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This is the official/nonofficial ZBB Conlanging and Conworlding FAQ on Kneequickie. Ideally it should be linked to from a sticky in C&C.


This FAQ

Who started it and why is it on a wiki?

Weldingfish started this FAQ. It was started because people have been complaining about not having one for bloody ages. It's on a wiki because this is probably the only way it'll ever get done. This FAQ is only for stuff relating to either Conlangery or Conworlds - general questions about the ZBB, memes, ranks, or purple elephants don't belong here.

Shouldn't it be split into seperate FAQs for conlangery and conworlds?

This should only happen if the actual C&C forum gets split.

Can I edit it?

Of course you can. That's what a wiki is for.

Ah, but can I add questions?

Only if you think they'd be questions that belong in an FAQ. If you just have a random question that isn't actually Frequently Asked, it'd be better to actually ask it on the ZBB.

The Board

What does C&C stand for?

It stands for Conlangery and Conworlds: that is, constructed languages and constructed worlds as opposed to "real" or natural ones.

How does the board work? How's the atmosphere?

C&C is a place for individuals to post their work relating to conlangs and conworlds, and review the work of others. It is also used for general interesting conlanging and conworlding topics, as well as the ever-controversial Translation Challenges. General linguistic discussion belongs in L&L, and everything else belongs in Ephemera or NoTA. Don't post conlang stuff in L&L. If you post a description of a conlang or conworld in C&C, you can generally expect the replies given by members to be honest and thorough (often brutally honest and thorough). This isn't because C&C regulars are cold, heartless bastards. It's because they're cold, heartless bastards who want to help you as best they can and believe that being honest is the best way of being informative. C&C is a busy place, however, so you can't expect everyone to reply to your topic.

Who can I go to for help?

Your best bet is to PM (private message) one of the Mods with your query. These are Raphael, pharazon and Salmoneus.

How do I register an account, anyway?

You don't. Due to an influx of spammers registering automatically, you have to ask Zompist to register one for you by following these instructions.

Someone said something insulting to me. What should I do?

Ignore them. If it really bothers you, you can tell a mod or Zompist.

What is a 'quickie'?

A quickie (in C&C parlance) is a topic that is of short-term importance, such as a question that expects a short answer rather than to kick off a discussion. Some users choose to name their threads "[Quickie] Title of topic" to indicate this.

Should I make lots of little translation challenges?

Depends what you mean by "little". If you mean "easy", please refrain. Conlangers who need basic sentences can make up their own. On the other hand, if you mean "challenging, and also happens to be short", then by all means go ahead. But as a general principle, limit the number of TCs you post (or combine them into one topic rather than starting a new topic for each!) And unless you have an extraordinary or hilarious TC in mind, don't post a TC you can't do yourself.

What is the L&L museum and why is it awesome?

The L&L Museum is a permanent repository of the best, most informative, most in-depth threads from the Languages & Linguistics forum. These threads are full of high-quality information, discussion, and links. Although the Museum's threads are drawn mostly from L&L, you can find lots of information relevant to conlangery within its hallowed halls.

How can I make my description easier to read?

Firstly, learn and use X-SAMPA (see below for further details). Especially if your description is long, take the time to format it: break it up with headings (in bold or a larger text size) and use bold and italic appropriately within the text, for instance, to distinguish a conlang sentence from its English translation. Above all, don't use hard returns within paragraphs, but only when you want to start a new line. When posting phoneme inventories, arrange the phonemes in a table and not just a long list. You don't have to use actual table formatting, but at least use separate rows for plosives, fricatives, approximants.... (And by the way, grouping sounds by manner rather than place of articulation makes it much easier to criticise, in particular to see whether the phonology is naturalistic or whether you've broken important universals.) If you want a section to be in monospace font, use the [code] tag.

Conlanging First Steps and Conlanging in General

What is a conlang?

A constructed language (also known as a "planned language", an "artificial language" or simply a "conlang") is a language created by a small amount of people (usually only 1 but some languages are the result of community efforts) in a short space of time (which can go from a couple of hours to many years) as opposed to a natural language which evolved as part of a culture and took hundreds (if not thousands) of years to evolve to its present state.

What Types of Conlangs exist?

We generally distinguish conlangs by sources and purpose.

