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Conlanging with Kids

Posted on Friday, September 7, 2012 in Conlanging, Rant

I’ve been thinking for quite some time about how one would introduce the idea of creating languages with children. Tolkien mentions in his pivotal essay (A Secret Vice) how natural it was for him as a child to create languages. The playfulness, openess, and boundless creativity of children is not hampered by preconceptions and societal expectations and so seems tailor-made for conlanging. Some people seem to think that language creation should be something one grows out of; but, as we know, that is certainly not the case. Language creation can just get more complex (and fun) as we get older. Conveying that to kids, however, can be difficult.

As primary Twitterer for the Language Creation Society’s @fiatlingua, I just came across an interesting tweet today from TEDx concerning use of Esperanto in the classroom. The video connected to the tweet is at . The organization is called Springboard … to Languages and the goal is to use Esperanto as a “springboard” to learning other languages and language in general. The speaker’s point was that it is an “easy” language to learn (easier than Spanish or French or Chinese), and children can begin communicating in the language much faster and more efficiently than other languages. This, in turn, builds confidence and engenders curiousity about “more difficult” languages. His analogy to bassoon-playing seems apropos.

However, this does not provide an avenue to language creation (even though Esperanot is a conlang) but one to learning natural languages. The goal is not for the children to create their own languages but to see Esperanto as a bridge language to introduce concepts about language.

There just aren’t a lot of books or movies that children can be introduced to that engender and encourage the craft of conlanging. I myself fondly remember Dr. Seuss (especially On Beyond Zebra) that got me interested at a young age in scripts, words, and the playful use of language. The Lord of the Rings (the books, long before the movies) was pivotal to my development as a conlanger (and “evangelist” for the craft). Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy included Sindarin and Quenya, but most people who see that (if they don’t already know about Tolkien’s languages) will most likely think something along the lines “That’s cool! I want a tattoo now that says [fill in your “Elvish” phrase here].” It once again doesn’t show that you too can create languages. Likewise, you can’t really speak Huttese or other Star Wars languages. Children don’t really get Star Trek with its Klingon language, and we really can’t introduce kids to Dothraki (at least in context).

We do have some worksheets and other tools on the Education page of the Library, but those are one-time workshop type of things. “That was cool… now onto something else.”

The answer to this question also depends on what age group one is talking about: Elementary-school age, middle-school, tweens, teens, etc.

I believe there are also those conlangers that believe we should do nothing to encourage young people to join in conlanging. That “evangelizing” the “secret vice” is neither necessary nor warranted nor even desired. My own feeling is that we certainly can’t make anyone into a conlanger against his or her will, but those that do show a proclivity towards it and an aptitude for it should be encouraged and shown that conlanging is a viable, worthwhile, and enjoyable hobby.

So, any ideas on introducing the viability of conlanging to children (at any age)? I’m all ears.

Bring on the comments

  1. My son 2F7Uwas inspired to start work on his first conlang by French lessons at primary school. Having a dad who conlangs probably helped too. So far it sounds like a relex of English with a quasi-French phonology, but it’s not bad for 7.

  2. […] read @fiatlingua’s post on conlangs and kids. Topics, in list form in part because I’ve been thinking about how a robot conlang might work […]

  3. Esploranto says:

    It is in fact a very delicate matter. I believe that “evangelizing” is not the way to go, not only because I sincerely I don’t like any kind of “evangelization”, but also because of my own experiences with conlanging. I remember that when I was at school and started with this part of my enjoyment stemmed from the fact that it was “my thing” my particular world and my particular hobby. I don’t know if by exposing people who have a proclivity towards conlanging to the whole conlanging world as we know it now in the internet we are doing them any favors, to me we are robbing them of developing a sense of intimacy with their own craft. However I do think we should be ready to receive the people who have the proclivity and are curiously searching for more material, new sources and the like, but rather than chasing on them we should be there for them when they decide to come.

    I mean, when I was first exposed to the Lord of the Rings movies I felt all the more connected to the film and story after learning that Tolkien was in fact a conlanger, and that fact made it all much more “mine” in a sense, even in a time when I didn’t use the word “conlang”. And of course after that discovering the many people who did it too was great, but I was already formed in a sense. But then again this is just my opinion.

  4. The Conlanging Librarian says:

    @Esploranto: I see exactly what you’re saying that “we should be ready to receive the people who have the proclivity and are curiously searching for more material, new sources and the like…” I would actually agree, and maybe “evangelizing” isn’t the right word. I just can’t think of a better one 🙂 Granted, it’s much easier to serendipitously find the conlang community at-large now with the Internet, et al., than it was even 10 or 15 years ago (not to mention in Tolkien’s day). In any case, my thoughts tend toward letting people know we’re all out here, being readily accessible, and (as you said) welcoming.

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