Posts Tagged ‘conlanging’

Renovation Language Creation Workshop Materials

Friday, August 19th, 2011

To everyone that participated in the Language Creation Workshop at Renovation, thanks so much for attending! For those that stuck it out to the end, you know we didn’t get through all the material, so I wanted to provide you with links to download what was there:

In particular, take a look at Epochs 5 and 6. At this point, the groups were going to begin trading with each other and dealing with linguistic borrowing. I found some good examples to illustrate different borrowing situations in natural languages in the presentation; I was really hoping to get to them! Live and learn.

Also, for Epoch 4, where I wrote “distinctions based on chance”, I was going to have each group pull a random feature from a hat. The features were as follows:

  • Tense/Aspect: past/present/future; perfective/imperfective; present/past perfective/past imperfective; past/non-past
  • Person Encoding: no verbal agreement; agree with subject in some person/number combinations, not all; agree with subject in all person/number combinations; agree with subject and object in some person/number combinations.
  • Exponence: exclusively affixing; mix of affixation and particles; separate words; some affixation and some stem change.
  • Wild Card: mark evidentiality on the verb; mark at least three moods on the verb; mark at least two voices or valency-changing operations on the verb; mark intentionality on the verb.

Again, thanks a lot for attending! If things work out, I hope to run this again at future WorldCons.

Interview with Doug Ball

Monday, August 1st, 2011

David interviews Doug Ball about his conlang Skerre, its history, and his career in linguistics.

.mp3 recording | Dr. Doug Ball’s Faculty Page | Skerre Homepage

Doug is the best (and longest-tenured) conlanging friend I’ve got.
I’ve known him ever since I started conlanging in 2000, and we’ve been corresponding regularly since 2003, when we happened to run into each other at a reception for prospective graduate students at UCSD. It’s rare enough to meet someone who conlangs. But someone who (at the time) was also entering grad. school for linguistics and is interested in music and sports (that latter is the kicker, of course)? Doug and I may be among the select few who would be equally happy and at home discussing applicatives, time signatures, and whether or not Randy Moss is really retired (I say no, by the way [and I also say that beyond Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona’s receiving corps looks to be in pretty sorry shape (just sayin’)]). I think it was only a matter of time before Doug and I bumped into one another.

By the way, you did hear (and read) right.
Doug conceived of Skerre at a summer camp held at what is now Truman State University. At the time of this interview, Doug had just finished his dissertation at Stanford (hiss!), and had just entered the job market. He applied to a number of universities, and it just so happened that he accepted a job in the linguistics department at Truman State University. I’d like to say that this interview helped to contribute to that hiring, but, well…it’s being published right now. But if you believe in time travel

If you haven’t taken a look at it, I recommend going to Doug’s page on Skerre.
Though my information may be more up-to-date than what’s on the website, I maintain that Skerre’s one of the best naturalistic conlangs on the net. The site is detailed (if not completely up-to-date), and for an in-depth look at some of the syntax of Skerre, you can watch Doug’s LCC1 talk. I’ve always thought Skerre deserved a full treatment—and perhaps a print reference grammar. We’ll see what happens with it in the future.

Audio edited by Jeff Burke; music by Gary Shannon.

Interview with Sheri Wells-Jensen

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011

David and Sai interview Sheri Wells-Jensen about her work in the world of conlanging, and her work as a linguist at Bowling Green State University.

.mp3 recording | Dr. Wells-Jensen’s Webpage

Talk about a really, really good idea.
Wouldn’t it be cool if you could google a person and hear what they sounded like? Ooh! Or even better! Take an audio sample of someone’s voice, play it into your computer’s microphone, and have it find that person! I found this aspect of her work the most interesting, and hope it comes to fruition. If you want to take a look at what she has so far, go to

For those of you who always wanted to do a little conlanging as part of your college degree
, you can check out the webpage accompanying Sheri’s class here. And, of course, if you’re shopping for undergraduate institutions, you might consider Bowling Green State University.

