Why the conlang community needs a Stack Exchange Conlang Question and Answer Site

The proposal was deleted for lack of followers. For anyone to revive this, we’d have to start from 0 sign ups and then get 100s of people to sign up *again*. The linguistics board has decided to make conlang questions on topic. However, the linguistics board in general is having a hard time generating a lot of questions– I guess stack exchange’s sweet spot is questions that are related to real day to day work (and not idle speculation) and can be answered in a few paragraphs and one answer can be recognized by the *asker* as the correct answer. Compare this to questions on say, the origin of human language. At the moment we only have competing theories that require a book’s worth of exposition and people like to pick from the possible theories based on their prejudices. And I was tempted to ask a toki pona question on the linguistics site, but I couldn’t imagine getting a useful answer from anyone there.

UPDATE. A few months in, area51 is showing some patterns– sites without a few hundred daily users don’t get put online and some sites have been taken offline. Unless StackExchange changes how it works with vest-pocket interests, prospects don’t look good. In the meanwhile, the best we can hope for is that the broader “linguistics” board goes up and allows conlang questions as an on-topic tag, which is rather iffy.

Conlanging on the internet is a collaborative project to learn, use and create planned languages.  Sometimes it is part of serious business such as experimental linguistic research or making believable languages for movies and books.  Sometimes it is a recreational hobby.

In all cases, the people involved are constantly coming across really hard question of a theoretical and field linguistics sort.

Currently, the web has two important technologies the forum and the mailing list.  The first tends to be ruled by who ever posts the most.  Because users have to keep up a high volume of posting to maintain their reputation, they fall victim to the board chess player problem.  When the chess players loose interest in the game, some players will find it more interesting to throw all the pieces all over the room.

A stack exchange site is driven by the people with reputation earned through asking good questions and good answers.  Virulently hostile answers get voted down, questions that are just bored-discussion topics get closed, and everyone is under pressure to delete bad questions and answers.  The cost of unnecessary posting or combative answers is that your content will either be ignored or closed.

What should be on topic and what should be a site of its own?

In the end, the community decides, but here are some of my thoughts.

Just about any language with public corpora, a cannon or other published sample text should be fair game.  I personally think that both auxiliary and constructed languages should be on-topic.  As long as the community closes purely-promotional questions, the Esperantists and the Sindarin speakers should get along just fine.  This is what tags are for– they let the community focus on the what is relevant to them and ignore the language they haven’t or won’t learn.

Personal language questions are a bit trickier.  If I create a personal language — we’ll call it fubar–(personal in the sense that I wrote it and no one else speaks it yet), then there isn’t a standard for objective truth.   Does fubar have inalienable possessive constructions? — Have to ask Matt.  Can compound words in fubar include object incorporation strategies? — Have to ask Matt.   If a language doesn’t have a published specification, or any published text, it isn’t really something that has an objective answer.   Language that were abandoned before they were defined or before any text was written certainly fall in this category- most of the questions about abandoned languages can’t have an objective answer.

On the other hand, here is an example of a personal language question that is objective, has an answer and isn’t discussion: “How do I get my conlanguage’s constript added to the Unicode specification?”

“How do you say…”  I lean towards allowing these.  A language Q&A site is easy to abuse as free source of translating talent, but sometimes translating model sentences can be very informative about the structure of a language.

Questions that are really just promoting ones favorite constructed language or aux language should be closed immediately.  “Why are you studying Ido and not Interlingua?” Is not really a question.  It is subjective, leads to combative responses and really an invitation to general discussion, not a specific answer.

Subjective questions are not appropriate.  For example, soliciting  feedback on a phoneme inventory is subjective, unless of course there is an answerable question, such as– “Does this phoneme inventory have consonant pairs that will be unusually difficult to pronounce?”

Some questions are invitations to write articles.  These are so common that they should be tolerated, but converted to community wikis.  “What are all the tonal auxiliary languages that have been proposed since 1950?”  “What movies have constructed languages?”

XML, C# and propositional logic are all in a sense, constructed languages, but not really in the sense that is appropriate for this website.

Conworld creation is a type of creative writing.  While it sometimes goes with planned languages and some people think you can’t have a language without a culture to go with it, I think these questions require a site of their own.  “What kind of flag should I have for my conworld?”  “How should I draft the marriage laws for my Mattopia, my concountry?”

Most conculture questions are getting off topic.

Many natural language questions are on topic.  “Has a natural language ever used the idea that some objects are automatically owned and should be treated differently in possessive constructions?”

Many questions could be asked on a language acquisition site or an academic linguistics site, but should be asked here instead: “How can I teach someone to (or learn on myown)  make fourteen click sounds that they have never heard before?”   On a non-planned language site, it would be a huge distraction to have to explain that this question is important because the language has no native speakers yet.

“What constructed language should I learn?”  Subjective.  Should be closed.

Some constructed languages have utopian aspirations or other social opinions embedded into the specification.  Questions on these issues aren’t really planned language questions, they are invitations to discuss politics, religion and philosophy.  “Isn’t Laadan sexist and crypto-homophobic?”  “Will Esperanto bring peace in the middle east?”  “Why are auxlangs a bunch of failures?” “If Na’vi speakers like Indian languages so much why don’t they move to the reservation?”  “Shouldn’t Na’vi speakers be learning Mohawk instead of Na’vi?”  “People who teach Klingon to their infant babies are child abusers, right?” Subjective, argumentative, doesn’t have an answer, and is an invitation to discussion.  All of these questions are better discussed on blogs and forums. Blogs, mailing lists and forums don’t care about question or answer quality and really do a much better job of conducting flame wars.

HERE IS THE LINK TO THE SITE PROPOSAL.  Please ask sample questions and vote on existing questions.

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