LCC2 – John Quijada – Language Personalities

November 30th, 2009 by David Peterson


Everyone who saw John Quijada’s LCC1 talk will undoubtedly remember it forever.
I know I will. John’s LCC1 talk set the bar pretty high, but I think he was up to the challenge.

The first time around, John gave us an introduction to the role that metaphor plays in language—something vitally important for a conlang, yet oft ignored (or tacitly assumed). This time, John introduces us to the concept of Sprachgefühl, or “Speechfeeling”: The way in which a language’s sound system works to give the language a consistent “feel” or character.

Before commenting, just to get an idea of how much fun a John Quijada talk can be, I urge you to jump to the 11:30 mark in the video above (I know a video that’s more than an hour long can be daunting). Just take a look and a listen to John’s example (the part where he asks if anyone can identify the language being spoken). This guy has a fine ear for language—one of the best I’ve ever seen.


Now for the meat of the talk.
The question John explores is how to create a phonaesthetic feel for one’s language: How to effect a perception one is going for, and how to change the feel, perhaps, of what one already has going.

John starts with an examination of phonetic/phoneme inventories. What John points out is that certain elements (an abundance of “guttural” or back consonants, a series [or more than one series] of consonants with a secondary articulation, rounded front vowels, etc.) will be noticeable, and will stand out to the listener. It’s completely unsurprising for a language to have, say, /p t k m n/ (if anything, their absence will make the language noticeable [think Hawaiian]), so it’s the other elements that will help to distinguish a language.

John goes on talk about phonotactics (allowable syllable structures, etc.), and then morpho-phonology (reduplication, stress shifts, mutation, sandhi—definitely watch the whole thing to get all the specifics), but there seems to be an enduring theme throughout the entire talk.

Essentially, there are target areas in any language that have the potential to give that language a particular feel. For example, if you allow for CVC syllables, where two syllables come into contact thus (CVC)(CVC), it gives rise to the potential for something to occur which will give a language a particular Sprachgefühl (and, of course, I’m talking about those two middle consonants). Any number of things can happen: (1) Nothing; (2) progressive assimilation (total or partial); (3) regressive assimilation (total or partial); (4) lenition, etc. And if this change is consistent throughout the language, suddenly that phonological phenomenon becomes a characteristic part of the language which listeners will pick up on and identify.


Jump to 41:30, if you will.
(Or just wait for it to come up, and take note of it when you get there.) This is, perhaps, the most useful part of the talk for a conlanger. Here, John takes a contentless sentence (Apo ket olua taraskentel brihaprai) and manipulates it to produce sentences that sound radically different. Basically, the idea is that what you have with the first sentence is the phonemic version, but through synchronic sound changes and sandhi effects, the phonetic version can sound radically different—and furthermore, that the same language can be made to sound very different without changing the structure, or even the phonology.

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 conference@conlang.org.

LCC2 – Clint Hutchinson – Universal Semantic Markers

June 23rd, 2009 by David Peterson


It’s funny.
Many of the conlangers in the audience during Clint’s talk (myself included) were immediately fascinated by the machine Clint used when he was a court reporter. In fact, if you look at the progress bar on the video, you’ll notice that Clint’s talk ends when the bar is about a quarter of the way through. Most of the video is actually his question and answer session, and most of the questions are about Machine Shorthand.

Conlangers, though, by their very nature, find language fascinating, so I suppose this shouldn’t be surprising. After all, in Machine Shorthand, we conlangers in attendance were presented with a radical representation system that most of us, I’d wager, had never encountered. There’s a fantastic moment on this video somewhere after the halfway point where Clint shows exactly how one types “stop”, and how it shows up on the paper, and after he finishes his explanation, everyone in the audience says, “OHHHHH!!!” It’s priceless.


As for the actual content of Clint’s talk,
the system he presents (and to see it, since you can’t see the whiteboard in the video, take a look at the LCC2 program) makes sense, given his background. Clint has a degree in linguistics, learned several languages with different scripts, and worked as a court reporter, and what you have in his system (this is on page 43) is a kind of classificatory that would be very useful to a court reporter who knew a bit about language and linguistics.