There are, by the way, some wonderful sounding conlangs described by Sheri in this interview. Several bits of the languages created by her students are incorporated into the website linked to above. There are a number of “fun” languages (e.g. the language of vending machines) that sound like they’re worth following up on.

In addition to applying for the Dothraki job
, Sheri and I also share a connection to Speculative Grammarian. She’s penned several articles for SpecGram (you can see them here), including proposing a Braille orthography for thlIngan Hol.

In a nutshell, anything Sheri’s put her name to is worth taking a look at. We had a fun time talking with her, and I look forward to being able to talk to her again.

Audio edited by Jeff Burke; music by Gary Shannon.

Interview with Paul Varkuza

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

David interviews Paul Varkuza about his language Varkuzan. We discuss his language, its name—his name—and the role his synesthesia played in the process of his language’s creation.

.mp3 recording

Before I talked to Paul, I was pretty sure that synesthesia was fake.
And by “fake”, of course, I mean “real, but likely to be exaggerated”. That is, if one asks in an online forum, “Is anyone synesthetic?” there’ll be a flood of positive responses, which always led me to believe synesthesia was an internet-transmitted disease spread by asking the question, “Is anyone synesthetic?” or by simply posting about one’s own synesthetic experiences.

But…I guess I was wrong. There are true synesthetics out there, and Paul Varkuza is one of them. Oddly enough, one of the things that made this concrete in my mind was the fact that a good friend of mine—without ever having heard of Paul or his talk—explained to me a relationship between the number line and spatial relations that very closely matches what Paul describes in this interview. For me, that was a truly bizarre experience—perhaps something akin to seeing someone hypnotized for the first time.

I can get down with classifying things as either mellow or harsh.
In fact, if you come up with any binary classification system, I think I can put all the world’s objects and concepts into either one or the other category. Here’s a quick thought experiment: Put all the following languages into either the “straight” or “curved” category.

  • Georgian
  • French
  • Japanese
  • Swahili
  • Arabic
  • Swedish
  • Polish
  • Quechua

What do you think? I’ve got my answers (and it’s not all one category or the other; there’s a mix).

As we head into LCC4
I’m reminded how enjoyable Paul Varkuza’s LCC3 talk was. It was really different from what we see a lot in various conlang discussion groups, and it’s always nice to see the work of (to the extent that such a thing exists) an outsider artist within the medium of conlanging. Natural languages never cease to amaze, and neither do conlangers.

Audio edited by Jeff Burke; music by Gary Shannon.

LCC2 – Sylvia Sotomayor – Verblessness in Kēlen

Friday, June 18th, 2010

Everyone knows Sylvia makes kickass brownies and cupcakes (and cakes).
Or, let me rephrase that: Everyone now knows that Sylvia makes kickass brownies and cupcakes. Because I just told you.

And it’s true. I’ve had them. I’ve had them all.

That aside, this is Sylvia’s LCC2 talk on Kēlen.
For those who have heard of Kēlen but don’t know much about it, this is a good place to start. (Well, that and the Kēlen website.)

This is our second Kēlen-related podcast. You can find the first (an interview with Sylvia) here. Listening to both of those, I think, we’ll give you a good background on Kēlen.

But for even more, there have been two interesting Kēlen developments recently. The first is the launch of the Kēlen Word of the Day Blog. The title pretty much tells you the story: Go there, and you’ll find a blog that will introduce you to one new word of Kēlen every single day (plus some lovely pictures of Sylvia’s cats). I can’t remember exactly who came up with the idea for a word of the day site, but I’d like to think it was me, and that I suggested it to Sylvia (see this way I can angle for more brownies). It has since spawned a number of other word of the day blogs (one for Kamakawi, one for Rejistanian, and several other sites that aren’t necessarily word of the day blogs, but are conlang-specific blogs [for more, check out the Conlang Blog Aggregator]), and the result has been nice (I’ve certainly enjoyed reading the various blogs that have resulted).

The other thing is an interview Sylvia did for the Australian ABC radio series Lingua Franca. In it Sylvia discusses Kēlen as well as conlangs in general. To listen to the interview, you can go to the Lingua Franca website here.

