My Conlanging History (was: Re: Tolkein?)
|From:||Caleb Hines <cph9fa@...>|
|Date:||Tuesday, December 16, 2003, 17:50|
Conlanging. How did I ever get into it? That a very good question. I'm not
really sure. I'm not a linguist, I'm not from a bilingual area, my parents
don't speak any other languages (except for a few catch-phrases in Spanish
that my Mom knows), and I've never learned any other languages or studied
[WARNING: For those who are interested, a long bio of my relation to
First of all, let me breifly mention, I am a senior at the University of
Missouri, St. Louis. My major is Computer Science, but I'm minoring in Math
and Physics. As you might guess, I have a very
Mathematical/Logical-oriented mind. I took my last final today, so I'm off
for a month now, until next semester.
I guess I've always had a sort of latent interest in languages, when I
think about it. My Dad had studied NT Greek, and at one point (I must have
been ten or so) tried to teach me a bit. I'm not really sure why that
stopped. I'm still familiar with most of the Greek Alphabet (which comes
mostly from using its letters extensively in Math and Physics classes!),
but I don't know any of the grammar or much vocabulary.
I also remember at one time my Dad helped a Russian family in our church
learn better English. He doesn't speak Russian, but he picked up some
phrasebooks that I looked through. I was horified by the Cyrillic alphabet!
(Besides, even back then, I didn't really like phrase books. My mind is
much to structured to simply learn a few phrases without learning the
At one time, I also had an interest in learning OT Hebrew, and our pator
was pleased to help. We had about three lessons, during which I learned the
alphabet and a few words (I still recognize some of the alphabet), but I
never went far with the vocabulary. I guess the main dificulty there was
all those gutteral sounds that don't really get pronounced, and the
"consonants" that sound like vowels.
Finally, since I have an interest in Classical Music (esp. Baroque), I've
been able to pick up a few words of German by listening to Bach Cantats and
reading the translations.
I guess my real interest in conlanging, though, would be through sci-fi. It
started about a year or two ago. I wanted to write a sci-fi in which there
realy is a language barrier (as opposed to "Universal Transators"). I guess
that means I was mostly inspired by Stargate, both the movie and the
series. Granted, the series (best show on TV IMNSHO!) is alot more
linguisticaly lax than the movie was, but it still has a main character who
is a linguist/archaeologist (at least it did until the producers decided to
kil him. *sob*...).
Anyway, the conlanging grew out of the world-building I was working on for
this project. I doubt the sci-fi itself will ever go anywhere, but I was
introduced to conlanging (found the Model Languages site and the LCK), and
got hooked. As part of wanting to build this language, I decided to find
out about the thoery of grammer (at the time, MHO was that everything else
was just superficial - different sounds and words), so I went to the Uni.'s
Library and found "Syntactic Theory." by E. Bach (with a name like "Bach"
it must be good!). I skimmed through, but my classes prevented me from a
thorough reading. I was intrigued by the by the trees and the
phrase-structre. Computer scientists know all about tree structures. This
was a concept I could grasp quite easily. As fate would have it, the very
next semester I happened to take a required course in compiler design, and
found out about Backus-Naur Format, which is basically a Chomsky-based
phrase-structure grammar applied to describing computer languages. While
other students were struggling, I understood exactly what was going on
(despite a poor teacher and no textbook whatsoever in the class).
This semester, I decided to take a Freshaman-Level Cultural Anthropology
class (to fulfil a gen.ed.req.) hoping there would be some info on
languages. There was one lecture on languages, given by the TA, because the
regular teacher didn't know as much about the topic. Unfortunatly, that was
the one day I slept in and I missed most of the class! :-( It became one of
the few chapters in the textbook I read, but there wasn't much detail
(nothing at all like "Syntactic Theory"). Actually, the TA is sitting
across the Computer Lab that I'm in right now. When I finish typing this,
maybe I'll go ask if he's ever heard of conlanging...) :-)
WRT Tolkein, I had read the Hobbit before in high school without realizing
any of the linguistics that had gone into it. But I didn't start the LOTR
trilogy until this semester, after seeing the second movie. One of the
reasons I read it was because I had heard it was based on conlanging. Of
course, I was very impressed with the movies as well... Now I'm 1/3rd of
the way through ROTK, and since the semester is over now (took my last
Final this morning), I might (if I hurry!) be able to finish it before I
see the movie (hopefully tommorow)! I certainly regret not reading these
I was also fortunate enough to find a friend on campus who, heavily
inspired by Tolkein, had also become a conlanger, though until I showed him
the websites I had found, he didn't know there was a name for what he did.
As I mentioned once before, we're now working on a collaborative conlang,
Chelume. Once I get the website cleaned up a bit, I'll post a URL.
Since I don't speak other langs, I've recently wanted to learn one. At the
top of my list are (in no particular order) Latin, German, NT Greek, OT
Hebrew, Arabic, and possibly Welsh and Basque. Awefully aspiring aren't I?
I've actually started in on Latin using D'Ooge's "Latin for Beginners" at
textkit.com. I've gotten all the way through a-declension nouns, which I
think is the furthest I've ever gotten in any non-L1 language. I actually
mostly found time to study it during Cultural Anthropology class (which was
very easy compared to my other classes!)
So anyway, that's me and conlanging. I'm hooked now, and I love it. My
favorite part is the mathematical topic of grammar, and I may just have to
study some loglangs to see what they do with grammar. I downloaded a bunch
of lojban info lastnight, but probably won't look at it for a while.
[end long bio section]