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Listen to David Peterson talk to Tom Merritt and Veronica Belmont on Sword and Laser #68: Ad-libbing in Dothraki

We’re all about formality today, from the intricate politeness system of Korean to some crazy Nahuatl stuff to the subtle syntax of the English polite request.  We talk on just what kind of things languages do to produce formal, polite, or literary language.  Then we have a little discussion of Teonaht, which is quite a good conlang, though the site design drives us a little crazy.


That crazy Tibetan parallel vocabulary

Featured Conlang: Teonaht


Kraamlep (comment on #04)

Thanks for the review of Jameld. As you will have gathered, I’m an amateur with no formal linguistics training, hence the layout of the grammar – although, as you correctly surmised, it’s more written from the point of view of a casual learner rather than a linguistics expert. It also has its tongue in his cheek occasionally, hence “I shall”

I’m currently hard at work on a much-revised new edition of the dictionary, after which the next job is rewriting the grammar. I will definitely be taking your comments into account!

I’m particularly glad that you both agreed that Jameld has its own character and feel.

Desmond (comment on #05)

As the inventor of the conlang “Rangyayo”, I feel very honoured that my language has been discussed in this week conlangery podcast. I simply can’t wait to listen to it! First thing to do when I get back home this evening


11 Responses to “Conlangery #09: Formality and Register”

  1. prmysl

    Formality rules can obviously vary from speech community to speech community. In my mother’s dialect/speech community of French using [tsy] instead of [vu] with your parents is considered very disrespectful on par with swearing at them. In my grandfather’s house it earned a tanning.

  2. Spats

    Left this on the ZBB but I want to say it here too:
    Awesome podcast. Great hosts, great content.
    Much-improved sound from the first episode, too.
    Keep up the good work!

    • admin

      Thanks. I always welcome positive feedback 🙂 You can thank William for the improved sound quality — I’ve been getting better with editing but the biggest impact was him sending Bianca a new headset.

  3. Kenneth Nyman

    The changing use of “du” and “ni” in 20th century Swedish may be an interesting example of how rules of courtesy and formality may change.
    (1) In earlier Swedish, one should use a title when addressing someone of higher social rank than oneself. Intimates could address each other with “du” (the regular 2nd person singular pronoun). A person of higher social rank could address someone of lower rank (for example, an employer talking to an employee) using “ni” (the 2nd person plural pronoun)
    (2) In the early 20th century, there was attempts to change the formality system into French/German-style T/V-distinction, using “ni” as an all-purpose formal pronoun, while “du” would continue being the familiar pronoun. The attempts were only partly successful; many people (especially in more conservative small towns or rural areas) still considered “ni” as quite unfriendly, mainly used when addressing someone of a lower rank.
    (3) In the latter half of the 20th century, in accordance with general social changes in a more egalitarian and familiar direction, “du” became a generally used pronoun, used on most social context (“du-reformen”, “the du-reform”).
    (4) At the dusk of the 20th century, it became increasingly common for young people in various service occupations to address customers with “ni”, probably under influence from the French/German T/V-distinction. While it was done as an act of courtesy, the ironic result could be that old people, who had grown up with the earlier system, perceived it as rude and felt insulted.

  4. Bryan

    I’m an English teacher for speakers of other languages, and I have to agree with Bianca there; there’s guys, like 600 years old, who refuse to call me anything other than “Sir”, “My teacher”, or “Mr. Bryan”. And I’m like, “I’m only 26, guys… call me Bryan”, “Okay, My teacher”

  5. Bryan

    Need rude words to be rude in English…? George Mikes wrote in his book that if an English person wants to be rude, they say, “Oh, that’s an *unusual* story”. And I think that’s still true to-day (in England, at least). But I think English people are more sardonic, ironic, and subtle in these matters, where Americans seem to be more up-in-yo-face.

  6. Nicolas

    First of all, many thanks for the podcast, I just discovered it a few times ago, and I am enjoying it a lot. Another few months of listening and I’ll be catching up the latest episodes.

    In this episode you tried to speak of french T-V distinction but stopped out of examples. Fortunately I remembered an american journalist that produced this diagram :

    Actually it is not completely serious, but I think this is intended to show the weirdness of the possible situations. As a native french speaker I can tell this diagram is quite relevant.

    More generaly, I think this is a method a conlanger could use. Create a diagram as a way to explain formalities in his language.

    Thank you again.

  7. RandomDutchman

    Sometimes the rules are not even set in stone within a speech community. I’m Dutch and we’ve got a distinction between ‘jij’ (or ‘jullie’ in the plural) and ‘u’ (or even ‘U’), where ‘jij’ is more informal and close, whereas ‘u’ is more formal, respectful, but also more distant.
    So what then do you call your parents? On the one hand, you might want your kids to call you ‘u’ out of respect, but on the other hand you might not want to be so distant from your kids and prefer ‘jij’ for the closeness. My parents brought us up with ‘jij’, but quite a few of my friends called their parents ‘u’.


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