Posts Tagged ‘linguistics’

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.

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 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 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.

Introduction to the LCS Podcast

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009
In this inaugural edition of the Language Creation Society Podcast, Sai Emrys and David Peterson explain what conlangs are, why someone would want to do such a strange thing as create their own language, what the Language Creation Society is all about, and the future of this podcast.

Ahh, creaky voice…

For those unfamiliar with linguistic terminology, creaky voice is the term for what my voice sounds like. My old phonetics professor at UCSD asked me once, quite honestly, if it hurt to talk the way I do. I haven’t the slightest idea how I do what I do, or why. It seems natural. That’s how I got the nickname “Creaks” at Berkeley.

I think the importance of goals in language creation can’t be overstated. If there is no stated goal (or, perhaps, no obvious goal) that a given conlang is trying to achieve, how is one to evaluate or interpret it? The answer is, one evaluates it based on whatever goals one creates, or attributes to the language, even if this is done implicitly.

Now, if it comes to that, I’d say there’s something wrong with the presentation. Who knows what associations the viewer has built up in their mind? Here’s a nonce example from a made-up conlang:

Yo te amo.

Without a gloss, someone will look at that and think it’s another romlang (and not a very good one, if it’s so close to Spanish). Of course, if you gloss it…

/1sg.Sbj.”to be” DEF. walrus-NOM./
“I am the walrus”

…things change quite a bit.

Sometimes the unstated goal, as Sai mentions in this episode of the podcast, is just to create “what sounds good” or “what feels right”. For outsiders, this is important to know when looking at a language. When evaluating one of these languages, how natural, how original or how logical a language is simply doesn’t matter. For these truly personal projects, what’s interesting is to then try to analyze what it is that the creator finds pleasing and/or appropriate. Chances are an unreflective language creator may be mimicking the patterns of whatever languages they’ve come into contact with, but sometimes what makes sense to one is senseless to another. That in itself can be interesting.

To reiterate a point made in the podcast,
this blog is what we all make of it. The thing itself is strong kind of an experiment, and we’re interested in experimenting further. If you have ideas for the blog, or come across something interesting on the wilds of the internet, let us know. Anything that is of potential interest is interesting to me. 🙂

Edited by Virgo Audio Production Services; music by Gary Shannon, and Scotto Hlad.