- This article is about a type of conlang. Not to be confused with Lost Conlangs.
A lostlang is a fictional language set "in the real world" (in the sense most mainstream literature is set in the real world) rather than a specific conworld. The term is derived from the League of Lost Languages, a collaborative project providing a common framework for such languages. Such a lostlang represents a hypothetical continuation of a language or language family that either once existed or could have existed, but is lost in history. Lostlangs differ from altlangs that they are not set in an alternative history, and from languages of patent conworlds that they are not set in a world distinct from our own, but in a version of the consensus reality that just has a few extra languages added. Compare this to a "realistic" novel, which is set "in the real world" but with fictional characters and events.
History of lostlanging
It is not known when the first lostlang was made. The concept of lostlangs is based on modern notions of historical linguistics, so one would not expect such conlangs before the 19th century. The inventor of the modern diachronic approach to conlanging seems to be J. R. R. Tolkien, who in his abandoned novel fragment The Lost Road (1937) entertained the notion, not elaborated any further in other writings, that the Quendian languages, especially "Noldorin" (i.e., the language later known as Sindarin), exerted a substratum influence on the Insular Celtic languages; thus, in the framework of The Lost Road, the Quendian languages would be lostlangs.
In the 1990s, several such languages emerged on the CONLANG mailing list. John Fisher invented a conlang named Elet Anta, which was meant to be spoken by a small, secretive minority of the British Isles. Dirk Elzinga developed Tepa, later Miapimoquitch, a fictional indigenous language of North America.
Jörg Rhiemeier has been entertaining the notion that his Albic languages represent a lost pre-Celtic lineage of the British Isles which constitutes the unknown substratum held responsible by some scholars for the typologically aberrant development (from a conservative Indo-European standpoint) of the Insular Celtic languages, from the earliest beginnings of his project. Unlike altlangs such as Brithenig, which presuppose an alternative course of the world history, the Albic project presupposes a world that is the same as ours in all other respects, only filling a "blank spot" on the paleolinguistic map: we do not know what language was spoken in the British Isles before the Celtic languages spread there, so why not Old Albic?
Some other conlangers also developed fictional languages set "in the real world", in some cases living descendants of linguistic lineages that are known but died out in reality. In 2004, Rhiemeier founded the League of Lost Languages in order to provide a common framework for such projects; most of his conlangs, such as the entire Hesperic family (of which Albic is a branch) but also Roman Germanech and a few other projects, are set within this framework. In the course of the foundation of the League of Lost Languages, the term lostlang was coined on the CONLANG mailing list, and has since then been the usual term for a fictional language in such a setting.
Characteristics of lostlangs
A lostlang is (or should be) a naturalistic, usually diachronic, artlang. Some lostlangs belong to known families, sometimes parts of branches that went extinct in reality. Others are original creations, representing lineages that are entirely unknown but may once have existed and disappeared before leaving written records (as happened with most pre-Indo-European languages of Europe, for instance). As the lostlang is set on Earth as we know it, its speakers are humans. This rules out languages which show alien, non-human features. Many lostlangs represent tiny linguistic minorities in the world of today, but others represent extinct ancient languages that have left written records.
Examples of lostlangs