Conlang terminology

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Conlang Terminology is used by conlangers (people who create languages) who deal with a number of specific things in their own community, which may be rather uncommon to see elsewhere. As a result of this, the conlanging community (community of people who make languages) has its own jargon.

Making a Conlang

The most common way to say "make a language" is to say "conlang". "Conlang", thus, can be either a verb or a noun. "I am conlanging." "This is a conlang."

Another (less common) way to express the same thing is to use the word glossopoeia or glossopoesis. The first term is widely attributed to J.R.R. Tolkien, but it is not clear that he actually used the word in this sense (it has a more mundane sense in classical Greek). The word does not occur in his essay on conlang, "A Secret Vice", nor in his published letters. The earliest print citation anyone has found so far is the title of the Glossopoeic Quarterly in 1988.

And Rosta devised the terms glossatecture and glossatect for conlanging and conlanger respectively for a school assignment back in 1987.[1]

Types of conlangs

The "reason" classification system

  • Engineered languages (engelangs /ˈendʒlæŋz/), further subdivided into philosophical languages, logical languages (loglangs) and experimental languages; devised for the purpose of experimentation in logic, philosophy or linguistics. The term was originated in February 2001 by John Cowan and And Rosta.[2]
  • Auxiliary languages (auxlangs) — devised for international communication (also IALs, for International Auxiliary Language, or conIALs, constructed international auxiliary languages, by contrast with Latin or other natlangs which have been used as IALs)
  • Artistic languages (artlangs) — devised to create aesthetic pleasure or humorous effect

History of the "reason" classification system

This classification system grew out of discussions on the CONLANG mailing list in the 1990s and early 2000s. As early as 3 November 1992, Lars Henrik Mathiesen spoke of artlangs, auxlangs and "research langs", apparently what we call engelangs now. And Rosta named an earlier version of this system (with "loglang" in place of "engelang") the "Gnoli Triangle", based on Claudio Gnoli's description of his conlang Liva; at the time, the word "engelang" hadn't been coined yet, and "loglang" was used in a wider sense than it is now. Ray Brown uses a modified version with "engelang" in place of "loglang", calling it the "Conlang triangle". Many conlangs are not at the vertices of the triangle (pure engelang, auxlang, or artlang) but somewhere along the edges or in the space in the middle.

The "origin" classification system

An older, very basic classification system was applied originally to philosophical languages and auxlangs, but is meaningful for artlangs as well:

  • a posteriori conlangs take their vocabulary from one or more natural languages (even if the grammar is very different from those natlangs)
  • a priori conlangs have vocabulary whose phonological forms were invented from scratch (even if their grammar is strongly influenced by certain natlangs)

Occasionally one sees these terms used to refer to whether or not a conlang's grammar is based closely on one or more natlangs, but this is not the most standard use. Historically, with the philosophical languages and auxlangs of the late 18th to early 20th centuries, there was probably a close correlation between a prioriness in vocabulary and a prioriness in grammar and semantics; but with the wider variety of conlangs being developed in recent years, this correlation is not as strong.

