Hi, dear glossopoeist! Matteo here, another language enthusiast like Fabio, with a shared passion for foreign words flowing through the veins. I came to tell you that we’re about to embark on a linguistic rollercoaster, a journey into the mesmerizing realm of constructed languages, or as we hip linguaphiles like to call them: conlangs.
Coz you see, in this day and age we’re all used to learning languages for a host of different reasons, ranging from job-related duties to career opportunities, love purposes 💛, cultural understanding, or just for the sake of curiosity. But oftentimes, in so doing we tend to lag behind the real reason why a language is crafted:
Communication. Connecting people. 🔌
But what’s a language in and of itself? Well, let the Cambridge dictionary come to our help. Two are the main definitions provided:
- A system of communication consisting of sounds, words, and grammar.
- A system of communication used by people living in a particular country.
As I was saying, it all comes down to communication and people. So, as things stand, this statement begs a question:
Is it fair to say that a language, on the grounds of what we have just affirmed, can be crafted FROM SCRATCH for the sake of better communication among a group or groups of people?
Short answer: yes. Long answer: don’t go anywhere and keep reading to geek out together. 😎
What’s a conlang and why is it crafted?
Whatever consciously devised language, or better said constructed, for human communication can fairly be called conlang (aka indeed, constructed language). To call a spade a spade, Esperanto is a conlang, Klingon is a conlang, Dothraki and the Black Speech of Mordor are conlangs. Does it ring a bell? 🔔
Ok ok, that’s all cool BUT, what are the hallmarks of a conlang? Well, broadly speaking, a conlang rests on the same pillars of every other language, namely cohesive phonological, grammatical, and syntactical systems. But if so, what’s the difference between a constructed language and a common language such as English, Italian, Chinese, Afrikaans, and the whole nine yards?
Well, the same difference that goes between being HUNGRY and being ANGRY. Slight but huge.
In a nutshell, the main differentiator is that a conlang, its grammar rules, its writing system, and its phonology are set by default and are not meant to be changed over time. Conversely, the vast majority of languages we study, learn and speak daily come as a result of natural evolution through the centuries.
That said, why the hack could the human being want to consciously devise a brand-new tongue from zero?
Well, as hard to believe as it can sound, the reasons could potentially be endless. 🤯 Here you have some:
1️⃣ First and foremost, to ease human communication: as we’ve been saying, communication has always been crucial in human interaction and despite living in an ever more hyper-connected and globalized world, we haven’t improved too much in mutual understanding.
2️⃣ Artistic creations: art has always been considered the most expressive yet immediate way of communicating something, therefore it doesn’t come as a surprise that specific languages may be created for giving art even more voice, but we’ll get there. 😏
3️⃣ Experimentation: not so obvious maybe, but conlangs play an important role in linguistic experimentation in the field of linguistics, cognitive science, or machine learning.
4️⃣ Making fictional settings and characters more realistic: as we are going to see in a few paragraphs 😏, a deluge of fictional crafts, from movies to books and games, is tremendously enriched by the inclusion of their language; apparently, languages are the spice of life.
How to create a language from scratch… or from a sketch
First things first. Who can create a conlang? A pool of experienced linguists? A consortium made of well-established philologists? As luck would have it, NO. Well, not only.
Good news: everybody can create a conlang. 🥳
Me, you, your neighbour with bags under the eyes resulting from having binge-watched the brand-new season of Games of Thrones (just joking, there is no new season of Games of Thrones, UNFORTUNATELY). As I said, every single human being (and not only human, strictly speaking).
For the record, communities of conlang lovers can be found everywhere, but a valid point of departure could be the Language Creation Society. 🏢
As you can imagine, creating a tongue completely from scratch is no child’s play since, regardless of how flexible it will be, the devised language should have to rely on fine-grained grammar rules, a wide range of vocabulary, and a clear phonology, among all the other not negligible ingredients of a full-fledged language, although it’s not always the case.
Now let’s delve into the heart of the matter, namely how to properly craft a conlang. Here’s a pocket-sized guide on how to create a conlang: 📝
1️⃣ The very first step to take is deciding what kind of phonological system the language will be based on; to do that it is possible to take a page from existing tongues. The phonology of a language is made of phonemes (the smallest unit of meaningful sound). For example, the word ”chair” is composed of three phonemes, or sounds: /ch/, /a/, /r/.
