A Project to Translate Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Into the Constructed Language Txúvanu
Building a entire new language from scratch
by Gary J. Shannon

Created Mar. 31, 2019
Last Modified Apr. 24, 2019

The Project

The object of this project to translate Alice's Adventures in Wonderland into a new constructed language that does not yet exist. This new language will be called Txúvanu. Each new line of translation will require new words to be invented, and new grammatical forms to be created.

Disclaimer

Let me begin by saying that I have no formal liguistics training whatsoever, and to be honest I know next to nothing about the subject, except that I enjoy learning, reading, and listening to other languages. So whatever you might expect from a web site about constructed languages, don't expect this one to be peppered with jargon or exotic phonetic symbols. I am marginally able to use the International Phonetic Alphabet, but not fluent enough to feel comfortable using it. I sort of understand noun cases and verb conjugations from having studied Latin in high school and Russian in college. I also had 2 years of high school German, and as an adult taught myself to be fluent reading Spanish, but barely semi-fluent in speaking it.

With those, my limitations, in mind, here goes nothing...

Main Features

First a few notes on pronunciation. I don't have a complete phonology yet, but the few things I do know are that there are 5 vowels, which for the moment, I pronounce in the Spanish manner. The consonants <c> and <q> are not used except in foreign names. The consonant <x> is pronounced /ʃ/ as in "shush", <tx> is pronounced /ʧ/ as in "church", and <zh> is /ʒ/ as in "measure". <g> is always hard as in "girl", and <j>, sometimes spelled <dj> is /ʤ/ as in "judge". The letters <t> and <d> are pronounced with the tip of the toungue a bit further back on the roof of the mouth, but not really retroflex. This naturally alters somewhat the shape of the surrounding vowels.

There is no stress on one-syllable words, or on two-syllable words which repeat the same vowel. Otherwise, stress is placed on the first syllable of a word, and when the word has four or more syllables, on every second syllable as well. The final syllable of a word of any length is never stressed. Words with three syllables have only their first syllable stressed. Stress can be marked with an acute accent over the vowel, but I have not so far been consistent in doing this, and given the consistent rules of stress such marking should not be necessary.

A few examples of stress rules:

banbahnSingle syllable, no stress
iliee-leeTwo syllables, same vowel, no stress
aleAH-layTwo syllables, different vowel, first is stressed
xahadimSHAH-ha-deeThree syllables, first one only is stressed
malavezhuMAH-lah-VAY-zhooFour syllables, one and three stressed

Word Order

Word order in a sentence in Txúvanu is flexible. The usual descriptions of SVO (Subject-Verb-Object) or OSV (Object-Subject-Verb) can't be applied because every non-verb phrase in the sentence is marked to show its role in that sentence.

Since each phrase is marked, those phrases can appear in any order without danger of losing the meaning. For example, with the given vocabulary, we have the following possible sentences.

         give (verb stem) bend-
         PST tense suffix -otu
         book otax- (singular noun ending is -u)
         
Li Marybendotua Johndo otaxu.
Li Marybendotudo otaxua John.
Li Marya Johndo otaxubendotu.
Li Marydo otaxua Johnbendotu.
Bendotua Johnli Marydo otaxu.
Bendotudo otaxua Johnli Mary.
... and several more possibilities

Every version unabiguously means the same thing, so the phrase order is used only to emphasize some particular aspect of the sentence.

The Land of Úxnatax

The people who speak this language, so the story goes, have a rich mythology which includes the concept of a place to which the soul travels while dreaming. This is thought of as a real place, and not merely a product of the imagination. This place is called Úxnatax /uʃnataʃ/. (Úx is "land", and natax is "dream". In a similar way we find compound words like Úxnayam, where nayam is the first person plural possessive pronoun "our".)

From this we get the title of the book: Alisái Xáhadim Ili Úxnatax

AlisáiXáhadimIliÚxnatax
Alice-GENAdventure-PLinWonderland

*** (Don't forget the stress rules. Alisai Xahadim ili Uxnatax is "AH-lee-sai SHA-ha-deem ee-lee OOSH-na-tash".)

Notice that the genitive ending -ai, which replaces the final vowel, if any, on a noun, marks the possessor, which may preceed or follow the thing possessed. Thus the alternate titles Xáhadim Alisái Ili Úxnatax, and, with flexible phrase ordering, even Ili Úxnatax Xáhadim Alisái are equally acceptable. Only time will tell which one tends to be prefered.

