“How do native speakers of a conlang learn their mother tongue?” 3/5

2015/5/23 seren arbazard


Arka didn’t have a word which is equal to the English word “dad”. But in 2008, my 469-day-old girl made her first coinage.
A father is called “kaan” in Arka. At that time, she could call me papa (daddy) so we had her remember the word “kaan” (a father), but she couldn’t pronounce “kaan” and called me “kakka”.
It was interesting for me. I decided kakka meant “dad”. But Ridia somehow didn’t like the word.
In 2012, when I was skyping with 3 Arka users, I told the story to them. Then one of them told me “kakka” meant poop in Finnish. Ridia was born in present Estonia but moved to Finland when she was 1 and lived there by 6. That was why she didn’t like her daughter called me “kakka”.

Anyway, Arka is an a priori conlang, so I didn’t care what “kakka” meant in other languages.


The twin seemed to think my name was papa or kakka. We had to teach them papa or mama were just a role, not a name.
“est e papa et seren” (Dad’s name is Seren) “est tiil et luxia” (Your name is Luxia), said I patiently many times.
Luxia understood our names, each proper noun had their own name. But she couldn’t pronounce my name correctly, saying “seen”.

After that she came to be able to pronounce my name, there was a problem; it is rude to call parents by their name in Arka. We had to have them call us like papa.

She seemed she thought she had a few names because we called her “luxia”, “xia”, “miia” (a sweet daughter) or “miva” (a daughter), I even called her “xianyan” (little Luxia). So she thought she had many names and asked “est tiil et to?” (What’s my name, though it’s a wrong sentense. You have to say “est noan et to?” She thought “tiil” meant “Xia’s”.)

Anyhow “xia” was the most popular way of calling her in our family, she thought “xia” was her name, said “xia bena” (I want to pee).


In 2008, when the twins were 1 year and some months old, Luxia began to understand pronouns of Arka.
Arka has many pronouns which mean “you” and “I”. I called her “ti” (you) while Ridia called her “tyu” (you) and Mel did her “moe” (you).
At that time Luxia thought “ti” “tyu” “moe” were her name, too. But she found that they weren’t her name because I called Ridia “ti”, too. However she didn’t understand what they meant.

The first pronoun she learned was “tuan” (your, yours). When she robbed Yult’s toys, mothers told her off saying “tee, tu te tuan. see tu et tuan” (No, that’s not yours, this one is yours).
Luxia thought “tuan” was mine, pointed her belongings saying “tu et tuan” (This is yours). Parents taught her “rens “tu et noan”” (Say “it’s mine”) again and again until they understand “noan” (my, mine) and “tuan”.

There are plenty of pronouns in Arka. Men usually call themselves “an” (I) while girls do “non” (I). In our family, only Yult, my father-in-law and I were male, so most members of our family would talk with Yult in the female language.
It was hard for Yult to understand male pronouns in our family.

In 2009, Luxia learned some pronouns of Arka. She came to call herself “non” properly.
In this year, she made another coinage “nonben”. It was a short form of “non bena” (I wet myself). After that, I put the word “nonben” (to wet one’s pants) to dk (diaklel, the Arka dictionary) as her coinage.

It’s very hard for foreigners to learn Arka’s pronouns because there’re many variants.
Men usually call themselves “an”, but when they talk to superiors and olders, they likely to call themselves “men”. (There’re more than 10 words meaning “I” in Arka. Thanks to them, Arka can express detailed human relationships.
There’re even pronouns for non-sexuals and non-animates.

Even native speakers of Arka had difficulty in remembering them.
The twins remembered all of them around 3 years old.

What’s This?

We thought about what we should do to widen their vocabulary. Like Shion in “The book of Shion” did, we had her remember the sentence “tu et to?” (What’s this?).
In front of them, Mel asked “tu et to?” pointing a spoon to Ridia. Ridia answered “tu et hokn” (It’s a spoon) to Mel.
The parents tried such a skit many times, exchanging the noun. The twins understood they can ask things’ name with the sentence, looking at the parents.

