Theiling Online    Sitemap    Conlang Mailing List HQ   

Creating a metaconlang; anyone want to join?

From:Sai Emrys <sai@...>
Date:Friday, November 30, 2007, 23:26
As some of you know, my personal conlanging interests are a bit off the usual.

Recently I've been giving more serious thought to creating a
metaconlang. That is, a sort of grammar that can ride on top of an
existing language (English as a default, given its status as lingua
franca). It'd have a few features:

* use semantic space* that isn't denotatively used by the language
itself (e.g. English doesn't have tone, clicks, facial gestures,
signing, so we could use any of that)
* use semantic space that IS denotatively used, very sparingly (e.g.
my earlier [only-partially-humorous] post about pkt; one could insert
single phonemes like /k/ in various places)
* be anywhere from almost undetectable to unobtrusive (on the level of
an odd mannerism / speech impediment) to uninitiates - i.e. the
metaconlang should not generally interfere with the base language
still being comprehensible per its usual
* possibly add grammatical rules to streamline the base language, e.g.
pkt-style "optionally drop anything whatsoever that is pragmatically
indicated" - but not on the level of creating a derivative language as
* be as much as possible language-agnostic, that is, not being tightly
bound to any particular base language
* be either parallel, additive, or crypto wrt the base:
e.g. psuedo-pinyin "I2 want3 a4 dog1 [dental click with right hand
supinated]" could be:
a) parallel: "I want a dog" and "2341[click] = [I have the secret package]"
b) additive: "I[pronoun + 2 = exclusive] want[verb + 3 = immediately]
a[article / number + 4 = or more] dog[noun + 1 = of canonical type]
[click = I know this from direct experience]"= "I want four golden
retrievers for myself right now [and I know this directly]."
c) crypto: "[I2 = You] [want3 = have?] [a4 = four] [dog1 = nuclear
briefcases] [click = or else I have to kill you]." = "Do you have the
four nukes? If not, you're dead..."

I see (b) as the most interesting variant, though (c) could also be useful...

That is, the intent of this is to allow the base language to, from an
uninitiated perspective, be moreorless perceived normally - perhaps
sounding "slightly odd". But from an initiated perspective, it may
convey an additional message, modify the base message (e.g. adding
modifiers per word, or even sentence-level things like evidentials and
speech act designation), or make the base message merely a
quasi-sensical rider for the true message, which requires knowledge of
the extra bits to understand.

Preferably this metaconlang will generalize in applicability beyond
English - perhaps requiring the rider language to have (or more
accurately, lack) certain features like tone.

This is of course just a very partial and kludgy sketch; I'm only
trying to convey the intent, not the actual form of the metaconlang;
the examples are entirely ad hoc.

Anyway, if you're interested in working on this collaboratively, or
have comments, please ping me via email ( or
IM.(AIM saizai, YIM saizai1, Jabber saizai@gmail) or respond on-list.

Fiat lingua,

* By "semantic space" I mean to describe the various things that can
carry meaning, like sounds, tone, facial configuration, gestures, etc
etc. Treating it in a sort of information-theoretical abstract way. I
know it's not a very good term for what I mean, but I haven't thought
of something more apt... :/


Kelly Drinkwater <mizunomi@...>
Jim Henry <jimhenry1973@...>