For a conlanger, it does, I admit, make me wonder…

What if (and bear with me if this has already been done or pondered already) one created a kind of meta language which could be translated automatically into a conlang? It might use some markers similar to what Clint has come up with, but, of course, they would have to be expanded, but if it worked, it would be quite handy for someone with four or more languages.

Here’s what I’m envisioning. Let’s say you have a sentence like “I saw a bird”. That would be translated into four of my languages below as follows:

  • Kamakawi
    • Ka mata ei i fuila.
    • /past-new.subject see 1sg.pronoun object bird/
  • Zhyler
    • Ivželer matlarum.
    • /bird-accusative see-past-1sg./
  • Kelenala
    • Ma yu ay yo.
    • /1sg.pronoun past see bird/
  • Njaama
    • Lí k’óó!á wa tekaané sá.
    • /object bird 1sg.pronoun perfect-see 3sg.pronoun/

Now, if you’re just dealing with these four languages, you don’t need a lot of information. Basically, in the meta language, you encode the lowest common denominator for each sentence. The code would look something like this:

V[“see”, past, perfect; N1(exp), N2(stim)], N1[“1sg. pronoun”, 1st person, singular, exp, subject(new), definite], N2[“bird”, 3rd person, singular, stim, patient, indefinite]

Yes, this seems like overkill, but here’s the payoff: If you enter that, the idea is it will automatically generate the correct translations in each of those four languages.

The way it work is this. Take one feature, the “subject(new)” feature. For Zhyler, all it needs to see is “exp” and “1st. person” and it’ll know how to deal with it, so it’ll see “subject(new)” and ignore it. The same with Kelenala and Njaama. Kamakawi, though, will see “subject(new)”, and know that the marker out in front will have to be ka and not ke or kae.

Obviously, it’d be much more complicated than this (for example, each language would have to have an entire set of rules just to interpret this information, and then to get the words in the right order), but if it worked…man! You could write a text in this semantic meta language and it could be instantly translated into dozens of one’s own conlangs!


As a final thought,
I love the way the LCC casts such a wide net in terms of presenters and attendees. We get all different types of conlangers, and others who aren’t conlangers but are creative, interesting, and interested people. The result is a kind of bubbling cauldron of linguistic creativity that gets to bubble up and boil over for a weekend. It’s both inspiring and a lot of fun.

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 conference@conlang.org. In return, you’ll get credit and a free copy of the DVD with this video.

Interview with Arika Okrent

May 28th, 2009 by David Peterson
 
Sai interviews Arika Okrent about her new book In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build a Perfect Language. Arika attended the 2nd Language Creation Conference, as well as a Klingon qep’a’, Lojban Logfest, and Esperanto congress, not to mention the numerous interviews and other research evident in her book. She discusses the history of language invention, what it means for a language to be successful, and some stories that didn’t make it into the book.

Order In the Land of Invented Languages on Amazon.com

mp3The Book’s WebsiteOkrent’s WebsiteArticles & interviews in the press

It’s funny. When Arika Orent says “I don’t have the intense concentration” to create a language, I think, “Is it concentration, or free time…?”


In some ways, I think it’s easier to be an enthusiastic, sincere auxlanger
than an anythingelselanger, for the simple reason that it’s easier to justify. “Why are you creating a language?”, they ask. “Because I’m trying to facilitate human communication.” Results aside, that’s a lofty goal. If I was attempting to create a language for the benefit of humankind—regardless of what humankind thought of it—I’d be much more comfortable writing “Language Creator” under “Profession” on my taxforms than I am now.

(No, I don’t really write “Language Creator” as my profession on my taxes. Hey, what do I write…? Gadabout? Blogger? Nogoodnik? Jack of all trades? Master of Linguistics…?) [Sai: … English teacher, Ex-?]

As usual, the act of creating a language is introduced, in Arika Orent’s book In the Land of Invented Languages, through the lens of philosophical and auxiliary languages. This is a trend I think many of us have gotten used to, but it seems like a good time to ponder why it exists.

