Picking words for Ungglish

There are many difficulties in designing an Interlanguage based on English, because English is a messy language with numerous homonyms and ambiguities that must be removed to achieve the goals of Ungglish. Every day that I write the English-Ungglish dictionary, it seems, I encounter a fairly substantial difficulty. Generally, I think about it, plan a solution and move on, but I may later re-examine and change a decision.

For anyone interested in an English-based auxlang, I’m looking for help. Building the dictionary is a big job.

Here are the basic goals of Ungglish (most important first):

  1. To be a good teaching aid, Ungglish must strongly resemble English and teach students about a majority of the most common English word roots, grammar, spelling rules, and affixes.
  2. To be easy to learn, there should be as few word roots as possible, affixes must generally attach to word roots in a regular and predictable way, all words must be phonetic (i.e. sound-out-able), and so on.
  3. To be easy to learn and easy for machines to translate, each word root should have only one meaning if possible, and only two meanings if not.
  4. To make it convenient as a proper language in its own right, long word roots and long compound words should be avoided.

By the way: among auxlangs, Ungglish is unusual in generally not attempting to be easier to pronounce than English.

The main reason for not removing phonemes is that it would causes a large number of hard-to-solve ambiguities. For example, trying to replace TH with T, D or S gives numerous conflicts like three/tree, think/sink, then/ten/den, they/day, though/dough, both/boat/bode.

The main reason not to shorten codas, generally, is that it decreases the language’s written resemblance to English. Since we must already make many spelling changes to achieve a phonetic writing system, additional changes are likely to make Ungglish hard to read for English speakers. Also, as a teaching language, keeping the codas helps teach English. The secondary reson not to shorten codas is that it creates conflicts like build/bill and north/nor. I have, however, shortened codas in a handful of very common words, particularly those words that native English speakers commonly shorten themselves, like don’t => doen and and => an.

One of the most annoying difficulties in building Ungglish is that English often only has a single word that contains two (or more) important meanings, and somehow we need to separate the two meanings even though there are no good synonyms available. In this post I will discuss a few examples.


In English you can write something called a “garden path sentence”, which is defined as a grammatically correct sentence that a reader’s brain is likely to parse incorrectly. An example is “The old man the boat”. This is a correct and complete sentence, but even a native English speaker is likely to be confused by it. It is decoded like this: “The old (old people) man (act as crew for) the boat.”

If a perfectly correct sentence can confuse native speakers, rest assured that people learning English can be confused much more easily.

Now, about that word “like”. I’ve heard linguists have a “joke”:

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

“Flies” can be a noun or a verb, and “like” can be a verb, a preposition or a conjunction. The first sentence exploits these facts to make your brain parse the second sentence incorrectly. The thing I want to stress is that if you are trying to learn English, each of these sentences can be confusing on its own.

Ungglish injects clarity by forcing all verbs to end in “a” (pronounced “uh”). Meanwhile, nouns and adjectives are not allowed to end in “a” (except “-ia” which is used mainly for names of countries). Nouns ending in “a” are rare in English, but when they occur the “a” is changed to "ai" [edited] “un”, so a word like “camera” becomes “camerun” (or, use the compound word “seeor”: a machine that sees.)

The extra “a”s make Ungglish longer, but this is partly balanced out by removing the indefinite articles “a” and “an”. I don’t “have a car” in Ungglish; I “hava car”. Having no indefinite article takes some getting used to, but it does not create a lot of ambiguity, and it helps remind Ungglish speakers that they are not, in fact, speaking English.

Thus “like” becomes ether “liek” or “lieka” depending on its grammatical function, and an acceptable Ungglish translation could be “Time fliea liek erroenief. Fruut flies lieka b’nana.” However, Ungglish speakers should be cautious to speak in a logical way that non-English speakers will understand. So, outside poetry, that first sentence should be avoided unless you plan to actually explain what it means, or unless you are confident that “flying time” means the same thing to speakers of Chinese, Swahili, and Arabic.


“that” also has enough different meanings to be confusing; it can be a pronoun, determiner, conjunction, or adverb.

That Jill is never here.

That Jill is never here is bothering me.

Have you heard that killer’s history? It’s long and gruesome.