As a conlanger, listening to this talk is fun, because it gets me thinking.
One wonders how one might get by without verbs, but in listening to how Sylvia solves a lot of the problems one faces when creating a verbless language, ideas abound. After spending some time over the past few years with Sylvia and Kēlen, I can now think of tons of ways to get things done without verbs. If one were to sit down and plan this out, then, the question is not how to create a verbless language, but what type of verbless language would one create. I think Kēlen has proved that it’s possible: It’s now on us to see what kind of variety can exist in the category of verbless languages.

Any takers?

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

Interview with Jeff Burke

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

David interviews Jeff Burke, the creator of the Proto Central Mountain family of languages, and author of The Spirit-Weaver, a novel Jeff has been working on for the past fifteen years. In this interview we discuss his languages, his writing, and the role conlangs play in literature.

mp3Jeff’s Blog

Jeff is a bit soft-spoken and reserved
—or, at least, that’s what I first noticed about him when I met him at LCC2. By the time he had finished his talk, though, he had my attention—and that of everyone else who’d been watching (including Arika Okrent).

Jeff’s conlanging approach is much closer to historical reconstruction than to modern “drag and drop” conlanging. The approach is not necessarily unique (Tolkien, of course, worked from proto languages, and many conlangers today do the same), but Jeff’s implementation is impressive. If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend taking a look at Jeff’s LCC2 talk (the one I linked to above) to see just how he does what he does. (I’d also recommend his recent post to Conlang about Proto Central Mountain which can be found here.)

Totally off-topic.
I can tell I was using my external microphone in this interview. I think its permanent malfunction is a blessing in disguise, and future listeners will, no doubt, be grateful not to hear my popping p’s… My apologies. 🙁

Yet again, in this interview, we’ve come to the issue of language (or conlang) ownership.
And, of course, we came to the same conclusion: There’s no good answer right now. In one respect, neither of us is legal experts, so us discussing the topic is kind of silly. At the same time, it’s a relevant topic for us both, each of us having conlangs that may one day enjoy popular use. Personally, I’m rooting for The Spirit-Weaver to get published and enjoy success, as that will, once again, raise the legal question of conlang ownership in the public sphere.

Jeff suggests, in his interview, that conlangs will one day fall under copyright as artistic works. If this were to be the case, then one wonders: Will conlangers receive royalties if others use their language to create some sort of commercial work (e.g. a book of poems)? Will conlangers be able to successfully challenge derivatives in court (say a relexification of a given conlang)? And is that a desirable future?

Looking at other media, it seems that things are going the other way. It’s easier than ever to download songs, albums, movies, television shows, etc. for free, whether legally or illegally. Artists themselves are venturing forth into the new digital world, some embracing it. One of the most famous examples is probably Radiohead’s “pay what you want” digital release of their album In Rainbows (a fascinating response to the controversy surrounding their previous album, which had, in its entirety, been leaked on the internet a month before its scheduled release), but other artists in other media have followed suit.

A few weeks ago, several video game developers got together to offer the Humble Bundle: A set of five full games with no DRM that one could purchase for whatever amount one wished. As of this writing, the event generated over $1 million for the developers and for charity. Billy Corgan and the newly-reformed Smashing Pumpkins have also gotten into the game, releasing one song at a time from their new 44 song concept album Teargarden by Kaleidoscope free on their website (and, by the way, what I’ve heard so far is incredible; I suggest you give it a listen [it’s free; why not?]).

That aside, I’m of the opinion that Jeff is right, and that some time in the near future we will see some form of copyright being applied to a conlang—perhaps as a result of the recent interest in using constructed languages in other media (most notably film and television). One wonders, though, given the general progression of copyright in the new digital age, will this be a step forward, or a step backward?

It’s been a little over a year since LCC3, and it’s nice to look back.
I always feel energized after an LCC. I’m looking forward to LCC4 (which is still in the planning stages, but will happen, rest assured).