Now they got an amazing arms. They began to ask things’ name by saying it. From that day, they kept asking “tu et to?” to the parents.

There was a problem in asking things’ name in Arka. Arka has 4 pronouns to mean this or that. “tu” is this. “le” is that. “lu” is this for living things and “la” is that for living things.

They asked “tu et to?” pointing their cat. It should be “lu et to?” in Arka because cats are a living thing.
Moreover, “to” is “what” for non-living things while “ne” is “who” for living things. So they should’ve said “lu et ne?” (Who is he?). It was hard for us to make them distinguish these words.

They learned “tu”, “le”, “lu” and “la” respectively. It was hard to remember “la” (that person) because they hardly need to say the word in their daily life.
Anyway, they remembered many nouns with the magical sentence.

Other Pronouns

Arka has pronouns “xe”, “fi”, “il”, “vei”. They are “some”, “any”, “all”, “some of them” respectively.
They learned “il” and “vei” easily but “xe” and “fi”.
Luxia was around 4 years old when she understood them.

“yuu” (no one, nobody) , “netal” (anybody, whoever), “total” (anyone, whatever) weren’t difficult to understand for them. They tended to use “netal” and “total” instead of “fi”.
“wel” (which) was a piece of cake. Looking at their book, the parents asked “wel et ket?” (Which is the cat?), and they could easily answer at the year of 4.

I knew English native speakers around 5 found it difficult to understand the meaning of “somebody” or “anybody”, so I expected it was hard for our children to learn “xe” or “netal (fi)” but the twins somehow understand them at the year of 4.

English native speakers often say “I didn’t see no one in the park” when they were little.
The twins said “non en inat yuu lan ka sokl” (I didn’t see no one in the park), too.
The parents told them “tyu inat yuu ka sokl sete?” (Did you see nobody in the park, right?) many times until they understood their error.


The twins understood “ne”, “to”, “am” (where) easily because who and what have a shape.
They had a trouble with understanding “om” (when) and “es” (why) to the contrary because time and reason are shapeless.

However, we were happier when they didn’t get “es”. “es” is a strong arms for children.
It’s easy for grown-ups to answer to “What’s this?” because they should simply tell its name. But it’s not easy to answer to “Why?”
“es jan et soret?” (Why is the sky blue?) “es maal til ins diia fien non til ins lette?” (Why mom’s eyes are green though I have brown eyes?) Ridia and I explained the reason every time they attacked us with “es” while Mel just showed Wikipedia written in French, English, or Japanese (Of course they couldn’t read it).
Every time Mel showed Wikipedia to them, Luxia argued over why there were no Arka versions in Wikipedia.


It was around 2 that Luxia began to use copulas. “et” is “be” in Arka. You have to say “tu et gek noan” (This is my ball), but she said “tu gek noan” (This my ball.)
When they were out to a park, she said “kuto ank”. It means “a cute bird” but we believed she wanted to say “The bird is cute.”


When they were 1.5 years old, she began to use the past tense. By that time, they only used present tense.
I asked her “maal xa am?” (Where’s your mom?), she answered “maal doova” (Mom bye-bye) to me. I believed it meant “mall leevat” (Mom left).
I drew pictures and showed the paper to her.
There a girl was holding a spoon, was eating a cake, and was washing the dish.
I asked her if she could arrange the pictures.
“kit, lu fian tot?” (First, what did the girl do?), said I, she pointed the girl holding the spoon.
“yan xi tu, lu tot?” (Next, what did she do?), she pointed the girl who was eating a cake. It meant she understood the past tense.


In Arka, you have to put a suffix “-(a)t” to a verb when you want to refer to the past tense, i.e. xen-xenat (to drink, drank). If a verb ends in a vowel, you have to put away the vowel “a”, i.e. ku-kut (to say, said), not “kuat”.

Around 1.5years old, Luxia said “mama *lunaat ez” (Mommy came to the room). Luna is to come. It ends in a vowel, so it should be “lunat”.