Looking at language creation from the outside, I suppose the crazier stories or more daring languages are more interesting to talk about than those with smaller goals and smaller audiences. (For example, googling “John Lennon” you get 13.2 million hits, which dwarfs Ringo Starr’s 2 million hits.) An international auxiliary language, by design, has lofty goals and a big audience, even if the audience is unwilling or unaware.

I’m tempted to draw an analogy between our situation and the work of Nietzsche and Samuel Beckett… Everyone knows Nietzsche claimed “God is dead”, but how many know that Samuel Beckett wrote the words, “On. Say on. Be said on,” and that he intended them to mean something sensical? Beckett’s prose (especially his later works) can be seen as a deliberate assault on language itself, but his work was intended to be read and appreciated—perhaps discussed. His work was not meant to change the way humans live their lives. In this way, the philosopher, their work, and their life is of greater interest to the uninitiated, it seems, than the author of artistic fiction. But what is the nature of that type of interest, I wonder…? And is it useful, or desirable?


In the Land of Invented Languages is an enjoyable read
, and both conlangers and nonlangers (ha. Anyone remember when we came up with that term?) will find it fascinating. What I like most about it—and what I think is most important for the conlanging community—is that Okrent treats the art and its practitioners gently and lovingly. Unlike so many of the articles and books of the past (Yaguello… *shudder*), this one is positive from start to finish. Though some see the mainstream popularization of language creation as a mixed blessing at best, if our lifelong (pre)occupation must be made visible to the outside world, we couldn’t hope for a better introduction than this one.


(Shameless plug:
My take on the use of “they” as a singular third person pronoun in English!)



This is the LCS’s adjunct audio cutting monkey, Arnt Richard Johansen, speaking:

Back in 2006, something was stirring in the online conlang community. There were persistent rumours that someone had started doing research for a book about conlangs. When I got reports from reliable sources that someone named Arika Okrent had been seen asking questions at both qep’a’, Logfest, and even at the LCC, I was filled with anticipation.

And dread.

This was an outsider, a normal person (well, as normal as someone who has a PhD in linguistics can be), who had been to the inner circles and seen the secret vice in all its nerdy splendour. What would she make of it? Would she understand why we are doing this, and be able to explain it? Or would we get more of the same old dismissive ridicule that we are seeing from the mainstream media?

So I waited. And I pre-ordered it on Amazon. Then I waited some more. In the mean time, Daniel L. Everett wrote a review of the book for SFGate.com, where he lampooned the “misguided people [who] try to invent languages” as “linguistic Frankensteins”. “Uh-oh,” I thought, “How bad can it be?”

Well, I don’t know where Dr. Everett got his opinions on language inventors from, but I hardly think it could be from this book. When it finally arrived, it turned out that Okrent managed to take my expectations and turn them on their heads. On the one hand, In the Land of Invented Languages is a celebration of the frivolous aspects of constructed languages, such as those languages that are made solely as an artistic expression, or the merry, multicultural atmosphere found at Esperanto congresses.

On the other hand, the book is a damning critique of the quest for the perfect language, which is indeed what most language inventors prior to our internet-fueled era set out to do. From reading this book, one can learn that the best an IAL inventor can hope for is that no one cares about his project. The alternative is far worse. Take for example the heart-wrenching story of Charles Bliss. What he intended for Blissymbolics was for it to be an ideographic IAL. Instead, it took off as a teaching aid for disabled children, and each country that used it adapted it to their needs and their spoken language, in the process destroying its internationalness.

Reading In the Land of Invented Languages made me start to rethink my relationship with my favourite constructed language: Lojban. I still think it would be fun if everyone spoke it, but Jeeg help us if someone mixes it up with English and that becomes the dominant variety of it.

Audio edited by Virgo Audio Production Services; music by Gary Shannon.

LCC2 – David Peterson – The Evolution of Sidaan

May 10th, 2009 by Sai


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 conference@conlang.org. In return, you’ll get credit and a free copy of the DVD with this video.

