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I have made many conlangs in my life but they all wind up facing the same issues, and I am not sure how to prevent it.

I wind up with countless different forms of each word as modifiers stack up onto each other (Like in my current one I have things like animacy agreement on verbs which also have a tense system on top of that, which combinatorically explodes in size very quickly). And this is not the end of it, as these all independently evolve and begin to change so much from one another that they aren't recognizable as the same word.

But, looking at actual languages, we see this does not occur, you don't have something like the Animate Imperfective aspect of a verb becoming its own independent word over the years. So, what exactly am I doing wrong? Should I not be phonetically evolving these compounds? Or should I only phonetically evolve, like, the animate marked verb, but not the animate imperfective?

Example to show what I mean: (assume VOS)

Jani-ta-sak, Jani is verb, -ta is animate agreement marker, and -sak is the imperfective aspect. But over time, Janitasak would diverge quickly from like, Janitamisi, to the point of unrecognizability. So, is this wrong? Should I just evolve Janita and keep -sak as a suffix, instead of evolving Janitasak as a whole?

This is just a struggle I have always had with conlanging and I want to try to avoid it this time as I am really fond of this language and don't want to have to throw it away.

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    Consider whether you might, instead of evolving single words, evolve grammatical structure instead. English, for example, has lost or simplified verb conjugations as compared with either Norman French or German, the use of the second person informal is basically seen only in archaic usages, grammatical gender has been replaced by natural gender, etc. Dec 20, 2023 at 20:33
  • Not sure how to do that naturalistically without heavy contact with another language with a vastly different grammar, like what happened to English, which this language won't have. Also doesn't really answer my question, sorry. Dec 20, 2023 at 20:48
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    Having a huge combinatorical space of verb forms is not so unusual for natural languages as well, thinking of cases like Geogian or the Turkic languages. As long as the combinatorical form are quite predictable there is nothing wrong with that.
    – Sir Cornflakes
    Dec 21, 2023 at 9:24
  • At the risk of asking a question with an obvious answer, are you mapping out the evolution of your conlang? Dec 22, 2023 at 7:21
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    @JamesGrossmann Yeah, I am. Dec 22, 2023 at 17:00

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The most important thing to remember is: if you're going for naturalism, speakers need to be able to learn patterns and extrapolate them between words. If a sound change gets in the way of this process, analogy will intervene to fix it.

This doesn't necessarily mean that the inflections you have will stay the same. Maybe animacy and aspect markers will merge, and you'll end up with six distinct markers instead of two-crossed-with-three. Maybe some especially common words won't get evened out, leaving you with certain irregular verbs ("be" is often like this). But fundamentally, people can't learn a new inflection for every single word, so analogy will smooth out the worst of the irregularities.

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  • Thanks for the tip! Can you elaborate on what exactly you mean by analogy and perhaps create some examples to help me understand? Would be appreciated. : ) Dec 22, 2023 at 17:01

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