Verb Conjugation

Verbs are conjugated for tense, aspect, and mood, but not for person or number. For those distinctions, personal pronouns are used. The verb stem usually, but not always, ends in a consonant, and the verb conjugation suffixes always begin with a vowel. This table shows the suffixes. The personal pronouns in the examples are for illustrative purposes, and are not part of the meaning of the endings.

SuffixNameExampleTranslation
-oxInfinitivepásanoxto run
-onGerundpásanonrunning
-yoImperativepásanyoRun!
-oPresentpásano(they) run
-otuSimple Pastpásanotu(he) ran
-awiFuturepásanawi(she) will run
-oriPresent Continuouspásanori(you) are running
-osePast Continuouspásanose(we) were running
-uweFuture Continuouspásanuwe(I) will be running
-aPresent Perfectpásana(they) have run
-iPast Perfectpásani(he) had run
-auFuture Perfectpásanau(we) will have run
-ariPresent Perfect Continuouspásanari(they) have been running
-iriPast Perfect Continuouspásaniri(she) had been running
-amaFuture Perfect Continuouspásanama(you) will have been running

In addition to these, there are six (or possibly more) infixes to express the mood, or the notions of "can", "must, "might", "would", "should", and "could". These go between the stem and the normal conjugation ending. These are:

Infixmeaninggloss Abrev.
-an-canCA
-um-mustMU
-it-mightMI
-ud-wouldWO
-ux-shouldSH
-ak-couldCO

A few examples using the verb stem pasan- ("run"):

Fi pasanuxo. = pasan + ux + o = I should run.
Le pasanuxari. = pasan + ux + ari = She should have been running.
Fi pasanita. = pasan + it + a = I might have run.
Le pasanumawi. = pasan + um + awi = She must run (in the future).
Yalu pasanumo. = pasan + um + o = We must run (right now, in the present).
Fi pasanano. = pasan + an + o = I can run.

Approaching the Translation

The grammar will be built around the concpet that phrase order is totally free, but word order within the phrase is fixed by simple rules. At the outset, I'm not sure what those rules will be and so I will start by simplifying the English sentences by breaking them into multiple sentences with a more basic structure. Then I will work out translations for these, and finally, observe what rules emerge.

The Chapter Title

CHAPTER I. Down the Rabbit-Hole

Right off the bat, I need to make a very significant decision that will have a deep and lasting effect on the whole project. To translate the chapter title "Down the Rabbit-hole" I need to find out if this language has a definite article. In the past I've almost always included definite and indefinite articles in my conlangs simply because I'm so accustomed to using them in my own native tongue. I think, therefore, to force myself out of my comfort zone and explore new territory, I will declare that this language has no definite article.

While I'm at it, I think I'll coin words for the first three cardinal numbers: aba, txek, dox.

Consider this version:

BoxtuAba.ZuroxdoPelangaiTxibu
Chapter-SNGOne.Descend-INFDORabbit-GENBurrow-SNG
Chapter One. To Descend Rabbit's Burrow

With the new lexicon entries pelang (Rabbit), txib- (hole/burrow), and verb stem Zur- (descend). (The fact that txib- ends in a hyphen and pelang does not will be explained shortly.)

For the record, the fact that the particle do is spelled the same as the Direct Object tag "DO" is purely coincidental.

The First Paragraph

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, 'and what is the use of a book,' thought Alice 'without pictures or conversation?'

The first sentence is obviously far too complex, and would require a fairly advanced set of grammar rules to translate properly. Since those rules don't exist as yet, let's break it down into simpler sentences:

The first sentence has four phrases: "Alice", "was sitting", "by her sister", and "on the bank". These can be translated in any order. Perhaps we might wish to emphasize "was sitting", and so place that first.

TunyoseliAlisibosiraksambreanux.
sit-PST-CNTSUBJAliceuponbanknear/bysister.

The word for "sister" is used without a possessive pronoun because unless otherwise specified, family members are assumed to be either in the family of the speaker, or that of the subject of the sentence. One would not say "I saw my mother.", or "John saw his mother.", but simply "I saw mother," (implying my mother), and "John saw mother" (implying his mother).

You might also notice that the two nouns anux and sirak are used without either a singular or plural suffix. As we'll discover later, some nouns require a suffix, and with others the suffix is either optional, or never used at all. Mass nouns, for example, never take a singular or plural suffix. Nouns for which the number suffix is optional probably originated in an earlier time before the language began to distinguish gramatical number. When the suffix is required, the dictionary entry for the stem will end in a hyphen.

For the second sentence we introduce the adverb eke or "not", and the idea that a verb phrase can include such an adverb:

Leekedimosedopanyax.
She-NOMnothave-PST-CNTDOactivity/
occupation.

