Language under construction: Kenvei

I’m afraid the tittle is a bit misleading ’cause few languages (if any) can claim to be finished. Most conlangers re-imagine their languages, improve their grammars, polish their aesthetic and work in the never-ending task of expanding its vocabulary. Even natlangs (natural, non-constructed languages) can be said to be under construction or at least under remodelation because of the constant changes they undergo. This conlang, however, can be said to be under construction more properly than most of them, though.

Usually, I develop my conlangs gradually. I choose a text, begin to translate it and make words and grammar rules as they are needed. So, for most conlangs of my own, the larger its corpus is, the more developed it is. As barely 3 weeks old Kenvei’s corpus consist of a single short poem, it is still in its early stages and prone to further changes. The text is Quevedo’s sonnet Amor constante más allá de la muerte (Constant love beyond death). This is it in Sinte alphabet (which isn’t as good-looking as I’d like it to be but suits the conlang better than the still language-less Hevíl alphabet):

Amor Constante más allá de la Muerte en Kenvei, alfabeto SinteThis poem (which you can find here along an English translation (or see this one which is more faithful to the original)) is the text I most often translate to my conlangs. Besides the fact I really like it, it has many advantages for translation into my conlangs:

  • Its relative shortness.
  • The fact it is divided into more or less independent verses (which eases translation a lot)
  • That it is neither too simple (as other more commonly translated texts likes  Paternoster or the story of the Tower of Babel) nor too complex (as the first article of the UDHR with its strikingly difficult-to-translate concepts as dignity or endowed with reason).

Apart from using Sinte alphabet (whose name comes from the fact it is the synthesis of influences from a number of other scripts), Kenvei can also be written with the Roman alphabet (which is the script I most often use for it because its more practical to use in a computer and easier for me to read and write). This is the text in regular script:

Lives ferso Methí

Kaddení vindansa nuthare.
ulloyares e iloyes fumei darí noi sa,
te rahaines eltinsardenínde
ferlorídas thesse zaisteles melye.

Ma ulme mese milayesar
desí nal kivathes emi ranthí.
Sandadení rathanna lois danthe
te ulsethí ferenga lodí.

Su rahai e kazervó ze asarsa sa!
Su romberena e sinó ferí das rathíras!
Su korerena e ranthó selyesa!

Desí kaberela ma ul livela,
azeví ma melye izaras;
Safendeví, ma safende libanta.


Once again, I’ll make an analysis with a multiple-line gloss:
Kenvei text
/IPA pronunciation/
Kenvei text broken into morphemes
English gloss for the morphemes

Lives ferso Methí (tittle)
/’li.ves ‘feɾ.sɔ ‘me.θi:/
live-es ferso methí
love-DEF beyond Death
Love beyond Death
DEF means definite, and is equivalent to the English definite article the, lives whose gloss is love-DEF is to be interpreted literally as the love. Instead of being an independent word, it is attached to the end of the noun as a suffix (not unlike Scandinavian languages). However, the result is not *livees as it could be expected from the fusion of live+es. The form of a typical Kenvei suffix varies depending on the word it is attached (and the presence of other suffixes), often more dramatically than in this case.


Kaddení vindansa nuthare…
/’kað̞.ð̞ vin’ð̞ ‘nu.θa.ɾe/
kat-den-í vinda-as-na nuth-ar-e
close-able-FUT eyes-CONJ-mine end-GEN-ATTR
(It) will be able to close my eyes, the last…
While word order determines the meaning of a sentence in English (compare ‘a dog bit a cat’ to ‘a cat bit a dog’ or ‘it was you’ to ‘was it you(?)’), it is used in Kenvei to mark who or what is the topic of a sentence. The focus of a sentence can be the action itself. In those cases the topic is the main verb, and so the sentence must begin with it. On the other hand, if the focus was on who performed the action, on whom it was performed, the place where it took place, etc., the word order would be: topic – verb – rest of the sentence. In this verse, the focus is on the fact that the eyes will be able to be closed, so the verb (the topic) goes first.
The word for eyes is marked by a conjuctive suffix which means we are not referring to a single eye (vinda) nor any group of eyes (vindare) but to an specific grouping of eyes: the pair of eyes of a person. In addition, the word has a possessive suffix which indicates whom that pair of eyes belongs to (my eyes). The expectable form *vindaasna is simplified to vindansa (notice the change sn→ns).
Nuthar, which can be interpreted as final or last is glossed as end-GEN because it’s formed by the word Nuthí (end) and the genitive suffixe -ar, which means from. Many Kenvei adjectives are formed this way. The e in nuthare is Kenvei attributive particle which has a lot of uses. Here, it marks that the adjective doesn’t apply to the previous word (as usual in Kenvei) but to the following.
This sentence already gives us an idea of Kenvei’s sound. It distinguishes long vowels (from which í /i:/ is by far the most common) and makes use of prosodic accent (stress) which is mainly determined by the following rules:

  • If a word is less than 3 syllables long, the stress falls on the first syllable unless there is a diphthong in the last.
  • If the second-to-last syllable is long, then stress falls on it, otherwise it will fall on the third-to-last. Syllable length is not actually related to vowel length, a syllable is considered long when 1)it has a diphthong on it or 2) its vowel is followed by a consonant cluster or a double consonant.

However there are exceptions to these rules as some compound words retain the stress pattern they had prior do adding suffixes or further parts.

