Mondir – A Conlang Review

If you have been following me on Twitter recently, you would know that I posted a poll to decide which conlang I will review for this post. To be honest, I was quite surprised that Mondir won that poll. It was originally an option for my first conlang review poll (in which Oqolaawak won), where it received absolutely no votes. I’m quite curious why it won this time.

Anyway, a while back I saw a you-tube video of its creator Liu Tinghao (a.k.a. Salum the Conlang) unboxing a copy of his book ‘A Brief Grammar of Classical Mondir Language’; I then decided to put Mondir in the polls as I wanted to support relatively unknown conlangers.

Obviously, the main source of this review will be the book ‘A Brief Grammar of Classical Mondir’, which for brevity I will refer to as ‘the book’. Also, I recommend you check out Agma Schwa’s Conlang Showcase of Mondir, which is a more neutral summary of Mondir.

Concept

Before I dig into the details of this conlang, I need to discuss the concept. This is not something that I’ve delved into in my previous reviews since those conlangs had relatively straightforward concepts. Mondir however, has a more unusual approach to conlanging, which to be honest I find problematic.

First of all, Liu Tinghao describes Mondir as an ‘Experimental Artlang’; which I am not sure if that either means a bend between an experimental conlang and an artistic conlang, or an artlang that is ‘experimental’ in its development. An experimental conlang is supposed to test some kind of hypothesis in linguistics, if this is the goal of this conlang then it is contradicted by also being an artlang because that means he has let his own personal preferences interfere with his ‘experiment’. But for this review, I’m going to assume the latter interpretation, that he’s testing a new method of developing an artlang, which is an idea that I am more open to.

“The basic idea of this language is to reconstruct the path from PIE to Romance Languages, like a simulator.”

A Brief Grammar of Classical Mondir Language, by Liu Tinghao

Mondir is derived from a proto-language called *Gnixwaxb, which sounds like (but it’s not made entirely clear) a relex of Proto-Indo-European (PIE). He took the same sound changes that caused PIE to become Latin and applied them to *Gnixwaxb. The end result of this is Classical Mondir. He then extended this process by creating his version of Vulgar Latin called Mode Mondir (mode being the Mondir word for ‘folk’) and applied the sound changes for various Romance languages to create a set of daughter languages.

I am initially skeptical of his approach to conlanging, as seems like it would result in conlangs too similar to the natural languages and will feel a bit unoriginal. I remember David J. Peterson as a guest on the podcast ‘Amped Up Radio’ where he discussed the importance of originality (episode 3 starting at about 4:20). I recommend you give the whole thing a listen, but the key point that I would like to highlight is:

“When it comes to creating a language, you should be in charge of every single decision”

David J. Peterson, Amped Up Radio Episode 3 at 4:54

He also says that conlangs which borrow from natural languages are analogous to fan-fiction. So applying that analogy to Mondir, it’s fan-fiction of Latin and by extension, its daughter languages are fan-fiction of the Romance languages. Not that there’s anything wrong with fan-fiction mind you, but I would personally prefer to see something more original.

In fact, a similar concept would be to take a pre-existing natural language and apply an original set of sound changes (and other diachronic changes). This is called an altlang, and I think it’s a much stronger concept for a conlang than Mondir. The conlanger would have more control over the final outcome of the conlang and would feel a lot more creative and original.

I would also like to clarify that this conlang is intended for use in a conworld:

‘’I still included the language into my con-world L’ourldĕ as the languages in the Nonige Continent”

A Brief Grammar of Classical Mondir Language, by Liu Tinghao

Since virtually no worldbuilding is presented in the book, this feels like an afterthought. It also makes reading the book an extremely dry experience.

Phonology

Consonants

BilabialAlveolarPalatalVelarGlottal
Nasalm /m/n /n/gn /ɲ/
Voiceless Stopp /p/t /t/k /k/
Voiced Stopb /b/d /d/g /g/
Fricativef /f/s /s/ (/z/)h /h/
Approximant(/w/)l /l/(/j/)
Trill/Tapr /r/ (/ɾ/)
Mondir’s consonant inventory

The consonant inventory surprised me a bit. Because of the concept, I expected it to be identical to Latin, but it turns out there are a couple of differences.

First, there’s an absence of the labialised velar stops /kʷ/ and /gʷ/. This is understandable because they are not present in every phonemic analysis of Latin. Also, they are present in some narrow IPA transcriptions that the book provides, so I guess he has analysed them as allophones (which is fine).

Another difference is the presence of a palatal nasal /ɲ/. Which as far as I’m aware, isn’t present in any analysis of Latin (although I might be wrong about that). However it is present in many Romance languages, so it does sort of fit in with the aesthetic he was going for.

I think the reason for these differences is that Mondir’s proto-language doesn’t have exactly the same phonology as PIE, therefore it would come out a little different.