Here the pronoun le (she) exists in a nominative case form and, as such, does not require the nominative marker particle li. Other pronouns with other case forms will be introduced (i.e. invented) as required.

A Slight Complexification

One simple additional rule allows us to create a slightly more complex sentence.

A sentence may consist of two complete sentences joined by a conjunction. If the subjects of both sentences refer to the same entity, it may be omitted from the second of the two conjoined sentences.

This rule makes it possible to say:

TunyoseliAlisibosiraksambreanux eekedimosedopányax.
sit-PST-CNTSUBJAliceuponbanknear/bysister and (she)nothave-PST-CNTDOactivity/
occupation.

For the third sentence we introduce the word metxu which does not have a simple translation in English. It is a pronoun-type word that refers to "all that has been just mentioned", and allows the topic of the previous sentences to become the subject or object (direct or indirect) of the present sentence. I will gloss it into English as "that-all". Thus we can say:

Alelimetxubendotudowunzu.
Her-IO/
(to her)
SUBJThat-allgive-to-PSTDObore+SG.

Another another case-marked personal pronoun, ale, stands for "her" as an indirect object. (Really just a compound of a le) This eliminates the need for the separate indirect object marker.

The "noun" wunzu, which here means "boredom", is an example of a "polymorph"; a word stem which may become any one of several different parts of speech depending on the suffix that is added to it. If we add an active verb conjugation then it takes on the meaning "to bore". With a passive conjugation it means "to be bored". With a noun suffix, such as SNG, PL, or GEN, it means "boredom". With an adjectival suffix it becomes "boring", and with an adverbial suffix, "boringly".

And thus the complete first sentence is translated:

Tunyose li Alis ibo sirak sambre anux e eke dimose do pányax. Ale li metxu bendotu do wunzu.

Cummulative Lexicon

The two dictionary pages are English to Txúvanu and Txúvanu to English. These two dictionaries will always represent the most up to date lexicon.

The dictionary gives root forms for nouns and verbs. Verbs will always require one or another suffix to be appended to them. Nouns, however, may or may not require a suffix. Those that require a suffix (singular, plural, genitive) end with a dash "-" showing that they are incomplete stems. Those that do not require a suffix end with any letter of the alphabet. Nouns that do not require a suffix may, under various circumstances, be given a suffix, but they are usually not marked for singular or plural. The genitive ending is always added to every noun when it is in the genitive case. Proper names are always suffix-optional.

Some words are polymorphic and may take on either verb conjugation endings and noun endings, as well as adjectival and adverbial suffix tags. And example would be the stem natax- which, depending on the suffix can be the noun "a dream", the verb "to dream", the adjective "dreamy", or the adverb "dreamily". These words bear the part of speech tag "POLY".





Apr. 22, 2019 Update

Next we'll tackle the rest of the first paragraph in a similar way.

After trying several alternative structures for joining the the first two sentences above, I settled on this one:

Anuxjinosedootaxeenam etapempiliAlisabaleinute.
Sisterread-PST-CNTDObookandinto itglance-PST-PRFSUBJAliceonceandagain.

Here we have a new case-marked pronoun eta, or "it" as a subject of a verb, or as the object of a preposition. In addition we see the idiom which translates literally as "once and again". The rest should be self-explanatory.

The next two sentences work well joined by the conjunction e ("and").

Kíroveliotaxekehibanotudonustxifonim nustxitxyerim,eletsampotu
Howeverlibooknotcontain-PSTDOnorpicture-PL norconversation-PL,andshewonder-PST
«dokwapopyazhliyunotaxim dimudominetxifonimnustxitxyeru?»
«DOwhatvalueSUBJsomebook-PLhave-WO-PRS withoutpicture-PLnorconversation-SG?»

The word kwa might need an explanation, and when I figure out exactly how it works, I will provide one. For now all I'm sure of is that it has something to do with asking a question, and seems to be able to stand for "what", "who", "where", "when", and even "eh?", etc., depending on the context.

Notice also how the noun otax is one of those that does not require a singular or plural suffix, but that one can be provided as desired to clarify the meaning, or to improve the rythmn of the sentence. The dictionary specifies for each noun whether it requires a suffix or not, and words designated polymorphic always require a suffix of some kind.

