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How to Speak an Artificial Language

This is a post about ku, a game where you create worlds by speaking them to life. You can find an intro to the game here.

ku is a game about creating people. You do this by shouting magical commandments. But ku is also a game about exploring the world you have created, and to do that you need to be able to communicate with the people inside of it. Without some sort of shared language, neither of these things are possible. So ku needs a language… but what kind? A language of both communication and creation. Something that is simultaneously a language you would use to talk to your friends with, and a programming language (without looking or sounding like one).

One of ku’s features is that its language is understandable (and speakable) by both humans and computers. You could try building this game around a natural language like English, but it would make things way more complicated than they need to be. English (and any other natural language) brings along too much baggage, both in its structure and in the assumptions of its speakers. Instead, it makes more sense to make a simple, well-defined language from scratch. One that a computer can understand easily, and a human can learn and speak with no hassle. Plus, constructed languages (conlangs) are just cool and fun! We’ve all heard of Sindarin (elvish), Dothraki, Klingon…

Okay, but (I get this question often) isn’t making players learn a whole language just to play a game going way too far? Isn’t that super hard?

Ah, but wait. Reading and constructing sentences in the language of ku is incredibly straightforward, as you will soon see–no more difficult than learning the rules of any other game. And the most time-intensive part of learning languages–memorizing the vocabulary–is completely absent in ku.

How can this be? Because one of the hooks of the game is that the player crafts the language of their world by creating its vocabulary themselves. You can have as many words as you want in your language: ten, one hundred, a thousand–it’s up to you. Every time you create a new word, you give meaning to a new concept, changing the way your people act and express themselves. Will they know the meaning of death, or are they immortal? Will they prefer strong leadership, or make decisions as a group? You have the power to decide.

If this sounds difficult, it’s not: making a new word is as simple as gluing sounds in the alphabet together. Let’s do it.

First of all, this is ku’s alphabet:

    pi  pu  pa
    ti  tu  ta
    ki  ku  ka
    mi  mu  ma
    ni  nu  na
    si  su  sa
    yi  yu  ya

Words in the language of ku can only be composed of syllables in the above alphabet. Here’s a word: taki. Here’s another: misana. Here’s one more: ya. What do these words mean? That depends on how you, the player, define them. More on that in the post after this one.

As you can see, there are three vowels: i, u, and a (that’s ~17 less than English)! Additionally, there are 7 consonants:

Essentially everyone in the world can make these sounds, regardless of where they are from.

Pronunciation doesn’t matter that much, as long as you pronounce things consistently. If you’ve ever read Spanish, Japanese, or Italian (much simpler languages to pronounce than English), you’ve already got it. If not, no worries, I’m not looking over your shoulder. In case you’re wondering, though:

Okay, so I’ve (hopefully) convinced you that words in the language of ku are pretty straightforward. How about actually saying things, though? In other words, what about the grammar?

Above all other goals, the language of ku was designed to be quick to learn, and easy to read and speak. In order to make this a reality, I attempted to follow three guiding principles:

Intuitively, the language of ku can be thought of as an extremely stripped-down way of expressing things. Compared to English, thinking “kunically” is a little like this:

There’s no verb conjugation. No tense, no number. None of this stuff is necessary! If you want to specify these things, then you can just add more words, as shown above. But let’s see some real examples.

As already described, the player defines all the words in their language themselves. However, in order to start speaking, we need some words of our own! I’ve created a couple below:

saku : “soul” or “person”
sasu : “sleep”

Here’s your first sentence:

( 1 )

ma saku mi sasu

It means, more or less, “the person sleeps.”

The language of ku uses special marker words called “particles” to indicate parts of a sentence that are important. Understanding any sentence in the language of ku is as simple as finding the particles and looking at the words that come after. Here’s a breakdown of that last sentence, with the particles marked in bold, and the parts of the sentence on separate lines:

ma saku
mi sasu

ma is the “subject” particle. Anything that comes after it–up until the next significant particle–is the subject of the sentence. The subject is the person or thing that is doing something. For example, “person” in “the person sleeps.”

mi is the “verb” (or “predicate”) particle. Anything that comes after it is the predicate of the sentence. The predicate is the action being done. For example, “sleeps”, in “the person sleeps.”

