LINGUIST List 11.1085

Fri May 12 2000

Sum: Inventing Languages

Editor for this issue: Lydia Grebenyova <>


  1. Susan Meredith Burt, Inventing Languages

Message 1: Inventing Languages

Date: Thu, 11 May 2000 14:49:38 -0500 (CDT)
From: Susan Meredith Burt <>
Subject: Inventing Languages

For Query: Linguist 11.912

Hello, All!

It's a good thing we have students or we would never learn anything!
Prompted by a student's query, a few weeks ago I posted a message to the
list asking about information on the invention of languages for fiction or
for other reasons. I received over twenty replies. It turns out that
Tolkien and Elgin are only the tip of the iceberg: there are a number of
people out there inventing languages for the sheer intellectual fun of
doing so; indeed there is a list, CONLANG, to which my original query was
posted, of these language inventors. I had thought that language invention
was an outgrowth of fiction-writing, but was corrected in this: in some
cases, the fiction follows the invention of the language.

It was hard for me to know what to do with all the replies I
received--besides pass them on my student, of course (he wrote an excellent
paper and received an A, by the way). Some of the replies expressed
interest in my query and these are not included in the list below. Thanks
to all of the following for information or references to further

>"Peter T. Daniels" <>
>"Harold F. Schiffman" <>
>Ivan A Derzhanski <>
> (lc22)
> Mary Shapiro <>
>Jan Havlis <>
>"David E. Bell" <>
>Herman Miller <>
> And Rosta <>
> FFlores <>
>Jill Brody <>

Those replies that included references to literature or to websites are
appended below. Enjoy! And again, thanks to all--Susan Meredith Burt

Dear Professor Burt:
 While I have not personally done any specialized work on the subject
about which you have posted your query, I have in my reference files some
websites that may possibly contain some helpful information: <== A language
called"qIb HeHDaq." <== Homepage of the Klingon Language Institute. <== Homepage of the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship. <== Constructed Human Languages
Homepage: This site contains a wide array of information on various
constructed languages.

 Richard S.
Dear colleague,

If your student reads French, I would direct her to the following excellent
essay on the topic of inventing languages.

AUTEUR : Yaguello, Marina.
TITRE : Les fous du langage : des langues imaginaires et de leurs
 inventeurs / Marina Yaguello
S^DITEUR : Paris : S^ditions du Seuil
DATE : 1984
DESC.PHYSIQUE : 248, [1] p.
NOTES : Bibliogr. : p. 243-[249].
ISBN : 2-02-006713-7

Pierre Larriv�e

Two web pages giving guidelines on how to create languages might help.

They include tips regarding the lexicon, morphology, syntax, writing

systems, etc. Both authors also talk about their motivation to

invent languages:



I teach a course called "Language and Popular Culture" in which we
examine representations of lg. such as in sci-fi movies and other media.

I've got some stuff on my website about this; your student might want to
look at:

Hal S.

Marina Yaguello has a book out called _Lunatic Lovers of Language:
Imaginary Languages and Their Inventors_. Fairleigh Dickinson University
Press, 1991.

I have not yet read it, so I do not know if it is what you are looking for.

Linda Coleman, Director
Freshman Writing Program
Associate Professor
Department of English Language and Literature
University of Maryland


Dr. Burt --
I taught a course on the Languages of Science Fiction several years ago,
when I was a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, and
discovered a thriving language-building culture, only some of which was
directly related to science fiction per se. In addition to the examples
you cited, there's also Tenctonese (the language from the television
series Alien Nation), Draak (the language from the film Enemy Mine), and
a host of Star Trek related languages developed by the fans. Every race
ever encountered in the Star Trek universe now has a language of its
own, thanks to fans, who would take the one or two words or phrases
given on the show and on that flimsy evidence, build a whole grammar and
lexicon. I can't tell you what their motivations were, though!

One invaluable reference for your student would be ALIENS AND LINGUISTS
by Walter E. Meyers (University of Georgia Press, 1980). It's 20 years
out of date, obviously, but it's got great older examples that your
student might not stumble across nowadays, and it's very good on
linguistic theory.

Dr. Mary Shapiro
Asst. Professor of Linguistics
Truman State University
Kirksville, MO 63501


I saw your post on the Linguist list and as an active conlanger (constructed
language creator) thought you might be interested in a reply. In fact, you
might be interested to know that there is a large and active community of
language inventors on the internet. I have a website at>with a large number of pages devoted to language creation
( and in particular an extensive
reference grammar for my main constructed language amman iar(see You will also find a number of hyperlinks
to other constructed language resources available on the internet.

Conlangers come from a number of different backgrounds, although a few are
professional linguists, most like myself are not, but we all share an
intense avocational interest in linguistics. Our creations vary from small
language sketches (see to full blown and
fairly detailed language descriptions like amman iar . The community also
divides along an axis of interest. Some, like me, create languages purely
for the challenge and aesthetics of the activity. These languages are
typically called art languages (artlangs for short). Some create them with
the goal of becoming an international auxiliary (ala Esperanto, Ido et al),
these are typically called auxiliary languages (auxlangs for short.) Still
others create languages that are meant to model predicate or other formal
logic systems (ala Loglan, Lojban et al), these are typically called logical
languages (loglangs for short).

