RSS Feed
Jul 16

Conlanging, Quijada, and Kalmykia

Posted on Friday, July 16, 2010 in Conlangers

David J. Peterson posted the first version of his Conlang Manifesto to the CONLANG-L listserv in January 2002. It has stood the test of time (10 years is a long-time in the conlanging game) as a reasoned, coherent piece of conlang apologetics. One of my favorite portions is:

[Conlanging] gets one thinking about the multifariousness and beauty of language, and one who can appreciate this is less likely to misunderstand, deprecate and stereotype those speaking other languages, which is one of the main causes of racism and ethnocentrism. In short, language creation is one of the keys to social harmony and world peace. If one is going to take anything seriously, certainly world peace is it, and if so, shouldn’t language creation be given some credit too?

The conlanging community had a taste of that “world peace” recently with the experience of John Quijada. John was invited to present a talk on his well-known and well-respected engelang Ithkuil at a conference in Kalmykia in early July. Some will remember the article in the Russian magazine that mentioned Dzhonom Kikhadoy and his language, demonstrating the interest in Ithkuil in that area of the world. John has posted a brief summary (and photos) of his trip to Kalmykia on his website. John’s last line on that page, I believe, echoes the passage in David’s Conlang Maniesto:

I was humbled to discover so many people interested in my work, and whose work in turn I found quite fascinating (to the extent I was able to understand it through my interpreters). I now have several new friends halfway around the world.

John has promised to share more details about his experiences. It sounds like a fascinating adventure. He has also posted the slides from his session online. For anyone interested in an astounding exposition on what you can do with Ithkuil, this is a don’t-miss link.

As an aside, I had the pleasure of making John’s acquaintance way back at LCC2 (even having the honor of standing beside him at the official photo. I remember thinking, “Wow, this is the guy who created Ithkuil!”. He also graciously contributed to the CPL conlang exhibit. John is a man of many talents and interests, and I’m grateful to have met him. He is humble, personable, good-natured, and an all-around conlanger’s conlanger. The community couldn’t ask for a better international ambassador.

Mar 11

Great New York Times Column

Posted on Thursday, March 11, 2010 in Conlangers, Conlanging, Library Additions

A March 10, 2010, column from the New York Times has been posted to the Newspaper Articles in TCL. Arika Okrent and Paul Frommer have responded to readers’ questions about “invented languages” and provided some very in-depth answers. Enjoy!

Sep 12

Conlangers Extraordinaire #3: Marc Okrand

Posted on Saturday, September 12, 2009 in Conlangers

Marc Okrand

Marc Okrand

This third in the conlangers extraordinaire series highlights one of the best known “professional” conlangers. As a side note, having an email exchange with Dr. Okrand was one of the coolest things about creating the Esperanto, Elvish, and Beyond exhibit

Marc Okrand is Director of Live Captioning at the National Captioning Institute (NCI) in Vienna, Virginia, near Washington, DC. Celebrating his 25th year at NCI in 2005, Okrand is a pioneer in the use of closed-captioning for live television broadcasts. He has a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of California, Berkeley, where he specialized in Native American languages. His dissertation, a grammar of Mutsun, remains a seminal work in the study of Costanoan languages. He taught linguistics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and was a post-doctoral fellow in the Anthropology Department of the Smithsonian Institute.

Dr. Okrand’s link to conlanging came about through a chance meeting in California while on assignment for NCI’s first major live captioning event, the 1982 Academy Awards. Okrand met a long-time friend for lunch who was working with Harve Bennett, Executive Director of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The movie needed a linguist to create some dialogue in Vulcan to be dubbed over Leonard Nimoy and Kirstie Alley speaking English. Okrand was recruited for the job and remembers driving home from the set one day thinking, “Oh, my God, I just taught Mr. Spock how to speak Vulcan!” Those four lines in Vulcan were to be just the beginning.

Two years later, Bennett was working on Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and called upon Okrand’s expertise again. The assignment this time was to create a language for the alien warrior race of Klingons. James Doohan, who played Star Trek’s Scotty, had actually coined a few words of Klingon for the first Star Trek movie. Okrand took the sounds of those words as a starting point and created the language known today as Klingon. On set for the filming of Star Trek III, Okrand had veto power over takes (although he learned to use this power sparingly) if the actors mispronounced their Klingon lines. During this process, the language evolved into a “real” language. After the film, Klingon took on a life of its own. Okrand wrote three books about the language (including the essential Klingon Dictionary), recorded language learning audiotapes, and worked on a CD-ROM game related to learning Klingon. He also shows up from time to time at the Klingon Language Institute’s annual qep’a’

In addition to Vulcan and Klingon, Okrand also created the Atlantean language for the 2001 Disney animated feature Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Atlantean is based, in part, on Indo-European roots to give it an ancient quality. Okrand also got to work with Leonard Nimoy again on this project. It is rumored that the character of the linguist in the film, Milo Thatch (voiced by Michael J. Fox), is based on Marc Okrand because the filmmakers didn’t really know what a linguist should look like and decided to use Dr. Okrand as a model.

