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What is a conlang? (Was: Re: Has anyone made a real conlang?)

From:H. S. Teoh <hsteoh@...>
Date:Tuesday, April 22, 2003, 21:20
On Tue, Apr 22, 2003 at 06:58:46PM +0200, daniel andreasson wrote:
> Reading the replies to Andrew in this thread is very enlightening > as to conlanging in general, what drives us, what motivates us > as conlangers. What is conlanging? What is its inner spirit? How > do people on this list feel about conlanging? Why are we conlanging? > What is a conlang?
[snip] A conlang is simply a constructed language, one built deliberately by one or possibly more person(s), as opposed to a natural language, which arose spontaneously. This is, by necessity, an imprecise definition; I have heard people who claim that Indonesian or Tagalog are actually conlangs and not real natlangs. Where to draw the line between the creative invention and adaptation (or mutilation) of words and grammatical constructs in a pidgin or creole or even through the course of natural change in a natlang, and a conlang created by calculated over-arching design, is not an easy question. So for my purposes, I will stick with my imprecise definition, that a conlang is a language constructed deliberately, rather than arising more or less spontaneously from a culture or society. Having said that, I consider conlangs as being subdivided into two main categories, as I've already briefly touched on in my (more tongue-in-cheek than upset) response to Andrew. These are the auxlangs, which are intended for use as an international vehicle of communication, etc., and the artlangs, which are created just for artistic purposes with no intent to be widely used by real people. Of course, this is also imprecise; one *could* argue that some conlangs do not fall in either category. But that's OK, we're not talking about mathematics here, we don't need to cover all cases. Now personally, I do not really care about the intent of a particular conlang; I think the world already has enough natlangs to suit its communicational needs, we don't need more. (Besides, language is the least of the problems with human communication. [1]) Like Dirk, I am mainly interested in the linguistic aspects of conlangs, and in particular, the aesthetic beauty of it. Dirk is interested in phonologies, how sounds interact with each other; I am interested in grammar and how different grammars behave differently. Some painters paint because they need to make a living; others because they just want to. An ex-coworker of mine left her high-paying position in the company for art school, definitely not for financial or practical reasons---she just loves art. As far as conlangs are concerned, I admire them as linguistic masterpieces rather than as power tools. For this reason, I am definitely an artlanger. There is no need for Ebisedian to exist, in a pragmatic sense. An eccentric language with a very unusual grammar---why would anyone want to spend the energy to learn something that difficult? The only reason it exists is because I have a conworld which needs its own unique language to be complete. And why the conworld? I don't know. That's like asking Monet, why paint? Or, to (ab)use Andrew's analogy, why Linux, when there is already Solaris and Windows? (And good ole, honest-to-goodness MacOS?) Today, Linux has become a very useful tool; but that was not the reason Linus started it in the first place. If he had considered the usefulness of writing a Unix clone back then, there would probably be no such thing as Linux today. [2] And lest anyone misunderstand, and think that I am only interested in trivial 'toylangs', I think it is more analogous to theoretical mathematics. Just ask any number theorist why they're in that field. It's definitely not because they're trying to solve a real-world problem. It's because they just love numbers, and they love the beauty of mathematical constructions. And mathematics is by no means trivial. Some applications come out of it once in a while; but that's not the reason the mathematicians are doing it. Similarly, artlangs (or any conlang for that matter) can grow to become a non-trivial tapestry of comparable complexity and utility to natlangs. Whether they are actually used by anyone other than the conlanger(s) is of course another question, which to me is irrelevent. [1] I left out this train of thought in the paragrph because I'm not really that interested in it, and because it has the potential of yet another flamewar. But IMNSHO, communication problems arise not because of language, but because of different thinking. People speak differently because they think differently, not the other way round. Unifying language without resolving differences of thought is curing cancer with Tylenol. [2] Just in case there is any doubt about it: I am an active developer in the Linux community, and there has been no other OS on my home desktop for at least 4 years. Just in case some people get it in their heads to accuse me of maligning it. T -- Philosophy: how to make a career out of daydreaming.


Jan van Steenbergen <ijzeren_jan@...>