LCC2 – David Peterson – The Evolution of Sidaan

Sai speaking:

David’s not kidding when he says he’s a serial monogamist conlanger—’prolific’ is more like it.
If you take a look at his site, you’ll find 12 languages. Some of them are quite elaborate, with well-made orthographies (in font form!) as well as a wide range of language classes borrowing from paradigms all over the world.

That’s not all of it, though; he also has done a fair amount of meta work as well. There’s his Sign Language IPA (with a signed conlang to go with it!). There’s his FAQ on ergativity which is, IMHO, the best explanation I’ve read thus far (with Thomas Payne’s in Describing Morphosyntax a close second).

He’s contributed to the community, too; being a speaker at each Language Creation Conference (LCC1: “Down With Morphemes” ppt; LCC2: this (plus the morpheme workshop); LCC3: Orthographies, Fonts, and Philosophy) and a great collaborator and things-getting-doner behind the LCS and this podcast.

His five hilarious articles for the Speculative Grammarian and his blog are pretty exemplary of what he’s like in normal interaction: a combination of productive and light-hearted I see too rarely.

The Smiley Award that he created is one of the best examples—it displays real interest in others’ work, from both technical and personal perspectives. Incidentally, this is something that we-as-the-LCS would like to extend at some point in the future, to create a yearly competition for conlangers, à la the Interactive Fiction awards. If you have ideas for challenges that would interest the whole community, please let us know.

(I do have to say that his taste in web design is not exactly my normal style, though… )

David speaking:

Of my three LCC talks, this one was by far the least popular.
Realistically, this shouldn’t have been a surprise, since no one had ever heard of Sidaan, I hadn’t done much with it, and historical syntactic change isn’t a real crowd pleaser. I must admit, the lackluster reaction is probably what led me to all but abandon the project (I don’t think I’ve worked on the language since).

Despite that, I’m glad I did it, and I’m glad it’s up somewhere, and this is why. The thing to take away from this talk, in my opinion (well, if you’re a conlanger), is that (again, in my opinion), we need a different metric for naturalness than what we’ve got. If a conlanger is limited to what has occurred in the history of the extent or dead natural languages, then creating a naturalistic language is nothing more than rolling the dice—something like creating a D&D character as opposed to an author of a novel creating an entirely new fictional character.

Specifically (and I plan on trying to spell this out at length at some point in time way off in the distant future), there must be a conlang-internal metric for determining whether a change or a feature is natural. What I attempted with Sidaan in this talk is to effect a conlang-internal change without reference to a natural language. Whether it has happened or not in a natural language is irrelevant. The question is, if the language existed at some time x as I created it, could the change I effected plausibly occur the way it did?

Regarding natural languages, then, one oughtn’t find a change that occurred in a natural language and then implement it with the idea that this is the only way to create a naturalistic conlang. Rather, if one finds out later on that a natlang’s already dunnit except worse, one should be gratified, and say, “You see? I told you it could work!”

(P.S. If teal and purple weren’t meant to go together
, just how on earth does one explain Miami Vice?) [Ed. by Sai: One word – “abomination”. Things that aren’t meant to happen seem to happen quite often… :-P]

(P.P.S. Since the talk, my fiancée and I got married, and we’re still at it.)

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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2 Responses to “LCC2 – David Peterson – The Evolution of Sidaan”

  1. Jeff Jones Says:

    Actually, I think this may be the most useful of the talks I heard at LCC2 & 3.

    BTW, what’s this _minimalism_ link at the bottom of the page? A place to generate parameters???

  2. David Peterson Says:

    Thanks, Jeff; I appreciate it. 🙂

    That “minimalism” link is to a page that uses the style sheet upon which this style sheet (the one we use for the podcast blog) is based.