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Lunatic Survey

From:Sally Caves <scaves@...>
Date:Friday, September 25, 1998, 4:06
This is the text of a note I started a month ago and postponed.  Baba's
fulminations on Yaguello's strange book has decided me on finishing it and
posting it.  The actual survey is three pages down (in PINE three ctrl V's
down):  I'm too tired to erase most of the "essay" I wrote to compel me to
concoct the survey.

Fellow Conlangers.  Yes, I'm an English teacher, as Tom pointed out in one
of our obscure threads about ambiguity and antiprepositionism.  I'm also a
writer and an "sf" nut.  I've been invited to Albacon to talk about
conlangs, but for a while now I've wanted to write something about an
activity that I think Conlang has given legitimacy to, by giving it space
in the network of intellectual and popular culture.  As someone who has
been deeply driven to invent not only a language, but towns, and countries
and peoples, and who has kept this secret from her professional life, I
feel I have an insider's experience.  But I also have that academic urge
to analyze and describe and praise.  So this is what I want to do.  I
wonder if many of you could respond to a set of questions I've come up
with for discussing the phenomenon of a listserv like "Conlang."  First of
all, what essays have been written/published recently--not on Tolkien, not
on Klingon, not on Lojban...and not on our introductory webpages about
each other--but on the personal and artful projects that are being
described on this listserv?  It strikes me that not much has been said in
academic or popular circles about what it is we do for fun and display in
websites and paper texts we circulate to one another, whereas a whole lot
has been written recently about Star Trek fandom, for instance, and
received some prominence and even notoriety (I'm thinking of Harry
Jenkins, and Constance Penley and their work on underground zines;
Penley's NASA/TREK--an example only and not a paradigm of how I'd like to

When I queried about Yaguillo's _Lunatic Lovers of Language_, I got a
couple of fairly negative responses.  I checked that book out of our
library, and I found myself enthralled with it, primarily because she uses
the term "lunatic."  Granted, she uses it with intended praise, and as a
benchmark term for the kind of report she makes of the peculiar and oft
maligned language projects like Wilkins' "Real Character" and so forth.
She (or her excellent English translator Slater) writes:  "Just take a
look at the lunatic in love with language, the logophile, the inventor of
languages.  Sitting in his book-lined study, he collects great piles of
information, he collates and classifies it, he makes lists and fills card
indexes.  He is in the clutches of a denominatory delirium, of a taxonomic
madness.  He has to recognize and classify concepts, to enclose the whole
Universe in a system of notation;  produce enumerations, hierarchies, and
paradigms.  A lunatic ambition;  yet there is something grandiose in it
which you can't help admiring.  So much energy spent for so little result.
I don't believe any other fantasy has ever been pursued with so much
ardour by the human spirit, apart perhaps from the philosopher's stone or
the proof of the existence of God;  or that any other utopia has caused so
much ink to flow, apart perhaps from socialism."

Now she's of course talking about someone like John Wilkins who tried to
sell the Royal Academy on his invented universal language and failed; but
I read this with a frisonne of recognition: here I am surrounded by my
book-lined study, my notes and catalogues.  I can relate to the taxonomic
madenss, the denominatory delirium.  Her book seems to be directed at
those inventors of languages who have been denounced as obsessive,
lunatic, paranoiac, and the question I ask myself is why?  There are
people who spend their lifetime and indeed risk their life trying to make
it on McGinnis World Records.  There are artists who sacrifice personal
life and finance to put paint on a canvas even if they never sell a
painting. Why are these people interesting and sane (well, there was Van
Gogh), and we're not?  I can't tell you how often I've raised the topic of
inventing a language only to be scoffed at or belittled. Peter Clark wrote
on his Slova pages that inventing one's own language "is an artform so
intensely private, and often personal, that rarely does it extend beyond
the confines of the creator's mind."  That is, until we all discovered the

So I would like to write, not so much about the lunacy of doing what we
do, but the sanity and popularity of it.  So here's my survey.  You can
respond publically or privately as you wish:


        1)  To what extent is your conlang an "intensely peersonal"
pursuit--one that you don't often reveal to people other than conlangers?

        2)  If so, to what extent do you feel that the listserv "Conlang"
has given you a _raison d'etre_ for

                a) pursuing your invented language
                b) making it public?

        3)  How many of you, in mentioning your conlang to an
acquaintance, received a belittling reply?  Condescension?  Disapproval?

        4)  How many of you are:

                a) high school students or younger?
                b) undergraduates?
                c) graduates?
                c) out of school altogether and supporting yourselves?
                d) Not in school, never went?

        4a) What is your profession, or your desired profession?

        5)  How many of you have invented a language because

                a) you are solely interested in language experiments
                   and linguistics?

                        i) for personal experiments...
                        ii) because you like participating in the
                        development of an auxiliary language and its
                        socio-political effects?

                b) you are interested in world-building

                        i) for fiction
                        ii) for role-playing and other social activities
                        iii) just for your own amusement?

        5) How many of you take the time to learn another's conlang?

        6) How many of you are women?

        7) Who is lurking period?  [these questions I don't expect
                public answers to--if any answers--but I ask it anyway
                to see what happens]

        7a) If you are women and you are lurking, why are you not
contributing?  This is a shamefully gendered question, but gender and
participation has been raised, and I'm curious.

        8) Which of you would give me permission to (or object to) my
mentioning your conlang and webpage (if any) at a convention, in an
academic article?  I'll protect names if so desired [as though this is
writing pornography!-- now there's something]

        9) For how many of you is "exoticness" in your invented language
and absolute must?  How many of you pursue more familiar models... and
why to both?

        9)  FINALLY: what is the appeal of an invented language for you?
Wherein is its "sexiness"?  Its spirituality?  its sensuality?  What keeps
you at it?  How does it benefit you?  Does it harm you?  heal you?

Many thanks.


Sally Caves

                        Mr. Book: "Shut it down!"
                        _Dark City_

                         Christof: "Cue the sun!"
                        _The Truman Show_

Tehwo tsema brondi laz obil hea nomai pendo
"Summer like a white sword hangs over the land."
Clearly obsolete now...