Interview with Suzette Haden Elgin

April 19th, 2009 by David Peterson
 
Sai and Sally interview Suzette Haden Elgin about her language Láadan—its genesis, its goals, and its status as a linguistic experiment. They also discuss the nature of gender bias in language, and the evolving roles of language users.

MP3Elgin’s websiteLáadan Language LessonsEssay About LáadanElgin’s LiveJournal


I have to say, this gives me a chuckle, this interview
—primarily because Sai seems to be suffering from foot in mouth disease. Not that that’s his fault. Poor Sai is so sincere.


It’s interesting, Elgin mentions how difficult it is to introduce new vocabulary into an existing language (e.g. English).
One thing she mentions in particular is a gender-neutral third person singular pronoun. In English, we don’t have one (or, at least not an animate one). Elsewhere, Elgin mentions that much of what she’s observed is true of her generation, but not necessarily the younger (specifically, the more recent—the millennial) generations.

I think these two elements have converged in the behavior that current (especially younger) English speakers exhibit specifically with respect to the third person singular pronoun. When referring to a human being in English via a pronoun, one simply can’t use “it”, even though it’s technically gender-neutral, because it’s inanimate. That leaves one with “he” or “she”. If the gender of the referent isn’t known or if one is simply referring to a human of either gender (i.e. gender isn’t important), using either “he” or “she” seems rather inappropriate. So, what is one to do?

English speakers of the past had an answer to this question: Use “he”. Why? Because it was the default. Why is “he” the default? No reason. Seems pretty sexist, doesn’t it?

Many progressive (mainly academic) writers decided to try to fix this in the latter half of the twentieth century. Several attempts were made to create ex nihilo a gender-neutral pronoun (cf. “xe“), all of which failed. There is, of course s/he, which is a bit clunky, and some authors who write books with chapters alternate by chapter, using “he” for the odd chapters, and “she” for the even. One can even knock oneself out by using “one” anywhere one is forced to use a gender-neutral singular pronoun, but such a one might find one’s efforts to be cumbersome and unnatural.

So, what to do? Somehow, English speakers have found a way: they use “they”.

Think about it. “They” is gender-neutral and animate. Sure, it’s plural, but given how liberally European languages treat plural pronouns (French “vous” is the second person plural and the formal second person singular?! And don’t get me started on Spanish “ustedes”!), why can’t English speakers mess around with plurality? After all, it’s not as if the practice is brand new (though the coinage “themself”—the singular reflexive, as opposed to “themselves”—just might be).


I try to spread the word about this particular language fact everywhere I can.
It seems relevant to point it out here.

As a graduate student at UCSD, I and many others there worked with a Niger-Khordofanian language called Moro. It’s a fascinating language for a number of reasons, but one incredible thing we found has to do with gender.

In Moro, there are gendered words for humans—for example, the word for “man” is udzhi, and the word for “woman” is obwa. There isn’t a general word for “person”, though. In such a language, one is forced to make a choice. Spanish, for example, uses the masculine as the default (niño is “boy”, niña is “girl”, and niños is either “boys” or “children (of mixed gender)”). It’s been hypothesized that all language will do what Spanish does and choose the masculine term to be the gender-neutral or “basic” term over the feminine.

Not so with Moro.

Udzhi is “man”; obwa is “woman”; ladzhi is “men”; and lobwa is “women” or “people” (gender-neutral).

The phenomenon is pervasive, too. When we asked our native speaker (in English) if he had any children, he replied, “Four girls.” We followed with, “All girls, eh?” He replied, “No. Two boys, two girls.” In other words, he was borrowing his native practice right on over into English.

(Oh, and by the way: This practice hasn’t resulted in gender equality, by any means. Based on our investigation, it’s still very much a male-dominant culture.)


Elgin mentions two reasons she feels Láadan hasn’t caught on with women.
She discusses the second reason (that using Láadan causes women to feel vulnerable), but doesn’t discuss the first: that women are “too busy” to learn a language.

