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Aspects of Conlanging

Language Construction Kit

This article is part of the Conlang 101 course
This is an introduction to basic elements within constructed languages.
Cc icon 128.png Use these articles to:
  • Learn what a constructed language is.
  • Get started making your own language.

Constructed languages, or conlangs (or artificial or model languages) are languages that are deliberately created at a particular time by particular individuals. This stands in opposition to natural languages. Conlangs may serve a variety of purposes, whether practical philosphical or artistiic. The earliest constructed langauges were kept private, rarely shared and oftentimes were based on a fundamental, philosophical concept. Constructed languages such as Esperanto or Volapük, which were created in the nineteenth century, were attempts to resolve the gulf between foreign languages by introducing a third party language.

With the advent of the internet, constructing languages has become a hobby for many people, serving as a tool for a conworld or a fictional nation or people.

Components of a Constructed Language

If a constructed language is to stand as a language, it must also contain all the elements of a natural language. Constructed languages, therefore, require grammar and lexicon and must be able to communicate anything a natural language might. Natural languages are inherently complex, and as a result constructed languages are oftentimes progressive works. Only a relatively few constructed langauges, owing to the amount of work and time their authors have dedicated, have approached "completion" in the sense of being useful enough to operate as a language.

  • Phonology — Sounds and spelling of a language. The phonemic inventory, allophony, orthography, prosody (stress).
  • Morphophonology — The intersection of phonlogical processes and morphological ones.
  • Syntactical alignment — The method through which verbs determine what the subject and object are. Nominative-Accusative or Ergative-Absolute structures impact how elements interact with the verb.
  • Morphology — The structure of a word. What syntactical features are unique to a class, like nominal case or verbal markings.
  • Syntax — How syntactical classes fit together.
  • Lexicon — Set of words and word components.
  • Pragmatics — The way speakers use the language and express ideas and idioms.
  • History — Evolution from one language to other languages or dialects.

Not all elements may appear within a language. A language that has its syntactical classes open, where nouns and verbs are swapped freely, might not have much to say about morphology, but it could have a lot of material on syntax. Some languages may have an entirely small set of lexemes (lexical elements), and expand the meaning of a word through a regular morphological process.

Types of Constructed Languages

As with any other form of art, constructed languages can fall into a number of genres and styles. These classifications, or types, are based on motivation and function.

  • Artistic languages are languages that focus on aesthetics more than the language representing or appearing to be natural.
  • Auxiliary languages are languages that are meant to bridge foreign speakers, allowing them to speak a 'neutral' language. They are meant to be easy to learn, easy to pronounce, have rudimentary grammar and an expanding vocabulary.
  • Engineering languages are languages that are used to test the limits and boundaries of the human language. They be designed to stand in for machine or universal translation, or be founded on a philosophical or logical concept, such as attempting to create a language free of ambiguity or redundancy.

Oftentimes, a constructed language may be classified separately, such as whether it is based on a real language or not. Languages that are designed to have evolved from another one is called a posteriori. Languages that are created from scratch are known as a priori, and may be inspired by actual languages, it bears no (fictional) connections to an existing language.

There exists a whole host of other classification schemes. Personal languages for diaries and fictional languages for media stand in opposition to an artistic language. Subgenres exist that are designed to be similar, or derived from, an existing one, such as a euroclone, or a language that superficially resembles a European language.

Famous examples

One of the most widespread and well known constructed languages is Esperanto, which exists as an auxlang. Languages designed for productions, such as Klingon, or Dothrakhi are also becoming more well known, while the languages of Tolkein, such as Quenya and Sindarin, were popular before the movies. Famous constructed languages are oftentimes the source of inspiration for an individual to make their own.

See also

  • C&C Category, which contains articles on many conlangs created by ZBB members.
  • Natlang, or real life languages.