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Review of  Language Invention in Linguistics Pedagogy

Reviewer: Asmaa Shehata
Book Title: Language Invention in Linguistics Pedagogy
Book Author: Jeffrey Punske Nathan Sanders Amy V Fountain
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
General Linguistics
Issue Number: 32.2947

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The edited volume, “Language Invention in Linguistics Pedagogy”, is a collection of fifteen articles in which the authors describe the academic and pedagogical role of language construction. The main purpose of the book is to depict how con(structed)lang(uage)s are used in informal and formal educational settings including schools, colleges, and universities. In the introductory chapter, Jeffrey Punske, Nathan Sanders, and Amy Fountain briefly introduce the importance of constructed languages in the classroom and provide a brief overview of each article in the book. The chapter also displays the benefits of using conlangs, such as easy access to a wide range of learners and helping them develop their language and analytical skills.

Following this introduction by the editors, Chapter 2, “A Primer on Constructed Language” by Nathan Sanders, demonstrates a brief history of conlangs. The chapter begins with a description of the early notions of language construction and how it evolved. Then, it provides many examples of conlangs from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. In the following sections, the author describes how conlangs are used for different purposes in the modern era, including education, entertainment, arts, religion, and philosophy. The chapter concludes with a brief summary of key terms and concepts relevant to constructed language, such as relexification and crypto(lect).

In Chapter 3, “Budding Linguists and How to Find Them” (pp. 32-48), Anika Okrent briefly sketches, on the one hand, the kind of learners who are likely to be interested in conlangs and, on the other hand, the content they are interested in learning.

Chapter 4, “The Linguistics of Arrival” by Jessica Coon, describes her linguistic fieldwork in the Ch’ol-speaking Mayan village in Mexico where she learned the Ch’ol language. The author first explains the positive role of Universal Grammar in acquiring the structure of the Ch’ol language. Then the author compares the two different languages of Heptapods (Heptapod A and Heptapod B) and presents the linguistic fieldwork conducted with the Heptapod language.

Chapter 5, “Three conlang projects at three educational levels” (pp. 49-68), by David Adger and Coppe van Urk, presents a project using constructed languages that includes three different educational groups: young children, teenage children, and final year undergraduates. The project is based on Adger’s design of the Warig and Mere languages for a television series entitled “Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands”. The goal is to help students apply language invention skills and linguistic concepts in teaching linguistics in different contexts. In addition to introducing the project’s procedures, the authors provide detailed descriptions of different approaches to teaching sounds and grammar.

In Chapter 6, “The design(ing) of language” (pp. 69-85), Grant Goodall presents an undergrad course that examines the linguistics of invented languages. Goodall introduces three case studies that deal with three different aspects of language: the lexicon, inflectional morphology, and phonemic inventories. Goodall concludes with a discussion of the benefits of such courses in that they enable students to better comprehend the nature and design of human language.

In Chapter 7, “Using language invention to teach typology and cross-linguistic universals” (pp. 86-106), Matt Pearson introduces a linguistics class project that students use to create a constructed language typology. The goal is to help students understand the presence of predicted patterns in natural languages. After presenting a brief overview of the project that describes when and where the idea for the project originated, Pearson introduces the project’s sources that teachers can use to create questions and topics such as the World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Then the project’s parameters, including syntax, phonology, and morphology, are described. The chapter concludes with some examples of Nattiki conlang.

In Chapter 8, “Teaching invented languages to the undergraduate major” (pp. 107-124), Angela Carpenter presents an undergraduate capstone course in which students invent their own new language. Carpenter describes the design of the course in detail, providing more information about its content that includes the history of invented languages along with various grammatical features to be adapted. More information is also provided about the homework assignments and other features of the course, including translation assignments, guest speakers, and samples of students’ comments. Interestingly, the course also draws students’ attention to language change in a cultural context and to sociological factors that stimulate dialectal variation in their own invented language.

In Chapter 9, “Teaching invented languages as an introductory course” (pp. 125-136), James Berry reports on his invented languages course for English majors at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. The course was first introduced in fall 2016 and only included 10 students. After presenting background information about the course and its main goals, Berry introduces the language project and its four sections: the world of the language, the sound system, the morphosyntax, and the lexicon, semantics, and pragmatics. Berry concludes with a discussion of the positive results of the course and his intention to teach it again.

In Chapter 10, “Bringing language construction from the classroom to the community” (pp. 137-168), Carrie Gillon, Edward Delmonico, Randi Martinez, and Spencer Morrell present another constructed language course that was taught at the University of Arizona State University in 2016. The chapter is co-authored by the professor and three students who were enrolled in the course. Gillon and colleagues start with a brief overview of the reasons for creating the course, followed by a description of the course structure including its format, students’ presentations, and rough drafts. Then the authors reflect on the course, listing its advantages and disadvantages. Interestingly, the chapter concludes with a brief description of three different examples of constructed languages that students create in the course.

