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New Survey: Celtic Conlangs (and other lunatic pursuits)

From:Sally Caves <scaves@...>
Date:Sunday, January 5, 2003, 20:05
Vyko!  My apologies for imposing another survey on you!  It comes in five
parts, and repeats some of the questions I aired in my original "Lunatic
Survey" in 1998.  I'm posting it again, though, given all the newcomers, and
because I have continuous new uses for it.  In the first three parts of the
survey, I'm interested in gauging the degree to which Celtic languages have
been popular models among us language cobblers.  Or unpopular models.  These
questions, then, are designed not just for Celtic conlang buffs but for
those who avoid the "Celtic."  Part of the reason I'm posting this survey is
that I'm talking at several conferences in the Spring about the influence of
Celtic on some language inventors (among other things about invented
languages).  Given their difficulties, Celtic languages (along with
countless other languages!) are not often the models for IALs.  These
features that make them difficult or unusual, though, may appeal especially
to conlangers, not to mention their associations with a long-standing
British Isles/Northwestern European mythology that Tolkien drew upon
(Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian included), and which have so engaged
contemporary High Fantasy.  So what feels like an arbitrary question has a
focus for me, and I would so appreciate your taking the time to answer some
or all of these questions.  You can send your answers to me privately or
post them to the list.

SUBJECT HEADER!  Firrimby! <G>  You also don't have to answer all of these
questions.  Answer the ones that are relevant or important to you.


Have you based your conlang(s) wholly or partially on a Celtic language?
If so, on which?  or combined with which?

What is your name and what do you call your conlang(s)?

When did you start it/them?

Are you still working with it/them or have you abandoned it or them?

What Celtic features have you borrowed?  What is the structure of your
language?  Be specific.

What innovations did you introduce?  (new constructions, perhaps a new
script, etc.)

What features of Celtic languages (or a particular Celtic language)
initially inspired or intrigued you?  For example, Tolkien, as he described
it in "Welsh and English" was impressed by the beauty of a Welsh inscription
he saw on a building: Adeiladwyd 1887 ('built 1887').  He loved words like
wybren, so much more "mellifluous" than our borrowed word "sky."  He was
likewise enthralled by Finnish and Hebrew.  So he deliberately set out to
make his Elvish languages beautiful.   Was this a draw for you as well in
choosing Celtic as a model? (I understand that T's Elvish languages are not
exclusively "Celtic."  He has described them, however, as being

On the other hand, perhaps the Celtic structures, their VSO, their
paraphrastics, their initial mutations, their spelling conventions, their
general strangeness caught your fancy, not necessarily their "beauty" or
"romance."  Comment?

How many of you are also scholars of Celtic languages?   Scholars of other

How were you introduced to them?

PART II:  INSPIRATION BY TOLKIEN (tangential to the questions on inspiration
by Celtic languages):

How many of you were inspired to invent a language because of your exposure
to Tolkien?

How many of you based your conlang on one of Tolkien's languages, or your
conculture in Middle Earth?

How many of you have a constructed world, and, if so, does it include some
of the races we associate with Celtic or Scandinavian mythology? (Elves,
Dwarves, medieval societies of humans, Faeries or Fays?  Selkies?  Wizards?)

How many of you were inspired to examine Welsh, Hebrew, or Finnish because
of your examination of Tolkien?

How many of you were inspired to invent a conlang or a conculture because of
some influence OTHER than Tolkien?

How many of you were inspired to invent a language because you engage in
Roll-Playing Games?

How many of you were inspired to invent a language because you heard of this

How many of you are members of the Mythopoeic Society, or the Society for
Creative Anachronism, or other High Fantasy Groups?


In the discussions I've witnessed on Conlang in almost five years, I've
observed that many conlangers have deliberately avoided "Tolkienesque"
languages, and even Indo-European languages as models for conlangs, and
especially the "Celtic."  Why?  Boring?  Overdone?  Trite?  Too pretty?
Too Western?  Or none of the above--just more interested in something else?
<G>  I don't want to give the impression that I think we conlang only
because of Tolkien, and that anything we invent has to be INSPIRED BY or a
DEPARTURE from the "Great One"; but in this question I'm eager to see some
eschewal of or at least indifference towards the Tolkien, the "Celtic,"
and/or even the Indo-European model.

What is your name and what do you call your conlang?

So what is unappealing about the Indo-European model for conlanging?  Or
Tolkien's Elvish?

How did you start conlanging?  What was your initial inspiration?

Did you know about Tolkien's inventions?  Read the books, the appendices?
etc.  Or not?

What language types have you modeled your language(s) after?

What features of these languages or language types appeal to you?

Some of you, and I'm thinking in particular of a conversation I had with And
Rosta, are not interested in producing a language that is
 "mellifluous"--that "mellifluousness" is a thing to be avoided in your
conlang and especially as it is associated with Tolkien's Elvish or copiers
of Elvish.   Is this so?  Why?

For how many of you, though, is beauty and/or efficiency a factor in your
language?  Or elegance?  How would you define these terms?

For how many of you is the "exotic" a desired feature of your invented

How many of you invent a non-human language?  And if so, how alien are its
sounds and constructions?

Do you prefer inventing an a posteriori language or an a priori language?
In other words, how many of you invent a language wherein you base it
closely on a natural language (Arabic, Tagalog) or a combination of
languages, and how many others of you invent a language from, well, scratch?
(if that can be done.)