Thanks to our podcast backlog, it’s been about a year since this interview took place. Jeff has since finished The Spirit-Weaver, and is now editing. Hopefully we’ll hear some news from him some time in the near future about the status of The Spirit-Weaver. I’ve got my fingers crossed!

Audio edited by Maximilian Krickl; music by Gary Shannon.

Interview with Paul Frommer

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

David and Sylvia interview Paul Frommer about his creation of the language Na’vi for the movie Avatar. We discuss his experience working on set, and working with movie folks, as well as the language itself. Please note that this interview was conducted in mid-January, and reflects the state of affairs at that time. A lot of things have changed since then—in particular, the size of the Na’vi fan community, and the level of interaction Dr. Frommer has with that community.

mp3Na’vi linksUnofficial website


Probably the most fun part of this interview for me was hearing the stories that came from the set.
Listening to Paul, you get a sense of what it’s like to work on a major production like Avatar. I can imagine Dr. Frommer sitting there at the studio for hours on end, and then someone suddenly rushing in, their arms flailing, screaming, “Quick! I need to know how to say ‘Give me your pack’ in Na’vi!” And then after that’s done…back to hours of sitting. I suppose “that’s showbiz”, as they say.

Towards the end, we talk a bit about alien conlangs.
There has been some great work done, and I mentioned a few languages that I’d like to link to here:

  • Kēlen by Sylvia Sotomayor: Winner of the 2009 Smiley Award, Kēlen is a language that entirely lacks verbs. The implementation is quite extraordinary (especially when it comes to verb-heavy ideas, like motion).
  • Dritok by Don Boozer: Don’t let the name fool you: This language has absolutely no voiced sounds, and is spoken mainly with clicks, ejectives and simultaneous hand gestures. It’s spoken by a race of beings with non-human physiology, but Don manages the spoken portion pretty well (check out him pronouncing the language here. It’s absolutely unbelievable!).
  • Rikchik by Denis Moskowitz: And no discussion of alien physiology would be complete without discussing Denis’s Rikchik language. Rikchik’s are green, floating, one-eyed beings with forty-nine long tentacles dangling beneath them. They use seven of these to communicate. Denis had to invent an entire transcription system just to implement the language, which features no sounds at all, and no human anything.
  • Fith by Jeffrey Henning: This language is so complex, that I still don’t get it. It uses a version of Last-In-First-Out grammar, and has operations which, for example, flip the order of words already spoken, and do various other things with the “stack” which is the linguistic material spoke in real time. It’s likely unspeakable by humans (though you can use it in writing by working slowly).

Dr. Frommer mentioned that he didn’t look at any other conlangs while creating Na’vi. Usually the first time one sets about to create a language, we see a number of assorted phenomena (e.g. free word order, mobile adpositions, uniquely English vowels, a high degree of optionality where one wouldn’t expect to find it, etc.) that a conlanger eventually grows out of, but for a first language, Na’vi does well enough, and the response has been overwhelming. It’s great to see how excited fans are to actually learn and use the language itself. That response is something future conlangers will remember, and something which production companies should sit up and take notice of.

Dr. Frommer said, “I’m not really sure that people in the [entertainment] industry understand the [legal] consequences.”
The question of whether a language is covered by copyright has never been adjudicated; the closest is the dispute over Loglan, which was settled out of court by the splitting off of Lojban.

This lack of clarity means that rights are practically a matter of negotiation, not law. In recent contracts, the implications have been clear: professional conlangers get no royalties, and when they want to use their own language in some commercial medium, they have to ask permission. Furthermore, the studio may decide to be nice and ask the original creator about future changes made by someone else they’ve hired, but they don’t have to (and often don’t, as has been the case with Klingon)—sometimes to the detriment of the language involved.

This state of affairs is certainly undesirable at best. To be honest, I laughed out loud when I read the petition to Paul Frommer concerning Na’vi. This is a petition written to Dr. Frommer from the Na’vi community asking him to teach them the language. That’s kind of like asking a man dying of thirst to please take a drink of water!

