This is the conlang question help desk. Can I direct your question?

Question are different from discussions. Questions have answers. They solve a problem for you. Once your problem is solved, you are expected to move on with life. Questions are objective. Stackexchange, Quora, Shapado (and some others) encourage questions and answers.

Discussions (and the confusingly named “Rhetorical Question”) are not questions. They don’t have a correct answer. You could keep talking about the topic forever. Discussions are subjective. Mailing lists, forums, chat rooms and twitter encourage discussions. You can ask questions on these sort of sites, but there is nothing about them that encourage questions and answers, nothing that is optimized for questions and answers.

Stack Exchange. Stack Exchange want to either create a successful Q & A site or no site at all. So to bring a site online, you must essentially, prove you have a viable Q & A community. On one hand, this is good, the existing Stack Exchange sites are for the most part incredible. For me, starting to use stack exchange sites were as big a change as when I started using Facebook, IM, or Twitter– except the improvement in my life was with respect to Q&A. The content on stack exchange is creative commons, so it is safe for anyone to archive it.

Shapado. Shapado is a Stack Exchange clone that allows sites to go up immediately. There are sites for general conlang questions, toki pona, Klingon, Lojban, and Esperanto. Shapado doesn’t have the polish that Stack Exchange does– it is rather buggy, has an annoying text editor, can fail to display anything in certain major browsers. On the other hand, it is providing people with a place to ask questions. Also, because Shapado doesn’t make you prove you have a viable community, the existing conlang sites can go quiet and lose their administrators. The toki pona site, for example, has no active administrator.

If you ask a question on any of these sites, you will have to promote your question on other forums or on twitter to bring it to the attention of experts.

Quora
Quora is an anything goes question site, kind of like Yahoo Answers. But Quora for some reason has better quality answers at the moment. General linguistics questions are more likely to get an answer than conlang or specific conlang questions.

Yahoo Answers. Yahoo answers is a bunch of ordinary people who have no particular expertise in anything. They tend to be very hostile to the very idea of constructed languages. A technical question about toki pona will be answered with “don’t study fake languages”

Using Forums for Q &A Forums tend to be dominated by a small number of regular users who will attempt to answer anything that gets posted. Sometimes this works great, sometimes not. In a typical Q&A forum, low quality answers get voted down until they essentially are ignored. On a forum, first responder gets the most attention, even if someone subsequently posts a better answer. Stack Exchange also suffers from the first responder bias, but not nearly so bad as a forum.

Using Twitter and Chat For Q & A
The set of people who can answer is limited to who is online right now. So what you gain in speed, you lose in depth of audience. Use twitter and chat for conversation practice. Also, twitter and chat are not very persistent– the logs disappear rapidly, so the community doesn’t benefit from reading old Q&As hashed out days or years before.

Twitter is weird. It takes a while to get used to. Start by monitoring the #conlang hastag. I know some language specific irc chat rooms exist for lojban and toki pona, but I don’t know about any others.

Using Mailing Lists for Q & A
Mailing lists, like the Brown Conlang list, have such a small tolerance for high volume activity. If you flood a mailing list with questions, you will likely start so many new threads that either you will be ignored or traffic will explode. Either way, it’s not a pretty sight. On the other hand, the mailing list works fine for low volume discussions.

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One Response to This is the conlang question help desk. Can I direct your question?

  1. As far as IRC, there’s also #conlang on irc.freenode.net. About 20 folks are online at any given time, although it’s mostly lurkers. I’d say there’s an active conversation with 2-5 people going on a couple times a day. Feel free to join!