Have you heard that killer’s not history yet? They stayed the execution.

However, the word “that” is never a verb so our “-a” ending doesn’t help.

Instead, I noticed a funny thing. English speakers sometimes pronounce “that” at “thut” - but never when “that” is a pronoun, only when it is a conjunction. So in Ungglish I mandate “thut” permanently as the only correct pronounciation of the conjunction “that”:

That Jill bi never heer.

Thut Jill bi never here bi bothering mi.

Also, in Ungglish you cannot use “that” as an adverb as in “I can’t believe it’s that big.” Use “so” in that case. “that” still serves as both a pronoun (“I like that”) and as a determiner (“I like that idea”)

Know & no

Of course, “no” and “know” sound the same and would ordinarily be spelled the same in Ungglish. Luckily the “-a” ending solves the conflict, spelling “know” as “noea”.

However, I am aware that many languages (and perhaps most of them) have two separate verbs for “knowing”: you can know a person, or you can know a fact. It is not crucial that Ungglish have two words for these two kinds of “knowing”, because the meanings are so closely related as to feel like a single semantic range. However, English also has the word “knowledge”, which usually refers to book learning and only rarely refers to people. So I engaged in a bit of trickery, separating “noea” into two words, “noea” (know a person) and “noela” (know a fact). This way, when we add the “ij” suffix which means “-age” (as in knowledge, marriage, package) we get “noelij”, which sounds very similar to “knowledge”. Of course, English speakers are likely to get the two words mixed up, but because “noea” and “noela” sound very similar, the mistake is a minor one, like confusing “effect” and “affect”.

By the way, when English speakers start reading Ungglish they may see “noelij” and think “Christmas!” This, perhaps, is why projects to introduce English phonetic spelling always fail: the reformed text doesn’t only look weird (which by itself might be enough to prevent reform) but it also creates conflicts. It’s not logical to spell “shows” like “cow” or “how”, it should be spelled like “toe”, “foe”, “wrote” or “tornadoes”, but the sequence of five letters “shoes” is already taken by another word with an equally dumb spelling. But I must insist that Ungglish be phonetic, so it accepts a few problems like this. So if you’re reading some Ungglish, don’t be confused when someone goes out to “seea shoe”.

two, too and to

This was one of the most painful ones to deal with.

To eliminate the conflict between “two” and the other two words, I regularized the number system. You see, in English the number “forty” sounds like “four” and likewise for sixty-six, seventy-seven, eighty-eight, and ninety-nine. I decided to complete the pattern by replacing “two” with “twen”, “thirty” with “thhreety”, and “fifty” with “fievty”. Thus you count to ten as “wun, twen, thhree, for, fiev, six, seven, aet, nien, ten”. (This only leaves one irregularity: “ten” is still called “ten”, not “wunty”.)

The word “to” has four main uses. First, it’s a normal infinitive marker as in “I wanted to learn.” Second, it’s an infinitive marker that indicates certain meanings, most often purpose, as in “I stopped to eat,” which in archaic English might have used the word “for”, as in “I stopped for to eat.” Third, it’s a normal preposition as in “I went to the store” (and this preposition itself has several meanings).

In English, the the infinitive marker is used inconsistently: some verbs need it to form chains, others don’t:

My current plan is to eliminate these differences by not requiring an infinitive marker to form chains. So instead of “I can eat”, “I want to eat”, “I finish eating” and “I help you eat”, It’s “Ie can eeta”, “Ie wona eeta”, “Ie finisha eeta”, and “Ie helpa yoo eeta”. A longer chain like “I want to like to help him.” becomes “Ie wona lieka helpa him.”

However, the infinitive marker still exists. At first, I renamed it to “t’” (pronounced “tuh”) to distinguish it from the preposition “to” (which is now spelled “tu”). However, this isn’t really necessary because in Ungglish (unlike in English) it’s easy to tell whether “tu” is being used as a preposition or as an infinitive marker. Look:

If it’s an infinitive marker, it’s followed by a verb, otherwise it isn’t (“ing” words are gerunds, not verbs). That makes real ambiguity nearly impossible, so “tu” is used for both purposes.

