I’m approaching the language list making project from the standpoint of a hypothetical person that wants to use a language, for something, for anything and not just to read an entertaining reference grammar. Most of this cogitation is related to a conlang directory website, I hope to write, and who knows it might happen if I can keep the feature list small enough.
Let’s try to find a list.
Wikipedia. Removes ‘non-notable’, includes things that aren’t really usable or complete languages, (New Speak, language names mentioned in pop culture that are only a language name)
CALS. Feature list only, can’t filter by which languages are only feature lists.
Langmaker. The list is down, you have to use Archive.org & even then it just brief descriptions.
Random websites. Too hard to search. This is why I want to write a directory.
Forums. These are databases of conlangs in the sense that a cluttered desk is in some sense a database.
What Level of Description Do We Need?
There’s two kinds of conlangers. Those who just want to learn the language and have no particular interest in
tweaking, writing, deriving something new. And those who do. The later sort of people probably could care less about how well something is described because they probably don’t plan to learn it… they might. I suppose that there are people who are looking for a conlang that they can finish.
The language description, reference grammar and dictionary needs to be complete enough to say just about anything you want to say. This keeps out things like New Speak, but includes Elvish. It needs to have some non-trivial corpus, of more than just example sentences (example sentences are those single sentences though up to illustrate a grammatical point), preferably a small books worth, preferably created by several people. There isn’t a magic quantity of corpora before a language becomes worth while to study. Ideally, there already are conferences, active forums, mailing lists, etc. Notability is not important! This is my blog, not wikipedia. On these criteria these languages are worth studying.
By promoted, I mean, the creator or current users actively invite & encourage people to learn the language and join the community. Not all conlangs have this feature.
Esperanto. Promoted. Has a community. People really do use it for talking with other people who don’t share a common mother tongue.
Other auxlangs, and Esperanto derivatives. Some have corpora. Fewer have communities (any?) These languages really, on a social level, have more in common with the “other & non of the above” languages.
I’m using this category just for languages that are add-ons to an incredibly successful artistic venture, usually novels and movies. Fans learn these to immerse themselves in the fantasy world, socially it’s about fandom.
* Na’vi. Has a second movie coming up, so this certainly is going to evolve.
* Klingon. Creator is alive, but the language is largely ‘done’
* Elvish. Creator is dead. Has fans.
* Has highly competent users.
What Differentiates the Rest of Lesser Known Conlangs
The communities that exist are small, so when you join a community, you are committing to talk to that person or those three people that are active. When the community doesn’t exist at the moment, you are the promoter and the community.
What counts as active promotion?
Well, certainly not auxlang style promotion. An auxlanger promotes by translating the lessons into many languages, by doing battle with the Esperantists, and seeking official recognition. In my taxonomy of languages, an actively promoted language is one where there is at least one fan or the original creator who is standing by to teach (for free) anyone who is interested, or to respond to anyone who says anything in their language. It’s kind of like a Federal Reserve system with a tutor or conversationalist of last resort.
Other, Actively Promoted Languages with small communities
This is the everything else category. There are so many different goals and purposes of the creators and fans that it isn’t helpful to tack a category on these other than “other” A common thread is that fans are often polyglots and popular linguistics fans. Conlangs from time to time are originated by a person of a certain group of people (engineers, feminists, programmers) and sometimes get fans from the target audience.
toki pona. Has large corpora, small community
Lojban. Has large corpora, small community, serious concerns about how fluent ordinary people can get
Láadan – Was intended to be used, imho, it’s secondary that it happens to have a set of novel that go with it.
Other, Currently Inactive, Unpromoted Languages with really small or no communities
There isn’t a clear split between this category and the other and languages will move back and forth depending on how many people are active. The main difference is that with this category, if you choose to study the language with an intent to use it as a human, social skill, then you will need to build the community as well as learn it. The creator may be dead, moved on to other projects, or isn’t a motivated or effective promoter. The language as designed, may or may not even have initially been intended to be used and is much more likely to be partially or seriously incomplete, as compared with the above categories (which generally won’t get that famous if they weren’t fairly complete)
Ithkuil/Ilaksh – The former is the hard one, the later is the reformed easier one. This language takes the idea that one can cram a lot of meaning into a single word using cleverly chosen morphemes and turns it up to 11.
Kēlen- No verbs!
gzb – Has reference grammar, corpora, dictionary, proven usable.
Kamakawi – Has lessons, good sized lexicon, reference grammar. Creator is working on other projects.