constructed language

A constructed language (or conlang) is any language that didn’t evolve naturally as humans moved around the world speaking to one another, but was created at a specific moment in time to serve some kind of purpose. For the purpose of this page I’m going to break them down into two categories:

International Languages

International auxiliary languages (also known as auxlangs) started being invented in the 19th century, as various intellectuals started thinking it would be fairer for everyone to learn a simple, neutral second language rather than one global power’s language (like French or English) be dominant with all non-native speakers having to learn it. The best-known of these is Es­pe­r­an­to, but it was neither the first nor, in my opinion, the best. Some examples of IALs include:

  • Volapük: Invented in the late 1870s, this was the first one to really “make it big”. A mostly distorted-English vocabulary with a quasi-German grammar. Was eclipsed within a couple of decades by the much simpler Esperanto.
  • Esperanto: a highly regular, agglutinative language with a pan-European base vocabulary, invented in 1887. Still the most popular IAL (and by far!) to this day.
  • Ido: a “reformed Esperanto” that fixed many of its flaws (like masculine-as-default and severe overuse of the mal- “un-” prefix), invented in 1907.
  • Novial: a “reformed Ido” that made it more naturalistic and irregular. It took a lot of influence from Occidental, linked to below. Invented in 1928.
  • A group of (what seems to me) similar languages that are all basically pan-Romance interlanguages, if often with English influence: Latino sine flexione (1903), Occidental/Interlingue (1922), Interlingua (1951), Lingua Franca Nova (1998), Interlingua Romanica (2001), Neolatino (2006).
  • Interslavic: intended to be an interlanguage that speakers of different Slavic languages could use to more easily communicate with each other, invented in 2006.
  • Pandunia: a project that aims to draw vocab and grammar from a globally representative selection of languages (not just European ones), invented in 2007, but never stabilised.
  • Globasa: another project aiming to create a globally-balanced interlanguage, first published in 2019.
  • Toki Pona: a very simple language with only 123 separate words (or so). There is also a reformed version of this, Toki Ma, with a bit over double the number of words.

The major problem with IALs can, I think, be summed up with xkcd #927(external link). I say this even though I think it’d be a great idea for the world to have one 😛 Realistically, not even the most widespread IAL (Esperanto) has even a meaningful fraction of the global reach of English, so these are all basically hobbyist things or learned if you like the community, etc. anyway. So with that in mind, go for your life, learn what you want. I just think it’s kind of laughable when there are multiple super-similar projects competing against each other and people just won’t cooperate, even though they ostensibly all believe in “an international language”. I mean, personally I think Ido is an improvement on Esperanto in almost every way, but I also think it’s better for Idists to cooperate with Esperantists so any success of one is not to the detriment of the other. (Or to put it this way: they’re so similar to each other, why not encourage people to familiarise themselves with both?) And to be fair, I think modern Idists and Esperantists have buried the hatchets of the 20th century and are much more likely to see the sense in this now.

Globasa and Pandunia are a bit different because they’re not really intelligible with Esperanto or Ido at all (and I’m not even sure how intelligible they are between each other, despite their similarities). In general I think a globally-representative IAL is a noble goal, but my hope is that these projects can be mutually supportive (“You’ve learned Esperanto? That’s so cool! Have you ever thought about also learning…”) than at each other’s throats (“Eww how could you learn Esperanto, you Eurocentric scum!”). Perhaps I’m just being pessimistic to fear that people in the latter category exist, anyway 😛

Other Conlangs

Conlangs have also been invented for other purposes. For example, J.R.R. Tolkien is renowned for inventing languages that he could draw on in his stories. Languages like Dothraki and High Valyrian were invented for Game of Thrones. And numerous hobbyists around the world have created languages at various times for various reasons (just having fun experimenting, or creating things to be used in role-playing games or other creative works, etc.).