2️ The second step is to put the accent (figuratively and literally) on the phonotactics, namely the study of rules governing the possible phoneme sequences in a language. The phonological unit composing phonemes is called “syllable” which is, in turn, made of a “nucleus”, an “onset” and a “coda”, which determines the position of a vowel and of a consonant within the word itself. In English, in the word cat /kaet/, /k/ is the onset, /ae/ is the nucleus, and /t/ is the coda but it must be said that every language has its own phonotactic rules. 🗣️
3️⃣ It’s now time to shift the focus on creating the words constituting the conlang and here both the syllables and the stresses, that is to say, the relative emphasis or prominence given to a certain syllable in a word or to a certain word in a phrase, are key. This is because the sounds will vary according to which existing language you will draw on.
4️⃣ Then the emphasis is put on the nightmare of (almost) every language student, namely grammar, which will determine the flow of the conlang. It’s high time to clarify which words in the lexicon will be nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, articles, etc. Alongside that, the syntax of the conlang needs to be established (for instance subject-verb-object) and of course the verb tenses of the brand-new creation.
5️⃣ And, last but not least, the writing system of the language must be chosen; will it be the Latin script? The Chinese one? The Cyrillic? Here we can go wild.
And now, let’s get turbonerd. 🤯
What kind of conlangs exist?
As happens with the natlangs (natural languages), also conlangs have their own classification system and terminology as a result of discussions around the topic that sprang up between the late 1990s and the early 2000s. Here are some of the most interesting insights about the nature of constructed languages:
👉 Engineered languages (engelangs), or better said all those languages specifically created for experimentation purposes. We’ll get back at it.
👉 Auxiliary languages (auxlangs), devised for international communications to function as a lingua-franca between people speaking incompatible languages. These conlangs are believed to be the oldest conlangs ever invented and contrary to natural linguas-franca, they are primarily designed to be a secondary neutral language rather than assert its dominance over other languages.
There are International Auxiliary Languages and Zonal Auxiliary Languages, designed specifically for the languages – or dialects – and people living within a certain region. Some well-known examples of auxlangs include Esperanto and Interlingua.
👉 Artistic languages, designed to create aesthetic pleasure or humorous effect. Among those languages we can find a bunch of subcategories like:
- Fictional languages, spoken by the inhabitants of the fictional worlds of a book, movie, television show, video game, or even
- Altlangs, that is to say, Alternative languages, those that speculate on how the evolution of a specific linguistic family would be if things would have gone differently in history.
Another major distinction among conlangs has been drawn on the grounds of how much a conlang has (or has not) taken from an existing language. That’s the reason why we have:
👉 A posteriori conlangs (from Latin: “posterior”, ‘later’/’after’), deriving from existing languages and whose main goal is to be easily understandable for its speakers (did someone say Esperanto?). Those languages can for their part be divided into two other subcategories, namely:
- Naturalistic languages, more similar to the original ones used as a base;
- Schematic languages, whose grammar can differ profoundly from the language(s) used as a base;
👉 A priori conlangs (from Latin: “prior”, ‘sooner’/’before’), which are languages completely unrelated to existing languages and therefore based on a completely constructed language family. The flip side? Despite aiming at being easily understandable, the grammar can be more abstract and harder to learn.
And for the sake of curiosity, it’s worth mentioning personal conlangs, nothing else than languages created for personal uses and belonging to no one else than the inventor itself. This kind of language may be invented with the aim of self-expression or to pay tribute to a language or language family the creator appreciates, attempting to capture the flavour of the original as much as possible or maybe, for as less poetic as it sounds, it could be created just for fun. 😁
How fascinating the world of conlangs is! But how did we get there? Let’s recap!
The history of conlangs
Until now we have talked about what conlangs are and what kind of constructed languages are existing, but their rise in the linguistic world is not as recent as we could think.
