefficient language, you might be able to get the concept across.
Does anyone else want to give this a go? Try in the comments!
Next week we’ll try making the sentences a little more complicated.