These are some of the questions I have been asked about my project.
Q. What in the world are you doing here?
What you see here is an example of the uber-nerdy hobby of conworlding and conlanging. People like me actually spend valuable time detailing the cultures of imaginary ethnic groups and creating whole languages for them to speak. Yes, you read that correctly. (See here)
I am creating a conculture called the Tseeyi who I imagine living in a few small villages on the north end of the Simandou Gbing massif in south-central Guinea. Culturally and linguistically they are related to peoples who speak languages in the Southern Atlantic family of languages. Their language, Tseeyo, is most closely related to the Kisi and Bullom (Sherbro) languages, but also has some features in common with Temne.
Tseeyo has also been influenced by the neighboring Loma (Toma) language and other neighboring languages of the Mande family.
Q. Where do the words come from?
A. I have been able to obtain lexicons for Kisi, Sherbro, Northern Bullom and Temne. I imagine Tseeyo being more closely related to the first three and a little more remotely to the latter.
I would like to say that I have been able to analyze sound changes back to a proto-(Kisi, Sherbro, Northern Bullom, Krim, Bun, Mmani) or even a proto-Southern Atlantic, and then applied regular sound changes to arrive at a new but related language, but unfortunately this isn't the case. As far as I can tell, no one has ever done this kind of reconstruction.
I have instead assumed that the Bullom languages are more conservative than Kisi (which they probably are), compared Kisi and Bullom forms for most words and surmised what a third related language might have for a similar, but distinct form.
There are a handful of words that are identical in Kisi and Bullom, and for the most part I have carried these words over into Tseeyo unchanged, under the assumption that these are linguistically very stable forms.
Some words I borrow with slight modifications from lexicons of neighboring Mande languages: Loma, Vai, Mende and Maninka.
For a sense of 'otherness' I also draw from a list of words I obtained from a couple of obliging Mon-Khmer languages, with sound changes applied.
Unfortunately, out of all the lexicons available to me only the Kisi lexicon rigorously indicates tone.
The grammar shares quite a bit of common ground with Kisi and also Temne, but with a few pretty major adjustments and innovations, such as a set of irrealis subject pronouns.
Q. How did you use tone in the verbal inflections?
A. I like the idea of grammatical tone. It gives a language a certain melody that acts on more than just a word level.
I used tonal patterns that make sense to me rather than borrowing from
other languages. To me, it seems natural for past to be HL, as if
something happened (H) but then stopped (L). Same for future being LH,
like if something is not happening now (L) but soon will (H).
This kind of iconicity may not be incredibly naturalistic in this setting, but it helps me understand what the verb forms are saying in a way that isn't just rote memorization.
Temne has a very complex verbal tone pattern. In his Introduction to Temne, Wilson analyzes four different types of four distinct tone patterns for monosyllabic roots. For disyllabic roots, he analyzes seven types of four distinct patterns.
Q. How did you come up with the idea of having pronoun forms indicate realis / irrealis?
A. In Kisi this type of lengthening and raising the tone of the subject
pronouns is used to mark the past habitual form. I liked this idea a
lot so I borrowed it and expanded its role in Tseeyo. There are no
overt realis / irrealis markers in these related natlangs.
A distantly related language, Wolof, uses different forms of pronouns to indicate inflections on all its verbs. The verbs themselves do not change.
Q. How did you arrive at your current phonology?
A. The phonology differs very little from Kisi and Sherbro, other than the addition of the phoneme /ts/.
Temne has a phoneme transcribed 'th' which is identified as a laminal alveolar stop, so this sort of sound is not that outrageous.
Sherbro has a phoneme transcribed 'th' that is given a description of 'like th in thin' but I can't help but think that the author might have been mistaken. I imagine the /ts/ in Tseeyo to be simply a voiceless alveolar affricate.
Some of the finer points of the phonology are still rather ill-defined. For example, I haven't quite worked out how many and which stops will be allowed in coda positions. At one point I had a phonemic glottal stop in coda that conditioned implosivity or ejectivity on following consonants, but I have set that aside for now.
Q. What do NC and NM mean in your glosses?
A. I use NM (or NCM) for 'noun class marker' and NC for 'noun class concord element.' When I work up the noun page, all that will be fully explained.
Q. How do you handle trivalent verbs, ie "He gave me the book?"
A. With simple verb forms the basic sentence structure is SVO(O).
The suffixation of the applicative verbal extension -(n)aŋ allows the inclusion of a third argument. The beneficiary follows directly after the verb.
(The 1PS object pronoun is 'mi' in both Sherbro and Kisi,
and I have followed suit in Tseeyo, even though it might look like it's
just English 'me' spelled with an i.)
u kánaŋ mí́ ḿbɔe.
he give-APPL me knife
"He gave me the knife."
ya nakaŋ wo.
They sick-APPL him
"They appear sick to him."
In auxiliary constructions, the sentence structure becomes SAuxO(O)V
and the beneficiary directly follows the auxiliary. The verb
also agrees with the noun class of the subject.
u ʦɛ mí́ ḿbɔe kánaŋwo.
he AUX me knife give.APPL.NC
"He is giving me the knife."
ya kɔ wo nakaŋya.
They AUX him sick.APPL.NC
"They are going to appear sick to him."