Actually, from what can be gathered on the topic, the first traces of what can be properly called “a conlang” date back to the 12th century, when the first constructed languages surfaced on the basis of religious or ritual purposes. ✝️
Hildegard of Bingen and her mystic conlang
More specifically, the German Benedictine abbess and polymath Hildegard of Bingen created the so-called Lingua Ignota, a language invented for mystical purposes and made of 23-letters-alphabet denominated litterae ignotae (Latin for “unknown letters”) and with no grammar. Apparently, the only known text using this language used words embedded in Latin.
Being an actual Catholic saint as well as the first conlanger ever known, Hildegard of Bingen earned the name of Patron Saint of Conlanging. ⛪
Enochian, or the otherworldly conlang
Other constructed languages have come to light between the 12th century and 17th century and one of the most illustrious examples is the occult language Enochian: it was created by the English mathematician and occultist John Dee and the English occultist Edward Kelley, who claimed to have received it as a gift from angels. That is the reason why Dee referred to the language as “Celestial Speech”, “First Language of God-Christ”, “Holy Language”, or “Language of Angels”, or even Adamical since he believed that this was the language used by Adam to name all things.
The name Enochian comes from the belief that the Biblical patriarch Enoch had been the last human (before Dee and Kelley) to know the language. Enochian is thought to be complementary to the practice of Enochian magic and it’s composed of a limited set of texts: according to various studies conducted on the translations, there is no sufficient work to carve out any regular morphology, although some words resemble English and proper biblical names. In addition, it comes with no articles and prepositions as well as with rare adjectives. 🧐
According to the writer and scholar Aaron Leitch, the very little evidence of Enochian conjugations, despite being reminiscent of English, is highly irregular and makes us doubt whether or not this language had conjugations. The largest forms are recorded for ‘be’ and for goh- ‘say’:
Then, in 1668 the book An Essay Towards a Real Character, and a Philosophical Language by the philosopher John Wilkins was published to create a universal language that could be used by all humankind. His idea didn’t catch up but his goal was the one of creating what today could be deemed an auxiliary language, being linguistically neutral and able to facilitate communication among earthlings.
Despite not having gathered much success in its times, the idea of a cross-cultural language resurfaced in the 19th century when languages such as Volapük, Solresol, and above all Esperanto were created. Let’s see them (rubbing hands).
Solresol, musical conlang
Solresol or “La Langue Universelle”, as the name suggests, is a musical language invented in 1827 by the violinist and composer François Sudre; subsequently, Vincent Gajewski popularised it as the president of the Central Committee for the Study and Advancement of Solresol, founded by Madame Sudre. This conlang has no specific pronunciation rules other than the standard reading of the solfège. 🎵
Wait a second, did I say solfège? Right, because the main method of communication in this tongue is by using the seven solfège syllables, which is a form of solmization. And you may argue: what the heck is solmization? Glad you asked! It’s the do re mi fa sol la si thing you can use when just thinking about the notes as A, B, C and so on doesn’t work. A B C does not help you remember pitches, do re mi does.
So, in Solresol, those do re mi syllables may be accented, lengthened, repeated. In its morphology, words are divided according to meaning and function and differentiated by three main features: the initial syllable, word length, and whether it has a pair of repeated syllables.
Let’s move to Germany and fast forward to the end of the 19th century now.
Volapük is a conlang created between 1879 and 1880 by the German priest Johan Martin Schleyer, who believed that God in a dream tasked him with creating an international language.
This language, whose grammar was based on European languages and whose vocabulary was mostly English, gained momentum at the end of the century, and by 1889, there were an estimated 283 clubs and 25 periodicals in or about Volapük. 🤯
And now, dear linguofriend, it’s high time to talk about the most renowned non-fictional conlang: Esperanto.
Esperanto, queen of the conlang realm
Her Highness the Esperanto 👸 was created in 1887 by the Polish doctor Ludwig Zamehof to establish itself as a politically and socially neutral language that could easily be learned and spoken by people. From then on, its popularity went through the roof: nowadays it is spoken in 115 different countries (its speakers are called Esperantists), other than having more than 25.000 books written or translated in this language, as well as 100 magazines available in Esperanto.
Its vocabulary contains around 900 roots words from Germanic and Latin families, such as Italian, French, Yiddish, English (among others) and its glossary was defined in the book “Unua Libro” (“First Book” in English) by its creator back in 1887.