  1. Sources
    • A priori languages: languages which much of the phonology, grammar and vocabulary are created from scratch, using the author's imagination or automatic computational means.
    • A posteriori languages: languages where a great part of the phonology, grammar and vocabulary are derived from one or more natural languages (or other conlangs).
  2. Purpose
    • Auxiliary languages (auxlangs): languages created for the purpose of international communication, such as Esperanto.
    • Engineered languages (engelangs): languages created to test or prove some theory on how languages work or might work. These are further divided into philosophical or ideal languages, logical languages (loglangs) and experimental languages. Loglan and L‡adan are examples.
    • Artistic languages (artlangs): languages created purely for aesthetic pleasure, many of which are designed within the context of fictional worlds (conworlds). J.R.R. Tolkien's Quenya and Sindarin are prime examples, as is Klingon.

To a lesser extent a few other terms are used (although not often) to denote the style of a language particularly if it is a posteriori language.

  1. Style
    • Romlang (Romance Language): constructed languges derived from or with heavily influence from Latin.
    • Jokelang (Joke Language): usually these are little more than a punchline, a humorous parody of one of the other styles (a Quenya-look alike Artlang, a dry Loglang, and so on), or hilarious nonsense, although occasionally (as with some such as Broken Russian) the joke will persist.

Where can I find a good introduction to conlanging?

The following websites will help you:

  • The Language Construction kit by Zompist
  • How to Create a Language by Pablo David Flores
  • The Lexical Semantics of a Machine Translation Interlingua by Rick Morneau (This website is more technical than the above, so leave this aside until you are more experienced)

How do I make a good thread on C&C?

If you are asking a question, give a general overview of your question in the topic title. People are more likely to answer if your topic title is "What is a sonority hierarchy?" rather than "Help!" or "What is...". When asking a question which you expect is of little importance, or will probably be answered easily, label it as a "quickie" in the thread title.

State your question clearly, with any information and details someone wanting to answer requires. When posting your language, post more than a phoneme inventory. Many beginners post a collection of sounds they think is cool, but a language is more than just a collection of sounds so give your language more depth before posting it.

Why do all my orthographic symbols come out wrong when I post a topic?

The software used by the zompist bboard (ZBB) is not able to display all unicode characters. In order to solve the problem, you can post an image of the text or change your orthography so that most computers can display all the characters. In order to present phonetic or phonemic information, use X-SAMPA (also known as "XS") instead of the IPA.

In order to present orthographic information, always check "Disable HTML in this post", or change the "Always allow HTML" setting in your profile to No. Otherwise, orthographic information given in angle brackets <like this> will not display properly.

What are some examples of some good conlangs?

Depending on what you mean by "good", here are some examples of well-known conlangs:

  • Esperanto invented by L.L. Zamenhof (auxlang)
  • L‡adan invented by Suzette Haden Elgin (engelang)
  • Lojban invented by the Logical Language Group (engelang)
  • Toki Pona invented by Sonja Elen Kisa (engelang)
  • Sindarin invented by J.R.R. Tolkien (artlang)
  • Quenya invented by J.R.R. Tolkien (artlang)
  • Zompist's languages by Mark Rosenfelder (artlangs)

How do I write a good description of a language?

Most people subdivide their language in several parts, being:

  • Phonology: the study of which sounds a language uses, how they may differ and how they are combined to form morphemes (meaningful parts of speech). It consists roughly of a phoneme inventory and the rules which specify how sounds may interact with each other.
  • Morphology: the study of the internal structure of words. It is a system of adjustments of words which alter the meaning of utterances as intended by the speaker.
  • Syntax: the study of the rules that govern how words combine into sentences. Usually, syntax is further divided into syntactic classes such as noun, verb and adjective and syntactic functions such as subject and object.
  • Semantics: the study of the meaning of expressions which take into account factors such as context, language conventions and the goals of the speaker.
  • Pragmatics: the study of the aspects of meaning which depend on speaker, addressee and the context of the utterance. Pragmatics includes things such as the treatment of given versus new information (including presupposition), deixis, speech acts (especially illocutionary acts), implicature, and the relations of meaning or function between portions of discourse or turns of conversation.
  • Lexicon: the inventory of the lexemes of a language, also named the vocabulary.

Many beginning conlangers, unfortunately, skimp on syntax and may leave out semantics and pragmatics altogether.

How can I create lots of words for my conlang?

