LCC2 – Jim Henry – Glossotechnia

Unfortunately, the best part of Glossotechnia,
Jim Henry’s conlang creation card game, can’t be seen (or heard) in a talk: you have to play it. For those who have never gotten a chance, or who perhaps have a good idea of how one plays, but not what it’s like, let me give you the low-down.

It may not seem like it, but let me assure you of one thing: Glossotechnia is a competitive game. It didn’t seem like it when I heard about it, but one really can’t get a feel for a game until one picks up the cards, so to speak.

The basic premise of the game is as follows. You have a deck of cards, and everyone gets a few (the number depends on how you play), and these cards have things written on them like: [k], SOV, plural, etc. On your turn, you can play a card, and that will add to the language. So, if the language doesn’t have a word order, you play your SOV card, and now it does.

As the language is being built up, there’s an over-arching challenge players are working towards: to translate a challenge sentence which will complete the game. To translate it, each player is allowed to add one word to the lexicon each turn (impossible before there’s a phonology, but even with one phoneme played, you can start to add things). As originally played, the word is defined by the player who must act it out, rather than simply saying what the word means.

Now about the competition. Each player has a vested interest in the language—either because of the secret sentence they’re trying to translate which no one else sees, or simply because they’re playing—and different opinions about the direction of the language (and luck of the draw) can lead to miniature battles regarding its construction.

For example, when I played, I decided the language had grown far too concatenative. Thus, I started to create non-concatenative elements, and a bunch of other stuff just to mess with people (e.g. taking already coined words and then coining a suffix out of the last syllable, leading to an already defined word now being composed of a root and a suffix, even though its meaning was basic). David Salo and I had quite a battle of wits going before he had to retire for the evening (which means that I won by default. Swish!).

If you can manage, you should try to make it to LCC3,
where we’ll be playing Glossotechnia. Hopefully this will become a permanent, albeit informal, feature of future conferences. (Though do note: I play to win—and I’m not above reanalyzing what has already been proposed!)

This video is part of the 2nd Language Creation Conference, held at UC Berkeley on July 7-8, 2007, and hosted by Language Creation Society.

We would like to add closed captioning / subtitles to all the videos from LCC2, including this one. If you are willing to help, install Subtitle Workshop, and email your transcribed .sub file to In return, you’ll get credit and a free copy of the DVD with this video.

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5 Responses to “LCC2 – Jim Henry – Glossotechnia”

  1. Martin Says:

    unfortunately, itunes doesn’t seem to able to deal with this video. I tried to download through there several times, but each time it either stopped the download or told me something like “file may be corrupted or in a format itunes cannot play” or something similar.
    I really enjoy the podcast. The content is interesting and I look forward to seeing what else is on the way.

  2. David Peterson Says:

    Really? That’s odd. I’m subscribed via iTunes myself, and it had no problem with this one. It acted just like any other. What version of iTunes do you have, and what OS are you running?

  3. Jotomicron Says:

    I get that “error” too. Seems my version of iTunes (which is up to date) doesn’t like it either.
    I’m using iTunes for Windows Vista.

    Anyway, the video seems to be available on the blog, so I’m downloading it instead.

    Nice podcast, by the way.

  4. Sai Emrys Says:

    I’ve tweaked the video thing. Please comment if it’s fixed or still broken.

  5. Jotomicron Says:

    Still no good, Sai.
    Says ‘The file might be corrupted, or a file type that iTunes cannot play.’

    Well, I will get the file from the blog. Thanks, anyway!