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When working on fonts, it's typical to use a pangram to show how it handles letters, like so:

example of using the below pangram to show how letters work in a font.

Sphinx of black quartz, judge my vow

Is there an equivalent set of sentences for testing how a conlang handles things like clauses, conditionals, pronouns etc?

I'm asking as I'm trying to figure out how my conlang with an idiosyncratic sentence structure (topic marker (linked to the class of subject or object or the verb) - one of several first person pronouns - relationship marker - object and/or subject and verb.) would handle some of the above things?

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5 Answers 5

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Probably the closest thing is the text of the Tower of Babel legend that has been (is still?) customarily used to demonstrate your conlang (the alternative being the Lord's Prayer, but this suffers from stilted, archaic language and a necessary religious bias; OTOH, it is available for almost all natlangs). Not quite demonstrating all the possible grammatical features, but the text is rich and long enough to demonstrate basic concepts, and yet short enough to be easy to translate without too much effort.

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  • 3
    In phonetics the standard text is the story of the Northwind and the Sun, for the same reasons. Apr 21 at 7:54
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    Omniglot.com uses Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood." (Also not demonstrating a large number of grammatical features.)
    – Theodore
    Apr 22 at 19:56
  • Shleicher's fable (and the king and the god) is also fairly commonly used, at least for Indo-European a posteriori languages, based on their intended use for comparing natural IE languages
    – Tristan
    May 10 at 13:50
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I have found these 218 Sentences to Test Conlang Syntax quite useful.

The sentences range from demonstrating tense, aspect and mood:

The sun shines.

Happy people often shout.

You should go.

to demonstrating more sophisticated concepts such as clausal subjects:

Why he has left the city is a mystery.

and inferential knowledge and evidence:

Evidently that gate is never opened, for the long grass and the great hemlocks grow close against it.

I did find it useful to make many more variants over time, and a version which indexes the grammatical concepts so that you can look up later how you did it would be an improvement. But it's a very good foundation, for my [unspent] money.

This google doc is my master copy, of which you are welcome to make your own in the file menu.

I originally found it here, 8/25/13. The original site was down, so I saved them. I understand credit is due a Mr. Gary Shannon.

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Another common one I've seen among conlangers is The North Wind and the Sun, from Aesop's fables. The IPA (the association, not the alphabet) uses it as a demonstration text; after they describe a language's phonetics and phonology, they'll usually give a transcription of the fable in that language. This means that there are a lot of parallel versions out there to compare.

For reference, this is the version they used for General American English:

The North Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger, when a traveler came along wrapped in a warm cloak. They agreed that the one who first succeeded in making the traveler take his cloak off should be considered stronger than the other. Then the North Wind blew as hard as he could, but the more he blew the more closely did the traveler fold his cloak around him; and at last the North Wind gave up the attempt. Then the Sun shined out warmly, and immediately the traveler took off his cloak. And so the North Wind was obliged to confess that the Sun was the stronger of the two.

ðə ˈnoɹθ ˌwɪnd ən (ð)ə ˈsʌn wɚ dɪsˈpjutɪŋ ˈwɪtʃ wəz ðə ˈstɹɑŋɡɚ, wɛn ə ˈtɹævəlɚ ˌkem əˈlɑŋ ˈɹæpt ɪn ə ˈwoɹm ˈklok. ðe əˈɡɹid ðət ðə ˈwʌn hu ˈfɚst səkˈsidəd ɪn ˈmekɪŋ ðə ˈtɹævəlɚ ˈtek ɪz ˈklok ˌɑf ʃʊd bi kənˈsɪdɚd ˈstɹɑŋɡɚ ðən ðɪ ˈəðɚ. ðɛn ðə ˈnoɹθ ˌwɪnd ˈblu əz ˈhɑɹd əz i ˈkʊd, bət ðə ˈmoɹ hi ˈblu ðə ˈmoɹ ˈklosli dɪd ðə ˈtɹævlɚ ˈfold hɪz ˈklok əˈɹaʊnd ɪm; ˌæn ət ˈlæst ðə ˈnoɹθ ˌwɪnd ˌɡev ˈʌp ði əˈtɛmpt. ˈðɛn ðə ˈsʌn ˈʃaɪnd ˌaʊt ˈwoɹmli ənd ɪˈmidiətli ðə ˈtɹævlɚ ˈtʊk ˌɑf ɪz ˈklok. ən ˈso ðə ˈnoɹθ ˌwɪnd wəz əˈblaɪʒ tɪ kənˈfɛs ðət ðə ˈsʌn wəz ðə ˈstɹɑŋɡɚ əv ðə ˈtu.