The infinitive marker has several uses:

son, sun & offspring

Consider the concept of “offspring” and the related concept of a “son”. In English, the words “son” and “daughter” are very common. But in Ungglish I prefer to have gender-neutral words and derive gendered words from them using the prefix “hi” or “shi”. Unfortunately, not only would “hioffspring” be a much longer word than “son”, but also “offspring” is rarely used and has a cold, clinical connotation.

At the same time, “son” and “sun” sound the same and the only possible Ungglish spelling is “sun”. Because the word “son” is more common than “sun”, the concept “son” could reasonably steal the spelling “sun”, forcing “sun” to be called something else like “hoemstar” or “sol” (Latin/Spanish). On the other hand, “sun” is used in multiple compound words like “sunlight” and “sunrise” so changing its name would force larger differences from English than we would like.

At first, I solved this a little awkwardly; I changed the pronounciation of “son” by not changing its spelling. Then I derived “daughter” as “shi-son” and “offspring” as “zey-son”.

Then I noticed something. Earlier I had selected “kid” instead of “child” for the concept of a child, because “kid” is shorter and easier to pronounce. But in English we count our offspring by saying “I have two children” - and although some say “I have two kids”, to me the word “kid” is neutral, while “child” has a warmer connotation that better fits the parent-child relationship.

So I decided the better solution was to introduce the word “chield”, meaning not “kid” but “offspring”. The change is barely perceptible, since every kid is also an offspring, and in fact “child” already means “offspring”, as English speakers will say things like “I have two adult children”, and in computer science we always talk about parent-child relationships in data structures, never parent-kid relationships. Still, in Ungglish you can refer to an adult as a “chield” of someone and you can never say “I’m not a child anymore!”. And now that we can say “hi-chield”, the word “son” is no longer needed and the conflict with “sun” disappears.

four & for

In this case, I noticed a funny thing again. English speakers sometimes pronounce “for” as “fer” (fur) - but never when it’s a number, only when it’s a preposition. So that’s our solution: mandate “fer” as the pronounciation. This creates another conflict with the word “fur”, which we can solve by calling it furherr (fur-hair).

This was an early decision, but I knew I still had a problem, because “fer” (for) has between 15 and 32 definitions in English depending on which dictionary you look at, dramatically more than Ungglish normally allows!

Eventually, I got annoyed by all the conflicts in English that I decided to introduce a new suffix that I (and others) could use as a cop-out. Tentatively, “-un” means “having a different sense defined by English”.

I tried applying this suffix to “fer”. I assigned the majority of common uses of “for” to “fer”, then used “ferun” for the definition that seemed most in opposition. Consider the difference between

He is going to the corner for some drugs.

He is going to jail for a drug offense.

In the first sentence, the drugs were the goal for which he went to the corner; he goes to the corner first and gets the drugs afterward. In the second sentence, the drug offense was the cause; he got the drugs first and goes to jail afterward. Thus there is a temporal reversal between these two meanings of “for”.

So I “ferun” would have this second meaning and also “in exchange for”. When you consider the large difference between

I got a collar for the dog.

I got ten dollars for the dog.

It seems wise to define a different preposition for the second meaning.

“Ferun” is a strange little word though, so my next thought was to replace “ferun” with “por” from Spanish, which is one of the two Spanish words for “for” and sounds similar to “pour” in French. Unfortunately English already has “pore” (a tiny hole), and more importantly “poor”, which should be spelled “por” in Ungglish. But some people do pronounce “poor” as it is spelled, so it is okay to keep that spelling. Since “pore” and “porous” are rare words, we can replace them with “micro-hoel” (microscopic hole), “nano-hoel” (nanoscopic hole) or “micro-pit” instead, as appropriate. So “por” can indeed have the desired meaning.

Another part of the plan is to delete a few uses of “for”, using other prepositions or phrases instead. So here’s the current plan to split up “for”:


Por: (“por” has many more meanings in Spanish, such as “by” and “through”, but those meanings require different prepositions in Ungglish.)

Deleted meanings:

Special cases:

Edit: The word “sa” (is/am/are) was changed back to “bi”.

Note: Elements of Ungglish described in blog posts may change after publication