Alternative (less common) classification methods

  • Personal language, hermetic language, langue close or heartlang, a language someone creates for personal use; the latter two terms emphasize that they try to become fluent in their language to use it in expressing their private thoughts in a way that natlangs or other conlangs aren't suitable for. Javant Biarujia's Taneraic is probably the most famous such hermetic language; he coined the term langue close by analogy with French maison close. Paul Burgess's mna Vanantha, which he also calls "Hermetic", was recently discussed at length in Sarah L. Higley's Hildegard of Bingen's Unknown Language. The term "heartlang" was coined by Rick Harrison.
  • Altlang, a general term for an alternate-history artlang, especially naturalistic diachronically derived artlangs such as:
    • Romlang, a naturalistic artlang derived from Vulgar Latin or Proto-Romance; usually set in an alternate history where the Roman Empire's linguistic influence was stronger in some area than it was in our own history. Andrew Smith's Brithenig is the granddaddy of romlangs.
  • Lostlang, a fictional language that is assumed to exist (or once have existed) in a world otherwise the same as our world, being small enough not to make a difference. The term is derived from the League of Lost Languages, which provides a common framework for such languages.
  • Fauxlang, a conlang with the design criteria of an auxlang but without the political goals of an auxlang ("the same thing we do every night, Pinky... try to take over the world!"). Some fauxlangs are also altlangs, auxlangs created by a fictional serious auxlanger in an alternate history; e.g. Rex May's Texperanto (created by a Zamenhof who immigrated to the Republic of Texas), and Ray Brown's Ελληνικό άνευ Κλίσι, a Greek-empire-timeline version of Peano's Latine Sine Fleksione.
  • Taxonomic languages are usually engelangs, specifically philosophical languages, where the sequence of phonemes in a word specifies the position of the concept it represents in a taxonomic hierarchy; examples are Ro and John Wilkins' Real Character.
  • Exolang, a language spoken by fictional nonhuman aliens, especially if it also violates human language universals. Quenya is spoken by fictional nonhumans, but probably wouldn't be called an exolang because it looks like a typical human language. Admired exolangs include Sylvia Sotomayor's Kēlēn and Jeffrey Henning's Fith. This term seems to be most used on the Conlang Relay list; elsewhere "alien language" might be more common.
  • Euroclone, a term used primarily on the AUXLANG list but also elsewhere. It is used generally to refer to auxlangs that more or less resemble Western European models. Some use the term for a narrow set of auxlangs like Interlingua; some use it a bit more broadly to include more schematic European-based auxlangs like Esperanto and Ido. The term is pejorative as used by some speakers, particularly those who think an ideal auxlang should be based on worldwide rather than primarily or exclusively European sources.[3] An older usage applied the term to any conlang based on European sources, including e.g. romlangs as well as the aforementioned auxlangs.
  • Worldlang, a term primarily used on the AUXLANG list; sometimes to mean an auxlang intended for global use in contrast to one intended for regional (e.g. Europe only) use, more recently used to refer to auxlangs that take their vocabulary from a variety of natlangs of different language families, not just Western European languages.[4] Some users of the term seem to emphasize globally accessible lowest-common denominator phonology and grammar, as well (e.g., CV syllables with a small phoneme inventory; few or no mandatory inflectional categories).
  • Hagioglossa or ritlang, terms coined on the CONLANG list but rarely used as yet, a conlang devised for religious or ritual purposes (prayer, meditation, worship, etc.)[5]
  • Planlang, occasionally proposed as a synonym of "engelang" but scarcely used in that sense, and also (slightly more often but not very often) used as an abbreviation of "planned language", a common term for auxlangs
  • Lablang, occasionally proposed as a synonym of "engelang" but rarely used.
  • Sketchlang, a conlang whose grammar or vocabulary or both is very incomplete; perhaps implying that the creator has no intention of fully developing it
  • Frankensteinlang is what happens when glossopoetry runs amok and you just make a horrific mess of everything.

Descriptive terms for conlangs

  • ANADEW: Another Natlang Already Did it Even Worse, or Another Natlang Already Did it, Except Worse. The phenomenon of discovering that a weird, supposedly original feature in your conlang already exists in some natural language. Also, "anadewism".[6]
  • Relex, a term of criticism saying that someone has naively or unreflectively imitated their native language too closely in creating a conlang. Many conlangers' first attempts at conlanging are relexes of their native language on one level or another. Also occasionally called "codes", "cipherlangs" or "nooblangs".
  • Kitchen sink conlang[7], a term of criticism saying that someone has thrown in too many features in their conlang without considering how they work together or what the overall ethos of the conlang should be. Sai Emrys doesn't use the term in his Conlang Evaluation essay, but he probably has this kind of thing in mind in saying "Somebody’s been learning new things in Linguistics class again..." Many conlangers' second attempts at conlanging are kitchen sink collections of all the neat features they've been reading about lately and the spiffy phonemes they've just learned to pronounce.
  • Maggelity, a term used mostly on the CONLANG mailing list[8] to describe the quality of conlangs with extreme degrees of irregularity even beyond what's found in natlangs; from Christophe Grandsire's conlang Maggel and its baroque orthography and grammar[9]. Also adjective forms maggelic, maggelitous, maggelitinous.
  • Etabnannery, adj. etabnanneric or etabnannimous: a quality of languages with extremely complex but regular orthography, usually due to retention of archaically phonemic spelling, or spelling that fails to reflect sandhi and other phonological processes.[10]

Conlang-exclusive terms

There are some grammatical or typological terms that are used only with respect to conlangs, or have a different sense with respect to conlangs although they originated in standard linguistics:

