The auxlang, engelang, conlang (artlang) taxonomy

Wikipedia, and many other people who write about conlangs like the tripartite taxonomy of auxlangs, engelangs and conlangs. Some people use conlang interchangably with artlang, some (like me) use it to mean non-natural languages in the broadest sense. Users of the tripartite taxonomy tend to use conlang to mean only *artlangs* and not anything else.

To use an anology, this is like categorizing all the products in Walmart as Coca-Cola, Samsonite Suitcases and Purina Puppy Chow. Well what are chocolate chip cookies? Hmm, they must be a category of Purina Puppy Chow. Spark plugs must be a form of Samsonite suitcases. When people describe what goes into these three categories, the word auxlang is nearly synonymous with Esperanto and it’s derivatives. Engelang is synonymous with Lojban. Artlang and conlang are lmost synonymous with Sindarin, Tolkien’s Elvish.

This taxonomy has led to manifestos and general nastiness as people establish genre expectations and standards of goodness based on the taxonomy. Once you see the taxonomy is really talking about Esperanto, Lojban and Sindarin, it should be obvious how intellectually and artistically limiting it is to think about and judge languages based on their similarity to three well described constructed languages.

Nothing is pernicious to the secret-lang, personal-lang, crypto-lang
The community of people who write conlangs without any interest of gaining fans, of ever publishing or ever even discussing their language online, can’t be harmed by any taxonomy, because they aren’t participating in the dialog. The harm comes when conlang designers and potential conlang users go online and try to find fans or languages to learn or study or discuss.

Why the word auxlang is pernicious
If a non-natural language is created to be written, read or spoken by anyone other than the creator, it isn’t automatically an auxlang and certainly doesn’t necessarily have the characteristics of Esperanto.
* A conlang may have the goal of being spoken by ten people. Who needs the whole world?
* A conlang may achieve easyness through limiting the number of moving parts, limiting vocabulary, or many other techniques. Hyper-loanword strategies are only one of the possibilities.
* A conlang may or many not need cultural neuturality to get the target number of fans, or usage & adoption.

The absolute worst problem the word “auxlang” is causing is that as soon as a conlang writer makes an attempt to address the practical problems of getting a fanbase and teaching them the language, people begin to assume an auxlang agenda, Esperanto constrained design decisions and the online cultural customs of the Esperanto and Esperanto-clone communities.

Why the word Engelang is pernicious
First, Google doesn’t like it. Google assumes Engelang is a misspelling of England. Second, an engineered language, may or may not be category driven or have a goal of reduced ambiguity. All non-natural languages have a tidiness to them that natural languages don’t have. A natural language is defined by a massive body of text and spoken words that has patterns that sometimes can be boiled down to a few rules and sometimes, it takes the corpus to really represent what was going on. Both Esperanto, Sindarin, their clones have an unnatural tidyness to them.

The category of Engelang makes people think their non-engelang language is somehow less tidy and that Engelang languages are necessarily more tidy than others.

Why artlang and conlang are pernicious words
I particularly have in mind the use of conlang to mean, “the language that goes with a conworld” and artlang as “the languages created either in support of a fictional novel, or created as sort of a ‘fictional reference grammar for entertainment’”

The artlang gets fans through the art, and in rarer cases, through people who enjoy reading fictional reference grammars. It is a clever way to get fans for a language. In practice, the design of the language is driven by the needs of the novel, or the most vocal of the ten or twenty people who enjoy reading fictional reference grammars. This is leading to an expectation that non-natural languages that aren’t lojban-clones or esperanto-clones, have concultures associated with them.

Several of the manifestos online about conlangs have thoroughly fallen into the trap that conlang=Sindarin. They rail against conlang writers who don’t include fake histories, multiple dialects, maps of fake places or conlang writer who do make concessions to easyness for fans or that do have an enge-lang style tidiness. What they are railing against are languages that are unlike Sindarin. How narrow minded and limiting!

In my opinion, the conculuture is like asking your language fans to put on the silly hat before they can use use the language. Languages are somewhat like tools in that you don’t really have to be of a certain heritage to use a hammer. But if a conlang is so tightly woven into a fake culture that doesn’t even support a novel (or even a planned novel!), then it will sabotage the attempts of a fan to get anyone in his organic (non-conlang geek) social circle to participate in learning or using that language.

In sum, the current taxonomy is wrong, destroys and precludes fan bases, creates unnecessary tension in online communities and is neutering the creativity of current conlang writers, who are squeezing their efforts into understanding non-natural languages as only sorts of Esperantos, Lojbans and Elvishes.

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