There Must Be a Word For It…

There are entire communities of interest on the Internet that one never realizes until stumbled upon.

One such, for instance, is the enterprise of travelling to an intersection of a degree of latitude and a degree of longitude with your trusty global positioning system unit and taking a picture there to add to an archive of similar photos on the Internet.  Such intersections of abstract geographical location could be in the middle of a lake, on a busy highway, or in a field of wheat.

It’s called The Degree Confluence Project, a kind of giant conceptual art piece that claims 55057 photos from 171 countries.  For instance, one person recently reached and photographed the last two mainland confluences in Norway by cross-country skis and dogsled.  People not only record the sites, but also the stories of getting there and amusing anecdotes along the way.  Wholesomely eccentric.

There are many groups of role playing gamers on the Internet as well who have their own arcane spheres of interest.  One such group came up with The Alien Limerick Generator.  Here is a sampling of its output:

Pat hatslet zutaetik dor lay
Halhank pil son tre stu pleacay
Kut potzdergatzsoo
Oi ul udraiwoo
Kan kiek lan dan el dreray

They also promise Alien Haiku and Sonnet Generators someday soon.

Whimsical.  But it provides a good segue to look at the large community, no, subculture, of constructed languages, otherwise known as conlangs, on the Internet.

Constructed languages are what J.R.R. Tolkien referred to as his ‘secret vice.’ The creator of the Lord of the Ring tales created a number of internally coherent languages to the extent that two of them – Quenya and Sindarin – have thousands of words and comprehensive grammars.  Although as an adult he was a professor of Anglo Saxon languages, he started creating languages in his childhood.

It is not necessary to have a degree in linguistics or philology to create a new language. The Internet provides the tools should you choose to take on this challenge.  Go to http://www.zompist.com/kit.html.  There you will find a method to develop your own contribution to the Tower of Babel.  You will have to give some thought to whether your language is inflecting, agglutinating or isolating, but enough guidance is given to take you a long way.

There’s even some free language making software available at  http://www.langmaker.com/langmake/index.htm, although it was originally written in Windows 3.1 and may take some effort to get it running in more modern Windows.

All of this is too intriguing for me.  I could easily get wrapped up in creating my own language to the exclusion of all else.  I feel I must stand off some distance from this subject or I could be sucked into spending the rest of my life devising fricatives.

Why would anyone want to create a language in the first place?  Historically, some were created as ‘stealth’ languages, a way to speak in secret.  Others have been developed to illustrate linguistic or philosophical points. Writers, especially fantasists and science fiction writers, often create languages to deepen their stories.  Some have been devised as ‘international auxiliaries’ such as Esperanto in an effort to bring the world closer together.  Some people make constructing a new language an artistic pursuit like creating an ornate piece of conceptual sculpture.

I think what appeals to me about the whole endeavour is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in linguistics: that there is a deep relationship between how we see the world, what we understand it to be and our place in it, and the language that we use to speak of it, down to the bones of its grammar.

Here’s a couple of the more interesting conlangs I’ve come across on the Web…

Solresol – Based on the notes of the musical scales, this language began to be constructed in 1817 by Jean Francois Sudre.  It was actually one of the first practical artificial languages, believe it or not.  It was one of the first conlangs to get beyond its initial stages and it pioneered ideas that are still being developed.

aUI – Described, conservatively, as “the most bizarre artificial ‘universal’ language of recent times”, it was brought to us all by John Weilgart, a psychiatrist from Iowa who claimed he learned the language as a little boy from a small green being from outer space.  Each sound of the language is a separate elemental concept.  These elements are combined to create more complex ideas.  For example, the name of the language itself combines three sounds (a-OO-ee) which means “space-spirit-sound” or “space language”.  (See http://www.anomalist.com/reports/language.html for an in-depth description.)

If any of that whets your appetite browse through the many annotated conlang citations at this handy Wikipedia listing.

And if you really want to pursue this, you can create your own writing system.  Go to http://alphabet.tmema.org/applet.html.  This is the Alphabet Synthesis Machine.  You seed it with a marking that you want to designate as part of your alphabet and it will go on from there.  [Note (September 14, 2007): This link is broken, and I can’t find the applet anywhere else right now.  Instead, you may want to check out Genotype or Alphabet Soup for something similar.]

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4 Comments on “There Must Be a Word For It…”

  1. qazse Says:

    Fencer,

    well researched, comprenhensive, well articulated, and mind expanding – as usual.

  2. fencer Says:

    Thanks… I just find this whole constructed language endeavour fascinating.

  3. Matt Says:

    I have been working on a language for a while and I am really struggling to find tools to help me develop it further. I found this article very interesting despite it’s age!

    In Alayun (my language): Platorfelsh cha luu. (Thanks)

  4. fencer Says:

    Hi Matt,

    Glad you found this of interest. Congratulations on your language project… that’s a complex enterprise.

    I’m thinking of inventing an entirely new language to be able to say, “You’re welcome!”

    Regards


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