The Digital Way to Spread Conlangs
Universit` degli Studi dell’Insubria
How many conlangs?
Conlangs and Internet
A page from John Wilkins Essay Towards a Real Character, 1668.
What is a conlang?
Constructed language (conlang)
Invented language (Bausani, 1970)
Kunstsprache (Art language)
A lot of terms for a controversial linguistic phenomenon.
Deﬁning a conlang
Conlang A complete language system written by one people,
the langmaker. Primary modeling system in
Lotman’s terms. A posteriori languages in the terms
of Couturat and Leau. A conlang is potentially (or
actually is) spoken by people.
Here, we don’t deal with a priori systems such as John Wilkins’.
Types of conlang
Literary conlang Languages for literary purposes, i.e. conlangs
built according to some literary background.
Auxiliary conlang Languages for auxiliary purposes, i.e. conlangs
built to make people speak across native tongue
boundaries. We call them auxlangs.
The conlang paradox: once launched, the only speaker of the
conlang is the langmaker itself.
How many conlangs?
Cover of the Esperanto translation of The search of the perfect
language by Umberto Eco
Before the Web Era
In 1994 the Italian dictionary of invented languages descrives
almost 3,000 conlangs and a priori secondary model systems.
Every conlang was launched before 1993, when the Web started
becoming a mass phenomenon.
A langmaker had to publish a book with base grammar, dictionary
and sample texts.
Conlangs and Internet
Logo of the web site Langmaker.com
After the Web Era
In September 1998, the ﬁrst post to the Constructed Languages
List, based in Brown University.
In October 2005, more than 1,400 conlangs have been indexed by
the unoﬃcial repository www.langmaker.com
Now, a langmaker had to read a HOWTO web page and write a
The Memory Loss Eﬀect
More than 2,000 conlangs referred in the Italian dictionary are not
indexed by Langmaker.com. Mostly these conlangs are Esperanto
oﬀsprings and a priori systems.
As happened in other ﬁelds of knowledge, the web doesn’t keep
memory of conlangs published before the Web Era.
Let’s see the most important conlangs in the web
The Klingon Language Institute Logo
A specimen of the Klingonian
From: Wikipedia in English
The Klingonian as a marketing tool for Star Trek
In 1985 the linguist Mark Okrand created the language of Klingon
race, as a tool of scripwriters and actors of Star Trek series.
Copyright and ﬁnancial support from Paramount Pictures
In October 2004 the ﬁrst documentary about Klingon language
and culture, Earthlings: Ugly Bags of Mostly Water was presented
at Denver, Colorado. Director: Alexander Philippe. Star: Michael
Dorn (‘Worf’ in Star Trek ﬁlms).
What happened in 20 years to the Klingonian?
The Klingonian became a Human Language
People started using in the Internet and in informal meetings, they
create neologisms, ﬁnally “humanizing” this alien language.
Only a minority of the Klingonists consider
themselves as trekkers and by the modernization of
Klingon that gives tha language more vocabulary not
related to Star Trek concepts (Wahlgren 2004: 16)
Remark: conlangs are considered as a value in themselves,
regardless of the background and scopes of launching.
The Elvish Languages
Vinyar Tengwar logo, the oﬃcial review about “Tolkien
linguistics”, indexed by the Modern Language Association.
A specimen of Quenya
Pater Noster and Ave Maria inn Quenya, by Sir J.R.R. Tolkien.
The Elvish Languages as ground for Tolkien’s mythopoiesis
As a philologist, Tolkien wanted to build an ancient dead language
family, not to create something suitable for using in the
What happened in the Web Era to Tolkien’s languages?
Elvish Linguistic Scholars Just For Fun
In 2005, the 50th anniversary of the complete publication of The
Lord of the Rings, the Tolkien Society organized the ﬁrst
international congress of E.L.F. (Elvish Linguistic Fellowship)
devoted to study scholarly these languages.
People still consider these languages as Sanskrit or Ancient Greek:
ancient dead languages.
Remark: Tolkien’s conlangs are considered as a value, but in this
case no one discussed the background and the scopes of launching.
Auxlangs: the Golden Age 1879–1951
1879: Schleyer launched Volap¨k
1887: Zamenhof launched Esperanto
1894: the referendum of the review La Esperantisto refused to
apply reforms to the language
1905: First Esperanto Congress in France: it enters its
“semiological life” (F. De Saussurre)
1908: De Beaufront-Couturat launched Ido, the ﬁrst reform of
Esperanto. Many others will be proposed after Ido.
1922: De Wahl launched Occidental
1928: Jespersen launched Novial
1931: Arie de Jong launched the only reform proposal of
1951: Gode-Blair launched Interlingua sponsored by IALA
How to measure the language vigour of an auxlang in the web?
Wikipedia as a possible metrics
The Wikipedia web page with its 207 languages, October 2005.
How Wikipedia works
Wikipedia is a one of the most advanced software engines, realising
the “collaborative brain” (De Keckerkove). Its contents are under
a strictly copyright-free licence.
Wikipedia entries are not-authored, made by volunterees.
Wikipedia is a web place which reﬂects the engagement of a
linguistic community supporting a language.
