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Subject: artificial languages FAQ

This article was archived around: Tue, 25 Jun 2002 00:19:49 -0400

All FAQs in Directory: language
All FAQs posted in: alt.language.artificial
Source: Usenet Version

Archive-name: language/artificial-languages-FAQ Last-modified: 2002.06.25
contents: [0] what terminology is used to describe artificial languages? [1] how are artificial languages useful and interesting? [2] what resources are available for constructed language enthusiasts? [3] how does one design a language? ------------------------------ [0] what terminology is used to describe artificial languages? An artificial language is a language that has been deliberately designed by one person or a small group of people over a relatively short period of time. Synonyms for the term artificial language include planned language, constructed language, model language, and invented language. Artificial languages designed for specific purposes are also known by an array of other terms. Those used in works of fiction are called imaginary languages or fictional languages. Those designed to facilitate global communications are called universal languages, auxiliary languages (auxlangs), interlanguages or interlinguas, international languages, etc. The realm of artificial languages also includes logical languages, number languages, symbolic languages, and pasimologies (gesture languages). ------------------------------ [1] how are artificial languages useful and interesting? [1.1] linguistic research Linguists sometimes create small model languages to study the ways in which people learn languages. In this situation, a specially created language has the advantage that its characteristics can be carefully controlled. The model language is then taught to a group of people, and their ability or inability to learn it, or its effect on their brain activity or their perceptions of the world can be analyzed and conclusions drawn. [1.2] artificial intelligence Artificial languages are used in conjunction with computers. Examples are the "pivot languages" or "interlinguas" used in some methods of automated translation. Some of the knowledge representation schemes used in artificial intelligence research resemble the "philosophical languages" and the systems of "semantic primitives" that were once trendy in the auxiliary language milieu. When humans want to teach computers how to perform certain tasks, the instructions must be written in computer programming languages, which are also a type of artificial language. (Although some object that programming languages are not really *languages* because the recipients of the instructions are neither sentient nor sapient.) [1.3] international communication Many people believe that an artificial language could serve as a neutral, easy-to-learn auxiliary language for those who engage in international communication: tourists, businessmen, researchers, scientists, etc. International organizations such as the United Nations and the European Union could benefit greatly from the use of a politically neutral auxiliary language; representatives would be able to speak directly with one another, and the possibility of dangerous or costly misunderstandings arising from misleading translations would be reduced. The cost of providing translations would also be minimized. [1.4] works of fiction Novels and movies sometimes use invented languages as "props" to add flavor to an imaginary culture. In some cases, these fictitious languages become popular and take on a life of their own. Tolkien's "elvish" languages, the Klingon language from Star Trek, and the feminine language Laadan from Suzette Haden Elgin's novels are examples of this fascinating social phenomenon. [1.5] art for art's sake Some people view language design as an art form; they do it as a hobby, because it gives them pleasure, just as others derive pleasure from making quilts or building model railroads. Artificial languages created primarily in response to aesthetic impulses are called artlangs. [1.6] secret languages Individuals and groups will sometimes invent secret languages to keep information private from persons who have not been initiated. Pig Latin, used by some English-speaking children, is probably the most famous example, but it is little more than a re-arrangement of the phonemes in English words; other cultures have produced secret languages that are more effective at concealing information. Damin is an example. [1.7] psychiatry A psychiatrist can gain insights into a patient's mind by studying the patient's invented language(s) or by studying the ways in which a patient uses an artificial language to express himself. Dr. W. John Weilgart, inventor of the artificial language aUI, was a pioneer in this field. ------------------------------ [2] what resources are available for constructed language enthusiasts? [2.1] World Wide Web pages Assembling and maintaining an all-inclusive list would be difficult or impossible. The list-of-links pages mentioned below will get you started. They also mention a variety of relevant mailing lists and other resources. Spending some time with a good search engine can also unearth dozens or hundreds of constructed language projects. http://www.sys.uea.ac.uk/~jrk/conlang.html http://www.langmaker.com/ [2.2] Usenet newsgroups soc.culture.esperanto is the main newsgroup for discussion in/of Esperanto. alt.language.artificial is available for discussion in/of planned languages other than Esperanto. [2.3] mailing lists Mailing lists also exist to support users or developers of many constructed languages including Ido, Loglan, Lojban, Klingon, Tolkien's elvish languages, and many others. The oldest English-language mailing list devoted to a variety of artificial languages is conlang, founded in 1991 by John B Ross and others. Recent archives are here: http://listserv.brown.edu/archives/conlang.html And older archives are here: http://ri.xu.org/conlang/index.html [2.4] hardcopy From time to time periodicals have been devoted to artificial languages. International Language Review and Journal of Planned Languages covered a variety of language projects during their lifespans. (JPL is on hiatus now but might attempt a comeback someday.) Periodicals devoted to particular auxiliary language projects (e.g. Rund um die Welt and Cosmoglotta) sometimes covered other language proposals, or so I've been told -- they are not easy to find. A bibliography of relevant books is at http://www.invisiblelighthouse.com/langlab/bibliography.html ------------------------------ [3] how does one design a language? A language design includes many interacting elements such as phonemic inventory, phonotactics, choice of writing system, morphology, grammar and syntax, semantics, and the communicative needs of the culture that might use the language. And as Jeff Prothero observed, "To make any sort of optimality argument, or indeed any sort of rational engineering decision, one needs a fairly precise characterization of the problem to be solved." Before embarking on a voyage of language creation, newbies would be well advised to spend a few years studying general linguistics and examining the artificial languages for which detailed descriptions are available. Reading some descriptions of natural languages that are drastically different from your own native tongue should also be considered a prerequisite. Books about Navaho, Swahili, Chinese and other non-Indo-European languages are readily available from libraries and on-line bookstores. Some ideas about language creation are discussed in the web pages listed below. Ready to use vocabulary lists, software that randomly creates new words, and parsers to help you explore syntax design are also available throughout the web. www.srv.net/~ram/essays.html http://www.zompist.com/kit.html