Posts Tagged ‘conlanging’

LCC2 – David Peterson – The Evolution of Sidaan

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

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.

Interview with Suzette Haden Elgin

Sunday, April 19th, 2009
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

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

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

Interview with Tony Harris

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009
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.

LCC2 – Jim Henry – Glossotechnia

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

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.

The New LCS Blog and Me

Friday, February 20th, 2009


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).

Interview with Sylvia Sotomayor

Thursday, February 19th, 2009
Sai interviews Sylvia Sotomayor about the history and grammar of her language, Kēlen, as well as her reasons for conlanging. Kēlen is most well known for not having verbs – at least not in the traditional sense. Instead, it has “relationals”, a sort of closed class of copulas.

Sylvia Sotomayor has been conlanging since she was 14. She has a B.A. in Linguistics from UC Berkeley. A Kēlen grammar, dictionary, and some texts can be found at Notes on the planet Terjemar can be found there, too. She currently lives in Claremont, California, with too many cats and not enough computers.

Sylvia is one of my favorite conlanging people,
if that makes sense (for those familiar with the linguistic concept of iconicity as espoused by John Haiman, I’m not using the term “conlanger” here for a specific reason: to emphasize Sylvia’s person-hood). I was glad to have met her at LCC1, ecstatic to see her again at LCC2, and am looking forward to seeing her once again at LCC3.

The nice thing about talking with Sylvia—or listening to this interview, for example—is that there’s so much that’s immediately recognizable. To an extent, this is true about all conlangers, but I in particular find that in many ways, Sylvia and I are on the same wavelength. For example, about John Quijada’s fantastic talk at LCC1, she says (starting at around 25:04):

“John Quijada’s talk was…was like, ‘Oh, that’s right, I know all this stuff; I’m supposed to take all this into consideration’, but do I? No. Of course not… (Laughter.)

“I try to, and I will probably consciously try to a little more now, for…for a while at least, until I forget again.”

Ain’t that the truth!
In conlanging—especially in the naturalist school—there are so many variables to keep track of, and, if you’re like me, which of those variables you devote the most attention to seem to be directly related to what you’re most interested in at the time. Then you’re reminded of the fact that, for example, metaphor is everywhere, and if you’re not careful, you’ll unconsciously copy the structural metaphors of your own language, or those you know well. It’s definitely something to keep in mind, but there’s just so much going on all the time…

Another fascinating correspondence is something that I think is generally true of a number of conlangers. In response to Sai’s question about whether or not she’s fluent in Kēlen, Sylvia says (at around 10:03):

“I have basically the structure memorized. … But the vocabulary not so much. So, you know, I can like figure out, okay, this noun would go here, and that noun would go there, and I may not know exactly what they are, but I know all the little things in between.”

Now, granted, there are a few exceptional conlangers who are fairly fluent in one or more of their languages (Sally Caves?), but most of us—myself included—experience exactly what Sylvia describes. For each of my languages, for example, I have a few nouns and verbs I can reliably reproduce, but for the most part, it’s all structure. I know the structures of my languages even better than I know the orthographies—and I love my orthographies!

What makes this most interesting is its relationship to language-learning, in general.
In one of my previous lives as a graduate student of linguistics, I served for three years as a teaching assistant for an undergraduate class on first and second language acquisition. Granted, there are a number of competing theories about everything, undergraduates don’t get the full story on anything, and it seems like there’s an asterisk at the end of every fact and/or universal, but when it comes to acquisition, there is a generally agreed-upon tendency amongst ordinary language learners:

  1. Children are great at learning rules/structures; they’re not as great at learning vocabulary items.
  2. Adults are great at learning vocabulary items; they’re not as great at learning rules/structures.

Perhaps you’ve seen something like this if you’ve attempted to learn a new language late in life. I, for example, can probably rattle off a hundred words and more in Arabic, Russian and even Middle Egyptian, but ask me to produce a grammatically correct conjunctive in German, and I’m sunk.

If this is true (let’s say it is, for the sake of argument), what can we say about language creators and their languages? We should be able to rattle off hundreds of words in our languages—that’s supposed to be the easy part! And yet, in Kamakawi, for example, I can sooner produce a relative clause that requires the embedded verb to be both passive and applicative than fill out what the nouns and verbs are in that same sentence (I usually end up with the same words in every sentence: “woman”, “fish” and “hug”).

There are a couple of things that can be said about this.
First, is there some sort of inherent difference between learning natural language structures and learning invented language structures? If there’s something we do that better allows us to learn the structures of our invented languages, can we isolate it, and apply it to natural language learning? And honestly, what’s the deal with conlang vocabulary? Adults are supposed to be able to learn about twenty new words a day! Perhaps we should start working with flashcards… Couldn’t hurt, I suppose.

Audio edited by Virgo Audio Production Services and Sai Emrys; music by Gary Shannon.

LCC2 – Lila Sadkin – Tenata: Dissolving Lexical Categories

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009
High Quality Video (.mpg)Program (.pdf)Tenata Relay text

Lila Sadkin discusses the grammatical structure of her conlang, Tenata, in terms of how a speaker of Tenata divides her language into parts of speech. Tenata does not end up having the categories of noun, verb, adjective, adverb in the same way most languages one usually comes across use them, and instead has “semantic roots,” “nominal inflection,” “verbal inflection”, and “discourse particles.” These are the four parts of speech to a Tenata speaker, and each one is present in (almost) every Tenata sentence.