This reminded me of a discussion in which Sally participated on the Conlang List several years ago.

In 2005, Sally Caves (creator of Teonaht) conducted her “Lunatic Survey”: a general survey of the members of the Conlang List to see what generalizations could be found. The resulting discussion turned to the question of why, proportionately speaking, so few women conlang. I think one of the hypotheses Sally put forth was quite illuminating. In this message from 2005, she writes:

Perhaps competitive women, on the whole, don’t want to waste time on the road to social and professional success. I’ve known that since I was knee high to a grass hopper that “having it all” (profession, good sex life, marriage, money, social prestige, children) was urged very seriously on women starting in the last third of the twentieth century.

In answering the question of why women (real world women) didn’t take to Láadan and embrace it, perhaps one needs to step back and first remember that Láadan, aside from everything else, is a constructed language. In a world where success is so important, who could afford to “waste” time on anything that doesn’t translate immediately to social or professional success?

The answer is those that aren’t as concerned with social or professional success, or those who have already achieved it. Focusing on the former, who is more likely to be unconcerned about success: a young man or a young woman? I believe Sally suggests (she can correct me if I’ve misinterpreted what she’s said) that would be a young man, for whom success is all but certain—something that eventually will be attained; that doesn’t necessarily need to be fought for.



Addendum by Sai:

I think it’s important to pay attention to the caveat that Elgin gave: she intends to express the perceptions and unique communication needs of women, as interpreted by American women born in the early 1900s.

When I asked whether her communicative focus – aside from specific kinds of sexually female vocabulary, such as for various kinds of menstruation – was perhaps more accurately stated as being about emotions than about femaleness, her immediate example was that women want to express more fine-grained kinds of love than are available in English. I too use similarly nuanced descriptions of my feelings towards others. I – as a Generation Y androgyne – find it to be totally unrelated to sex. Her other examples in support of this idea of the femininity of Láadan are very similar – they work only under that caveat.

This reflects, as Elgin put it, the ongoing decrease in distinction in gender roles. Personally, I consider that a good thing, as I find strongly defined gender roles to be rather strange.

So perhaps in a sense, Elgin’s goal of enabling better forms of communication for women is indeed happening… just in a different way than planned.

Audio edited by Virgo Audio Production Services; music by Gary Shannon.

LCC2 – Jeff Burke – Language as Growth-in-Time

March 18th, 2009 by David Peterson


You know, what strikes me as the most amusing aspect of Jeff’s opener
is that if you look at his picture (the one before his talk starts), he looks an awful lot like a president, but not Lincoln. In fact, his picture rather reminds me of George Washington, or perhaps John Adams with James Madison’s eyes…

It’s always encouraging (to me, I suppose) to hear conlangers defend conlanging as art. The problem I have with many of the arguments I’ve heard against conlanging being an art (as opposed to something else much less creative, like putting together a puzzle) from conlangers themselves is that after a bit of back and forth, I often hear something like, “Well, you can call it whatever you want; I don’t consider it an art, and what I do isn’t art.” As if that’s an argument! I don’t paint well, and what I paint most certainly isn’t art, but that doesn’t mean that painting isn’t an art—and that’s what the issue is!

I know Jeff somewhat (or I should say I’ve been getting to know him better recently), and in addition to an expert conlanger, Jeff is also a fiction writer (so when he compares conlanging to writing in the beginning, he’s not speaking hypothetically: he’s speaking from experience). I think the comparison to fiction is quite apt. Consider, after all, what fiction is. In the most basic sense, it’s a transcription of events that never occurred. One might ask, what possible use could this serve? For example, why write a story about a fictional character when there are real live people everywhere in the world who are dying and whose stories will never be heard?

Of course, if you’ve ever read or heard a fictional story that’s affected you powerfully (and I gather that most people have, even if that story was something as simple as The Giving Tree), you won’t need to hear another defense of fiction; those were arguments for long ago that have been largely settled. One thing I find interesting in the comparison, though, is how similar the activities are.


