When’s the best time to fork?

Conlangs are a bit like really small natural languages. The language is optimized to a particular environment, knowing the language is most useful for communicating with a particular set of people. If there is a mismatch, the language might be large enough to deal with it with just some lexical adjustments (like the creation of slang in groups)– Star Trek fans got by fine with slang and some new greetings (live long and prosper).

Toki pona is wasn’t written with a conculture in mind (like Na’vi or Klingon), and isn’t aggressively culturally neutral like lojban or naively eurocentric like Esperanto. The average toki pona fan is a language professional or hobbyist, usually left leaning, usually with a level of education that is off the scale– programmers, engineers, professors. Those who use it seem to mostly want to talk about grammar, linguistics and conlangs. Using the same sort of analysis that we subject proto-indoeuropean to, the base vocabulary and many of the grammatical constructs are for a farmer’s life and culture.

There is a huge mismatch between my culture and the language and the culture of the fan base and the language’s.

When they need to language can evolve very rapidly. In “Dreaming in Hindi,” the author said that the amount of language change observed in a few years in the deaf school in Nicaragua [when deaf children created their own language when they were given access to each other but otherwise were in linguistic isolation] was the amount of change usually seen in 100s of years for a natural language. In that case, it their language went from having no transitive verbs to having transitive verbs.

If a similar language innovation happened in toki pona, it would be noticed and there would be a lot of bickering before it the change would take hold. (See the excitement on the lojban mailing list as that community debates how to evolve the language)

1) Advocacy. Effective advocacy requires a lot of resources, both on the language authority’s side and the advocates side. If there is no one to submit petitions to, then petitions can’t be heard. If petitioners don’t invest significant time to understand what they want, they can’t very well ask for it. A good example would be the issue surrounding the order of modifiers of different sorts (derivational, plural, possessive, descriptive)– I don’t actually know why it sounds better to put derivational modifiers first and I haven’t nailed down what a derivational modifier might be linguistically speaking (pona, ike, suli, lili act more like derivational modifiers where as mute, mi, sina act more like plural and possessive).

I think it is unreasonable to expect jan Sonja to respond to advocacy and start publishing regular rulings or update versions of the language anytime soon, indeed the description of this subforum says as much.

Pros – This is the most respectful of the original artists prerogatives
Cons- The artist doesn’t have to agree with you or anyone for that matter. Or they’re busy or your too busy to campaign, so there is a good chance nothing happens.

2) Idiolect. This would be like me being the only person to use “pu” as a verbalizer, jan Kipo being the only person to use “pi” to turn prep phrases into a modifier of a noun instead of the verb or sentence as a whole, or jan Pije using “li pi” as a verb meaning “to own”. To some extent, this is unavoidable. Learners of a L2 often fossilize with a ‘wrong’ rule, which in a conlang is indistinguishable from a community innovation.

Reading about fossilization, I see some speakers create a pidgin when learning a L2– i.e. they fail to internalize so many rules it isn’t really say, English with exceptions, it’s like a whole new language. Wouldn’t it be funny if someone studying toki pona ended up creating a pidgin out of what is already almost a pidgin?

Pros- It solved the technical problem for those who are bothered by it, and if they are right, the rest of the community will follow. The rest of the community might follow even if they’re wrong depending on the social dynamics.
Cons- Folk may try to correct you, bickering may happen, and if your idiolect is too radical, then your probably doing #3…

3) Fork. This is like tokipinglish, toki-io, and all the other toki pona clones and derivatives.

Pros- The technical problems will be resolved
Cons- These in the past these have attracted no attention and if they did, it would be regrettable since it would likely split the community that various toki pona fans have worked hard to create.

4) Entire new conlang.

Pros: A new conlang won’t compete from the same pool of language learners and the previous, at least no more than Chinese competes with Esperanto or with Cornish.
Cons: Firstly, it’s likely to be ignored like any new conlang or fork. Second, if it does succeed, then one has just reversed the roles– instead of being a language user with ideas and questions, one is a language creator with a fan base with ideas and questions. More importantly, this likely will mean tracking down a whole new set of people to talk to– so far only on the zompist board have I seen conlangers that I would walk out of the room if I met them in real life.

When reading “Dreaming in Hindi” I was struck by the story of the author getting to a point where she was so horrified at how one of her teachers was being treated (a near murder attempt!) on account of being an ambitious woman, the author had one of those “is this a club I want to be a member of” moments and stopped speaking Hindi. I can’t say I’ve experience anything so dramatic, but I occasionally think, “I’m not an innumerate Polynesian rice farmer, why am I talking (or writing) like one?”

In sum, there are lots of ways to work within an existing community. Forking makes the most sense when the existing community is thoroughly dead or hasn’t started to exist yet, or if the the community has been grievously mismanaged.

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