Kalusa conlang in review - is it working?
|From:||Gary Shannon <fiziwig@...>|
|Date:||Sunday, August 27, 2006, 20:27|
The Kalusa experiment ( http://kalusa.fiziwig.com/index.php ) was an attempt to
build a conlang collaboratively by allowing anyone to contribute any random
words and sentences, and to have other participants vote on the suitability of
Being entirely open-ended meant that people could contribute whatever words and
sentences they wanted to. Unlike a real pidgin or contact language, or language
developed within a community of people sharing work and social activities,
there was no pressing need to develop the means to say certain "necessary"
things like "I need two pounds of rice and a cabbage." or "Help me unload this
crate of nails." or "Come quickly! The goat has fallen into the well."
As a consequence, a great number of "frivolous" sentences and frankly
ridiculous words have been contributed. How often will we need the word for
"hyperinfracaniphilia", or "epistemic"?
Not being a spoken language, apparently little attention is being paid to the
sound of the language, and words and sentences that are either unpleasant
tongue twisters, or frankly childish sing-song constructions have found their
way into the language. How many reduplicated words does any one language need?
Sentences that begin to sound like "Hong Kong King Kong sing song ping pong
ding dong." are not the kind of things one would hear in a real spoken
language, and yet such grotesque words are proliferating: "Zotasota feniseni
rofkosofko onasona irusiru ishisishi zokusoku fezosezo." making the language
begin to sound like something created by Dr. Seuss while on mind-altering
A side effect of flooding the vocabulary with such words is that the web page
that shows the most recent contributions is so saturated with these "goofy" and
useless words that many of the participants and contributors become discouraged
and leave the project because the "real" sentences have been buried under a
deep pile of ickysicky kakasaka dudupudu, which if not actualy destructive to
the language, is certainly not productive of a usable language.
Comments from users include ones like this: "Ack! I go away for three weeks,
and return to find Kalusa defeated! Oh well. It had a good run. ...[addressing
certain contributors]... Looks like you've successfully driven everyone off,
While there is a lot good stuff in Kalusa, and I fully intend to continue to
keep the website going, I can't help but think that what I've learned from
Kalusa could be applied to a much better collaborative conlang project, so I
have to ask what was learned from the project, and how can these problems be
prevented in any future collaborative language project? Here are some of my
ideas to help keep the project more focused.
1) Language and culture probably evolved together, and the cultural context
would be important to the development of the language. Therefore it would be
helpful to provide at least a basic cultural context for the language.
2) The earliest utterances of the language should deal with the most basic
daily needs of the people who speak the language, and not with "existentialism"
and "hyperinfracaniphilia". Therefore, rather than allowing contributors to add
random (and often "goofy") sentences and words, a large collection of simple
sentences dealing with the daily concerns of the people would be provided in
English; sentences such as "It is time to plant the corn." and "Father has gone
to the marketplace.". Contributors would suggest translations for the sentences
in this corpus of daily life, and all of the different suggested translations
would be presented together on the web page where they could be voted on. Once
a clear winner emerged the sentences with lower vote rankings would be deleted
and only one "correct" way to translate that sentence would be retained. Minor
variations in emphasis or shades of meaning might be retained, but translations
that departed radically from the highest ranking translation would be
3) Languages do change and evolve, but they also exhibit a great deal of
stability in their most basic vocabulary. Basic vocabulary would be stabilized
as soon as a word emerged as clearly the most popular translation, and these
"standard" words would be added to a cannonical dictionary. Translations that
radically violated this cannonical basic vocabulary would be dropped, since,
for example, once the word "kaya" had been well established for "water" it is
unlikely that the word "gumisumi" would suddenly take its place. Anyone who
suddenly began translating "water" as "gumisumi" would clearly be considered as
being in a state of sin, and those translations would be expunged from the
What other suggestions does anyone have for creating an improved collaborative