… ulloyares e iloyes fumei darí noi sa,
/u’lo.ja.ɾes e i’lo.jes fu’mei ‘da.ɾi: noi’sa/
ul-loi-ar-es e iloi-es fumei dar-í noi sa
darkness-GEN-DEF ATTR day-DEF white bring-FUT me-DAT that
…shadow that the white day brought me.
One of the possible ways to make a sub-clause in Kenvei is to use the structure ‘e clause sa‘. DAT is the dative; to.

te rahaines eltinsardenínde
/te ʀa’hai.nes el.tinˌsaɾ.ð̞e’ni:n.ð̞e/
te rahai-na-es el-zins-var-den-í-nde
and soul-mine-DEF un-chain-CAUS-able-FUT-LAUD
And my soul will be able to be freed from its chains
Besides being the longest word in the whole poem, eltinsardenínde is specially interesting because it makes use of many suffixes. CAUS is the causative prefix and means to cause something (to be). Along with zinsas (chain) it means to put a chain around something. El- is a negative prefix and works similarly to English un- in undo, thus turning the verb zinsavar (to put chains around something) into eltinsar (to remove those chains). Then there comes the suffix den ‘be able’ and the future-tense marker, both of which also appeared in the very first word and the laudative prefix which means that the speaker is happy or at least manifest some positive attitude towards the action.

ferlorídas thesse zaisteles melye.
/feɾ’lo.ɾi:.ð̞as ‘θ ‘tsais.te.les ‘me.ʎʲe/
fer-lóri-da-sa thesse zaiste-l-es melye
strong-desire-its-DAT anxious time-AG-DEF sweet
to its eager desire by the sweet hour.
As said before, Kenvei word order determines who/what is the topic of a sentence but, unlike English, gives no grammatical information of (for example) which is the subject of the verb and who is the object. Usually this can be guessed from the context, for example, if the sentence was bit, the dog, the tail of the cat it would be interpreted as the dog bit the tail of the cat without any doubts (unless you’d just come across the most bizarre cat ever). However, some sentence may be too ambiguous to be correctly interpreted without further information, or it could be misinterpreted (consider ‘the cat bit the dog‘ for example in opposition to the more expectable the dog bit the cat). Then either the agentive (AG, which marks the subject) or the passive (PAS, marks the object) suffixes must be used in order to remove the ambiguity.


Ma ulme mese milayesar
/ma ‘ ‘’je.saɾ/
ma ul-me mese mi-lai-es-ar
but no-in place riverside-GEN
But in nowhere near the riverside

desí nal kivathes emi ranthí
/’ð̞ nal ‘θes ‘e.mi ‘ʀan.θi:/
des-í na-l kiví-ath-es e-mi rath-n-í
leave-FUT I-AG memories-all ATTR-in burn-PERF-FUT
I will leave the memories where it will had burnt.
PERF: Pervective: the action has already concluded.

Sandadení rathanna lois danthe
/san’ð̞a.ð̞ ʀa’θ lois ‘ð̞an.θe/
sanda-den-í rathan-na lo-es danthe
swim-able-FUT flame-mine water-DEF cold
My flame will be able to swim through icy waters

te ulsethí ferenga lodí.
/te ul’se.θi: fe’ɾe.ŋa ‘lo.ð̞i:/
te ul-seth-í fer-e-nga lodí
and not-hear strong-ATTR-PEJ law
And disobey a severe law
PEJ means pejorative and is the opposite of LAUD. It means that the speaker dislikes the action, thing, aspect, etc.


Su rahai e kazervó ze asarsa sa!
/su ʀa’hai e ka’tseɾ.vo: tse a’saɾ.sa sa/
su rahain e kazer-v-ó ze asar-sa sa
VOC soul ATTR prison-be-PAST true god-DAT that
O soul that has been a prison for a whole god!
The vocative particle su means that we are addressing someone.

Su romberena e sinó ferí das rathíras!
/su ʀom’be.ɾ e ‘ ‘fe.ɾi: ð̞as ‘ʀa.θi:.ɾas/
su rombe-re-na e sin-ó ferí das rathí-re-sa
VOC veins-PL-mine ATTR give-PAST strength thousand fires-PL-DAT
O veins that have given strength to a thousand fires!
PL: plural (-re). The final -sa in sub-clauses can be omitted.
The translation (from Spanish to Kenvei) fails to be literal. Otherwise, this verse should read O veins that gave strength to so much fire!.

Su korerena e ranthó selyesa
/su ko’ɾe.ɾ e ‘ʀan.θo: se’ʎʲ
su kore-re-na e rath-n-ó selyesa
VOC nucleus-PL ATTR burn-PERF-PAST gloriously
O marrows that have burned gloriously!

Desí kaberela ma ul livela
ð̞ ka’be.ɾ ma ul ‘
des-í kabe-re-la ma ul live-la
leave-FUT bodies-PL-ours, but not love-ours
We’ll leave our bodies, but not our love

Azevi ma melye izaras
/a’ ma ‘meʎʲe i’tsa.ɾas/
aze-v-í ma melye izar-sa
ashes-be-FUT but sweet future-DAT
We’ll be ashes, but for a nicer tomorrow

Safeví, ma safe libanta
/’ ma ‘sa.fe li’ban.ta/
safe-v-í ma safe lib-anta
dust-be-FUT, but dust love-GER (loving)
We will be dust, but dust in love.

! See you next time!


Posted on 2011/06/18, in English, Kenvei (en). Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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