Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Constructed Languages

Right now I'm going through a bit of a linguistics phase, so bear with me.

Typically they're called conlangs, but I dislike the word conlang because it sounds like a word that only the geekiest people in the world would come up with to describe a niche, and due to that fact, I tend to think that the word "conlang" is really only used to describe fantasy languages. I tend to find fantasy languages interesting, but not worth the time people put into them. I don't like them because they are more of an art than a utility, but an art that doesn't entertain in the same way that paintings, musical works, and writing do.

There are several conlangs out there, probably the most notable being Tolkienian Elvish, which is by far the oldest, but perhaps not the best documented. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was an interesting fellow. A deep thinker, and perhaps a man before his time, or maybe even, the man that began his time. Tolkien took the word fantasy to a whole new level, writing extensively about his one true masterpiece: The world called Middle Earth. Why is he ahead of his time? Well, before he wrote the Hobbit, and got the entire Middle Earth thing rolling, he began working on Quenya, the original Elvish dialect, when he was nineteen years old and still studying in college. Later, he wrote books that included Elvish in them, the first, of course being the hobbit, and later, he wrote the Lord of the Rings, and even an entire history of Middle Earth that was published posthumously.

Some say that he wrote about middle Earth to justify his hobby of constructing languages. That's probably true, since a language like that serves almost no purpose anywhere besides being an idle hobby like video games. I say that Elvish is a waste of time because it was designed to mimic natural evolved languages, like English, Welsh, and Finnish. Not vocabulary wise, but grammar wise. English is notorious for its poorly defined rules and exceptions, like the example of "know," and "knew." Based on that, we might think that stow would turn into stew, but we know that stew is something else. To make things more confusing, there is slay and slew, which has a different root and meaning entirely. No where else in the language do we have an exception like this. Normally in English we would end it with -ed, like knowed, or something. This is simply referred to as an exception, and nothing more. Linguists and philologists try to explain these, but there are a number of reasons why it could have happened. I'm not going to go into the details here.

I don't think he ever expected, or wanted Elvish to become a widely spoken language, because it had these exceptions and mimicry of natural languages. If you wanted to learn a language that had them, just learn German, or Italian. They all do, at weird little spots. They're called nuances, and while they do add zest and panache to a language, they also make learners of it grumble. I don't think anyone ever said, "English is so easy!" Not even native speakers. It makes sense to introduce these into a constructed language for only one reason: to mimic natural languages for the purpose of making your reader (or consumer) believe that this world could be real, and that is a valid reason. Then, it becomes a section of the art you painted in the story, and really, a very cool one as well.

But then we come to what I would dare to call real constructed languages. I am of course, talking about languages that were designed to be spoken by all people as either an auxiliary language (a language designed to be a lingua franca between many people groups that doesn't favor any particular language over another), or a hobby, but still possibly accepted as a viable option for being an auxiliary language.

By far the most popular of these constructed languages is Esperanto. I am learning Esperanto. This language was designed to be easy. Let me tell you, this language is easy. People say that Spanish is easy, but not really. Any time a language has a grammar that isn't really intuitive, but just because that's what it's like, and it differs from your native language, a language is not easy. Perhaps Spanish is easier than other languages, but it is still difficult because it is different. I've read that one person said that it was the most difficult language they ever learned, simply because it was the first. English is really a weird language compared to other European languages. One of the biggest differences when I tried to learn German was gender cases on nouns. These didn't really have any rules at all, and at times they were counterintuitive. Of course I can understand Der Mann, the masculine article Der used to state that there is a single man, and Die Frau, the feminine article used for a woman, and even Der Junge, for a boy, but then Das Mädchen, which uses gender neutral to talk about a girl. The gender articles for nouns has never made much sense to have. I'm glad English doesn't have them.

