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Results of poll by email No. 1

From:Peter Clark <pc451@...>
Date:Saturday, February 23, 2002, 21:32
Hash: SHA1

        29 of you responsed to last week's poll; let's see the numbers:

        In response to the question, "Would you teach a child a constructed

2 of you answered, "A. No, it's ethically wrong to teach a child a language
that no one else speaks." (7%)

5 of you answered, "B. No, it's not ethically wrong, just a waste of time."

15 of you answered, "C. Yes, I see no ethical problems in teaching a child a
constructed language and think that it might even be useful/helpful to them."

7 of you answered, "D. Other." (24%)

        Some of the respondants did not actually commit themselves to one specific
answer, so in the interest of pounding a square peg through a round hole, I
chose the answer closest to the gist of their response. The prize for "Most
Wishy-Washy Respondant of the Week" goes to And Rosta, who managed to vote
for three. (His vote was counted as a D, see his response below.)
        Responding for the (A) camp, Matthew Kehrt observed:

"It seems to me to be unethical to teach a child something which will be both
useless and cause the child harm, in the form of being made fun of by peers."

        Jan Van Steenbergen tried to soften his (A) with the following:

"In my opinion, conlanging is basically a hobby. A very nice one, I think. I
created a couple of conlangs myself. However, a hobby is a highly personal
matter, that cannot and should not be imposed to one's children. Children
should be free to choose their own hobbies. And when they finally grow up and
develop their own taste, it's quite possible that they won't even like Star
        "On the other hand, I don't believe the number of speakers of a language is
that important. If a speaker of an endangered (or virtually extinct) language
tries to save it by teaching it to his children, I will be the first one to

        Those who answered (B) seemed to agree that it would be more useful to teach
the child another natlang, rather than a conlang. In the words of Ian Maxwell,

"If I'm going to spend time teaching my (hypothetical) child more than one
language (as I would), I'm going to teach zir a natlang. Or possibly
Interlingua, but that doesn't really count--I think you're referring to
artlangs here."

        Jogloran also commented:

"Even though I somehow doubt that teaching a conlang is harmful to the child,
maybe it would not be good to delude the child into thinking that it is a
real language, the poor child probably stopped speaking Klingon when he
realised that it was not a real language. Maybe if the child was told that it
was like a private language for use between the speaker and the child?
        "However, realistically, experiments on children have always been
done, and if someone had such a time investment, I doubt it would be
a harmful thing...I don't think I would raise any huge moral objections to
teaching a child a constructed language, as long as the language isn't, for
example, made to lack certain concepts on purpose, as that would be

        In the (C) camp, several respondants stressed the fact that while it would
not be unethical to teach a child a conlang, it would be unethical if that
was the only language the child was taught. Mia Soderquist raised several
good points:

"Assuming that this question is about teaching a child a constructed language
shared only with the parent(s) or a very few other people (rather than a
language like Esperanto, which does have a few native speakers), I believe
that this would be no more harmful than raising a child to speak ANY minority
language. There are many families that are bilingual in different ways and
for different reasons. I'd direct you to , a page for and by bilingual
families, associated with a very active mailing list...
        "I think that it would be unethical to raise a child with a constructed
language if you were to isolate that child from the majority language and
actively prevent them from learning the majority language. I can't decide
if "weird" or "cruel" is the word I am looking for to describe that sort of
        "In theory, I would have no problem raising one of my own children or seeing
someone else raise their child with a constructed language. It might even be
good for the kid in some sense.
        "In reality, without an extended family or community to support the effort,
it seems almost inevitable that the constructed language would steadily lose
ground and then be supplanted by the majority language."

        Irina Rempt added these caveats:

"The child should know as soon as he/she is old enough to understand that
this is a language someone made up, just as they should know the difference
between fact and fiction. (We tell our kids, when they ask if something is
real, "yes, it exists in the real world" or "it only exists in stories")
        "It should, of course, never be the child's *only* language."

        Jesse Bangs answered,

"I certainly think that this would be helpful.  Studies have shown over and
over that children raised bilingually have fewer problems with both
languages, and that the practice with their non-native language often helps
them out in areas completely unrelated to language.  What does it matter if
one of those languages is invented?  It still has the same effect.
Furthermore, it would be a fascinating linguistic study to see how a
constructed language is changed in the mouth of its first native speaker."