Its phonetic is quite straightforward since every letter can only be pronounced one way, and each sound can only be spelt one way. Esperanto’s grammar consists of 16 uncomplicated rules among which it’s worth mentioning the absence of indefinite articles, a fixed ending for nouns (“-o” for singular and “-j” for plural), and adjectives (“-a”), a fixed meaning for all prepositions, and the absence of cases apart from nominative and accusative.
Hungry for more? Then Teach Yourself’s Complete Esperanto may interest you: it’s a full six-meal course, from grammar to phonetics and all in between, provided by Tim Owen and Judith Meyer, who is the High Priest and the Holy Matriarch of Esperanto. Interesa, ĉu ne? interesting, isn’t it? 🤓
And now, let’s switch to a different family of the big conlang tribe.
As hinted in some lines above, languages are not only invented to facilitate human interaction but also for experimental purposes. That’s, my linguofriend, the case of engelangs: conlangs created mostly by linguists and philosophers to explore aspects of languages or hypotheses about how languages work.
Toki Pona, minimalist conlang
One of the most famous engineered tongues is Toki Pona, an engelang created in 2001 by the Canadian linguist and translator Sonja Lang, who dreamed of understanding the meaning of life thanks to this language made of just 120 words (!!) in its original state. But don’t worry, as of today Toki Pona consists of more words: 137, to be precise. 😁
This conlang took its roots from various languages among which English, Esperanto, Finnish, Croatian, Japanese, Lojban, Tongan, Cantonese and others. There are only 14 sounds in Toki Pona and believe it or not, the 137 words can be combined to create compound words. Here is a sample:
jan ali li kama lon nasin ni: ona li ken tawa li ken pali. jan ali li kama lon sama. jan ali li jo e ken pi pilin suli. jan ali li ken pali e wile pona ona. jan ali li wile pali kepeken nasin ni: ona li jan pona tawa jan ante.
I’m sure the translation would look familiar: 😀
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
By depicting Toki Pona we have just said that among the languages it drew inspiration from there is Lojban.
Lojban?, you’d argue 😅 Let’s talk about it.
Lojban, logical conlang
Well, Lojban is a logical, constructed language created back in 1987 by the Logical Language Group, a non-profit organization to promote the scientific study of the relationships between language, thought, and human culture. And with that in mind, its members have invented Lojban, aiming at getting rid of any syntactical ambiguity. Ah, the Logical Language Group, my people. 😂
Drawing from different languages, including computer programming and logic, Lojban is proposed to be spoken among exponents of different linguistic backgrounds, as a means of machine learning, a tool to explore the terrain between human language and software, to be used to perform research about artificial intelligence and as an educational tool.
To check whether these guys are serious or fooling around, search for Lojban-written oeuvre: you’ll find work written or translated entirely in Lojban, say poetry, say short texts, say novels such as “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, “The Metamorphosis“, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” or “The Little Prince” (is there a language The Little Prince hasn’t been translated to?).
As for Toki Pona, here you have a sample of Lojban (the same sample):
ro remna cu se jinzi co zifre je simdu’i be le ry. nilselsi’a .elei ry. selcru .i ry. se menli gi’e se sezmarde .i .ei jeseki’ubo ry. simyzu’e ta’i le tunba
Here’s the English original:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
For the category three linguonerds out there, The Complete Lojban Language is your go-to text if you want to know a lot about Lojban: it’s not a textbook for achieving a C1 in it, but rather a guidebook to this marvellous language experiment. The author is the Pontiff of Lojban, so you are in good hands.
Conlangs are an open book for… writers and filmmakers
If it is true, as it is true, that conlangs are mainly devised for communication goals, it should not come as a surprise that a deluge of constructed languages has been created for interaction purposes yes, but also for fictional products such as books, videogames or movies. 🎥
In this respect, manifold tongues have been crafted to provide an even more immersive experience in fictional worlds: oftentimes, this little but brilliant touch gave an extra boost of popularity to these products, consigning them to history and bringing the running battle between fiction and reality to the next level. 💪
So, could a list of conlangs in fictional work miss here? Of course not, it couldn’t! So, here you have it.
