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Conlanging with Dick and Jane

From:Gary Shannon <fiziwig@...>
Date:Saturday, December 11, 2004, 17:45
Hidy ho.

Returning after an absence of 6 or 8 months from
conlanging, I naturally I looked back at my several
unfinished conlang projects to decide where to pick up
the pieces.  Of course the only sane solution is to
scrap everything and start all over from scratch.  But
I hated to do that knowing that I'm going to make the
same mistakes and end up with yet another incomplete
and uncompletable conlang fragment. That's when
inspiration hit and a possible solution to systematic
conlang discovery occurred to me.

In the past my conlangs have suffered from haphazard
development and ultimately became so unbalanced they
had to be abandoned.  By unbalanced I mean too much
grammar early on and not enough vocabulary to
adequately test and use that grammar, or too much
vocabulary and not enough grammar to put that
vocabulary to use.

The other problem has been designing myself into a
corner, so to speak, where I would include some
sophisticated grammatical notion before I had adequate
understanding of the fundamental grammar to support
it.  Then later, when filling in the more fundamental
aspects of the grammar I would discover that my fancy
piece of sophistication just didn't work, or didn't
fit with the very most basic grammatical principles.

The same problem cropped up in the lexicon where I
would end up with "advanced" or complex words
discovered before the most basic vocabulary is filled
out, often leaving them to become awkward misfits
later on.

The solution occurred to me when I was sorting through
some boxes of old books and came across a handful of
children's early readers. Suppose one took a first
year reader like "Fun With Dick and Jane" or
"McGuffey's Eclectic Reader" and began on page one
with "See Spot run." and "The cat sees the mouse." and
translated the entire book, sentence by sentence, into
the new conlang, discovering vocabulary and
grammatical principles as they were needed.

After discovering translations for the few hundred
sentences in the first year reader one would be ready
to move on to the second year reader with a good
balance between vocabulary and grammar and a logical
progression in the sophistication of both. By the time
the fifth or sixth year reader was translated the
conlang would be rich enough in both grammar and
vocabulary to be used in everyday conversation.

The other benefit, at least from my point of view, is
the built-in disciplined nature of the work. Each time
one sits down to work on the conlang one knows exactly
what one needs to do.  For example, having completed
page 11, to turn to page 12 and discover the
translation for "One, two, three," said Jane. "Three
new dolls for my birthday. ... Now I have a big doll

And finally, by working with the conlang beginning at
such an elementary level it is likely that one
by-product would be for the designer to develop actual
fluency in the conlang as the work progressed.

How exciting to know that something new will be
discovered every day!

Thoughts? Ideas?

--gary shannon


H. S. Teoh <hsteoh@...>