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Re: Lighting Some Flames: Towards conlang artistry

From:Raymond Brown <ray.brown@...>
Date:Tuesday, March 12, 2002, 20:54
At 8:16 pm -0800 11/3/02, Jesse Bangs wrote:
>To All Who Care About Conlanging: > >The conlang community, both on this list and off, has been growing >steadily in the past several years, and it has just gotten another big >burst of growth from the release of the LOTR movies in the U.S. We now >have a famous, visible patriarch in the person of JRR Tolkien, at least >one professional member, Mark Okrand [sp?]. Quenya and Klingon have >entered the common parlance as names of languages, and they have a >growing body of L2 speakers, a subculture, and media presence.
If Patriarch you want, Zamenhoff came some time before JRRT; true more people have heard of Quenya & Klingon than was so when I was young. But 50 years ago I knew of Esperanto and, I'd guess, it's still the language which would first come to mind for most people if you mentioned artificial languages or constructed languages. It even now has a few L1 speakers. For my part BTW I have never felt any need for a "conlang patriarch". I conlang just for conlang's sake. [snip]
> >It should not need to be proved that some art is better than others. If >we as conlangers wish to gain acceptance for our art, then we need to >acknowledge this and allow for the judgement that some conlangs are >better than others. We need a serious body of *conlang criticism*. >Currently, this is almost entirely lacking on the Conlang list. When >someone posts texts or grammatical sketches, the responses are generally >entirely congratulatory, or they are concerned only with correcting >technical errors or confusions within the grammar. Often there are no >responses at all. While technical accuracy and consistency are >important, it's outrageous that this is where our critique stops. We >need to move beyond the foundation of technical accuracy and allow for >the artistic analysis of our conlangs.
But supposing the conlang ain't an artlang? I claim *no* artistic merit whatever for my still, alas, embryonic 'BrSc'. Technical accuracy and consistency are important to me. What I'm doing is a _craft_, not an art. Why should loglangs be judged by "artistic analysis", for goodness sake? Surely they should be - and IME are - judged by their own goal of logicality.
>Of course the objection is "by what criteria?"
>It's clear that we can't >all agree on one style of phonetic beauty, much less on which syntax, >morphology, or vocabulary is best.
The syntax, morphology and vocabulary that is best are those most fitted for the objectives of the particular conlang; and these objectives are many and varied. Long may they remain so! [snip]
>critical re-evaluation of everything that's gone before. This >chronological tension is an essential part of the formation of >literatures and arts, and if conlanging is to be an art instead of a >hobby, then it must also expect this.
But surely this is the joy of this list - at least as far as I'm concerned - this is IMHO a list for conlanging _hobbyists_. If it ever changes, I'd seriously think of quitting. [snip]
>The thing to do, then, seems to be to start such a school, and simply get >down to the business of evaluating conlangs as works of art.
Surely, it makes sense only to evaluate _artlangs_ as works of art?
>I therefore >announce the founding of the Naturalist school of conlanging, which >regards the following three things as values: > * Naturalness, as the name implies. We prefer languages that resemble >natural languages, that could fool a linguist examining them into >thinking that they actually existed somewhere on the globe. Auxlangs and >philosophical langs are anathema because their very nature goes against >this value.
Then you know little of auxlangs. I think most here know that I am not enamored of auxlangs. But to say that auxlangs go against 'naturalness' is just plain ignorance (you asked for flames): some do, some don't - others try to strike a balance. Edgar de Wahl would have quite astonished and, I guess, rightly offended if his auxlang was considered anathema to the goal of resembling a natural language. That was his goal! Whether that is a "good goal" for an auxlang or not is another business. And de Wahl, of course, was not alone in having such an aim for his auxlang. In any case, achieving 'naturalness' is a craft.
> * Complexity and completeness. No natural language is completely >regular or completely simple, so neither will our languages. >Furthermore, we seek to describe and develop our languages as completely >as possible. Those who make dozens of half-finished sketches are >creating the equivalent of commercial jingles. We seek to create >symphonies.
Good grief! We'd better get all the beginners, dilittantes, part-time hobbyists (like me) off this list and leave it to a dozen heavy-weights to produce their symphonies.
> * Creativity, defined as difference from your native language. If >your native language is Chinese, your target should be Ancient Greek.
Why? Why not Georgian, Xhosa, Navaho or Innuit? Why any natlang? Why not make something original? [snip]
> >Of course this won't be popular with everyone, especially not when I >start telling people why their conlangs suck.
Np, no - this won't do. As you're making the suggestion, surely the gentlemanlt thing to do is to treat us to a fairly full description of _your_ best-produced conlang, and we'll start with a critique of that. After all, what's sauce for the goose must be sauce for the gander. I Why should it? If you
>disagree with me, form your own school.
Pavel Iosad, rightly & wisely IMO, wrote: "I am afraid this approach may eventually lead to another breakup of the list :-( " Why did the list once split into conlang & auxlang? Do we really want more splits into arlang, experimental_langs, loglangs etc, etc.? There already *are* specialist lists for different types of conlangs where greater critique does exist for those particular types of conlang. Why duplicate that here? People are free to join such lists as well as staying here.
>But by all means, we have to >start allowing for the critical analysis of conlangs to make them into an >actual art form.
But supposing some of don't want to make our particular conlang an artform?
>As a side effect of this, we also have to start taking >each others conlangs seriously--putting in the time to understand and >evaluate them.
Some of us have been doing that for ages. I have mailed authors of languages I particularly admire.
>Like everyone else on this list, my time is limited and I >can hardly take the time to look at every conlang that comes my way. But >I intend to start taking time to look closely at the conlangs of others >and myself and seeing how well they hold up to the Naturalist values.
A wee bit unfair, methinks, if one of the aims is not to be naturalistic!
>also intend to post my critiques to the list. Hopefully, we're mature >enough (as individuals and as a community) to take and give criticism >without resorting to whining and hurt feelings.
Ever been on auxlang? I'd hate to see similar divisiveness here. Long live the hobbyists and the humble craftsmen, I say. Ray. ========================================= A mind which thinks at its own expense will always interfere with language. [J.G. Hamann 1760] =========================================


John Cowan <jcowan@...>
Raymond Brown <ray.brown@...>