Various translations into other natlangs are catalogued at the Aesop Language Bank. For example, here's Turkish.

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There are a few other sample texts that are especially common for Indo-European conlangs.

The King and the God is a short passage based on an episode from the Brahmanas:

The King and the God
Once there was a king. He was childless. The king wanted a son. He asked his priest: "May a son be born to me!" The priest said to the king: "Pray to the god Werunos." The king approached the god Werunos to pray now to the god. "Hear me, father Werunos!" The god Werunos came down from heaven. "What do you want?" "I want a son." "Let this be so," said the bright god Werunos. The king's lady bore a son.

Various PIE scholars have used this as a way to demonstrate different reconstructions of Proto-Indo-European. For example, here's Byrd's:

H₃rḗḱs dei̯u̯ós-kwe
H₃rḗḱs h₁est; só n̥putlós. H₃rḗḱs súhxnum u̯l̥nh₁to. Tósi̯o ǵʰéu̯torm̥ prēḱst: "Súhxnus moi̯ ǵn̥h₁i̯etōd!" Ǵʰéu̯tōr tom h₃rḗǵm̥ u̯eu̯ked: "h₁i̯áǵesu̯o dei̯u̯óm U̯érunom". Úpo h₃rḗḱs dei̯u̯óm U̯érunom sesole nú dei̯u̯óm h₁i̯aǵeto. "ḱludʰí moi̯, pter U̯erune!" Dei̯u̯ós U̯érunos diu̯és km̥tá gʷah₂t. "Kʷíd u̯ēlh₁si?" "Súhxnum u̯ēlh₁mi." "Tód h₁estu", u̯éu̯ked leu̯kós dei̯u̯ós U̯érunos. Nu h₃réḱs pótnih₂ súhxnum ǵeǵonh₁e.

Another text used for the same purpose is Schleicher's Fable:

The Sheep and the Horses
A sheep that had no wool saw horses, one of them pulling a heavy wagon, one carrying a big load, and one carrying a man quickly. The sheep said to the horses: "My heart pains me, seeing a man driving horses." The horses said: "Listen, sheep, our hearts pain us when we see this: a man, the master, makes the wool of the sheep into a warm garment for himself. And the sheep has no wool." Having heard this, the sheep fled into the plain.

This was introduced by August Schleicher in the 1800s (hence the name) to demonstrate his theories about PIE, and since then has become a standard way of showing the difference between PIE reconstructions. For consistency, here's Byrd again:

H₂óu̯is h₁éḱu̯ōs-kʷe
H₂áu̯ei̯ h₁i̯osméi̯ h₂u̯l̥h₁náh₂ né h₁ést, só h₁éḱu̯oms derḱt. Só gʷr̥hₓúm u̯óǵʰom u̯eǵʰed; só méǵh₂m̥ bʰórom; só dʰǵʰémonm̥ h₂ṓḱu bʰered. H₂óu̯is h₁ékʷoi̯bʰi̯os u̯eu̯ked: "dʰǵʰémonm̥ spéḱi̯oh₂ h₁éḱu̯oms-kʷe h₂áǵeti, ḱḗr moi̯ agʰnutor". H₁éḱu̯ōs tu u̯eu̯kond: "ḱludʰí, h₂ou̯ei̯! Tód spéḱi̯omes, n̥sméi̯ agʰnutór ḱḗr: dʰǵʰémō, pótis, sē h₂áu̯i̯es h₂u̯l̥h₁náh₂ gʷʰérmom u̯éstrom u̯ept, h₂áu̯ibʰi̯os tu h₂u̯l̥h₁náh₂ né h₁esti". Tód ḱeḱluu̯ṓs h₂óu̯is h₂aǵróm bʰuged.

You can find a nice overview of several different reconstructions in the Wikipedia article.

Neither of these is as common among conlangers as The North Wind and the Sun or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but they're moderately popular among people making a posteriori Indo-European languages, because you can find several different reconstructions for different stages of Proto-Indo-European and its descendants (Proto-Germanic, Proto-Indo-Iranian, etc) to compare against.

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  • I posted this one as a separate answer so it can be voted up or down separately; in particular, neither of these is as widely popular as the fable in the other answer.
    – Draconis
    Jun 5 at 20:57
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The first article of the Universal Declaration of Humar Rights seems quite popular in some circles, i.e. r/conlangs.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

I use it for my conlangs.

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