Auxlangs: Wikipedia entries, 25 October 2005
786,293 entries in English (en)
115,780 entries in Italian (it)
71,581 entries in Spanish (es)
28,892 entries in Esperanto (eo)
9,700 entries in Ido (io)
2,830 entries in Interlingua (ia)
218 entries in Interlingue (ie; ex Occidental)
45 entries in Volap¨k (vo)
Every language listed here has its own two-letter ISO code!
Volap¨k: the very phoenix of auxlangs
An article from a Usa newspaper in 1898 about the new “world
A specimen of Volap¨k
O Fat obas, kel binol in s¨s, paisaludom¨ nem ola!
K¨mom¨d monarg¨n ola!
o o a
Jenom¨z vil olik, ¨s in s¨l, i su tal!
o a u
Bodi obsik v¨deliki govol¨s obes adelo!
E pardol¨s obes devis obsik,
¨s id obs aipardobs debeles obas.
E no obis nindukol¨s in tendadi;
sod aidalivol¨s obis de bas.
Pater Noster in Volap¨k, from Wikipedia
Volap¨k, an auxlang copyrighted by its langmaker
The autocrative personality of Schleyer, who didn’t accept changes
proposed by the authority of the Academy of volap¨k, started
declining the language.
The ﬁnal straw was done by the rising of Esperanto. In 1931 Arie
de Jong proposed a reform in the direction of Esperanto and
Novial, but it failed.
The survival of the last volap¨kist periodical dates 1960 (Large
Wikipedia gives life to Volap¨k again
Today Volap¨k is only a language divertissement, esp. for
Volapop! is a web site devoted to the translation of pop culture
into Volap¨k, whatever this may mean...
Remark: at least, internet has given less successful auxlangs the
opportunity to demonstrate the tenacity of their supporting
Ido: the unwanted Esperanto oﬀspring
The presentation of the ﬁrst number of Progreso, the Ido review,
A specimen of Ido
Ostwald, president of the Commission of the D´l´gation pour
l’adoption d’une Langue Auxiliaire Internationale, comments the
langmaking principles of Esperanto (translation in Progreso, 1,
1908, from German).
Ido was saved by Esperantists
In 1929 there were only 29 speakers of Ido in the world (Carlevaro
After the Second World War, the ﬁrst Ido Congress occurred in
1960 in Swizerland (50 people), the second one in 1980 (35
Invariably Idists were Esperantists with a ‘double IAL’ identity.
Internet gave strenght to Ido
From 1990s Ido Congresses are one per year, according to
Wikipedia. Some people come directly, not through Esperanto, as
Remark: the web may become the main medium for organizing
congresses: internet is a facilitator.
Interlingua: Standard Average Romance Language
The cover of the Interlingua English Dictionary by Alexander Gode,
A speciment of Interlingua
Colonisation del Nove Anglaterra (Alexis de Tocqueville)
(Extracto de: DEL DEMOCRATIA IN AMERICA) Traducite del
texto original francese per Erich Berger.
Il es in le colonias anglese del nord, melio cognoscite sub le nomine
de Statos del Nove Anglaterra, que se ha combinate le duo o tres
ideas principal que forma le base del theoria social del Statos Unite.
Le principios del Nove Anglaterra se ha in le comenciamento
expandite in le statos vicin; postea illos ha ganiate pauc a pauc le
plus distantes, e ﬁnalmente, si il es permissibile exprimer se assi,
illos ha ’penetrate’ le confederation integre.
From ‘Appendix 3 - sample texts’, Interlingua English Dictionary.
Esperanto, the most developed auxlang
Home page of Lernu.net, the free wiki-way-made e-learning
Esperanto course for young people, now in 24 languages.
A specimen of Esperanto
Liza pentras bildojn. Liza paints images
Longe for de mia mond’ Long away from my world
Mi portiˆis per etera ond’ I let myself go by an ethereal wave
Al loko stranga tre To a very strange place
Fore de l’amika rond’ Away from my friends
Plene je demandoj sen respond’ Full of questions without answers
Kaj motorpane’ My car got broken
Marso a˘ Aldebaran’ Mars or Aldebaran
Stelo sen samidean’ A star without ‘samideano’
Vere mankis ies akompan’ Really it lacks someone with me
From: ...sed estas ne, CD by Persone, Esperanto rock band.
http://www.bertilow.com/persone/mp3/liza pentras bildojn 1min.mp3
Esperanto: one century of continuos public life
Esperanto is the most successful auxlang: 1905-2005: one century
of public life. It survived two World Wars. It has even a pop
culture by its own.
Internet plays two roles in the Esperanto movement:
a socializing medium, i.e. a medium to get new people
a facilitator, i.e. a medium to keep contacts and to organize
Letters of Giuseppe Peano and Louis Couturat about the adoption
of an auxlang.
Main remark: the main phenomena in literary conlangs are
conlangs well supported by a culture.
An other remark: Internet is a condition not suﬃcient to make a
conlang interesting beyond its langmaker.
Main remark: Internet may be the main medium to (re)vitalize
Final remark: in the special case of Esperanto, Internet plays a role
of visibility – supporting the reasons of auxlang fans.