I thought she was making her own rules of grammar. Even a 1.5-year-old baby can make her own rules.
They didn’t learn Arka words word by word. They were learning it systematically.

Words and Phrases

Children don’t distinguish words from phrases. They learn only chunks. When we tell them “lat a mokt” (go to bed) “olx las” (wash your hands), they do as we told. But I thought “olx las” wasn’t a phrase but a chunk to them, “It is a chunk when mom tells me before meal”, would she thought.

When we told her to “olx luwa” (Wash your feet), she, at first, found it was not a word but a phrase and she can exchange the noun freely.


I’m a French-Koren Japanese, Ridia is of mixed race, too. So the twins are of mixed race, too.
They were born in Turkey, but moved into Lyon, France when they were little.
They had no frends in Turkey nor France because they were too shy and couldn’t speak Turkish nor French.

The parents let them play with children in the neighborhood. At that time, they hardly spoke French, and they were too shy, so they were picked on.

One day, Luxia looked in a mirror and said “es eel lenan et enk laint eyo?” (Why do we look different from them?). They were around 4 at that time, I had Ridia and Mel teach French and English, too.

Mixed Language

Before moving to French, they started to learn French, English, and Japanese. I thought Japanese wasn’t necessary but Luxia loved to watch Japanese animes like Precure on the Internet, so she voluntarily began to learn Japanese.
Luxia used a mixed language. Her mother tongue was Arka, but many foreign words appeared in her language. Kawaii, a Japanese word for cute was her favorite, “precure et kawaii tiina e” (Precures are very cute), said she.
Oui, a French word for yes also entered her vocabulary like “ti kuis dunex?” (Have you eaten supper?) “Oui, non sot” (Yes, I have).

No before Yes

The twins began to say “tee” (No) before they learned “ax” (yes). That was because they heard of it much more times.

When Luxia was around 2, she was in a rebellious stage. She always answered “tee!” when grown-ups told her to do something. “You’ll be eaten by a demon if you say “tee” for 100 times”, said her grandmother.
“OK! tee, tee, … x100. see? Nothing happened”, said Luxia.

“If you keep saying No, Daddy won’t love you anymore”, said Mel.
“Oh, really?” She looked at me via a webcam.
When I nodded, she became pale and did what she was told. I thought Mel knew how to handle her.

Yult, on the contrary was obedient to us. He played with children in France and learned some French words, but they were very nasty like “merde”, “putain”.
We were shocked to hear that, told him not to say the words anymore.

Kawaii Yuutxan

We called Yult Yuutxan [ju:tʃan] (little Yult). He was being grown up with many women around so that he wore girls’ clothes and thought he should be kawaii like Luxia.

He dressed like a girl, wearing the costume of Precure which I bought for Luxia when she came to Japan with Ridia at Toysaurus at Ikebukuro, Japan.
When he was 3, he asked me if he looked kawaii, I was stunned and was able to say nothing back. So he began to weep, crying “Daddy doesn’t love me!”

When he was 4, he began to grow his hair long like a girl. Ridia was a bit angry with me for being silent when he asked if he was cute.
I said “ti et ank, yuutxan” (You’re cute, little Yult). He seemed to be very happy.

Sweet Daughter

When Luxia was 4, she asked me “Which do you love more, me or Mom?”
I answered I loved Ridia more than her. She got very depressed by my words.

After that, when talking with Mel, she said “You should’ve told a white lie”.
“I can’t tell a lie as their father.”
“Anyway, you have to tell her she is the sweetest.”

So when she was 5 or 6, I made two new words; hatiank and yuliank.
Hatiank means kawaii as a girlfriend while yuliank does kawaii as a daughter.
“ti et yuliank alka kont ridia et hatiank alka” (You’re the sweetest daughter while Ridia is the most beloved girlfriend), said I.
Why did I have to make the words? That was just because Ridia wouldn’t accept my words “I love Luxia the best”.
How childish she was.


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