Ah, and kea tìkin. (I let you guess the meaning (and the language) of this phrase. 😛)
Dothraki (Games of Thrones, oh yeah): conlang of the eastern steppe
Games of Thrones has been without any doubt the most breathtaking serial (as well as editorial) hit of the last million years, raising the bar of fictional products. But apart from its epic, matchless twists of events and its iconic characters, what pops up quite glaringly for a language lover is the narrative the series has been able to carry on thanks to the wise usage of conlangs. They have been a means to an end.
The first of them is Dothraki, the tongue created by David J. Peterson to give voice to the homonymous nomadic people of horse riders living beyond the “Painted Mountains”: initially thought to be a complementary element in the book saga, the Dothraki language currently consists of more or less 3.000 words, which turned it into a language fully usable.
Its inventor took inspiration from both Arabic and Spanish from a standpoint but his masterstroke was the one of founding the language on the culture of Dothraki people itself, excluding any term that cannot be compatible with their needs or uses. That’s why in Dothraki there is a raft of ways to say “horse” but no one is devoted to the word “thank you”. Once again, it’s the culture that devises the language, not the opposite. Even in fictional plays.
And remaining in Essos, here comes another superb language.
High Valyrian (Games of Thrones): the ancient conlang from Essos
There’s another emblematic conlang that jumped out of the ingenious mind of David J. Peterson: High Valyrian, the noblest – and featured – language of the Valyrian family, which made its debut in the book A Song of Ice and Fire and then became a mainstay of Games of Thrones.
As for Dothraki, in its infancy, High Valyrian could count on just 56 words while now the conlang has more than a whopping 2.000, I mean: two thousand. 🤯
The reason is no mystery: George R. R. Martin is a master worldbuilder and multiple times he said he is floored by Tolkien’s langverse every time he opens his books, but his intention as a narrator was never that of crafting his languages in detail. That’s why the producers had to dial David J. Peterson for the job, and that’s why the then-young linguist was tasked to do the job.
Now back to Valyrio Eglie… 🐉
Grammar-wise, it’s a highly complicated language since whoever will be curious enough to grapple with it will have to face four gender classes (lunar class, solar class, terrestrial class, and aquatic class), four grammatical numbers (singular, plural, collective, and paucal), eight noun cases (nominative, accusative, dative, genitive, vocative, locative, instrumental, and comitative), and verb conjugations.
Without spoiling it up too much if you haven’t enjoyed yet the GoT phenomenon, High Valyrian was the mother tongue of the land known as Valyrian Freehold, a mighty empire located in the eastern continent where the Targaryen were rulers. Keep in mind that the ancient Valyria was a hell of a place, that at a certain point was destroyed like Atlantis: it’s what posterity called The Doom of Valyria. 🌋
Nonetheless, High Valyrian survived the catastrophe: the Targaryen clan would keep it as their mother tongue among themselves, Red Priests and Priestesses use it in their fiery rituals and occasionally to talk to one another, and eventually, the language didn’t cease to be spoken as a living language before morphing into several vernaculars: Meereenese Valyrian, Lyseni Valyrian, Yunkish Valyrian, Astapori Valyrian, Pentoshi Valyrian, Braavosi Valyrian, etc.
In the mind of George R. R. Martin, High Valyrian was the equivalent of Latin and its vernaculars our Romance languages, aka Romanian, Portuguese, French, etc. Were the Bastard Valyrian though unintelligible to one another? Not according to one of the prominent characters, Tyrion Lannister, who in one of the last pages of the saga said that “not so much a dialect as nine dialects on the way to becoming separate tongues”. Again, the tracks Romance languages were marching on in the High Middle Ages. 🛤️ Sōnar mastan
Quenya (The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings): Arda’s equivalent to Latin
Other than being one of the most influential writers to have ever stepped foot on Earth (and I’m being quite conservative), J.R.R. Tolkien has been also a prolific designer of conlangs, which have fleshed out his unrivalled books.