Vowels

FrontBack
Closei /i/, ī /iː/u /u/, ū /uː/
Mide /e/, ē /eː/o /o/, ō /oː/
Opena /a/, ā /aː/
Mondir’s vowel inventory

The vowel system is exactly what I expected though: a five vowel system each with short and long variants.

The paragraph describing diphthongs isn’t very clear, so I’m going to quote the book:

“Almost all diphthongs can be formed in Mondir, but only the following would be as real diphthongs in Mondir phonology: /ou/, /ai/, /ua/, /ui/, /ia/ and /ie/, others would be considered as two monophthongs or monophthong with half vowel /w/ and /j/.”

Monophthongs and Diphthongs – A Brief Grammar of Classical Mondir Language, by Liu Tinghao

I think this means: Any pair of vowels, which are not any of the fore-mentioned diphthongs, are separated by a hiatus. Unless one of those vowels is closed, then it would become a semi-vowel.

Oddly, Mondir’s diphthongs are quite different from those in Latin; with /ui/ being the only diphthong they have in common.

Romanisation

The romanisation is straight forward and intuitive. The only noteworthy thing to mention is /ɲ/ is written gn, which I think works quite well. The only diacritics used are macrons for long vowels.

Phonotactics

The basic syllable structure in Mondir is (C)(C)V(C). There are some restrictions on the consonant clusters, or ‘consonant clutter’ as he prefers to call them. I personally think this is a way better term and I hope that all conlangers and maybe even linguists will adopt it.

He describes the general rule as fricative + liquid, fricative + stop, or stop + liquid. However, in the examples that he gives there doesn’t seem to be any /f/ + stop clutter nor does there seem to be any clutter including /h/.

Also, only the consonants /l/,/s/,/r/,/m/ and /n/ are permitted in a word-final coda. I think this restraint helps to give Mondir a very satisfying flowing aesthetic.

Stress

There is a nice and simple but naturalistic rule to assigning stress in Mondir: The stress is on the third-from-last syllable (the antepenult) unless the following syllable (the penult) has a long vowel, diphthong or a coda, then stress would fall on that syllable instead.

This is basically how stress works in Latin. The one difference is that Latin words can occasionally have stress on the final syllable.

Vocabulary

Dictionary

I would like to quickly mention a formatting issue with the dictionary entries. To take a random example:

Librire: v. I conj., to bear, to carry, libri, librite

The main problem here is that it uses commas to separate multiple translations of the word, which is fine, but he then follows this with some inflectional forms which are also separated by commas. I can tell from context obviously, but it would help a lot if separated the translation from the inflectional forms in some other way. For example, he could put the forms in brackets or used a semicolon. I think it could be formatted more like this:

Librire: v. I conj. to bear, to carry (libri, librite)

But, personally, I would do something like this:

Librire (libri, librite) - verb.I. to bear, to carry

Derivational Morphology

Place names in Mondir can be formed by adding the suffix -(n)ia (where the –n– occurs if the root ends in a vowel). There also seems to be words for real-world places such as Englandia ‘England’, Koriania ‘Korea’ and Mesikonia ‘Mexico’. So are these places supposed to exist in his world? I don’t know, it’s not made very clear.

Similarly, –e can be used to form an adjective and –nir can be used to form the name of a language.

There are also suffixes for deriving noun from verbs. There are two pairs of these -de/-di and –no/ni. –de and –no are masculine, while –di and –ni are feminine. I don’t quite understand what the difference between the ‘-d-’ suffixes and the ‘-n-’ suffixes is. The book states that the ‘-d-’ suffixes “names the person that really does the action or as an occupy” which doesn’t make any sense to me. The ‘-n-’ can apparently be used in forming personal names eg. Battono ‘the freer’. Some names have had the suffix obscured over time eg. Flerusi ‘the beautiful’. I like this because it makes some names sound a bit nicer and is very naturalistic.

For verbs there are a set of derivational prefixes, most of these are derived from prepositions. He says that ‘most’ of them are prefixes, implying that some of them are suffixes. However, all the examples he lists are prefixes, but he does refer to t(e)- and l(u)– as ‘suffixes’. I assume this is a mistake as they behave like prefixes in the example.

Greetings

In the Phrasebook section, various greetings are listed. I like how some of these are derived from full sentences, e.g, rasori ‘hello’ is a contraction of the sentence: Rarbi soru iriI’m by your side’.

Swearing

The Phrasebook section also lists some swearwords. The main swearword I would like to point out is maria ‘Go f*** yourself’. It’s like he knows someone called Maria and has a fallen out with them.

To my fellow conlangers who use sound change and/or generators in your work, I would urge caution when producing swearwords. In this case, I think it’s more funny than offensive; but if your swearwords resemble the name of an ethnic group, for example, it could come across as offensive even if that wasn’t the intent.