There are larger issues at stake here, and I think if the Na’vi community wants to do not only Dr. Frommer some good but conlangers as a whole, the real petition you want is this: petition Fox to give publishing rights for Na’vi to Paul Frommer. If Paul has Fox’s blanket signoff, then he can publish a grammar, start a website, create a dictionary, talk freely about it, etc. As is, the language is a work for hire, which means that Fox owns it exclusively.

For this to change, studios need to realize the value that conlangers bring to their productions. There is already a growing demand for professional, well-done created languages in movies, and Na’vi, Klingon, and Quenya are testaments to how much fans really get behind these languages. Cameron is one of the producers who realizes this, and more will follow his lead.

Fans simply need to more vocally demand that all fantasy worlds have the same attention paid to their languages as is paid to other aspects of the production. Not only are modern audiences unsatisfied with gibberish for a made up language (something like the “foreign” languages in Danger Man), they expect to learn the invented languages used in modern productions—to use them, to see how they work, to learn more about them.

There’s one question I left out of the final cut of the interview.
(You can listen to it here.)

David: Paul [Bennett] also asked—this is a fun one—how do I get a paid conlanging gig?

Paul: Well… My suggestion would be in the right place at the right time, and be very, very fortunate.

I’m afraid this an answer the conlanging community cannot—and should not—accept. This is certainly how it’s happened in the past (read up on how Mark Okrand got the job for Klingon and Atlantean; how Tho Fan was created; how Pakuni was created; and now Na’vi…), but it would seem a bit odd to suggest that the best way to get a paid conlanging gig is to get lucky, and the best way for a production team to find someone to create a language would be to throw out feelers at random to linguists who have no experience creating a language.

Fortunately, we now have a better way. The Language Creation Society maintains a pool of highly skilled conlangers (which you can join), and is currently fielding job offers. Most recently, we were hired to develop the Dothraki language for HBO’s upcoming adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones.

Our goal is to introduce the entertainment industry to the expert language creation community. Hopefully from now on when producers, writers, directors, game designers, etc. are looking for someone to create a language, they’ll be able to find and hire someone who has real experience and skill at creating languages, as opposed to rolling the dice on someone who’s never done it before.

I think a couple of apologies are in order.
First, this interview was conducted in mid-January, and this is April. Initially, we (both the LCS and Dr. Frommer) were concerned about how much information could be disseminated, but that ceased being an issue quite awhile ago. The fault, I’m afraid, lies with the our ability to maintain the LCS podcast. We’re still looking for a dedicated audio editor (someone who can edit for content and length), and we still have a considerable backlog (at least five hourlong interviews, with more on the way). Unfortunately, our interview with Dr. Frommer was a casualty of this present state of affairs. My sincere apologies to the Na’vi fan community who have been waiting for this interview for quite some time, and to those following the LCS podcast, who’ve been waiting for anything for quite some time.

Second, I received a number of questions to ask Dr. Frommer both from members, and also from conlangers. I asked a number of them, but not all of them. Fortunately, most (if not all) of those questions have since been answered by Dr. Frommer directly in one form or another. A big thank you goes to the people who submitted questions: Paul Bennett, Peter Bleackley, David Edwards, Fredrik Ekman, Steven Lytle, Kate Rhodes, Olivier Simon, and numerous members of the fan community (special thanks to ZBB/LearnNavi member Nessimon for posting my original request at!).


At first I thought I was going along with David to interview Dr Frommer as moral support.
I didn’t intend to speak, just to sit quietly, listen, and make a back up recording in case something happened to David’s recording. That’s why you don’t hear me until about half way through the podcast. I was also a little embarrassed about Peter Bleakley’s question, but it did lead to an interesting discussion of other alien conlangs, so, thank you, Peter.

Oh, and I am so going to steal those floating jellyfish thingies from the movie.

Audio edited by Maximilian Krickl; music by Gary Shannon.

LCC2 – John Quijada – Language Personalities

Monday, November 30th, 2009

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

LCC2 – Clint Hutchinson – Universal Semantic Markers

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

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

Interview with Arika Okrent

Thursday, May 28th, 2009
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

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, 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.