LCC2 – Lila Sadkin – Tenata: Dissolving Lexical Categories

High Quality Video (.mpg)Program (.pdf)Tenata Relay text

Lila Sadkin discusses the grammatical structure of her conlang, Tenata, in terms of how a speaker of Tenata divides her language into parts of speech. Tenata does not end up having the categories of noun, verb, adjective, adverb in the same way most languages one usually comes across use them, and instead has “semantic roots,” “nominal inflection,” “verbal inflection”, and “discourse particles.” These are the four parts of speech to a Tenata speaker, and each one is present in (almost) every Tenata sentence.

Lila Sadkin received her BA in Linguistics from the University of Florida in May 2007. She has been interested in language all her life and her study of linguistics has vastly improved the quality of her conlanging. Tenata is her first “real” conlang, drawing inspiration from Native American languages and Chinese, and she has plans for many more in the works, all of which exist on her con-continent. She also enjoys science fiction, cooking, computery things, photography, and has pursued other artistic endeavors with varying degrees of sucess. She is indebted to Dr. Hardman at the University of Florida for her inspiration to head along the path of linguistics in science fiction.

Most would agree that it’s a rare thing for a linguist to even recognize the existence of conlanging.
And if that’s rare, it’s a miracle to find one sympathetic enough to allow one to do an undergraduate thesis that, essentially, is a conlang. In fact, I had never heard about it in my entire life until I met Lila Sadkin at LCC2. That is, essentially, what Lila’s Tenata was: an undergraduate thesis. In linguistics.

Wild, huh?

Tenata itself is an interesting experiment. Most human languages are pretty stuck with, at the very least, nouns and adjectives. Every so often you come across a language like Hawaiian that has a lot of words that can appear in a ton of different lexical categories (a given word can be a noun, adjective, adverb, verb and preposition), but the lexical categories themselves remain (for example, in Hawaiian, there is fairly definite word order, and tense particles are only associated with verbs, articles with nouns, etc.). If one wants to find a language with either no lexical categories, or vastly different ones from those one finds in the real world, one is forced to turn to conlangs, where the creator is allowed more elbow room, so to speak, than the mandates of a natural language allow.

[Note: Around the four minute mark, someone near the camera (or near a microphone of some kind) starts doing…something. Eating a candybar? Crumpling up a piece of paper? What’s going on there?!]

This video is part of the 2nd Language Creation Conference, held at UC Berkeley on July 7-8, 2007, and hosted by Language Creation Society.

We would like to add closed captioning / subtitles to all the videos from LCC2, including this one. If you are willing to help, install Subtitle Workshop, and email your transcribed .sub file to In return, you’ll get credit and a free copy of the DVD with this video.

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