post kia eyan kia feni!

i've only recently discovered the world of constructed languages (or 'conlangs' if you're in the know). a constructed language differs from a natural language (natlang) because it is designed by a person or people, rather than evolving as natlangs do.

esperanto is perhaps the most famous conlang. it was developed for international communication in the hopes of fostering peace. wikipedia estimates that there are 100,000 to 2 million fluent speakers of esperanto and 1,000 native speakers.

other well-known conlangs are those created by j.r.r. tolkien for his fantasy characters to speak. while these fictitious languages can't be said to have evolved 'as natural languages do,' tolkien famously evolved them himself, creating a world full of languages that were realistically related and distributed according to the movements of populations. some langs, though fictional, are constructed to be as realistic as possible.

people also create conlangs for philosophical reasons, especially to test the sapir-whorf hypothesis, which, at its strongest, states that the range of thought is limited by the range of language. Loglan is philosophical a language meant to limit or eliminate ambiguitity. for instance, one cannot express a finite verb without also expressing a tense eliminating ambiguities such as the english "i am going to the store" (later? right now?). Láadan is another fascinating philosophical language. It was made by Suzette Haden Elgin as part of a fictional work and also to determine whether western natlangs are systematically male-oriented. each sentence in Láadan ends with a tonal (one of the few tonal conlangs!) particle that expresses the mood of the sentence: fact, hearsay believed to be true, hearsay believed to be false, etc. just check out wikipedia's list of conlangs and be amazed at the number of people who have constructed whole languages and the diversity of their reasons for doing so!

now, journey with me to a small corner of the internet where one much-maligned little conlang lives. Kalusa is not listed on wikipedia. and i might be wrong, but i think it's the first unplanned conlang. the kalusa corpus is created one entry at a time by any user. each entry must have an english translation. then other users can vote on the acceptability of the entry. if an entry's score falls too low, it is removed from the corpus. users can search the corpus by english or kalusan keywords. it began with four simple sentences posted in may.

not exactly how a natlang develops, but closer than most conlangs get. it's hard to classify kalusa according to the typical taxonomy of conlangs. it's not exactly an artlang since it's not used in fiction; not really an engineered language since it has no philosophical purpose and isn't really engineered at all. i guess it's kind of an auxillary language, but most of those are created for some political purpose (like esperanto). at its heart, i think it should be called a language game.

i was immensely excited when i first found kalusa because it's all invented usage! what could be better than a totally open-minded community of language inventors trying only to encourage each other to understand and play by certain rules of a language game? isn't that a perfect little utopia of how language could work?

as it turns out though, where there's language there's always controversy. the forum on the kalusa site is often filled with interesting and open exchanges of information and curiosity; but it also reveals that everyone thinks they know what kalusa should be. gary, aka gregor samsa posts:
The earliest utterances of the language should deal with the most basic daily needs of the people who speak the language, and not with "existentialism" and "hyperinfracaniphilia". Therefore, rather than allowing contributors to add random (and often "goofy") sentences and words, a large collection of simple sentences dealing with the daily concerns of the people would be provided in English; sentences such as "It is time to plant the corn." and "Father has gone to the marketplace."
but the shared basic needs of kalusa users are NOT corn and marketplaces. in fact, the most shared things among kalusans are probably philosophy, linguistics and the internet. but if you believe, as gary does, that kalusa should be naturalistic (a common goal among conlangers), then for some reason we have to make believe that it started in the days of one syllable words. additionally, he proposes some sort of central control to keep people focused on such basic vocabulary before allowing departures. unfortunately for gary, the development of a language like kalusa would be fundamentally influenced by the technology surrounding it (not to mention that all its creators speak english). it will never begin with one-syllable words for corn because words for 'internet' and 'existentialism' are more interesting and more useful to its speakers.

dedalvs, another disatisfied kalusan, writes: (to an unkown poster)
If one were just to look at your entries, the obvious conclusion is that you have no idea how /s/-reduplication works (one need only look at /fortusortu/, to figure that out). But that isn't quite the truth. You've been against it, and everything else that didn't quite make sense to you, from the beginning, and so you just coined a bunch of obviously ungrammatical, nonsensical, or just plain ugly words to make the whole process seem ridiculous. Well, no need to bother any more. Just use your trick to continue getting as many votes as you want, delete all the sentences you don't like, and start coining away until you're satisfied. If you decide you're interested in an interactive language, though, let us all know, so we can come back. Until then, enjoy.
careful what you wish for! as i've said before, a language (any language) can't truly be interactive, because it's not an object that exists outside of people. because it belongs to many people all at once (those with certain types of power -- in this case, the ability to win votes), it is subject to wild 'ungrammatical' 'nonsensical' or 'ugly' changes. even if the person to whom dedalvs refers is dumb (doesn't know how s-reduplication works!) or mean (uses tricks! hijacks the language for irony's sake!), he/she is still a participant in the language. that is, to someone who approaches the language as a new user, the trick/nonsense/sarcastic words are just as good as the 'real' ones. what's real in a lang anyway?

i'll post again soon about the actual grammar of kalusan and my own adventures with coinage. but, of course, politics come first!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Alas, Loglan suffered an IP dispute and begat Lojban. It is not known if the Loglan/Lojban polemic was conducted in Loglan, Lojban or Logjblan, a special conlang designed for the maximal expression of bitterness.

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