What is a Conlang?

e1Each weekday on this very blog page we cover one of the world’s six thousand five hundred languages. We discuss the current state of the language, who are the speakers of the language and where they live. But with how many languages there are it would take approximately thirty one years for us to get through all the world’s languages. It’s safe to say, we have quite a bit of content to get through.

But in thirty one years a lot will have changed and there will also be far less languages to talk about.

It is estimated that every fourteen days a language dies. In thirty one years we will have lost eight hundred and eight languages, reducing the total by twelve percent. It would be conceited for us to say that this would affect our content because it is a sad day when we lose a language. As we have previously discussed languages give us many insights into the world and are a key aspect of our business.

But what about language creation?

A constructed language is called a conlang and its name comes from the combination of the two words which define it. Unlike something like Pig Latin (a reorganization of the letters in English words) a conlang is a full embodied language. For all intents and purposes it is a real language.

But what makes a language real?

To this we look to the elements of language. From German to Afrikaans or any other language for that matter there are five linguistic elements which define a language and make it unique from all the other languages.

The Five Linguistic Elements:

  1. Phonology: the sound and system of a language
  2. Morphology: the structure of words
  3. Syntax: the structure of sentences
  4. Semantics: the meaning in language
  5. Pragmatics: the appropriate use of language in different contexts

But more than those things there is also a little thing called grammar: how words are put together in order to make sentences. In order to actually put together this blog post I cannot just know English words I have to know where they belong and how they fit together in order to create the intended meaning. I could know every word in the English languages and I could still not know how or what I am saying.

Natural languages also evolve over time as they are passed down from generation to generation and adapted to fit the current times. Take English for example. If you compare Old English and the English that is used today there is a stark contrast between the two languages and that is just a difference of a couple hundred years. Furthermore, as we have discussed in previous posts, with new technologies comes new words. Try to think about having a conversation with someone prior the invention of the internet and you will see how much our language has changed in the span of a couple decades.

With all of that in mind it would almost seem momentous to create a language from scratch. And yet some people have done just that.

The Lord of the Rings is a staple of the fantasy genre and is world renowned. The trilogy has spawned a series of movies and a group of fans whose dedication can only be rivaled with that of Star Trek. But there is a commonality between these two franchises and that is that they both have a conlang.

For the world of Lord of the Rings, J.R.R Tolkien developed the language of the elves. He put together not only a master list of words and grammatical rules but also different dialects which developed over time as the people who spoke the language separated and their languages changed. For Star trek fans there is Klingon which has been developed in a similar fashion.

Although Tolkien did a superb job of developing the Elvish language it itself cannot be spoken unlike Klingon which has been developed enough to speak in conversation.

Conlangs are also gaining popularity and have gained a lot of steam since the release of Avatar and Game of Thrones. Many television shows are now hiring conlangs, professional language designers to build languages from the ground up for their worlds. These languages are developed not randomly but to match the people who speak it and therefore end up as unique as any other language.

But conlangs are not just in the realms of fantasy. In Europe, the language Esperanto which has about two million speakers is a constructed language. While it originally took its routes from a number of different natural languages Esperanto is constructed and its speakers represent the World’s largest contingent of conlang speakers. The language was first published in a book by L. L. Zamenhof in 1887 but it is the most prominent conlang success story.

Over the years there have been numerous attempts to create a conlang which can be called the perfect human language. But to this day none of them have taken off. The only conlang to really take off is Esperanto and it is limited.

Conlangs may not be able to replace the depth and history that goes along with a natural language which has been built up over many years and evolved to suit the people who speak it but it will be interesting to see how many new languages pop up in thirty one years. By then we may even end up writing a language of the day piece on a language that does not even exist today. That would be interesting.

What do you think? Could a conlang have the potential to take off? Let me know in the comment section below.

And once again, thanks for reading.

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