Average life of a conlang
|From:||Jim Henry <jimhenry1973@...>|
|Date:||Wednesday, August 27, 2008, 15:20|
Recently there's been a thread on the ZBB about the average life of a
conlang; that is, the average amount of time a conlang is under
continuing development by its creator, from initial creation to
abandonment of the conlang or death of the conlanger, not counting
auxlangs that continue to be developed by a speaker community after
the death or loss of interest of the creator.
I went through the thread and entered the minimum and maximum age of a
conlang mentioned for each conlanger (not each poster, as some didn't
give exact figures for themselves and some mentioned the ages of other
people's conlangs) into a tab-delimited text file, which I analyzed
with a few Awk scripts. The average minumum age of a conlang (with 32
conlangers represented) was 9.48 years; the average maximum age was
11.17 years. (20 people only gave data for their main conlang, which
in some cases is their only conlang.) The averages were skewed by a
few people with very long-lived conlangs; 11 people out of 32 had
conlangs they'd worked on for 10 years or more, and 5 had conlangs
they'd worked on for 30 years or more. 14 people had no conlang
they'd worked on for more than 3 years, but that included some people
who'd been conlanging for 3 years or less.
This data seems to fit with the pattern observed in the recent
"Promiscuity & Fidelity" thread, that conlangers tend to fall into two
types, one type working on many languages serially and another type
working on one language for years and years on end.
It would be interesting to collect the same information from members
of the CONLANG list and get a broader base of data on the question.
Jörg and I have already posted about our conlangs on the ZBB thread,
but I'll copy my posts here as ZBB threads disappear into the bit
bucket after a few months (or even weeks?) and CONLANG threads
get archived indefinitely:
> I started Alurhsa in January of 1977. So that makes it 31
> and a half.
> I think Sally Caves' Teonaht was started sometime in the
> early 1960's, though. That's the oldest one I know.
Dr. Peter Tarlow, Paul Burgess, and Bill Price also have languages
they've been working on since they were children or teenagers, roughly
as old as Teonaht plus or minus a few years. Tarlow's La Petro was
fifty years old when he made his first introductory post to the
CONLANG list last September.
Tolkien worked on Quenya, Noldorin and Sindarin pretty much from
about 1917 to his death in 1973, right? -- fifty-six years, pretty
My gjâ-zym-byn is young compared to your Alurhsa and the other
conlangs I mentioned, but probably older than the average
continually-developed conlang; it turned 10 in early March.
Three of my other conlangs I've worked on for 1-3 years; another dozen
or so been sketchy projects that I've worked on for less than a year,
in some cases less than a week. One of those I worked on for a couple
of years I seriously intend to get back to working on sometime;
another is still in progress, and the oldest has been abandoned pretty
much since I started seriously working on gzb in early 1998.
Volapük too is still being updated by its tiny remnant speaker
community, with new words for new concepts; not as vigorously as
Esperanto, but it's not dead, just pining. We need to make a
distinction between conlangs that are developed/used by one person,
and those that are used (and necessarily continually developed, if
they're to be used very much) by a speaker community which might
survive the creator. Lingua Ignota has been accumulating dust ever
since Hildegard died; no one else has really used it. (We're not sure
exactly how much Hildegard herself used it, or how.) Ditto with most
of the sketchy philosphical languages and auxlangs of the 17th-19th
centuries. Their "age" should be reckoned, in the context of this
thread, as the period of time their creators continually worked on
them (unknown in most cases), not the period of time from their first
publication to the present. Whereas in the case of auxlangs with a
speaker community, their age should maybe be reckoned from the date
the *second* person (after the creator) learned the language fluently
- for Esperanto, I think that would be Antoni Grabowski in late 1887.
> Itlani is eleven years old. For me, the point when Itlani reached a
> stage of real stability was the true beginning of the language. For
> me, languages are tools of self-expression. If I kept on building
> them to the point where they were able to be used and then
> abandoning them it would not be as much fun.
Do you mean, Itlani reached stability eleven years ago and you started
it at some earlier point, or that you started creating it eleven years
ago and it reached stability at some later point?
gjâ-zym-byn reached a usable level of stability in about 2000 or 2001,
after two or three years of development. There have been many changes
since then, but relatively little that's not backward compatible with
the existing corpus. (Except for archaicizing old words; there are
over 50 words in the dictionary marked as archaic, and some older ones
that have no dictionary entry.) It was roughly around 2002-2004 when I
became fluent enough in the written form of the language that I could
write about as fast in gzb as in English, on the subjects I normally
talk about in my journal. (I'm still not truly fluent in the spoken
language; though I think in it and talk to myself in it fairly often,
it's with far more hesitations and disfluencies than in English or
And yet I don't regret the time I spent working on short-lived sketchy
conlangs, either; most of them have a respectable corpus relative to
their short lifespan, they explored interesting linguistic ideas, and
I think the availability of those shorter-lived projects has diverted
my tinkering tendencies away from gzb and made it stable enough to
Conlang fluency survey -- there's still time to participate before
I analyze the results and write the article