  • Trigger languages have an unusual type of morphosyntactic alignment apparently found only in conlangs. The term, and the way the conlangs work, was apparently inspired by attempts to understand the applicativization systems of Austronesian languages like Tagalog.[11]
  • Monster raving loony (or MRL) languages have the same case and syntactic behaviour for transitive agents and patients, and a different one for intransitive subjects. Clairvoyant languages do not distinguish agents, patients, and intransitive subjects at all, morphologically or syntactically. These terms are due to Justin B Rye; for the more common morphosyntactic alignments conlangers tend to use the standard terms (accusative, ergative, active, tripartite, ...)
  • Oligosynthetic languages, where all words are built from a fairly small set of root morphemes, apparently don't exist in the wild but there are a few conlangs of that nature; similarly oligoisolating languages with a restricted set of root words that don't compound but express more complex meanings through phrases, e.g. Toki Pona.
  • Correlative is a catch-all term used in Esperanto grammar, and sometimes in describing conlangs whose design was influenced by Esperanto, to refer to demonstratives, interrogative and relative pronouns and adverbs, and (especially if they are morphologically related to the aforementioned particles in a given language, as they are in Esperanto) words such as "someone", "nowhere", "anyhow", etc.
  • Self-segregating morphology is a quality some auxlangs and many engelangs have whereby one can always tell at a glance where one morpheme or word leaves off and another begins.
  • Verb-drop, a term coined by analogy with "pro-drop", a term for conlangs where the verb can be omitted when it's obvious from the cases or adpositions applied to the nouns in a sentence.
  • Naturalistic has at least two senses. In an auxlang context, it refers to a high degree of a posterioriness in both grammar and vocabulary, i.e. the language imitates one or more specific source natlangs closely. In this sense, Interlingua is more "naturalistic" than Esperanto, which is more naturalistic than Volapük. In an artlang context, it refers to verisimilitude qua natural human language -- if an artlang could be mistaken for an obscure natlang by a linguist who doesn't know it's constructed, then it's very "naturalistic" in this sense; it doesn't matter whether it's a priori or a posteriori. All the aforementioned auxlangs are too regular to be mistaken for natlangs, and thus not very naturalistic in the artlang sense.

Deictic Terms

One thing most conlangers eventually need is some way of referring to the various realms of their imaginations. Not so much an actual name of a fantasy world, like the Livagian World or League of Lost Languages or the World, these general references apply to any place other than the primary world. Some of these terms are: secondary world, other world, subcreation, the Elsewhere, faerie, Over Yonder, etc.

English adverbs of place and time are pretty capable of distinguishing between two points on a line: I live here but you live there, for example. Conlangers often deal with locations in the Elsewhere, however, with no direct line between and ordinary English deixis falls apart when we are speaking of these other universes, worlds and subcreated domains. Thus, at least since as far back as 1998, an orthogonal plane of deixis has come into use to fill in the gaps. So, in stead of always having to wordily explain whether one is speaking of the primary world (i.e., the "real world") or a subcreation (i.e., the "fantasy world"), we simply call the one *here* and the other *there*. (Note the obligatory asterisks, as they are part of the spelling.) Thus, the speakercentric or near terms (*here*, *now*, *this*/*these*) refer to one's place in or anything that takes place in the primary world, whereas the distant or far terms (*there*, *then*, *that*/*those*) refer to places and events in the Elsewhere.

Other Terms

Conlanger Meetings

Yes, yes! We all know by now some of the more slangy meanings of the word boink, but the term also has a long if sporadic history in the conlanging community. A conlang boink is any face-to-face meeting of conlangers for the purpose of having good conversation, good food and drink all in the company of other like-minded individuals. The term's use can be verified on the Conlang list back as far as 1999 as part of the fuller phrase a proper Conlang boink. Another term for a meeting of conlangers, dating back to 2009, is a Conlang Moot. Since the inception of the Language Creation Society, the term Language Creation Conference has become established and regularized for a more formal gathering of conlangers where papers and projects are formally presented all in a more formal atmosphere.

Dutch Emphatics

One sporadic but rather widespread practice is to use accented vowels to denote word stress. This editor finds it a more elegant and aesthetic solution to the usual (though time honoured) practice of using all caps or asterisks or underscores to denote word emphasis. Those, of course, are holdovers from the plain ASCII days of ancient email systems, and while still commonly used I see no reason why a prettier alternative can not be used now that it is available. Jan van Steenbergen introduced the practice (entirely accidentally, I am sure!) and others have taken it up.

The originally Dutch system is tailored to English in this wise: acute and grave accents are used depending on whether the stressed vowel is "long" or "short":

gáte, cát; fàther
reéd; rèd
síte; sìt
móde; mòd
múte; mùtt

Whatever the accent mark, it always falls on the second vowel of a double letter or diphthong: eàrth; groóve.

This article is part of a series on Conlanging Culture.

Conlanging culture: Conlang flag * Conlang terminology * Language Creation Conference * Smiley Award
Conlanging organizations: Language Creation Society
Conlanging forums and online communities: CBB * Conlang-L FAQ * List of communities * PFJ * Zompist Bulletin Board
Conlanging websites:
Conlanging games: Conlang relay * Comentary Conlanging * Glossotechnia * #Lexember
Misc: Software tools for conlanging * My First Conlang * St Hildegard's day * *