How many of you invent a language based on a particular type (Ergative,
Accusative, Trigger, etc.)?

To what degree is difficulty and irregularity of language important to you
in your conlang?  what natural language eccentricities (or efficiencies) do
you like and try to reproduce?

To what degree is accessibility, efficiency, and regularity important to
your conlang?  What natural language "faults" are you correcting?

How many of you invent logical languages?

How many of you invent IALs?

How many of you have invented non-Tolkienesque or non European concultures
and what are they like?

How many of you started out by pulling words out of the air, originally?
How many of you have chosen a more methodic form of vocabulary building?
I.e., how have you gone about setting up the framework for your words and
your grammar?
(I started out pulling words out of the air.)

PART IV:  THE LUNATIC SURVEY REVISITED (because we are all "fous du
langage," according to Yaguello and other French critics.

Why do you conlang?  Who will speak it?  Read it?  What's the point?  What's
the beauty?  what's the intellectual draw?

To what would you compare a conlang?  Is it a miniature?  Is it a model?  Is
it a tapestry?  Is it an act of obsession and madness? <G>  Or is it a
communicable language?

If it is a communicable language, to whom do you speak it?

To what extent is the opacity or "alterity" of your language something that
pleases you?  In other words, the sounds and the script have, even for you,
a quality of being foreign, and this delights.
Comment?  (I know that when I make maps of cities, and imagine myself in
them, they delight me because they are both familiar and foreign at the same

This is a difficult question:  how is it that a word sounds "right" to you?
We recently discussed this.  To what extent are you finding righter, better
words for the world in your conlang?  (Perhaps unanswerable).

How many of you are fictive map-makers, designers of fictive floor plans,
fictive yachts, fictive star-ships, world-builders, calligraphers,
cartoonists, etc.?  (These pursuits have been associated with conlanging.  I
've done most of them.)

How many of you have a special script in your conlang?

If you use Roman script, how recognizably "phonetic" is your writing system?
In other words, do you use unconventional letters to represent sounds?

This is a question Heather asked, but I also asked it four years ago:  how
many of you write in your language?  What do you write?

How many of you sing in your language and have invented songs for that

How many of you started conlanging when you were a teenager and have stuck
to the same language over many years?   Why?

How many of you change conlangs regularly, developing structures for many
languages but not sticking with any one for very long?  Why?

For how many of you does your language function as a spiritual instrument?
This is a deeply personal question--let me give you an example.  When I
first started inventing "Tayonian" in my early teens, what I wrote were
spells and prayers.  They had a talismanic quality.  Does that ring a bell
for anybody?

For how many of you was your language at least at one stage of its making
meant to fool others, or to write secret diaries? (Me, waving my hand).

How many of you can speak your language, at least to yourself and your pet?
child?  spouse?  <G>  To what extent?

How many of you have put up websites where your language can be showcased?
If so, what is the website address?

How many of you have made soundbytes of your language so the rest of us can
hear it?  If so, give the site.

How many of you are comfortable talking to your boss, your professors, your
family members about this pursuit?   How many of you have received
condescending or other negative responses to your disclosure?  (I have.)  Or
even been called "pathological"?

If this attitude is changing, to what do you attribute the change?  (On New
Year's Eve, a delightful, elderly gentleman could not understand why I would
be interested in this pursuit.  What purpose could it serve?)

For how many of you is the damning statement "better to learn real languages
than invent private ones" a criticism you have encountered?  What would be
your response to such a remark?


What is your age (optional--and can be general: 30-40, for instance).

What is your profession or your station in life (i.e., if you are a student,
what is your MAJOR; if a middle or high-school student, what is your
intended major)?

What is your gender?

What is your nationality and your native language?

What natural languages do you speak or have studied?

How many of you have chosen a profession in linguistics because of your
interest in inventing languages?  Or plan a profession in linguistics?

What have you learned from conlanging?

What texts on language and linguistics have you consulted to help invent
your language?

Do you know of anyone who has not connected with the Internet or the List
who has invented a language? (I'm firmly convinced that "conlanging" has
been a private pursuit for many people long before the list started, but
that the list has increased its visibility as an art).

Can you give me a short sample of your language with interlinear description
and translation?

Would you object to my mentioning your conlang/and or your name in my talk?
I will be discreet about some of the more personal questions you answered.

Ev send poto, yry poy poy firrimby!

Sally Caves
Eskkoat ol ai sendran, rohsan nuehra celyil takrem bomai nakuo.
"My shadow follows me, putting strange, new roses into the world."


Pavel Iosad <pavel_iosad@...>
Aidan Grey <grey@...>
Aidan Grey <grey@...>
Garth Wallace <gwalla@...>
Roberto Suarez Soto <ask4it@...>
Dan Jones <dan@...>
Garth Wallace <gwalla@...>
Joseph Fatula <fatula3@...>
bnathyuw <bnathyuw@...>
Rik <rik@...>
Dirk Elzinga <dirk_elzinga@...>
Joe <joe@...>New Survey:Celtic Conlangs (and other lunatic pursuits)
John Cowan <jcowan@...>
Jeffrey Henning <jeffrey@...>
Jan van Steenbergen <ijzeren_jan@...>
Amanda Babcock <langs@...>
Herman Miller <hmiller@...>
Dennis Paul Himes <himes@...>
Shreyas Sampat <ssampat@...>
vaksje <vaksje@...>
Tim May <butsuri@...>
Bryan Maloney <> <slimehoo@...>