In Chapter 11, “The interdisciplinarity of conlangs: Moving beyond linguistics'' (pp. 169-185), Nathan Sanders and Christine Schreyer examine how conlangs underline the links between linguistics and other fields such as biology, physics, and anthropology. To this end, the chapter reports on students’ projects from two different classes. While Sanders provides two case studies from his linguistics classes, Schreyer describes projects in her two different anthropology courses. In their conclusion, the authors present the benefits of such projects from the perspective of students and instructors alike, asserting the benefits of interdisciplinarity in linguistics teaching.

In Chapter 12, “Teaching Proto-Indo-European as a constructed language” (pp. 186-207), Brenna Reinhart Byrd and Andrew Miles Byrd explore Proto-Indo-European using constructed languages. The aim is to present a novel technique for teaching historical linguistics courses using invented languages. The authors begin by describing the traditional approach to teaching Indo-European Studies (IES). Then they propose a new approach for teaching Proto-Indo-European (PIE) as a conlang using a fable translation exercise. Next the authors describe their contribution in a collaborative video game project called Far Cry Primal, in which they designed two conlang versions of PIE, Wenja and Izila, and taught them to the actors who appeared in the video game.

The objective of Chapter 13, “Learning about language through language invention” (pp. 208-238), by Skye Anderson, Shannon Bischoff, Jeffery Punske, and Amy Fountain, is to describe how to use conlangs in undergraduate courses outside linguistics classes. The chapter is based on a project taught in various classes over twelve years at three different institutions: University of Arizona, Purdue University-Fort Wayne, and Southern Illinois University. To complete the language invention project, the students in these courses were required to submit sample vocabulary, sound inventories including consonants and vowels, grammatical paradigms, and examples of questions as well as sentences of their languages, using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). After each of the main four steps of the project, students got feedback and revised their materials before submitting their work as the final field report. The authors share the students’ reflections on the project and how it helped them in their later academic decisions.

In Chapter 14, “Extraterrestrial message construction: Guidelines for the use of xenolinguistics in the classroom” (pp. 239-250), Sheri Wells-Jensen and Kimberly Spallinger provide a group of exercises that aim to engage students with an invented language. The chapter further discusses the advantages of using the suggested exercises in both undergraduate and graduate courses. The authors also suggest adapting their exercises to different levels of linguistics courses and to introductory mathematics courses as well.

In Chapter 15, “Artistry in language invention: Conlang pedagogy and the instructor as authority” (pp. 251-281), David Peterson describes a conlang course that integrates the artistic features of language. His course was taught in 2014 at the University of California-Berkeley. The chapter introduces the main project and assignments presented in the course, and also depicts a sample evaluation assignment as well as some theoretical issues in relation to phonemes, morphemes, and syntax.


This book (302 pages including the index) presents a very interesting set of articles that give a good overview of constructed languages. As the editors explain in Chapter 1, the articles give the reader an overview of current empirical investigations that employ constructed languages. All the contributions are not only interesting reads; many of them, in particular Chapter 13, are very important to language invention in linguistics pedagogy. They cover various topic areas, providing a complete, authoritative, and up-to-date overview of the field. The chapters are mostly stand-alone contributions that examine the use of constructed languages in introductory undergraduate courses in post-secondary institutions. Thus, the chapters can be read in any order. This book is ideal for students of applied linguistics, sociolinguistics, historical linguistics, and language acquisition, in addition to teachers, and researchers wishing to learn about invented languages. Overall, this book is a valuable source that provides frameworks for understanding the use of language invention in linguistics pedagogy. Researchers can consult this volume for directions of current constructed language research and readers do not need to have any familiarity with conlangs before reading the book.


Everett, D. (2017). “The story of humanity’s greatest invention”. New York: Liveright Publishing.

Gobbo, F. (2013). Learning linguistics by doing: The secret virtues of language constructed in the classroom. “Journal of Universal Language”, 14, 113-135.

Sanders, N. (2016). Constructed languages in the classroom. “Language”, 92, e192-e204.

Van, H. Gerard. (2017). The very big class project: Collaborative language research in large undergraduate classes. “American Speech”, 83(2), 222-256.

White, T. H. (2003). Extraterrestrial DX. Circa 1924: Will we talk to Mars in August. “SearchLites”, 9(3), 3-4.
Asmaa Shehata, is a faculty at the University of Mississippi, Department of Modern Languages. Her research interests include second language phonology with a particular focus on cross-language speech perception and production.

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ISBN-13: 9780198829881
Pages: 336
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