Lila Sadkin received her BA in Linguistics from the University of Florida in May 2007. She has been interested in language all her life and her study of linguistics has vastly improved the quality of her conlanging. Tenata is her first “real” conlang, drawing inspiration from Native American languages and Chinese, and she has plans for many more in the works, all of which exist on her con-continent. She also enjoys science fiction, cooking, computery things, photography, and has pursued other artistic endeavors with varying degrees of sucess. She is indebted to Dr. Hardman at the University of Florida for her inspiration to head along the path of linguistics in science fiction.

Most would agree that it’s a rare thing for a linguist to even recognize the existence of conlanging.
And if that’s rare, it’s a miracle to find one sympathetic enough to allow one to do an undergraduate thesis that, essentially, is a conlang. In fact, I had never heard about it in my entire life until I met Lila Sadkin at LCC2. That is, essentially, what Lila’s Tenata was: an undergraduate thesis. In linguistics.

Wild, huh?

Tenata itself is an interesting experiment. Most human languages are pretty stuck with, at the very least, nouns and adjectives. Every so often you come across a language like Hawaiian that has a lot of words that can appear in a ton of different lexical categories (a given word can be a noun, adjective, adverb, verb and preposition), but the lexical categories themselves remain (for example, in Hawaiian, there is fairly definite word order, and tense particles are only associated with verbs, articles with nouns, etc.). If one wants to find a language with either no lexical categories, or vastly different ones from those one finds in the real world, one is forced to turn to conlangs, where the creator is allowed more elbow room, so to speak, than the mandates of a natural language allow.

[Note: Around the four minute mark, someone near the camera (or near a microphone of some kind) starts doing…something. Eating a candybar? Crumpling up a piece of paper? What’s going on there?!]

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 Thomas Payne

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009
Professor Thomas E. Payne is a research associate at the University of Oregon, international linguistics consultant for SIL International, and author of several books, including Describing Morphosyntax, Exploring Language Structure, The Twins Studies, and Perspectives on Grammar Writing.

We discuss Dr. Payne’s work with SIL International in its efforts to preserve endangered languages, conlangers’ use of Describing Morphosyntax, phonosemantics, what constitutes a language, and more.

I found this post rather inspiring, for personal reasons.
For conlangers, there are several important things to remember and consider here. For example, there is such a thing as phrasal meaning (i.e. areas of languages where the meaning is not the sum of its parts). This can be with something as small as a compound, or as large as an expression. It’s not easy to replicate, but it’s worthwhile to pursue, if your aim is a naturalistic conlang.

Another thing to think about are the phonosemantics of a language. If a conlanger doesn’t pay specific attention to the non-morphological relationships between words, there’s a good chance something from one’s L1 will creep in. For those not listening right now, what I mean is the phenomenon that has, for example, resulted in the following English words: glossy, glass, gleam, glow, glisten…

Thomas Payne’s Describing Morphosyntax has done a lot for conlanging, and this post kind of adds to his legacy as…what to call him? The unwitting honorary conlang linguistic consultant? Whatever it is, there’s something to be got from Thomas Payne’s work—something that we’re able to use profitably. That’s a really nice thing.

(P.S.: “Snerdy” sounds plenty negative to me!)

Edited by Sai Emrys and Arnt Richard Johansen; music by Gary Shannon, and Dr. Thomas Payne leading the Northwest Sacred Harp Singers.

LCC2 – Donald Boozer – Dritok: The Sound of No Voice Speaking

Thursday, February 12th, 2009
High Quality Video (.mpg)Talk Slides (.ppt)Program (.pdf) – Dritok website and primer (.pdf)

The Drushek speak a language devoid of voicing and employ a gestural component to denote semantic functions and some morphemes. How does one transcribe the hisses, clicks, fricatives, and silent gestures of such a language?

Don Boozer lives in Ohio and is currently the head of the Cleveland Public Library’s, a 24/7 live reference service for students. He has increased the library’s holdings of relevant books in the field of conlanging by purchasing copies of the Klingon translations of Gilgamesh and Shakespeare, Elgin’s dictionary and grammar of Láadan, and Salo’s A Gateway to Sindarin, among others. He has also presented programs on conlangs in literature and films and the basics of language creation, as well as published articles on conlangs including an upcoming one on introducing conlanging to teens. His on-going projects include working on languages for inhabitants of his conworld, Kryslan, which include Umod, Elasin, and Dritok and learning Ancient Egyptian as part of an online study group.

It’s rare that one comes across something wildly different traveling around the online conlanging world.
It’s even rarer to find something wildly different that the conlanger in question can demonstrate live.

Donald Boozer’s presentation on Dritok at LCC2 was an event. If you take a look at the language of the Drushek—specifically, the phonology—it looks like a bunch of gobbledygook. It’s a mess! Look at the way Database Wilson (that’s a nickname for Don I just came up with) transcribes the first line of “The North Wind and the Sun”:

V2&=sx:w.q’t. s’.s’’. D5^Q5=V2&=zn.t’.z* P4&^D1>>tf.p*.o.

What is all that noise?!

Well, it turns out it’s Don’s transcription system for Dritok: An entirely voiceless conlang.

“That’s a nice story,” I thought to myself, “but I need to see it to believe it.”

At LCC2 I saw it, and now I’m a believer.

While watching a video is never the same as watching something live, this video is not to be missed. You get to hear Don pronounce a lot of Dritok, and pretty soon you kind of get a feel for it. This also was one of the better question and answer sessions (you even get to hear my disembodied voice towards the end [and you can hear Sai’s gigantic laughter throughout (there’s no better word for it than “gigantic”)]). All in all, it was one of the better presentations I’ve seen at an LCC.

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.