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Re: Lighting Some Flames: Towards conlang artistry

From:Stephen Mulraney <ataltanie@...>
Date:Tuesday, March 12, 2002, 20:59
On Mon, 11 Mar 2002 20:16:37 -0800
Jesse Bangs <jaspax@...> wrote:

These must be the fightin'est words the list has seen in quite a while ;)

> To All Who Care About Conlanging:
> 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. 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. > * 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. > * Creativity, defined as difference from your native language. If > your native language is Chinese, your target should be Ancient Greek. If > your native language is English, your target is Dyirbal (tonal, ergative > Australian language). Those who speak Italian and are only interested in > Romance-style conlangs earn no respect in this area. Those that seek to > challenge themselves and their learners are applauded.
First a short comment on the last few lines: (So a work of (conlanging) art can't be judged independently of biographical knowledge of it's creator. Seems misguided, if I may say so.) And now the main event... sorry for the length, but a short comment just won't do... I think I see what you're trying to achieve and appreciate it, but my gut reaction is something close to revulsion ;). So, criticisms first: Your whole post is interesting, but there will always be people who don't give a damn what a particular school thinks, since they're doing it for their own amusement. Perhaps it isn't art then, but that makes a criticism of them on artistic school grounds a straw-man arguement. About your 'naturalistic' school - do you really think conlangs 'should' be like this, or is it an essentially arbitrary chosen position, aimed at promoting discussion? Either way, your approach seems rather polemical. Now polemics seems to be the usual way that discussion of artistic merit seem to go, but I find it unsatisfactory - for the straw man reason. In effect such a school-versus-school polemics system of criticism favours denunciations on ideological grounds, which is about as big an intellectual or artistic turn-off you can find for me; and it favours these denunciations over mutual inspiration and productive criticism. However if the system of criticism you describe came to pass, I can see that it would be a useful thing in the promotion of conlanging as an 'art'. Indeed, constructive criticism of a language is usually welcome, if it occurs, but being told that your work is crap because it isn't, say, 'naturalistic', is nothing but sheer idiocy. If it happened to me it would make me rather angry, and cause me to feel some contempt for the critic, neither of which are emotions I enjoy, or try to encourage in myself or others. Is this a problem? Perhaps I should be able to take criticism? If I should be able to take it, there is still a problem; because such criticism is, in point of fact, of no value to an independent 'artist'. Or dabbler. Now, despite these fightin' words, I'm still somewhat in sympathy with your post, in that I agree that constructive criticism is extremely valuable, and that it doesn't really exist on this list. On what grounds such criticism should be based, I know not - the system you've suggested seems unsatisfactory. What I would be concerned about is that the work that is usually posted to the list is not usually, and I mean no offense to anyone - is not usually art. It is more often work-in-progress, and as such should not be susceptible to the same criticism one would subject a finished work to. Such criticism as you suggest would mainly serve to discourage many people, including myself, and undo the useful 'cross-pollination' and fruitful discussion that this list is so good at providing. Hence, two suggestions: One, if you intend to go ahead with your school forming, may I suggest you set up an artlang-list? Conlang-l would then deal with 'casual' langs and work-in-progress of both 'casual' and 'art' langs, as well as discussion of a technical and non-polemic non-schoolist nature, while artlang-l would deal with (hopefully also non-polemic) artistic langs and criticism and evaluation of such langs according to whatever ideology you like. I know I would join the list, to see how your idea works out, since it's important and interesting. Now I'm emphatically *not* saying that anyone should leave the list, or have to leave it. Y'all jist stay right here, awrigh? This list ain't gwine nowhere. Two, perhaps you can start, as a test or example of how such discussions would work, with a lang known by many, and owned by none present? e.g. Quenya, Sindarin, Klingon, Mark Rosenfelder's langs, or even take a real natlang (english?!) and pretend it's a just discovered conlang ;)
> 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. I > also intend to post my critiques to the list.
So, as I enquired above, should someone on the recieving end of your naturalistic criticism assume that those opinions are actually yours, and feel appropriately incensed, delighted or indifferent; or should the person think of you as discussion-minded Jesse wearing his 'lets pretend I'm a naturalistic ideologue' mask ('persona') ?
> Hopefully, we're mature > enough (as individuals and as a community) to take and give criticism > without resorting to whining and hurt feelings.
> And once again, if you > don't like it form your own school.
"Don't like fighting? Go on the offensive!" ;) In summary, I've said enough negative things about your idea, but really it's a laudable notion. I shouldn't write anymore though. I'd put my voice behind Peter Clark's post on this subject, though. It's well written and what I would have said if I were more concise ;) stephen Also, about 'art': Craftsmanship comes first, then artistic achievement. s.