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Re: Calling all Conlangers!

From:David Peterson <digitalscream@...>
Date:Monday, January 21, 2002, 7:39
    Since I've been mentioned by name, I'll say my piece.  :)

Chris wrote the following:
<<Even as an art, conlanging is not ready for establishment in academia.
The aesthetics are so personal and so inaccessible to a general audience
that it would be very hard, if not impossible, to formulate them into a
tradition that could be taught and analyzed in the way other art forms
are now. Furthermore, the recognized canon is so miniscule as to be
nonexistent (Tolkien's languages, Klingon, Esperanto and
loglan/lojban--the latter two aren't even specifically artlangs
(although lojban is especially beautiful)).>>

    Much of what is said here makes sense.  Yet, there is a lot that's
inaccessible to many.  Take architecture.  What do I know of architecture?  I
know this: Architects make buildings.  I recall a friend of mine was writing
a paper on the most famous cathedral in France (it wasn't Notre Dame, so
already I was utterly confused).  Specifically, she was writing on the place
where the choir sits (it has a name), and how it was carved out of the wall,
so that when the choir sang, they would be in the wall, sort of, and the
people could pass by uninhibited, and the choir would almost be a part of the
building.  Or something like that.  She was having trouble writing it and
asked my advice, and I looked over some of her paper and proofread, but
beyond that, what could I say?  The choir space...looks good?  It can house a
choir?  It's in the cathedral?  Yet, she wrote a 20 page paper on it.
    The point is, before college, she would have been as clueless as I was at
how to write a paper on this.  Yet, she's taken many a course on
architecture, so after the mindblock, she had no problems.  Like the study of
architecture, the study of language creation could be taught, so that someone
could look at, for examples, the verbs of Quenyan, and say something
meaningful about it.  Can this be useful?  Should one get college credit?
This can (and should) take you right back to the study of any art.  I mean,
what is art history or music appreciation?  These people aren't even making
art or music--they're not doing anything at all!  They're just giving their
opinions on the subject and learning about it at the same time.  I mean, what
would people have said about the study of film in 1920?  The only difference
is that, unlike cinema, language creation isn't new.  It's not something that
was just made possible due to an invention of some kind; it's as old as the
hills.  And the problem is that if it's been ignored for all of history, why
should things be any different now?
    The pattern is so familiar that I don't understand why people don't
recognize it and just skip to the end and accept language creation as a
serious art form.  By "the pattern", I mean someone somewhere does something
out of the ordinary that people can't immediately understand or get a grasp
of, then someone else does it, people react against it, yet it grows, a
genius or two come forth, defend the art form, and onward it moves, and
pretty soon the art is so normal, so accepted that people find it odd that it
had to be defended in the first place.  Think of Shakespeare's theater, the
birth of the modern novel, rock and roll...
    I identified one problem, but beneath that lies another.  Language
creation isn't popular; it doesn't have mass appeal.  That's probably because
it can't be immediately enjoyed by someone else the way music or visual art
can.  Maybe we already had our genius--Tolkien--, but he didn't defend it so
openly at the time.  He wasn't as outgoing about language creation, or the
defense of it, as he might have been.  (Or this is the impression I get, at
least.)  Maybe now with the imense popularity of Lord of the Rings--and two
more films yet to come--language creation will get some attention.  (The
Golden Globes didn't seem to warrant this, though.  Ouch!)  Or, maybe not.
We may have to wait awhile, but I think it will come.
    And really, all we need is one professor at one university to start this
going.  Just one person who wants to teach possibly how to create a language.
 Can it be done?  We'll see; this semester will be an experiment.  It may not
even catch on.  Maybe only five people will take the class; no one knows.
Still, it'll be an interesting experience; I'm optimistic about it.  Why?
Because I think it can be done.  Maybe only hypocritically, say, the way one
teaches art (how can you tell a painter that one way to paint is superior to
another?  Should you?  If not, how do you teach it?  These questions aren't
new ones), but still, it can be done, and should be, in my opinion.  I don't
think it needs to remain a secret, and I don't think my attitude towards it
would change if it became a subject in academia.
    I've lost my train of thought on the subject.  For those interested, I'll
post my defense of language creation that I'm going to put in my reader.
It's way over-the-top, but it was what I felt at the time I was writing it.
[Side-note: Look at the second sentence of this paragraph.  Why does "my
defense" sound wrong?  Seems like it should be "the defense".  But I'm
including two, in fact, and only one is mine, so "the" wouldn't be specific
enough.  Yet, it still sounds wrong.  Any thoughts?]