So how do solve a problem like maria? This where you use something called creativity. In other words, you don’t have to follow everything the generator spits out. For example, you could use irregular sound changes such as metathesis or could try to find an alternative etymology for the target word.

Anyway, most of the other swearwords listed seem to be derived from the same root as maria. There is mano ‘f***er’ and mani ‘wh***’, which use the –no and –ni suffixes. There is also frignimano ‘mother-f***er’ a compound of frigni ‘mother’ and mano ‘f***er’.

Only one of the listed swearwords that is not related to maria: Riria, which is translated as ‘go die!’. I like this one because it doesn’t directly translate to a swearword in English.

Grammar

One thing I would like to praise Mondir for is how naturalistic its grammar is. As you may expect, it’s a fusional language just like Latin. However, he does try to put his own twist on the grammar. Unlike Latin, Mondir has ergativity. If don’t know what is, please follow this link to the Artifexian video on the topic. I’m going to assume that you know what ergativity and morphosyntactic alignment are from this point on.

Nouns

Like in Latin, Mondir has grammatical cases. However, Liu Tinghao has played around with the cases a bit. As I said before, Mondir is an ergative language so instead of nominative and accusative cases, there are absolutive and ergative cases. Mondir also has an instrumental case, which is absent in Latin.

I feel that this change in the cases is a bit of a superficial change. Yes, the morphosyntactic alignment is different, but beyond that, the absolutive and ergative cases function just like the nominative and accusative cases in Latin. For example, the verb ‘to be’ in Mondir takes both of its arguments in the absolutive case, this may sound quite unique but in Latin, the verb ‘to be’ takes both of its arguments in the nominative case. This case system can be summed up as Latin but ergative plus the instrumental case.

Mondir also has gender and number which is basically the same as Latin: Masculine, feminine and Neuter; and singular and plural. One slightly Interesting thing I should point out is the fact that number is not distinguished in neuter nouns.

Nouns have four declensions and there are a plethora of exceptions. This makes Mondir feel extremely naturalistic. Of course, this is a result of copying a real-world set of sound changes, However, I think if a Conlanger understood the principles of historical linguistics they could achieve a similar level of quality with a unique set of sound changes. Biblaridion’s Oqolaawak is a good example of this, which I covered in my previous review.

Pronouns

Pronouns are declined for case and number, but not gender. Even for the third person pronouns. Possessive pronouns are declined for gender, but the feminine and masculine are fused to create the common gender. Having gender work slightly differently for pronouns is an interesting quirk, and I think it’s another feature that helps Mondir feel naturalistic.

Adjectives

Adjectives come before the noun and it agrees with the noun in case, gender and number; even if it’s a predicate. Like the possessive pronouns, adjectives also have the feminine and masculine fused into the common gender.

Verbs

Verbs are conjugated for tense, aspect, mood and voice; and agree with the subject in number and person. Mondir is a pro-drop language but only if the subject is singular, which is due to syncretism in the plural forms of verbs.

Two tenses are marked by conjugating the verb: present and past. Even infinitives can have past and present forms. There are also two aspects: Imperfective and perfect. The perfect is formed by the past participle combined with the verb ‘to have’.

There are also four moods: indicative, subjunctive, optative and imperative. These also interact with tense, e.g. there cannot be a past subjunctive.

Verbs can also be conjugated for active and anti-passive voice. Anti-passive voice is a common feature in ergative languages, where the verb becomes intransitive and the noun that would be in the ergative case becomes a noun in the absolutive case. In Mondir, the patient of the transitive verb can be added to the anti-passive verb by placing a noun in the ablative case between the subject and the verb.

Apparently, there is a passive voice as well, but it not conjugated in the verb rather it’s marked by changing which argument the verb agrees with. This is where I’m a little bit confused. The book gives the following example of passive voice:

Sor niburirir
you-ABS know-1.SG.PRES
You are known.

But since this is an ergative language, can this be also translated as ‘you know’ (where ‘you’ is an agent of an intransitive verb). Maybe this intentional to give the language a bit of ambiguity and make it seem more naturalistic, but I just find this confusing. Did he really need to have a passive voice?

However, this is less confusing if an agent added, which is done by adding a noun in the instrumental case.

Mondir makes some interesting uses of gerunds, which are basically verbs that behave like nouns. The verb takes a suffix to form a gerund, which can then be declined as a feminine noun. Gerunds have many uses depending on its case. Eg. in the ergative case can be used to show the consequence of that verb. The amount of depth here is really quite impressive.

Adverbs

There are various different kinds of adverbs in Mondir, but I find the manner adverbs particularly interesting. These adverbs can be derived from adjectives by its form in the instrumental case and applying certain sound change rules to the stem. These rules are /a/ or /o/ → /u/; and /e/ → /i/. Of course, there are some irregularities as well eg. ude ‘good becomes iar ‘well’. I’m not sure if these sound changes are a consequence of the ‘traced’ sound changes from PIE or if he added them to make it more interesting, but it’s a nice touch anyway.

