Theiling Online    Sitemap    Conlang Mailing List HQ   

Re: What is it we are saying in our languages?

From:Jim Henry <jimhenry1973@...>
Date:Sunday, July 2, 2006, 22:01
On 7/2/06, Sally Caves <scaves@...> wrote:

> both. In other words, what are we saying that is unique in our languages, > and how do our languages help us *say* something that the world can hear-- > or deem unique?
> though. Are there any of you who want to say something new in new, > unheard-of words? And by "new" I mean a text of some import or poetry > (since, as Qoholeth has said, "there is nothing new under the sun"). Which > of you write copiously in your conlangs because you have something to say > rather than construct?
In the first conlang I made that I still feel mostly pleased with, Thauliralau, I wrote a version of the Thau' creation myth (which I had earlier written in English). I had plans to write other myths in Thauliralau, and in the other conlangs of the Caligoi, but never got around to it; none of the other languages in that conworld got much beyond the sketch stage in the next couple of years, and I was getting busier with college. In 1998 I started creating gjâ-zym-byn, and by mid-1999 I was starting to use it a little bit for the purpose I made it for: writing my journal, which I had been keeping since 1988. As I developed gzb's expressive power and developed my own fluency in it, I started using it more often and English less often -- though even at periods of peak gzb usage, I've never gone more than a month or so without some use of English or Esperanto in my journal. The effects of using gzb have been at least twofold: 1. When in a phase of using gzb for the journal, I tend to write more numerous and shorter entries, focusing on describing details of my daily life that I would simply omit from the longer, less frequent English entries. 2. Also, I've written about kinds of things in gzb that I haven't written about in English [or Esperanto] for other reasons: things annoying or embarrassing that I would find it harder to talk about in any other language. The knowledge that no one else knows gzb means that writing in it is as private as thinking Besides some hundreds of journal entries, I've written a few original short-short stories and dialogues -- some linguistically interesting, but flawed as stories -- and made some stabs at original poetry, only one of which (free alliterative verse with Hebrew-like parallelism) I really feel happy with. More recently I've tried to write some alliterative poems with actual meter, but haven't managed to make them work. I've also written some prayers in gzb, mostly short.
> newness of morphology. What is it we are *saying* in our invented > languages? or in inventing language period? That's another question. How > is conlanging itself a kind of message about language?
"English", or "French", or "Ojibway" or any other convenient name for a natural language is an abstraction: a name for the common properties of thousands or millions of more or less mutually comprehensible idiolects. Writers generally write in their own idiolect; the better ones can switch idiolects, to some extent, in writing dialogue or first-person narration for characters who talk in distinct ways. Many writers will more or less deliberately shape the idiolect they write in, for their works in general or for each particular work. In other words, high-level writing in natural languages (including, for this purpose, Esperanto any any other conlangs that have speaker communities and literature) and original writing (even if not on a very high level) in a conlang are similar in some important respects; in both cases, the artist is concerned not just with pragmatically getting a message across by re-using whatever bits of language are lying around handy, but with saying what they have to say in the best way, re-examining assumptions about how they use language in order to craft the idiolect this particular work must be written in. But maybe we can say there's a continuum from writers who primarily want to reach a wide audience, and are willing to trim their linguistic ambitions to make the message comprehensible to more people, to those who care most about making the language fit the message perfectly, even if it reduces the audience considerably. (This could vary with the same writer on different occasions.) Writers like Jack Vance or Avram Davidson would be near the wide-audience end of the scale, James Joyce and Anthony Burgess (at least in certain works) at the midpoint, and conlangers writing in their conlangs at the far end. -- Jim Henry