My (Somewhat Over-the-Top) Defense of Language Creation

    To me, it seems odd to have to defend language creation, and yet it's
been repeatedly attacked, mainly by linguists (which is the most baffling
part about the whole business), and decried as a form of frivolity which
should not and cannot be taken seriously by anyone, or even wicked (I've
heard it).  To such claims, I say the following things.
    I would hope that many would agree that doing something that neither
harms the doer nor anyone else is not wrong.  That said, creating languages,
to my knowledge, has never resulted in the harming of another human being, or
of the language creator (at least, I've heard of no reports of a language
creator driven insane).  Like any other hobby or activity, the only
requirement is a requirement of time, and time management has nothing to do
with the activity itself, but only with the one performing it.  Thus, it
can't be argued that language creation is "a waste of time", it can only be
argued that certain people are wasters of time--how they do it is irrelevant.
    The other argument--whether language creation can be taken seriously--is
a bit stickier.  The main problem I see that people have with language
creation is that it's "weird"--that is, not usual.  As such, anything that is
not usual will be regarded with apprehension initially; it's as old as
Copernicus--even older than that.  If you point this out to the arguer, s/he
will usually counter with the argument that language creation is useless, and
therefore, frivolous.  And, looking only at the utilitarian end of it,  if
the creator isn't going to use his/her language for communication, and since
language can be viewed only as a means of communication, language creation is
pretty useless.  But is this all language is: A method of communication?  If
so, what is poetry? what is literature?  What possible use could James
Joyce's Ulysses have?  I suppose if you were on a desert island and needed to
smash crabs, it would do the trick--it's pretty thick, after all.  But beyond
that?  According to them, it would have no use.  And why stop there?  What
good do paintings do anyone?  They just sit there, after all, doing nothing
for nobody.  And along with this goes any other form of visual art: Pottery,
jewelry, tapestry, mosaic, sculpture, animation…  And what about
architecture?  You just need a roof over your head; no reason it needs to look
 fancy.  So out the window it goes, too.  And music?!  My word!  There's not
even any functional value in music!  So let's burn all our musical
instruments and albums: Goodbye Tchaikovsky, bye-bye Beatles, see ya' Enya,
aloha Israel Kamakawiwo'ole (that's the "aloha" that means "goodbye", not
"hello").  Pretty soon what you're left with is a world without art.
    At this point, the argument should come to an end.  The frivolity and
usefulness of art is an argument that has been argued many times but many peop
le much more articulate than I, and by now (I certainly hope), the whole
world should have figured out that art really does pull its weight on Earth.
So, let's continue from here.  Any university worth its salt is going to have
an art department.  Millions of people every year study useless, frivolous
art.  So why not language creation?  Nearly every serious subject has an art
associated with it that's also studied: Literature has poetry and prose;
computer science has computer graphics and video games (another
under-appreciated form of art); functional architecture has artistic
architecture; art history has art; music theory has music.  If you take this
to its natural conclusion, is not language creation the art most closely
associated with linguistics?  This is particularly why I find the
condemnation of language creation by linguists so befuddling.
    Aside from art, though, language creation has other uses.  First,
creating a language allows one to better understand language itself.  One who
creates an ergative language is far more likely to understand ergativity in
natural languages than one who does not, I say.  What's more, this same
understanding can ease foreign language learning considerably--not to mention
linguistics itself.  More importantly, it gets one thinking about the
multifariousness and beauty of language, and one who can appreciate this is
less likely to misunderstand, deprecate and stereotype those speaking other
languages, which is one of the main causes of racism and ethnocentrism.  In sh
ort, language creation is one of the keys to social harmony and world peace.
If one is going to take anything seriously, certainly world peace is it, and
if so, shouldn't language creation be given some credit too?


"Zi hiwejnat zodZaraDatsi pat Zi mirejsat dZaCajani sUlo."
"The future's uncertain and the end is always near."
                --Jim Morrison


Christophe Grandsire <christophe.grandsire@...>
Irina Rempt <irina@...>