There are many methods. This section will detail the most common ones.

  • Just make them up: yes, it's a lot of effort, but many of the conlangs you see with huge vocabularies have taken several years to reach that level. (Of course, their creators have been doing other things with their lives as well!)

Random combinations: you can use a random generator to pick phonemes (the sounds of your language) and combine them in a way allowed in your conlang.

  • New concept: you can take a word from another language of which you like the sound, adopt it to your phonology, and change it's concept. For instance, you can take the French word "attraper", change it to fit your phonology (e.g. "atlape") and assign it a new concept (e.g. "'atlape' means 'a musical instrument'").
  • Bastardization: like the "new concept", bastardization involved taking a word from another language and adopt it to fit your phonology and change it according to morphologic rules. The difference is that it retains it's original meaning. For instance, "attraper" becomes "atlape" but keeps its meaning "to catch".
  • Loanwords: simply take words from another language without changing them to fit your language's phonology. For instance, many IT terms from English are being introduced into language without a bastardization process.

Root combination: you can use morphemes ("house", "water" and "to grow" but also affixes such as "-less", "super-" and "con-") and combine them into new words. For this, you will need several rules which will, among others, tell the difference between a "birdsong" (song of a bird) and a "songbird" (bird who sings). For instance, the word "house ward" is a combination of the morphemes "house" and "ward" meaning "in the direction of the house".

  • Description: you can describe the concept behind the word instead of assigning it random phonemes, a method similar to "root combination". For instance, "thing that counts" is Slovak for "a computer".

Comparison: you can compare one concept to another, and you can compare various qualities. For instance, "thing that works like a brain" instead of "a computer" in Inuktitut.

  • Metaphors: you can describe new concepts in a metaphorical way. For instance, "she who sees numbers" is Icelandic for "computer" ("tšlva", the word in question, is a combination of "tala", to speak, and "Všlva", a female fortune teller).

How can I create a naturalistic conlang?

Study the grammars of real languages (natlangs), particularly ones from different language families, to get more of a feel for how real languages do things. You don't have to learn other languages, although more knowledge can never be a bad thing. Look into language universals, but remember to take them with a pinch of salt; there are many examples of rules once thought to be universal that were later found not to be, with the discovery of previously unknown languages that violated them. Finally, post on the ZBB and ask for criticism; many of the board's members have deep experience with languages, linguistings and conlanging and will be able to tell you if what you are doing is not naturalistic.

What is an artlang/engelang/auxlang/loglang/toylang/jokelang?

An artlang is an artistic conlang, made for its aesthetic value. An engelang is an engineered language, designed specifically to test a hypothesis, break a universal or three, or otherwise push the boundaries of human language. An auxlang is a language designed for international auxiliary use, like Esperanto. A loglang is a logical, unambiguous language. The suffix -lang has become productive in conlanging jargon, meaning that it can be attached to just about any word, to form a new word meaning "language with X property". Most new-formed words with -lang can be figured out relatively easily: toylang, nooblang, Frankenlang, jokelang...


What is phonology?

Phonology, in general, is the study of how sounds are used in language. We often talk about the phonology of a particular language, which is simply the way sounds are used in that language -- to build up words, sentences and utterances. Many conlangers begin a new conlang by working out its phonology (although this is by no means obligatory!) and so there are many ZBB topics presenting and discussing the phonologies of particular conlangs.

I made a topic about my language and got told to learn the IPA. What's up with that?

The IPA (short for International Phonetic Alphabet) is a universal way of representing phonetic and phonemic information. Thanks to the IPA, people can talk about the sounds used in a language without ambiguity or confusion, making it unnecessary to describe sounds as "the 'oo' in 'boot'" but as "/u/", for instance.

The reason people ask you to use IPA is because many regions and (sub)cultures have a different way to pronounce certain words. Think of the differences between British, American and Australian English! And even within those distinctions lie distinctions. Every character in the IPA represents exactly one sound, regardless of which language is represented by it so everyone understand what sound you mean without any hassle.

What is X-SAMPA?

A code for the IPA using only ASCII characters, thus making X-SAMPA (also known as "XS") usable and viewable from any computer and any software. See the wikipedia article for a complete list of all X-SAMPA representations of sounds. When posting on internet forums, X-SAMPA is the preferred standard.

What is Z-SAMPA?