With fiction, the canvas is wide open.
A writer can write about anything, even if it doesn’t make sense. Readers, though, judge the value of the work based on its goals. Many novels, for example, try to be realistic, and the reader can then judge how realistic the book is (how lifelike the characters are, how likely the reactions of the characters are, how believable the events…). Then there are any number of books that don’t try to be realistic; that try to express something in non-literal or fantastic ways. Conlangs, of course, are quite similar.

One important difference, though (or perceived difference) is that books, in the end, should try to tell us something. It would be odd to read a starkly realistic book that began with a woman leaving her house to go to the store, and ended after she’d picked up her third item at the store, with nothing else implied. There must be a reason that the author is showing us what they’re showing us—a goal, a purpose—perhaps a lesson, or a point of view.

Conlangs don’t differ, in my experience. There is a point; conlangs aren’t merely tools. What the user or appreciator is supposed to get, though, is something conlangers don’t generally talk about—perhaps something they don’t often think about. It’s there, though; there is a point—something we’re supposed to take away. It differs language by language, of course, but these goals or ideas (worldviews?) are something that shouldn’t be ignored, either by the creator or the appreciator.


(P.S.: If you’re going to LCC3 and you have a cold,
don’t sit near a mic! [Just teasing!] Or, perhaps more generally, recall that any sound you make during someone’s talk or during someone’s question and answer session will be heard the world over, and recorded for posterity. Cosmic, huh?)

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 lcs@conlang.org. In return, you’ll get credit and a free copy of the DVD with this video.

Interview with Tony Harris

March 10th, 2009 by David Peterson
 
Sai interviews Tony Harris about his language Alurhsa. The conversation covers such topics as the grammar of Alurhsa, Tony’s spirituality, and role a conlanger plays in the creation of a language.
mp3The Alurhsa WebsiteBoudewijn Rempt’s “Apologia pro Imaginatione”


It’s funny, because right off the bat, I recognized something familiar
in this interview. The first thing was, “Oh, I do remember Alurian!” I didn’t realize that Alurhsa and Alurian (or Aluric) were, in fact, the same thing.

And that leads to the next bit: the problem of naming. As you’ll hear, apparently “Alurian” and “Aluric” were doing fine as names until Tony found that “Alurian”, for example, occurs in a lot of personal names and other contexts (try googling “Alurian” [though note the first hit]). As a result, Tony decided to go with the native name, “Alurhsa”.

First, I’d note that this was bound to happen. If you name a conlang anything that ends in “-ian”, “-ese”, “-ic”, “-ish”, or any other of the very common English suffixes that get attached to real world language names, it’s only a matter of time before someone else comes up with it (with or without a language attached). (After all, if someone’s going to lie on a job application, what sounds more like a language: Aluric or Epiq?)

Second, I have had this happen to me. I created a language I initially called “Kele”, and added a section for it to my website, describing its bric-a-brac and what have you. And that’s how it lived happily for a couple years, I’d say. Then one day I received an appalling e-mail. Not only was there an existing natural language named “Kele”, but apparently someone had mistaken me for an expert on the Kele language, and was asking me questions about it! In fact, if you believe the internet (which is rarely a good idea), there are apparently two Kele languages: one Austronesian, and another Niger-Congo!

Luckily for the person who e-mailed me, I was also a linguistics student, and knew something about language and where one might go for more information. As a direct result of the exchange, though, I changed the name of my language to Kelenala, and thereafter, whenever I decided to name a language, I made liberal use of Google to make sure I wasn’t stepping on anyone’s toes.


Several conlangers listening to this interview might be taken aback
at the level of involvement Tony has with Alurhsa—especially the metaphysical stuff (the possible existence of speakers of Alurhsa in this or some other dimension; the religious aspect; etc.). But before you judge him, I ask you this: how fluent are you in your conlang? I, for example (as has been discussed before), have got the structure of most of my conlangs down, but always seem to be hunting for vocabulary. This is an experience (a condition?) that many conlangers share.