I could probably babble on and on about this past-time, but it might be more
productive if I responded to specific questions your student might have,
which I would be quite willing to do.


David E. Bell
The Gray Wizard

Yes, I think I shall express the accusative case by a prefix!
A memorable remark! Just consider the splendour of the words! I shall
express the accusative case. Magnificent! Not it is expressed nor even
the more shambling it is sometimes expressed, nor the grim you must learn
how it is expressed. What a pondering of alternatives within ones choice
before the final decision in favour of the daring and unusual prefix, so
personal, so attractive; the final solution of some element in a design that
had hitherto proved refractory. Here were no base considerations of the
practical, the easiest for the �modern mind�, or for the million only a
question of taste, a satisfaction of a personal pleasure, a private sense of

from The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays - A Secret Vice,
by J.R.R. Tolkien [Houghton Mifflin Company 1984])

From: FFlores <>

Well, first of all, I must say I'm not in Linguist, but in Conlang,
where your message was forwarded to harvest some responses. You may
be receiving some more answers from Conlang members; I hope you won't
matter my answering directly to you.

I have invented several languages, to different extents. Some of them
were, as you said, outgrowths of fictional settings or short stories,
but most of them developed together with the setting, and often preceded
it (in time, or in my mind's causal chain, so to speak).

My motivations? You can read about them in my site,
where I've also placed links to my conlangs' pages. In short, I find
beauty in the structure of languages, in the way sounds combine, and
concepts relate to each other and 'fall into place' with relative
simplicity even if the whole is overwhelmingly complex. I also like
to play and see what I find. The fact that everything I do is, as
some detractors of this task pejoratively claim, to re-arrange
preexisting things, does not bother me the least bit. I simply
try to find not-so-common outcomes. I must confess I feel a bit
guilty when I create a language with some extremely non-exotic
feature, like SVO order with no case marking or suffixed tense-
person-number inflection on verbs; this (the guilt) is AFAIK quite
common in the conlanging business. :)

My methods?
('How to Create a Language') is a tutorial-like thing I've written
to explain them, though full of little and not so little mistakes
due to my linguistic amateurishness. My personal routine is to work
on the language when I want to. I begin by creating a phonology,
which is usually symmetrical, sometimes too simple and sometimes too
complicated, which is then in flux for days or weeks (rarely longer).
Sometimes the phonology is just a excuse to start creating words
illustrating some morphological or syntactic feature that was the
real cause of the language starting. I then focus usually on nouns,
then on verbs; other parts of speech appear later. When the language
has reached some stability, I begin to toy with semantics, creating
untranslatable words (meaning, unstranslatable with a single word
in English or my native Spanish) and synonyms and antonyms for the
ones I have.

I keep everything well-documented in text files, with a database for
words and eventually for each morpheme.

Few langs reach this stage. My current most developed project, Drasel�q
( ), was started more
than two years ago and it only has circa 1860 words, composed of 1000+
morphemes. Far before this point, I felt the need to go deeper into
the language and I set up (after a painfully detailed task of revision
a set of ancient roots and affixes, from which the modern words were to
be derived. This is what I do always, now; I create the ancient word,
then derive it; it lets me play some interesting games like double
derivation (a word derived as usual vs. a reborrowed cognate). Some of
my languages share a common setting, and have borrowed words from each

--Pablo Flores
 ... I cannot combine any characters that the divine Library
 has not foreseen, which in some of its secret tongues do not
 bear some terrible meaning. No-one can articulate a syllable
 not filled of caresses and fears; which is not, in some one
 of those languages, the powerful name of a god...
 Jorge Luis Borges, _The Library of Babel_

From: Humphrey Tonkin <>

You are, I am sure, aware of Paolo Albani and Berlinghiero Buonarroti's
Aga Magera Difura: dizionario delle lingue immaginarie (Bologna:
Zanichelli, 1994). Also Marina Yaguello, "Lunatic Lovers of Language:
Imaginary Languages and Their Inventors" (London: Athlone Press, 1991).
See also Michel Pierssens, "The Power of Babel: A Study of Logophilia"
(London: Routledge, 1980). P.Cornelius, "Languages in 17th and Early
18th-Century Imaginary Voyages" (Geneva: Droz, 1965) is helpful on this
aspect of the subject.

A section of the Modern Language Association's Annual Bibliography,
entitled "Invented Languages," contains numbers of references to current
scholarship, e.g. about Klingon.


Humphrey Tonkin
University Professor of the Humanities, University of Hartford
West Hartford, CT 06117, USA
tel (office) +1 860-768-4448 fax (office) +1 860-768-4411
(home) 279 Ridgewood Road, West Hartford, CT 06107
tel (home) +1 860-561-2669 fax (home) +1 860-561-5219

"The unexamined college is not worth loving." --Mabel Lang

Susan Meredith Burt

until May 15:

Department of English
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
800 Algoma Blvd.
Oshkosh WI 54901 USA


602 Normal Avenue
Normal, IL 61761
phone: 309-888-2704

After August 16, 2000:

Department of English
Illinois State University
Campus Box 4240
Normal, IL 61790-4240

my best guess at an email address:
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