Posts Tagged ‘interviews’

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 VoxDB.org.


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.

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

David


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 LearnNavi.org 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 LearnNavi.org fan community (special thanks to ZBB/LearnNavi member Nessimon for posting my original request at LearnNavi.org!).


Sylvia


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.

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 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.

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.

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.

The New LCS Blog and Me

Friday, February 20th, 2009
 

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).

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 http://www.terjemar.net/kelen.php. 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.

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.