How about another example?

New vocabulary:

numa : “eat”
kuta : “big”

( 2 )

ma kuta saku mi numa
the big person eats
lit. “big person eat”

Breakdown:

ma kuta saku
mi numa

This is the same kind of sentence, only we’ve added a modifier, transforming saku (“person”) to a kuta saku (“big person”). Modifiers like this always come before the word they are describing. In the language of ku, modifiers can apply to nouns (as done here), but also verbs, or even other modifiers.

( 3 )

ma saku mi kuta sasu
the person takes a long nap
lit. “person big sleep”

Breakdown:

ma saku
mi kuta sasu

Okay, moving on.

New vocabulary:

yuni : “fruit”

( 4 )

ma saku mu yuni mi numa
the person eats a fruit
lit. “person fruit eat”

Breakdown:

ma saku
mu yuni
mi numa

mu is the “object” (or “complement”) particle. Anything that comes after it is the complement of the sentence. In this case, the complement is the object–what the action is being done to. For example, “a fruit”, in “the person eats a fruit.”

Most of the time, the complement is the same thing as the object. However, when using the verb “is” (or “to be”), the complement is a little different:

( 5 )

ma saku mu yuni mi ya
the person is a fruit
lit. “person fruit is”

Breakdown:

ma saku
mu yuni
mi ya

ya is the “copula.” The copula basically just means “is,” and is a verb like any other. If you can’t tell the grammatical difference between the “fruit” in this sentence and the “fruit” in the last one, don’t worry! It doesn’t really matter that much. mu works for both.

Those are the three fundamental particles. Let’s take a look at a couple more (and then we’re done)!

( 6 )

ma yuni nu saku mi sasu
the person’s fruit sleeps
lit. “fruit of person sleep”

nu is the “of” (or “possessive”) particle. The purpose of nu is to show ownership. On the right side of it is the owner, and on the left side of it is the thing that is owned. For the most part, it works exactly like the word “of” does in English.

Breakdown:

ma yuni nu saku
mi sasu

Note that in the breakdown, saku is on the same line as yuni because both of them make up the subject of the sentence: “the person’s fruit.”

Finally, here’s an example of taking one sentence and sticking it onto another one:

( 7 )

ma saku mi sasu na ma saku mi numa
when a person eats, they sleep
lit. “person sleep when person eat”

Don’t be afraid–all we’re doing here is connecting two sentences you already know how to read!

Breakdown:

    ma saku
    mi sasu
na
    ma saku
    mi numa

na is the “when” (or “conditional”) particle. It joins two phrases, and is basically a simpler version of the word “when” in English. It’s useful to express conditional statements, like “if a person eats, they sleep.” This is the only way you can join two sentences in the language of ku. In every other case, you can get away with just saying the two sentences separately instead.

By the way, note that ma, mu, mi, nu, na and ya are just words in the player’s language, and can be redefined by them to different sounds at any time! So far we’ve been using the defaults.

And that’s the basic grammar. Sure, there a few more things–for example: questions, numbers, and prepositions–but not much. If you can understand the above, then you can play the game.

There is, however, one more particle: the “divine” particle, ku. [Next post](https://blog.aaronsee.media/crafting-meaning/, I’ll introduce this mysterious word and explain how it is the key to infusing your sentences with magical power.


Before I go, here are some more language examples to chew on:

( 8 )

ma saku mu kuta kuta yuni mi numa
the person eats a very big fruit
lit. “person big big fruit eat”

( 9 )

ma yuni mu kuta yuni mi ya
the fruit is big
lit. “fruit is big fruit”

( 10 )

ma saku mi ya
there is a person
lit. “person is”

New vocabulary:

tasu : “hunger”

( 11 )

ma tasu nu saku mu kuta tasu mi ya
the person is very hungry
lit. “hunger of person is big hunger”

Putting it all together…

( 12 )

ma saku mu kuta yuni mi numa na ma kuta yuni nu saku mi ya
if a person has a big fruit, they will eat it
lit. “person big fruit eat when big fruit of person is”



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