An expansion of X-SAMPA, concocted by the denizens of the ZBB (hence the "Z" in the name). Z-SAMPA includes representations for many more sounds than X-SAMPA, and provides shorter alternatives for many sounds that are inconvenient to write in X-SAMPA. The authoritative source is the Z-SAMPA page right here on the KneeQuickie.

What is the difference between a phonology and a phoneme inventory?

A phoneme inventory is nothing more than a list of sounds (or phonemes). For instance, the phoneme inventory of Hawaiian is /a e i o u h k l m n p w ?/. A phonology contains much more detail about the phonemes and how they interact. For example, just from the above list of phonemes, you wouldn't know whether words such as /plank/ or /oieau/, or even /klmnp/, are permitted. A description of which combinations of sounds are permissible is called phonotactics. A phonology should also describe the allophones of the phonemes (see below) and in what environments each occurs.

Moving up to the word level and beyond, a phonology should deal with stress -- where does it occur, and how is it realised? (Not all languages realise stress as an increase in the volume of a syllable, as English does.) Then comes intonation, patterns involving stress and pitch across a sentence or an entire utterance. Stress and intonation are sometimes grouped together as prosody.

What is the difference between phones and phonemes?

Phones are just speech sounds.

Phonemes are groups of sounds that are distinguished from each other in a language. For example, in English, the two p's in "pip" are thought of as "the same sound"; they're not actually the same, but we don't distinguish those two sounds from each other. The first one is aspirated, the second is not. Many other languages do distinguish aspirated and unaspirated [p] sounds, and in those languages, the two would be different phonemes.

The word "allophone" is used to describe a phone as "belonging" to a phoneme. Thus, in English, aspirated [p] is an allophone of the phoneme /p/. An allophone occurs in predictable environments; that is, there are rules telling you when a phoneme is pronounced as one of its allophones, when as another. In English, /p/ is aspirated when it begins the word or when it begins a stressed syllable within the word. Using the wrong allophones -- for example, saying "pip" with an unaspirated [p] at the beginning and an aspirated one at the end -- would sound wrong to a native English speaker even if they couldn't identify why; but they would still hear it as being the same word.

How do I know which sets of brackets to use?

  • Phonetic information (information about which sounds are actually used) goes in [square brackets].
  • Phonemic information (describing an utterance in terms of phonemes) goes in between /slashes/.
  • Orthographic information (information about the writing/spelling system of your conlang) goes in <angle brackets>.


What is a conscript?

In this context, a conscript (short for "constructed script") is a script created by a single individual or small group of people in a relatively short space of time instead of having evolved as part of a culture. Our Roman alphabet is an example of a script, the Arabic script and Chinese characters are others. Examples of invented scripts are, famously, the Tengwar and KLI pIqaD used by Klingon.

What is the difference between a script and a cipher?

A cipher (more pedantically, a "substitution cipher"; there are other kinds) is a one-to-one correspondence with an existing script. Making a cipher isn't necessarily a bad thing -- they have uses in games and secret writing -- but on the ZBB the term tends to be pejorative, as many beginning conscriptors make scripts that are in fact just ciphers when it wouldn't be realistic for another culture to have developed a writing system that corresponds to our alphabet so exactly.

Where can I find some good font-making software?

Most people scan images of their own handwriting displaying the script, or use vector graphics software (such as the open source Inkscape) to make such images. This is because professional font-making software always comes at a price too high for creating a single font. About.com has a good list of them in case price doesn't matter to you. Their recommendations are:

  • FONmaker (Win)
  • Font Creator (Win)
  • FontLab (Mac, Win)
  • Fontographer (Mac, Win)
  • ScanFont (Mac, Win)
  • Community-based
    • MacConScript (Mac)
    • GlyphMaker (Win)

Another editor is FontForge (UNIX-based), you can run it on Windows as well with Cygwin. Combined with Autotrace and a vector graphics program like Inkscape it is a quite powerful alternative.

What are some good resources for scripts?

Omniglot has a collection of both natural scripts and constructed scripts.

Morphology and Syntax

What is morphology?

What is syntax?

What are some good books on the topic?

What is inflection?

What are cases?

What is morphosyntactic alignment?

Historical linguistics


What is semantics? How can it help me to make better conlangs?

Other Fields

What are the most neglected fields of linguistics in conlanging?