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Review of  Mixed Artificial Languages

Reviewer: Dirk A. Elzinga
Book Title: Mixed Artificial Languages
Book Author: Alan Reed Libert
Publisher: Lincom GmbH
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): Volapük
Book Announcement: 16.3461

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Date: Thu, 1 Dec 2005 13:35:44 -0700
From: Dirk Elzinga <dirk_elzinga@byu.edu>
Subject: Mixed Artificial Languages

AUTHOR: Libert, Alan Reed
TITLE: Mixed Artificial Languages
SERIES: Languages of the World 29
YEAR: 2002

Dirk Elzinga, Department of Linguistics and English Language,
Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, USA.


Artificial languages are languages which have been consciously
invented rather than arising naturally and spontaneously among a
community of speakers. Well-known examples of artificial languages
include Esperanto and Klingon. An artificial language can be created
for a number of reasons: as background for a fictional world, as a
private code, as a vehicle for personal introspection, or as an
international auxiliary language.

Among artificial languages intended as international auxiliary
languages, there is a traditional tripartite division based upon the
relationship of the artificial language to national or ethnic languages.
_A priori_ languages are languages whose vocabulary and grammar
are created from scratch with little or no borrowing from natural
languages. _A posteriori_ languages are languages in which
vocabulary and grammar are drawn from one or more natural
languages. Of course, a priori and a posteriori represent endpoints of
a continuum rather than discrete categories, and one can also speak
of _mixed_ languages--languages which lie between the two extremes
in grammatical and lexical material.

This book is the second of a series of three which discuss artificial
languages from a descriptive and typological perspective. The first
book in the series (Libert 2000) deals with a priori languages; the third
book (Libert 2004) deals with a posteriori languages whose source
vocabulary is drawn primarily from Latin and its daughter languages.
The present book treats languages of the middle or ''mixed'' category.


Chapter 1 is a brief introduction to the languages which provide the
material for discussion including the sources of information on the
languages. These languages include: Balta, The Blue Language,
Bopal, Dil, Dilpok, Gilo, Menet's Langue Universelle, Nal Bino, Orba,
Pan-kel, Qosmiani, Spelin, Tal, Vela, Veltparl, and Volapuk. The
sources which Libert uses are not always first-hand and he makes
copious use of Couterat and Leau (1903/1907), a compendium of
artificial language descriptions. Internet sources are also used for
many of the languages.

Chapter 2 presents the sound inventories of the languages under
discussion together with their orthographic conventions. At least one
of the languages, Gilo, can be represented using non-Roman
characters as part of its design, but all examples of the language are
presented in the romanization found in the original source material.
There is a section on suprasegmentals, but since the source materials
available for the languages under discussion have very little to say
about suprasegmental properties, this section is correspondingly brief.
There is also a section on phonotactics.

Chapter 3 deals with issues in the creation of the vocabulary of mixed
languages. Mixed artificial languages are, by definition, drawn not only
from natural languages but also from their makers' imagination; the
choice of vocabulary items is guided by several sometimes competing
principles including brevity (e.g., a preference for monosyllabic roots),
internationality, neutrality, ease of pronunciation.

Chapter 4 discusses properties of the inflectional and derivational
morphology of nouns, pronouns, numerals, adjectives, adverbs, verbs,
adpositions, conjunctions, interjections, and other particles.

Chapter 5 discusses syntactic features of the languages under
discussion, so far as they can be discerned from the source material.
Libert includes discussion of basic word order in the sentence and
noun phrase, binding, pro-drop and object drop, and asyndeton.

Chapter 6 summarizes what can be gleaned from the source materials
concerning the semantics of the languages under discussion. Topics
include synonymy, ambiguity and homonymy, idioms, and metaphor.

Throughout the book are short discussions relating the descriptive
material to language universals. The statements of universals are
drawn from the online _Universals Archive_.


Libert's goals in writing this book are both descriptive and typological.
On page 2 he states: ''I hope that this book will give an idea of the
nature of this interesting group of languages.'' He is also clearly
interested in the typological profile of these languages as a group,
and he provides some discussion of how well these languages
conform to postulated universals of human language.

The structure of the book lends itself well to typological discussion. By
dividing it into chapters concerned with phonology, morphology,
syntax, etc, Libert provides himself a framework for discussing the
typological characteristics of these languages. The pattern is set in
the chapter on phonology; there is ample discussion of the
phonological inventories of the languages in question, and a nice
section on how these languages compare to universals of
phonological inventories. Unfortunately, Libert does not maintain this
pattern in the other chapters, where discussion of the conformity or
nonconformity of these languages to postulated language universals
tends to be rather cursory, and there is no consistent place from
chapter to chapter where typological observations are made and

The languages discussed in the book were chosen on the basis of
their having appeared in Couterat and Leau (1903, 1907) under the
heading of ''mixed languages'', but much of Libert's source material is
taken from World Wide Web pages. Without the ease of online ''self-
publication,'' many constructed language projects would be completely
unknown, and there is a lively online constructed languages
community. But as with most online communities, it is rather transient
and Web sources are notoriously short-lived. In this respect, Libert's
book is potentially an important source of documentation for some of
these projects.

The descriptive aims of the book, however, are seriously hampered by
the book's brevity and organization. It might have been more effective
to provide short grammatical sketches of the languages profiled in the
book and then proceed to discuss the typological properties which
these languages show. This would, of course, have made for a longer
book, but one which would have more descriptively satisfying.

One other complaint is that there are no translations of foreign
language passages; in particular, the French quotations from Couterat
and Leau are frequent and occasionally lengthy. This is off-putting to
a non-French speaking reader who is nonetheless interested in the
topic, especially since some of these quotations provide important
parts of the description of the languages in question.


Couterat, L. and L. Leau. 1903 and 1907 (1979). _Histoire de la
langue universelle_ bound with _Les nouvelles langues
internationale_. Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag.

Libert, Alan. 2000. _A Priori Artificial Languages_. Languages of the
World 24. Munich: Lincom Europa.

Libert, Alan. 2004. _Artificial Descendants of Latin_. Munich: Lincom

_Universals Archive_. World Wide Web pages at URL <http://ling.uni-

Dirk Elzinga is Assistant Professor in the Department of Linguistics
and English Language at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah,
USA. His primary research interests are Numic (Uto-Aztecan)
languages and English phonology. He has been active in the online
constructed languages community since 1993.

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