Why English doesn't have these is probably because England is far enough removed from the rest of Europe for it to develop independently, and (thankfully) get rid of gender specific articles. What English lost in that area it made up in the number of exceptions it employs, and the confusing number of prefixes, like in-, im-, dis-,  de-, un-, all to say, reverse what this adjective or verb would normally be. Nuances. Being a native speaker, I am really, really glad that I don't have to learn all of these coming from another language.

But back to Esperanto. Esperanto is popular because it is super easy to learn, and not just for English speakers. The grammar of Esperanto is pretty straightforward. You put what you're talking about first, and what they do second, then what they do it to third, and put any descriptive words before the thing or action that they're describing. This is of course over simplifying it a bit, but if I were strip it down to the basic grammar, that's what it would be, generally. English is like that a lot. It's the weird exceptions elsewhere that people complain about.

This is everything a constructed language is supposed to be. Easy and effective. For speakers of western languages, Esperanto makes so much sense, because all the vocabulary is based off of the vocabularies of other European languages, including English. But the biggest point is easy to understand grammar, and Esperanto does that very well.

We come finally to my own project. Esperanto is great, but I really wanted to come up with my own language. It, like conlangs, really is for my story, but it fulfills a definite purpose, to be something that people can use to define their individuality in the international stage. More on that later. I am basing the vocabulary as much as possible on English, to make it as easy as possible for English speakers to learn. This is for two reasons. A) I speak English natively, and I want my language to be as easy to learn for me and my friends as possible. B) In the story, it's designed as a replacement for English, not because English needed to be replaced, but because of what I said before.

Quick note about language and politics:

There is nothing that will divide a people more than two things: Language and Religion. Language will even divide people within the same religion. Even if our views are completely different, being able to understand each others views is more important than ignoring them because of a language barrier. This was actually the very reason why Esperanto was constructed: to unify all people in Europe under one language. By the time Esperanto was beginning to be a thing, English was already that. Too bad.

Quick note on the politics behind fâl-qérn:

Fâl-qérn is the constructed language that is spoken in the NAR, the country where most of my stories are set. The newly formed government had several things to worry about. One was the fact that many people still considered themselves "Americans" and that was a problem, because there was ambiguity about their allegiance. The solution was to adopt a constructed language designed for the people of this new country. It was designed to be super easy to learn, the hardest part being the writing system they were trying to push, but after the first year, they had created a language that was similar to English, but easier to pronounce, and resembled Esperanto in grammar. They required that it be taught in public schools exclusively the moment the existing teachers showed fluency. This lead to some side effects, and it worked a little too well. Fâl-qérn is simply an easier language to master, because of its similarity to Esperanto, and its syllable set. (720 syllables to learn to pronounce correctly against 15,831 in English, with still room for dialectal differences.)

Fâl-qérn is a project that has real world application, but isn't really designed to be anything but a pastime for myself and the language in one of my stories. This sounds a lot like Elvish, but I make a distinction here because it really is a language that could replace English, like Esperanto could be a language that replaces English as the lingua franca in Europe and the US and Canada, and any other places that speak western languages.

There are dozens of constructed languages out there, but it is important to note that none of them are exactly the same. Each one has its own set of rules. Some of them are super easy, like Interlingua, and Esperanto, and hopefully eventually fâl-qérn. If you want to learn one, it's easy to find a way. I'm using Duolingo to learn Esperanto. I'm not exactly certain how to write a conclusion for this post, maybe just an opinion paragraph.

I think constructed languages are the epitome of human thought, just like advanced language is the epitome of being human. There couldn't be anything more pragmatically human than trying to construct for yourself a mode of what makes us human. I am not suggesting that you go out and learn a constructed language, but I love the adventure, and the satisfaction I feel when I read something that I just translated. Hours of work paying off in the form of making something that could be useful to someone, and make your story seem way more realistic.

Anyway, thank you for reading, and give me your thoughts.

I might start posting tutorials for fâl-qérn, and even try writing some posts exclusively in it. Until then, I will continue working on my language.

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