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I'm Tab Atkins Jr, and I wear many hats. I work for Google on the Chrome browser as a Web Standards Hacker. I'm also a member of the CSS Working Group, and am either a member or contributor to several other working groups in the W3C. You can contact me here.
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Hs̄lgn̈, ym tsr̄f gṅln̆k

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Back when I was a young nerd in high school, coming home on a long bus ride from a Future Problem Solvers meetup with my best friends (again, NERRRRRRRDS), we came up the idea of speaking English backwards, for fun.

Eventually, I evolved this into a more structured attempt at an actual conlang (constructed language), Hs̄lgn̈, which ended up being spoken by me and one of my little brothers.

Hs̄lgn̈ is a pig-latin, a language derived directly from English. Pig-latins are common as first conlangs, because they let you avoid the tiresome task of developing a vocabulary and jump straight into the more fun stuff of phoneme shifts, conjugations, writing systems, etc., while always having a "speakable" language ready. The pig-latin-ness is more obvious if I write its name in the Latin orthography: Hsilgne. ^_^

So yeah, it's still just English backwards, with some letter changes, a different orthography (it's written "natively" with an abugida, where vowels are indicated as diacritics on the consonants, rather than being letters on their own like in an alphabet), and specific pronunciation and stress rules vaguely similar, but not identical, to English.

Converting Orthography

The basic rules are simple.

  1. Take an English word (we'll use "English" for this example), and reverse it: "Hsilgne".

  2. If there are any C or Q letters, replace them with Ks. If there is a double-R, replace it with a rolled-R (currently represented with "ð" in my automatic converter, but that's not a good letter to use). (No change for "Hsilgne".)

  3. Merge vowels into their preceding letters:

    • a vowel before a consonant merges in directly, with aeiou becoming the diacritics ȯöōŏo̊
    • otherwise, the diacritic gets put on the "null consonant", "o", like in the previous bullet point
    • if a vowel is followed by an R, also merge that in, with a tail on the consonant, like ç. (My auto-converter currently uses an under-tilda rather than a tail, like "ẇ̰", because it renders more reliably, but I like the look of a tail better.)

    After this you have Hs̄lgn̈ - the "si" became "s̄", and the "ne" became "n̈".

Pronunciation

  • Vowels are pronounced like the English "long" vowels: ḃ=bay, b̈=bee, b̄=buy, b̆=bow (like "bow and arrow", b̊=boo.
  • Vowel-R blends are pronounced like Spanish: ḃ̰=bar, b̰̈=bear, b̰̄=beer, b̰̆=bore, b̰̊=boo-er (or t̰̊=tour)
  • An unvoweled consonant following a voweled one (like the "t" in ḃt) is pronounced as the final consonant of the syllable the voweled consonant forms (so ḃt is pronounced like "bait"), unless it's a "soft" consonant (r, y, h, l, or w), or it's followed by the same consonant again. So, for example, in "ṁy" the y is not part of the ṁ syllable, it forms a separate syllable. Similarly, r̈tṫm is three syllables (r̈)(t)(ṫm) (ree-teh-tame) - the first "t" doesn't merge into the r̈ syllable because it's followed by another "t".
  • When an unvoweled consonant isn't pronounced as the final consonant of the preceding letter, it uses the "default vowel", pronounced like "eh". (This often shortens to ə, the schwa.) So ṁy is pronounced like "may-yeh".

This means that Hs̄lgn̈ has five syllables: (H)(s̄)(l)(g)(n̈). Of the two voweled consonants, one is followed by a soft consonant, and the other ends the word, so all the unvoweled consonants get the default vowel instead: heh-sigh-leh-geh-nee

Stress

The syllable to stress is always one of the last three: if either of the last two syllables are "hard" voweled consonants, choose the last such; otherwise if either of the last two syllables are "soft" voweled consonants, choose the first such; otherwise the third-from-last syllable (or as close as you can get if there's less than three syllables).

So in Hs̄lgn̈ the stress is placed on the n̈ (heh-sigh-leh-geh-NEE), since it's the last syllable and is a "hard" voweled consonant. On the other hand, in a word like mhtyhr, which consists entirely of unvoweled consonants, the stress is on the y (meh-heh-teh-YEH-heh-reh), as it's the third-from-last syllable. In a word like w̆ð̇, the stress is on the w̆, as both syllables are "soft" voweled consonants, so you choose the first one (WOH-rray).

Other Things

There's more to the language, like conjugations and such, but they're more complex and I'm always tweaking them anyway. The most important bit is that verbs are written in the infinitive form, and any additional information that would be communication in the English tense is instead stated manually. So, for example, "this is good" would be written as "s̄ht öb d̆ŏg", using "be" instead of "is".

Automatic Converter

I have a pretty basic online converter available at https://www.xanthir.com/etc/hsilgne/. It doesn't do the verb conversion, and there might be some minor bugs in orthography, but it works surprisingly well. I used it to write all the words in this post, at least. ^_^

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