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David Peterson, CSANA, and Made to Order Conlangs

From:Sally Caves <scaves@...>
Date:Saturday, April 26, 2003, 20:34
Hey, David!

YOU'RE the one! I was going to ask the list (and then got too busy) if there was
anybody who had come to my Berkeley talk, especially the young man with the
dark hair who announced to the group afterwards that he was an inventor of
languages and everyone clapped! The man with the clicks! Sound symbolism. Is
that your article in _Berkeley Studies in Linguistics_? Brian O Chonchubair
wants to read it. Did you catch up with him?

David, I understood completely that your answer was sarcastic! So was mine. It was
meant to be a flippant afterthought to the real question that has been our
minds lately--conlanging as art and pleasure and utility--especially with the
caveat that if you do create a language by computer, then you are constrained
to learn it the way you would a natural language. It will be just as foreign to
you, bereaving you of the intimacy of a privately concocted words--but you know
all this and have said so below. (I still would like to have a computer
word-generator, and might ask you how you got yours. It would considerably
lighten the load I carry of having to handplace every word, even if its an easy
compound, into my on-line lexicon. The only drawback is that a
computer-generated language might be too regular for the mild maggelities of

BTW, I went around looking for you after the conference. My sister had come up from
Santa Cruz to listen to it; we hadn't seen each other in a year, and I needed
to spend some time with her before she had to go back (for some reason, she had
to be back by 3:00--something to do with the children). So we were in the
lounge area conferring. I had so hoped you would come up and talked to me, but
it was so crazy.

Well, I said I would give you all a report.

The Celtic Studies Association of North America was held this April in Berkeley,
the place where I got my Ph.D., and where I have a lot of friends. Also, most
of my family is in California. I was asked to give a "plenary" talk, and while
I haven't been publishing on Middle Welsh language or literature for about four
years, I told the Conference organizer, Annalee Rehjon, that I had been looking
at invented Celtic Languages. By this I meant the ones in Il Bethisad, so I
gave a general talk about language invention starting with the "divine"
languages of the Middle Ages, one of the most pleasing being that in Teanga
Bhithnua, or "Evernew Tongue," an old/middle Irish text devoted to the miracles
of Saint Philip, especially his speaking in an "angelic" language and his
description of the divine world. That seemed to tie in with Celtic Conlanging.
:) I talked about Tolkien's Celtic influences for his Sindarin (I played a tape
of Christian Thalmann reading Ai!) and I talked about Conlang, and how this
seems to be a contemporary extension to an ancient art, much of it drawn from
my on-line article. I managed to mention quite a few of you and your efforts:
Matt Pearson's Tokana (not Celtic), David Bell's Amman-Iar (not Celtic but
inspired at first by Tolkien's books), H.S. Teoh's Ebisedian (not Celtic but
full of crazy cases), Tristan's Etabnannery (I put the word on the overhead and
pronounced it and everyone laughed), Paul Burgess's mna Vanantha, Christophe's
Maggel (Celtically inspired), but mostly I turned my attention to Padraic
Brown's Kerno, Dan Jones's Arvorec, and Andrew Smith's Brithenig, with talk
about how this alternate world has expanded to other language fusions.

One of the most probing questions that was asked had to do with the aesthetics of
language. While I was at pains to express that not all conlangers were
interested in producing "mellifluous" languages (I had a specific definition:
the lovely gibberish of Teanga has a plethora of open syllables ending in "a,"
front consonants, and liquids, and a penchant for alliteration--at variance
with the consonantal clusters and back consonants of the redactors more prosaic
Irish), Dan Melia insisted that mellifluousness was either sought after or
avoided, it seemed, in artificial languages. Aesthetics was an issue. I wanted
to talk about the idiosyncratic and subjective notions of what makes a language
"beautiful" or "not beautiful." I think that's when David spoke up about his
language, about clicks, about sound symbolism. Eve Sweetser made the
interesting remark that its when one talks about inventing a language that
these questions come to the forefront, and somebody else afterwards made the
same remark: that in recreating Cornish, or revising the spelling of Gaelic,
issues of aesthetics mattered.

It was a marvelous experience, and I thank every one of you who answered my
survey. I couldn't get to everybody (I had a strict time limit), but I will
undoubtedly be using your responses in future work of mine, and I hope you
still give consent. In fact, I'm giving another much shorter talk at the
Medieval Institute. I'm hoping to get the Celtic talk published in some form,
and that's what I'm working on now and through the summer.

Good to match name and face, David. Too bad we didn't get a chance to talk. What is
your work at CAL, and whom are you working with?
Sally Caves
Eskkoat ol ai sendran, rohsan nuehra celyil takrem bomai nakuo.
"My shadow follows me, putting strange, new roses into the world."

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: David J. Peterson 
  Sent: Saturday, April 26, 2003 3:16 PM
  Subject: Re:       Re: Real Conlangs Here, Made-to-Order!

 Hi Sally! I liked your talk at the Celitc Conference in Berkeley (I was the
one with the click language who posed the idea that sound symbolism appears in
other places).

  You wrote:
 <<You've got the conlang, 30,000 words in two minutes. Now you have to learn
it, like any natural language. Sort of defeats the purpose, doesn't it? :)>>

 My point with that message, of course, was sarcasm. As yet, I still haven't
used the word generator to actually create words. What I've been doing is
putting in phonemes and historical changes just to see what kind of words I can
get and how they look. It's pretty neat. But I still, just as always, create
words the same old way: (1) Decide the word to create; (2) decide if it should
be monomorphemic or not; (3) if so, create a form that seems to fit; (4) if
not, find a nonmonomorphemic way to represent the idea. It's still the only
satisfying way.



John Cowan <cowan@...>