Pragmatically, then, let us consider: Which type of conlang-conlanger relationship seems to be more efficacious in developing fluency in a conlang? We’ve noted that a number of conlangers with an author-creation type of relationship can’t speak their languages, and, just off the top of my head, I can think of a number of other conlangers who have a more metaphysical relationship with their conlangs who speak it quite well.

So. Could the relationship be…causal? In a metaphysical way, perhaps. In a realistic way, it probably simply ensures a level of involvement with one’s language that may (not of necessity, but may) go into greater depth and take up more time than the usual level of involvement a conlanger has with their conlang. And what, after all, leads to fluency but time and involvement?

Audio edited by Virgo Audio Production Services; music by Gary Shannon.

3rd Language Creation Conference preview

March 5th, 2009 by Sai
 

The 3rd Language Creation Conference is only a month away.

We have a somewhat different assortment of presentations than the last two conferences.

At LCC2 we debuted three new presentation styles: minitalks (15 minute talks just about a particular language), workshops (1-2 hour hands-on practice of something), and panels / discussions. The feedback we received asked for more of these, so that’s what we’re doing. We’ve also added a new category—posters—so that people who don’t necessarily want to talk on stage can still present something of interest.

Two of our nine “posters” so far for LCC3 are in fact full exhibits in their own right. Steven Travis’ Tapissary was last displayed at the Amos Eno gallery in New York City (see it on YouTube). Donald Boozer’s Esperanto, Elvish, and Beyond was a major exhibit at the Cleveland Public Library for four months, as well as the subject of interviews in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the SETI Institute’s Are We Alone? radio show.


LCC3 also has a strong orthographic and artistic streak.

We’re excited to have the world premiere showing of a new short film, “Conlang”, by Swan Dive Films (see the sketch on YouTube).

Two of our talks come (broadly) from the world of electronic literature – John Cayley discussing Xu Bing’s Book From the Sky, and Diana Slattery about entheogen-inspired xenolinguistics, glossolalia, and her own ?orthography, Glide.

We also have several presentations on writing systems – including a presentation on Kelen’s Ceremonial Interlace Alphabet by Sylvia Sotomayor, a presentation on the practical design of non-linear writing systems by Schuyler Duveen, an introduction to orthography and font creation (with hands-on workshop!) by David Peterson, and a panel discussion about unusual orthographies.


Not being able to come in person doesn’t mean you can’t participate!

Just like with LCC2, LCC3 will be simulcast live online. You’ll be able to chat with others who are present virtually, as well as ask questions of the speaker through a moderator.

Unlike LCC2, whose simulcast was only in audio, LCC3’s simulcast will be in video, so you’ll have a better sense of what’s going on in the room.

All you have to do is go to http://conlang.org/lcc3/live.php at 8am EST on March 21st and 22nd.

Of course, LCC3 will eventually appear on this podcast as well, in higher quality.

LCC2 – Jim Henry – Glossotechnia

February 25th, 2009 by David Peterson


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 lcs@conlang.org. In return, you’ll get credit and a free copy of the DVD with this video.

The New LCS Blog and Me

February 20th, 2009 by David Peterson
 

Hi!

My name is David Peterson. If you’re a conlanger, you may know me from the Conlang-L, from my website, or perhaps from meeting me at an LCC. If you don’t know me, I’m generally mild-mannered, about 5’8″, and enjoy ice cream (both eating it and looking at it).

I will, in essence, be the primary blogger for the LCS blog. There will be announcements from Sai, and we hope to add more bloggers as we go along, but for the time being, I’ll be posting as frequently as is appropriate.

What you can expect from me is, roughly, the following:

  • Commentary on the LCS podcast as each new episode airs.
  • Languages and linguistics news that’s generally interesting to conlangers.
  • Conlanging news.
  • Other language-related material of general interest to conlangers.

Check back here every so often to see what’s up in the wide world of conlanging, and certainly let me or anyone else know if you find something interesting, or have something to contribute. Other than that, be on the lookout for my first post, which should be up in about an hour, after I’ve had a chance to listen to the latest LCS podcast (an interview with Sylvia Sotomayor).