constructed language (conlang)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Esperanto flag
The flag of the worldwide Esperanto movement, adopted by the first Universal Congress of Esperanto in 1905. Although Esperanto is a constructed language, it "generally satisfies the criteria for recognition as a form of natural language" ( Concise Encyclopedia of Languages of the World, 2009). (J.W.Alker/Getty Image)

Definition

A constructed language is a language--such as Esperanto, Klingon, and Dothraki--that has been consciously created by an individual or group. A person who creates a language is known as a conlanger. The term constructed language was coined by linguist Otto Jespersen in An International Language, 1928. Also known as a conlang, planned language, glossopoeia, artificial language, auxiliary language, and ideal language.

The grammar, phonology, and vocabulary of a constructed (or planned) language may be derived from one or more natural languages or created from scratch.

In terms of the number of speakers of a constructed language, the most successful is Esperanto, created in the late-19th century by Polish ophthalmologist L. L. Zamenhof. According to the Guinness Book of World Records (2006), the "world's largest fictional language" is Klingon (the constructed language spoken by the Klingons in the Star Trek movies, books, and television programs).

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

 

Examples and Observations

  • "A standard international language should not only be simple, regular, and logical, but also rich and creative. Richness is a difficult and subjective concept. . . . The supposed inferiority of a constructed language to a national one on the score of richness of connotation is, of course, no criticism of the idea of a constructed language. All that the criticism means is that the constructed language has not been in long-continued use."
    (Edward Sapir, "The Function of an International Auxiliary Language." Psyche, 1931)
     
  • "The traditional hypothesis has been that because a constructed language is the language of no nation or ethnic group, it would be free of the political problems that all natural languages bring with them. Esperanto materials frequently claim (incorrectly) that this is true of Esperanto. A distinction is usually made between auxiliary languages (auxlangs), designed with international communication as a deliberate goal, and 'conlangs,' usually constructed for other purposes. (The Elvish languages showcased by Tolkein in his epic Lord of the Rings and the Klingon language constructed by linguist Mark Okrand for the Star Trek television series are conlangs rather than auxlangs.)"
    (Suzette Haden Elgin, The Language Imperative. Basic Books, 2000)
     
  • Attitudes Toward Esperanto
    - "As of 2004, the number of speakers of Esperanto is unknown, but variously estimated as between one or two hundred thousand and several million. . . .

    "It  must be emphasized that Esperanto is a real language, both spoken and written, successfully used as a means of communication between people who have no other common language. . . .

    "The traditional aim of the Esperanto movement is the adoption of Esperanto as the L2 [second language] for all mankind."
    (J.C. Wells, "Esperanto." Concise Encyclopedia of Languages of the World, ed. by Keith Brown and Sarah Ogilvie. Elsevier, 2009)


    - "There is little doubt that, foremost among constructed languages though it is, Esperanto has not--particularly in recent times--captured a sufficient amount of general attention to become the functioning worldwide auxiliary its proponents wish. One rough distinction seems to be between those who, while not necessarily wholly unsympathetic to the idea of constructed languages, nevertheless perceive fatal flaws, and those who see Esperantists (and other constructed-language apologists) more or less as cranks and faddists."
    (John Edwards and Lynn MacPherson, "View of Constructed Languages, With Special Reference to Esperanto: An Experimental Study." Esperanto, Interlinguistics, and Planned Language, ed. by Humphrey Tonkin. University Press of America, 1997)

     
  • The Klingon Language
    - "Klingon is a constructed language tied to a fictional context, rather than a constructed language like Esperanto . . . or a reconstructed one like Modern Hebrew . . . intended for use among speakers in everyday circumstances. . . . 

    "Klingon is a language devised for the Klingons, a fictional race of humanoids sometimes allied with but more often in conflict with members of the United Federation of Planets in Star Trek movies, television programmes, video games, and novels."
    (Michael Adams, From Elvish to Klingon: Exploring Invented Languages. Oxford University Press, 2011)


    - "[T]he first thing to say about the Klingon language is that it is a language. It has nouns and verbs, the nouns distributed syntactically as subjects and objects. Its particular distribution of constituents is extremely rare but not unheard of on Earth."
    (David Samuels, "Alien Tongues." E.T. Culture: Anthropology in Outerspaces, ed. by Debbora Battaglia. Duke University Press, 2005)
     
  • The Dothraki Language Created for HBO’s Game Of Thrones
    "My goal, from the very beginning, was to create a language that looked and felt like the small number of snippets present in the books. There wasn’t much to work with (about 30 words, most of them names--and male names, at that), but there was enough to suggest the beginnings of a grammar (for example, there is strong evidence of noun-adjective order, as opposed to the adjective-noun order found in English). . . .

    "After I settled on a sound system, I extrapolated a morphological system. Some elements had to be maintained (for example, in the books, we see 'dothraki' for the people [plural], 'Vaes Dothrak' for the Dothraki city, and 'dothrae' meaning 'rides.' This suggests that /-k/, /-i/ and /-e/ are somehow involved in the paradigm for the stem 'dothra-'), but for the most part, I was free to run wild. After I had a fairly stable morphology (verbal paradigm, case paradigm, and derivational morphology, in particular), I set to work on the best part: creating vocabulary."
    (David J. Peterson, interviewed by Dave Banks in "Creating Language for HBO’s Game Of Thrones." GeekDad blog at Wired.com, Aug. 25, 2010)

     
  • The Lighter Side of Constructed Languages
    "I speak Esperanto like a native."
    (Spike Milligan)
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Nordquist, Richard. "constructed language (conlang)." ThoughtCo, Apr. 6, 2016, thoughtco.com/what-is-constructed-language-conlang-1689793. Nordquist, Richard. (2016, April 6). constructed language (conlang). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-constructed-language-conlang-1689793 Nordquist, Richard. "constructed language (conlang)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-constructed-language-conlang-1689793 (accessed January 22, 2018).