Jul 23

Conlangers Extraordinaire #2: Carsten Becker

Posted on Thursday, July 23, 2009 in Conlangers

Carsten Becker

Carsten Becker

This is the second in a series of tributes to conlangers extraordinaire:

Carsten Becker (also known as guitarplayer on ZBB), a native of Germany, started conlanging after reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and being amazed by “all the Quenya in there and the detail given to it.” He happened upon Mark Rosenfelder‘s Language Construction Kit while doing Internet searches for material on Tolkien’s languages. This was in 2002, and, in December 2003, Carsten began work on his conlang Ayeri after two previous abandoned attempts known as The Nameless Language and Daléian. Carsten states that “since then, Ayeri has been gradually growing, and my ultimate goal is to make it a comfortably usable (private) language — which I think is a common goal of many conlangers.” An in-depth Ayeri Coursebook was written in 2005 by Carsten and was made available on his website in a professional-looking PDF format. It included the three separate Ayeri writing systems as well as a full grammar and dictionary. Carsten is revising the Ayeri grammar to reflect changes made in the past few years and is planning on tackling the entire Coursebook next; however, information is readily available on the web at Tay Benung: The Ayeri Resource. The site includes a grammar, dictionary, texts, information on the scripts, and even recordings in Ayeri! Tay Benung is Ayeri for “The Web.”

In an interesting twist of fate, Carsten has translated The Language Construction Kit into German. This translation is available as Der Sprachbaukasten online.

(Photo courtesy of Carsten Becker and first appeared in the Conlang Exhibit of 2008. Quotes taken from an email to The Conlanging Librarian.)

Jun 13

Conlanging Calvin

Posted on Saturday, June 13, 2009 in Conlangers

This has always been one of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes cartoon:


For more linguistical humor, check out The Speculative Grammarian (featured in Linguistics Online) as well as some of the entries in the Quotations of the Library.

Jun 6

Conlangers Extraordinaire: “Zompist”

Posted on Saturday, June 6, 2009 in Conlangers

This post begins a series highlighting conlangers extraordinaire. These will be based on people who were featured in the Esperanto, Elvish, and Beyond exhibit. In keeping with the last post thanking Ketumak, we begin this series with…

"The Zompist" Mark Rosenfelder a.k.a. “Zompist” of Illinois (USA) has been creating languages and worlds since he was in grade school. One of Zomp’s major gifts to the conlanging community is his Language Construction Kit (LCK) (featured in the Conlang Reference section of the Library). Often the first stop for beginning conlangers, the LCK has now been translated into Portuguese and Italian. The LCK provides a step-by-step approach to creating one’s own language compiled from resources while Mark was attempting to learn linguistics on his own. Topics as diverse as what sounds to use in a conlang to how to construct language families and dialects are covered. The Zompist Bulletin Board, one of the Internet’s main forums for conlangers and con-worlders, is yet another of Mark’s contributions.

Mark’s monumental online work, Virtual Verduria, began as a Dungeons & Dragons setting in his college days. It is the result of over twenty years of tinkering with concepts as diverse as language, history, chemistry, biology, and mythology. Virtual Verduria provides myriad details of Mark’s fantasy world of Almea (from the creation of its planetary system to the evolution of its indigenous inhabitants) and includes comprehensive maps, native stories, and myths of the various nations. There are a dozen individual languages or language families with grammars, vocabulary, and text samples. Mark has succintly explained how he does all this by saying, “I have no kids and I don’t watch TV.”

Although Zomp’s day job may be as a programmer, he has assured himself a spot in the Pantheon of Conlangers with his selfless activities in support of the Art.

(Note: Mark supplied two photos for the exhibit. The one displayed here is the one used in the exhibit and one which Mark himself labeled “less serious.”)

Jun 4

Thank You, Ketumak!

Posted on Thursday, June 4, 2009 in Conlangers



I’d like to thank David Johnson (of the British Library) a.k.a. Ketumak on the Zompist Bullentin Board for his recent suggestions for additions to The Conlanger’s Library. In addition to my being reminded about Marina Yaguello’s work, Lunatic Lovers of Language: Imaginary Languages and Their Inventors, Ketumak also provided links to several pertinent Internet sites including the Conlang Atlas of Language Structures, Basic English Wordlist, Rick Morneau’s collection of essays, and others.

If you have suggestions for books, Internet sites, quotes, or other authoritative items, feel free to send them to library at library dot conlang dot org.