If we think that when Tolkien was 13 he created Nevbosh (a substitution cypher) and shortly after he devised his first conlang (Naffarin), it shouldn’t be striking that he’s also the brain behind the whole linguistic world sustaining The Hobbit and most importantly The Lord of the Rings, which is probably the most successful fantasy saga in history. Hmm, take probability out of the last statement. 🙃
Elvish languages are the ones that underpin the narrative of this masterpiece and out of them, we can easily extract at least two conlangs that stand out: the first one is Quenya, the language spoken by the High Elves of Eldamar, and it draws inspiration from Finnish (primarily), Latin, and Greek, three tongues that Tolkien himself knew between well and insanely well.
Quenya serves the invented Tengwar script to be written and has 10 cases, specifically the nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, instrumental, possessive, locative, allative, ablative, and respective. 😮
If you haven’t read the books (yet), you still have heard Quenya in the movies and series inspired by the British author’s novels. Take <MASSIVE SPOILER COMING> Aragorn’ song as soon as he is crowned by Gandalf: that’s Quenya.
Sindarin (The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings): daily tongue of Elves
Sindarin is another prime example of how flourish was Tolkien’s linguistic propensity. This is the language spoken by Grey Elves of Talarin and it’s mainly based on Welsh, despite showing the consonant mutations typical of Celtic languages.
Sindarin shares some traits of its grammar with its progenitor, which is Quenya, and the influence of Welsh in its construction is so preponderant that its phonology is pretty much the same. 😲
As said, mutations are a distinctive trait of the tongue and, more specifically, Sindarin has three different types of mutation (ed. in linguistics, a change in a vowel sound caused by a sound in the following syllable): soft mutation, nasal mutation, and occlusive mutation, which can be triggered by cases, prepositions, and articles.
In addition, Sindarin has a small number of attested verbs, aka those known to have existed and been used in a specific language in the past: in this case, they are mainly divided into basic verbs (that have stems that end in a consonant) and derived verbs (that incorporate some sort of derivational morpheme, like a case ending). 🤩
Sindarin is one of those linguistic wonders that, one way or another, even people that like vasectomy more than conlangs eventually fall in love with. It’s been immensely featured all the way from Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings to Amazon’s The Rings of Power.
Resuming, in both Sindarin and Quenya there are strata of meaning, etymology, phonetics that are mind-boggling. But despite him being overly fond of Elves and Elvish tongues, Tolkien poured all his skillfulness also into the creation of other languages for the rest of his creatures: Entish for the tree-shepherds, Valarin for the Valars, Khuzdûl for the dwarves, Adûnaic for the Men of Númenor, Orcish for the orcs and some twenty others.
So, you would concur that it’s impossible to overemphasize the extent of Mr Tolkien’s work.
Na’vi (Avatar): conlang of Pandora
Raise your hand if you have watched Avatar – The Way of The Water! Well, even if you didn’t, I think it’s worth spending a couple of words on the language spoken by the inhabitants of Pandora, the setting of one of the biggest blockbusters ever shot: Avatar, indeed.
Back in the day, this movie (which has now been turned into a saga) came out of the blue and got unprecedented praise. Other than its unquestionable success on the screen, what stroke the most a language lover was the tongue spoken by the extraterrestrial humanoids starring in the movie, namely the same-named Na’vi, created by the filmmaker himself, the one and only James Cameron, and then enriched by the pen and mind of the linguist Paul Frommer. 🧠
The Na’vi language is almost completely oral with no writing system but based on pictograms and some body language. Despite the existence of a variety of dialects, the Na’vi language is largely shared by the whole species and has remained unchanged for thousands of years.
Curiously enough, having Na’vi people have only four fingers per hand, their counting system is based on the number eight, to the point that whatever number beyond 16 (the sum of all fingers and toes on their body) was simply called using the word pxay (many). 😑
Klingon (Star Trek): cult conlang from the space explorers
In a post like this, it’d be impossible to miss Klingon, one of the oldest fictional conlangs, that spoken in the generational sci-fi masterpiece Star Trek. 🚀
The tongue initially developed by the linguist Mark Okrand is nowadays made of more than 3.000 fully-functional words and it’s ingrained in the pop culture since some fans of the series were brave enough to write songs in Klingon and sing them in their MARRIAGE. Apart from those jaw-dropping testimonies also timeless masterworks such as Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” have been translated entirely in Klingon! 😬
For whoever is interested in learning Klingon, there is a whole array of resources available: textbooks, dictionaries, self-teaching methods in audio format, graded readers… in short, you can easily find everything you may need to reach this goal.