Using the same sort of process on the second paragraph I came up with this:

Leharomosetxivoxdiwalibanixudimnemanox dosamalutxaskaieskarandudo
Shetry-PST-CNTdecide-INFifSUBJpleasure-SGfrom make-INFDOchain-SGdaisy-GENpay-for-WO-PRS
dopreyanduustoxesuberoxatxaskim,mina liuvantsunualebendosemalavezhuesualezhu.
DOlaborofget-up-INFandgather-INFIOdaisy-PL, butSUBJhotday-SGher-IOgive-to-PST-CNTsleep-SGanddull-SG.
BanasapereliVuloPelangsamevulolozherotsim pasanotusambrele.
ThensuddenlySUBJWhiteRabbitwithpinkeye-PL run-PSTby2her.

From this point on, I will simply be translating, and including the English gloss of each sentence as a rollover pop-up. I will start a second page to summarize the grammar as it develops, but separate from the translation.

The Translation So Far

You may roll the cursor over each sentence to see the English gloss of that sentence.

Alisai Xahadim Ili Uxnatax ALICE-GEN ADVENTURE-PL IN WONDERLAND

va Lewis Carroll by1 Lewis Carroll

Boxtu Aba. Zurox do Pelangai Txibu Chapter-SG One. Descend-INF d-o Rabbit-GEN Hole-SG

Tunyose li Alis ibo sirak sambre anux e eke dimose do panyax. Ale li metxu bendotu do wunzu. Sit-PST-CNT subj Alice upon bank1 by2 sister and not have-PST-CNT d-o occupation. Her-IO subj that-all give-to-PST d-o bore-SG (boredom)
Anux jinose do otax e enam eta pempi Li Alis abal e inute. Sister read-PST-CNT d-o book and into it glance-PST-PRF SUBJ Alice once and again.
Kírove, li otax eke hibanotu do nus txifonim nus txitxyerim. However, subj book not contain-PST d-o nor picture-PL nor conversation-PL.
Le tsampotu «do kwa popyazh li yun otaxim dimudo mine txifonim nus txitxyeru?» She wonder-PST «d-o kwa value subj some book-PL have-WO-PRS without picture-PL nor conversation-SG?»


Le haromose txivox diwa li banixu dim nemanox do samalu txaskai eskarandudo She try-PST-CNT decide-INF if subj pleasure-SG from make-INF d-o chain-SG daisy-GEN pay-for-WO-PRS
do preyan du ustox e suberox a txaskim, mina li uvan tsunu ale bendose malavezhu e sualezhu. d-o labor of get-up-INF and gather-INF io daisy-PL, but subj hot day-SG her-IO give-to-PST-CNT sleep-SG and dull-SG.
Twari asaperi li Vulo Pelang same vulolozhe rotsim pasanotu sambre le. At-that-time sudden-ADV subj White Rabbit with pink eye-PL run-PST by2 her.


Li metxu eke bunotu utxe diju. Subj that-all not be-PST very strange.
E wato li Pelang tsanlotu do gahan «Wahe! Wahe! Fi dixenowi otsare!», And when subj Rabbit tell-PST d-o self «Oh-dear! Oh-dear! I arrive-FUT late!»,
twari txureotu li Alis hi dan eke bunotu txi diju do metxu. at-that-time think-PST subj Alice that2 also not be-PST too strange d-o that-all.
(Ditan, wato do metxu le txureotu twari le txitseotu hi do metxu le somwanuxa, (Later, when d-o that-all she ponder-PST at-that-time she realize-PST that2 d-o that-all she question-SH-PRS-PRF,
mina twari li metxu belotu utxe tobate.) but at-that-time subj that-all seem-PST very natural.)
mina wato li Pelang vueni binjotu do xentusu dim baku dilinai, but when subj Rabbit true-ADV fetch-PST d-o watch1-SG from pocket-SG coat-GEN,
e yamonotu etue, e doni fonanotu onde, and look-at-PST it-DO, and afterward hurry-PST away,
li Alis txutxi ustotu, txi abi dink asaperi heotu hi le eke purati fasose do pelang same nus baku dilinai, nus xentusu binjox, subj Alice quick-ADV stand-up-PST, because to mind sudden-ADV come-PST that2 she not before-now see-PST-CNT d-o rabbit with nor pocket-SG coat-GEN, nor watch1-SG fetch-INF,
e txidele pepyadu, le pasanotu komai kowan ati eta, and fill-with-PCP curious-SG, she run-PST across field after2 it,
e xobai dixenotu same pezona e fasotu hi eta fontsanotu enam bika pelangai txibu batsun baxlu. and fortunately arrive-PST with time and see-PST that2 it jump-PST into large rabbit-GEN hole-SG beneath hedge-SG.