        In agreement, Jim (No last name - Espero9@aol) noted:

"I see no problem with teaching children a created language.  It will
increase their knowledge, be a good mental exercise (like any other mentally
stimulating "game"), will increase their self-confidence in learning other
languages, and become a trait of the family's uniqueness.
        "Considering all the other things we teach children: racism, sexism,
classism, religious and political intolerance, anti-gay prejudice, learning a
created language seems rather harmless and probably beneficial."

        The (D) camp seemed to be the catch-all for those who leaned toward (C) but
had too many reservations to give it whole-hearted approval. Such was Dan
Sulani's response, who answered (D) because of his fear that the conlang
might be rammed down the child's throat. He then proceeded to give a very
interesting story, which, while long, is very interesting.

"I am a Speech-Language-Pathologist  and after more than a quarter of a
century of trying to pick up the pieces of linguistic destruction that
parents can cause their kids through excess linguistic zealotry, (the
_emotional_  side of the damage goes to mental health professionals)
I don't have a lot of sympathy for the idea of forcing a kid.
        "For example: I once knew an American woman who lived here in Israel who
decided that her Israeli-born son must learn English. So she turned her home
into a bastion of English: There were no Hebrew letters to be found on
anything in her house: all books, newspapers, groceries, supplies, etc. were
only to be in English. The kid was kept out of the preschools most of his
peers went to for fear that he might pick up a word of Hebrew and use it in
place of the English equivalent. He was not allowed to see any local kiddie TV
because it was all in Hebrew. No Hebrew was allowed to be spoken in the home
or within earshot of the mother --- and this was especially hard on the
father, because he was a native-born Israeli whose English was not that good.
(Mind you, we are talking about a family living in a Hebrew-speaking
country). Essentially, the father was denied contact with his son ( bad
English was also frowned upon by the mother!) Needless to say, the poor kid
didn't get to play with any of the neighborhood kids!
        "Oh yes, the kid picked up some English. He also picked up such  emotional
baggage that he had to be taken for psychiatric treatment (which didn't help
as long as he was in that home! ).IIRC, the woman also developed a divorce
(the husband finally tired of being a stanger in his own home in his own
country!) Oh yes, and the kid stuttered!
        "I am also against trying to make a conlang into L1 for the kid. Language
does more than just impart information. Among other things, it is a very deep
and basic identifying marker. To ourselves no less than to others. What kind
of self-identity would a kid have to be a totally fluent  native- speaker of
a lang that had no other speakers, and no literature: oral or written,
technical or artistic?  It's one thing to know a conlang (or a natlang) along
with your L1. But, IMHO, to get a kid to acquire it as his native lang, a bit
of force would be necessary, and, as I stated above, I'm totally against

        Daniel Andreasson looked at the practicality of the matter:

"It's not ethically wrong, but it's not a waste of time either. If I were
good enough at speaking my own conlang, I might teach it to my child. But the
pragmatic thing to do would rather be to learn a natlang instead of my
conlang and teach that to my child. The child would probably be subject to my
conlanging anyway.
        "My point is. If I'm gonna take time teaching my child a language I don't
know, why not teach it a language it has use of later in life?"

        Finally, here is And Rosta's answer:

"(i) If the conlang falls outside the limits of natlang variation, it might
have unforeseeable adverse consequences on the child; hence (A). It ought
first to be demonstrated that adults can speak the conlang fluently.
        "(ii) if the conlang differs radically from the L1, it might interfere with
acquisition of L1, retarding it to an unacceptable degree. Thus, teaching the
child the conlang might be inadvisable, even if not unethical. Note that this
applies equally well to teaching children exotic natlangs, too.
        "(iii) Otherwise, the answer is (C), but for me personally it is (D) -- I
cannot shake myself of the feeling that the mind, or at least memory, is a
container of finite capacity, and that it is therefore disadvantageous to
teach a child a useless language."

        There you have it, folks. Coming up next: Poll by email No. 2!
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