Klingon is serious stuff, no matter the fun they make of it in here:
Sheldon says: bortaS bIr jablu’DI’ reH QaQqu’ nay. As someone already noted, there’s room for improvement in the voiceless uvular affricate, the Q sound that is rendered as qχ in the International Phonetic Alphabet.
Ah: as Wil Wheaton confirms, it means “revenge is a dish best served cold”. ❄️
Newspeak (1984): queen of dystopian conlangs
Newspeak of maybe of the hitting examples of how a language is intertwined with the social setting of the place where the tongue is spoken.
In his classic Nineteen Eighty-Four, the well-known writer George Orwell crafted Newspeak intending to depict the dark side of the society in which his book was set, a totalitarian superstate where self-expression, personal identity, and free will were labelled as CRIMES. 🤨
Newspeak has, contrary to the “Oldspeak” (nothing else than standard English), a simplified grammar and a limited vocabulary which, in the work, is specifically designed to put a brake on critical thinking and nip in the bud any subversive concept.
Additionally, dichotomies are the constituents of the language itself; nothing that comes out of pleasure/pain or happiness/sadness is allowed. Sentences are short and words are simple and divided into 3 categories:
- A (describing day-to-day activities like eating or drinking),
- B (words used to convey simplified political messages), and
- C (scientific and technical terms used as a supplement to A and B words). 😨
This fictional conlang is thought to have many points in common with the system of Basic English (British American Scientific International Commercial English) proposed by Charles Kay Ogden in 1930, a language in which Orwell showed interest while working at the BBC during the II World War.
If you enjoy conlangs, fictional constructed languages, and Jason Momoa (I’m talking to you, GoT fan) then don’t miss this documentary on the art of crafting tongues. If you are lucky enough, it’s available on Prime Video in your country!
Can a conlang stand the test of time always unchanged?
Without mincing words, it’s safe to say that speakers are the heart of every language, be it natural or consciously devised. In this respect, they are the movers and shakers of a tongue, allowing it to evolve. Just as society evolves, the same happens to the language as well.
Conlangs are no exception. 😎
To this end, multiple studies have been performed on whether or not conlangs could be acquired naturally, namely be learned as a mother tongue, and, if this was possible, how this different learning approach would have impacted the conlang itself.
One of the most stunning studies on this topic was conducted in 1996 when 350 individual cases of Esperanto speakers were spotted as native speakers of this conlang, which had been handed down to them from older generations. 😸
Even more astonishing are the results that arose from the study led by Professor Ben Berger on a sample of 8 people who have acquired Esperanto as a native language to examine the development of Esperanto as a natural language.
His findings proved that the way the sample used grammar patterns was divergent from the standard used in Esperanto as a second language. In particular, the word order that, despite being as a rule of thumb free in Esperanto, turned into a more fixed syntax, causing a major change in the directions for the use of this language, although this was strictly limited to the sample analyzed for the experiment. 😸😸
As of today, some 2000 Esperanto native speakers are thought to be around, while other attempts of raising bilingual children of conlangs such as Klingon, as Dr D’Armond Speers, a member of Klingon Language Institute, have not borne satisfactory fruit.
Conclusions on conlangs
So, there we are, at the end of the ride! 🔚
I hope you found interesting this little overview of the exciting world of conlangs and how much ground they have gained in multiple fields related to the world of languages, not to mention the tremendous relevance they have in our modern-day society.
But before hurrying to learn some Dothraki in view of the next binge-watching session of Game of Thrones, let me ask you if there is one (or more) of the 312 conlangs existing that you are keen on learning, or maybe a constructed language with which you have already grappled. Hm? I’ll be waiting for your answers in the comment section here below. 👇
But if your sense of responsibility compels you to learn more essential, natural languages for the near future, I would recommend taking a look at these guides:
Your conlang enthusiast,
Matteo (you can also find me here –> Matteo’s LinkedIn)
PS: Qapla’! 👽