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What defines a conlang?

From:Chris Peters <beta_leonis@...>
Date:Wednesday, December 21, 2005, 23:14
As a relatively new member of this list, perhaps this topic has been covered
in-depth before, so please forgive me if I'm retreading dead topics.  But I
have a question which may be more difficult than it first appears:

What's the difference between a natlang and a conlang?

In one sense, I think we'd all say that *every* language is a constructed
language.  In that sense, the most obvious answer to my question is that a
conlang is deliberately designed, usually by one individual, while a natlang
evolves by common use across a society of speakers.

But I don't believe it's exactly that kind of a binary question.  For the
sake of counterargument, I'd point to two languages that started out as pure
conlangs -- Esperanto and ASL -- but which I'd argue have crossed that
border into becoming true natlangs.  After all, both languages are in
relatively wide use today, by societies of speakers who have no direct
association with Zamenhof or Gallaudet.  And the languages have both changed
in significant ways since they were originally put down on paper by those

I'd also suggest that perhaps Klingon is on its way to becoming such a
border-crosser.  Translation projects have been completed and published in
Klingon (Klingon Hamlet can be found in any major bookstore).  The biggest
thing holding it back from becoming an actual natlang is that its creator
maintains a copyright on it.  Oh, and the geek factor.  :)

Another point I've considered, and rejected, is that conlang speakers would
be associated with a particular group, but natlang speakers would not be.
For example, Klingon speakers are mostly Star Trek fans.  But on the other
hand, ASL speakers are mostly Deaf Americans and Canadians.  And heck,
Japanese speakers mostly live on a particular set of islands off the coast
of Asia.  So I no longer use group association as part of my definition of
conlang versus natlang.

So where exactly would the rest of y'all place that border?



Ph.D. <phil@...>
Jörg Rhiemeier <joerg_rhiemeier@...>