Conjunctions

Mondir makes a distinction between separable and inseparable conjunctions. Basically, the inseparable conjunctions function like clitics and are attached to the modified word. Some conjunctions can function as both types, for example, oun ‘and’ can function as a separable conjunction when linking two sentences, but as an inseparable conjunction when linking individual words.

Numerals

Mondir has base-20, but with elements of a base-10 system. Numbers one to ten have unique roots, but numbers eleven to nineteen are the numbers one to nine with a suffix, –ora (with some irregularities of course).

  1. toga
  2. kore
  3. ero
  4. kurba
  5. rura
  6. higo
  7. esia
  8. tosigno
  9. esora
  10. tora
  11. tottora
  12. korora
  13. erora
  14. kurbora
  15. rurora
  16. hittora
  17. esittora
  18. tosindora
  19. esorora
  20. kesira

I like how it feels like a base-10 system that is messed up by sound change to create a sort of base-20.

21 is kesiroun toga ‘twenty-and one’, utilising the –oun ‘and’ clitic I mentioned earlier. I do think it’s great when conlangers combine different elements of their conlang. 31 is kesiroun tottora literally ‘twenty and eleven’. This pattern continues up to 100.

Also, the numeral toga ‘one’ is only used when counting. If ‘one’ is being used to quantify a noun, then toge is used and is declined like an adjective. The word iesa ‘zero’ can not be used to quantify nouns either.

Most ordinals are derived by adding some variation of the suffix –(i)be, but the words for first and second are irregular. The word for ‘first’, ose, is derived from a word meaning ‘head, king’; and the word for ‘second’, arbe, is derived from a word meaning ‘next’.

The book goes into tons of more detail about decimals, fractions and basic mathematical operations. It’s good to see this, as I think other conlangers tend to overlook these things.

Syntax

Just like Latin, Mondir has a default SOV word-order, but thanks to case marking, word order can be more flexible. There are some more nuanced rules for clauses with pronouns, for instance: The third-person singular pronoun, i, is the same in both ergative and absolutive, so word order is used to distinguish the two. The position of i depends on whether it’s an agent or a patient; and whether there are any other pronouns in the same clause.

Yes-no questions are formed by adding the clitic –nor to the verb. The verb is usually moved to the front of the sentence, although this is not required. Tag questions are formed by placing the particle nores at the end of the sentence. To answer these questions, there are two words for yes: sani for positive questions and edar for negative questions.

The book goes into great depth about various kinds of commands. In the most basic kind of command, the verb is in the imperative mood; but in a polite command, the verb is in the subjunctive mood; a requirement uses the optative mood; and urge commands use a gerund in the vocative case. I think there are some really creative uses of verb morphology here.

Relative clauses can be formed in three different ways: with the pronoun nage; with the adverb nidu; or with a participle.

One thing that this book delves into that I have not really considered in my own conlanging is direct and indirect speech. Direct speech is quoting someone word for word, while indirect speech is used to refer to what someone has said. To turn direct speech into indirect speech in Mondir, a verb referring to speaking or thinking is used agreeing with the speaker, followed by the speaker’s statement but with the pronouns changed and any verbs must be in the infinitive.

Conclusion

Please bear in mind that in this review I only summarised some of the key points. I really only scratched the surface of the detail that is presented in the book. Liu Tinghao has clearly put a lot of work into this, which I certainly can appreciate. But there are also some major problems that I have with it.

If I’m honest, I actually prefer Klingon to Mondir. Yes, Mondir is way more naturalistic than Klingon; but at least Klingon utilised worldbuilding and tried to be more original. I also had a lot of fun reviewing Klingon and reading both ‘The Klingon Dictionary’ and ‘Klingon for the Galactic Traveller’, but I can’t say the same about Mondir: it lacked worldbuilding and it felt like it copies Latin too closely. These things sucked any enjoyment I could have had from Mondir, despite it being quite impressive from a technical point of view.

Pros

  • An impressive amount of detail particularly in the grammar.
  • A convincing naturalistic fusional morphology, having lots of irregularity and ambiguity

Cons

  • The method results in a lack of originality, basically a ‘fan-language’ of Latin.
  • It was supposed to be created for a conworld, but there’s virtually no worldbuilding presented or even suggested by the conlang’s features.

This is a hard one to rate, but decided to rate this conlang 3.5/10:

Rating: 3.5 out of 10.

But because of the amount of detail and a high degree of naturalism, I would understand if someone tried to argue it was good. Do you agree with my thoughts on Mondir? If not, just leave a comment below telling me to maria!

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