“The Problem with Conlanging” – A Response

[Dieser Beitrag ist jetzt auch auf Deutsch zu lesen, nämlich hier. — 20.08.2011]

Fellow conlanger Vecfaranti wrote a thought-provoking posting on the ZBB some weeks ago. Unfortunately I’ve only managed to read it now, and I would like to share it with you, and also answer with my own thoughts and experiences. Please be so kind not to necromance the thread, if the current date is months past May 24, 2011. What I am doing here is quoting passages from Vecfaranti’s forum posting and comment on them below. So, without further ado —

Conlangs require context. Some conlangs are created for the modern world, although those are becoming less and less frequent. Most conlangs made by ZBB members are artlangs meant for conpeople. But for a lot of us, creating the language is much more fun than creating the […] people.

Ayeri, too, is a language that is supposed to somehow be linked to an imaginary world not much unlike ours. Nonetheless, I can say that it’s also become kind of a personal language to me, so it also contains words for things that may or may not exist in this world my language’s speakers are supposed to live in, such as television, internet, or car. The necessity for this has arisen from writing the one or the other journal entry in the language, as well as doing Translation Challenges at the ZBB that I did not bother to somehow adapt culturally. Whenever I can, I try to either metaphorically extend the meaning of already existing words1 (natural languages also seem to do this a lot!), or I calque these words,2 and as a last resort borrow them. However, this borrowing mostly happens from the language I mainly work in: English. Even “in-universe” borrowing is a problem, because, as Vecfaranti observes, conlangs require context, and I don’t have much.3 Ayeri is the third language I am working on technically, but I’ve completely given up on the “Nameless Language” and Daléian, both of which I created in my first half year of language tinkering back in 2002. Also, I must say, that my interest in languages as such is bigger than in the people who speak them. Cultural Studies, history and sociology simply are not my primary interest. Trying to create a believable, naturalistically complex culture around my conlang and doing that on top of trying to create (an) artificial language(s) in depth seems quite “taxing” indeed to me, and frankly I have no idea where to start, hence my reluctance to come up with at least some kind of setting.

Are you going to make a book using it? Are you going to make a movie? A game of some sorts? Or are you just making it for the sake of making it and presenting it on a website in encyclopedic format? Which brings me to the other problem. No one likes reading grammars. […] And most people don’t have in depth knowledge to critique aspects of grammar besides phonology and maybe rudimentary morphology. […] Which is why most threads about in depth grammars do not get many responses around here.

My work on Ayeri is kind of a purpose to itself, though it also helps exploring Linguistics as a discipline, thus helping me to learn more about things as I go. Personally, I must admit that it’s no joy for me to sit down and read grammars – whether “nat” or “con” – cover to cover. Exploring bits and pieces here and there is more interesting, though it takes me conscious effort and concentration to sit down and read linguistic papers, and I don’t feel like doing that all the time. Also, I naturally have knowledge holes in areas I didn’t do any reading in for my own conlang, since I’ve never learnt Linguistics formally. In my experience, posting things on small issues you come across and want to hear others’ opinions about is far more successful in terms of response than just posting a link to your grammar, and say “Discuss.” For the same reason I’ve started this blog, more or less: I can write short articles about things, which helps working out details, and I can utter my thoughts so that people maybe can look into my reasoning and the way in which I create grammar, or decide on how to proceed. If they’re interested. However, all bite-sized, if possible.4

For context, we must work and work and work tirelessly. And the process usually ends up being private. This board is good for quick questions and socialising, but deep questions require outside research. For presentation, we must either have a lot of work already done, in order to get away with the website approach or we must set a goal for ourselves that goes beyond conlanging (and conworlding) for conlanging’s (or conworlding’s) sake.

Working tirelessly? Well yes, creating a whole world on your own must be very tiresome and takes ages if you want to arrive at a high level of depth. People say they admire my work, however be aware that I guess it could only achieve a certain level of quality because I’ve been working on this for about 8 years. Which goals beyond “conlanging (and conworlding)” should I pursue, though? I guess one I’ve already mentioned above: self-education, and releasing the little scholar in oneself to satisfy one’s curiosity.

Once I make a conlang, relatively in depth, I’m not easily willing to just discard it and not put it to use.

What Vecfaranti writes above I can affirm. And it’s also why I’m stubbornly clinging to Ayeri, although others have suggested to start a new thing, e.g. to make a parallel language or several less in-depth parallel languages to borrow words from. Maybe if I come round to make up a diachronic history of my conlang I will derive some sister-languages. But so far I have been very reluctant to try even that. It’s definitely a goal of mine, though, even if another 10 years have to pass (and should I still be interested in this kind of thing then).

  • Vecfaranti. “The Problem with Conlanging.” Zompist BBoard. 8 May 2011. Mark Rosenfelder, 2002. Web. 4 Jun. 2011.
  1. E.g. bukoya ‘library’ → ‘web server’
  2. E.g. narakahu ‘telephone’ ← nara- ‘speak’ + kahu ‘far’ (cf. German legalese Fernsprecher ‘far-speaker’)
  3. I drew a map some years ago, but not much has come of that. Also, the level of technology of my con-people varies a lot.
  4. This and the last couple of posts on Ayeri grammar have become quite lengthy, however…

One thought on ““The Problem with Conlanging” – A Response

  1. In my experience, posting things on small issues you come across and want to hear others’ opinions about is far more successful in terms of response than just posting a link to your grammar, and say “Discuss.”

    Couldn’t agree more. And this has less to do with the level of linguistic knowledge of a given community than with simple, common-sense posting netiquette. On an e-mail listserv or a forum you can’t expect to post something that’s 50 pages long, have everyone read it all and understand it perfectly, and then be prepared to comment on the whole thing! A poster should understand that—and, in my opinion, has no right to be offended if no one responds.

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