The Most Viable Conlang Communities as of 2013

Update: This is an article about con-paroles, languages that are used as languages. This caused a bit of confusion. If I missed any communities, just leave a comment, I know that some of the ones in Europe are active, but just don’t show up in the English oriented search engines I’m using.

I’m going to start with a few observations about the following communities, before I get to the more boring part, the listing. Which if you are here, the list is probably not surprising, except solresol.

Groups of users of conlangs are usually disjoint. People rarely join multiple conlang user groups at the same time. In fact this is so true that while in one conlang group you might not realize that the other exist.

The creator is often absent. Volapuk and Loglan didn’t really succeed until the community abandoned the inventors and created Esperanto and Lojban respectively. In Quenya, Loglan, Esperanto, the inventors are dead. In the rest, the inventors are just strangely absent.

Communities of makers of languages often are disjunct from the communities of fake language users. Don’t tend to have conlangers interested in fans or people interested in learning conlangs on them. Both do exist on those forums & mailing lists, they just aren’t the typical ones.

There is a stereotypical real life community behind many of these. E.g. Klingon = Star Trek Fandom, ditto for Na’vi and Quenya. Lojban draws on a disproportionately technical and academic crowd. Esperanto seems to draw disproportionally from the professional polyglot crowd (translators, interpreters, and the like), although I wish I had better data for this notion.

Some languages have been poison pilled. Is is a “get-off-my-damn-lawn” language, where the inventor wants no participation from the world? Is it too frickin hard to learn as a recreational pursuit? Is it wrapped in legal copyright bombs (which may never go off, but do you want to hire a lawyer to preside in a case against Lucas Films when you publish your works in Mandoa?) Is the language hitched to a dead fandom? (Land of the Lost comes to mind) Is the inventor crazy and still alive? Does it have a capital C con-Culture that isn’t appealing to people who may have to mention it to their friends and coworkers someday? I mean, an Esperantist is at worst going to be thought to be politically lefty and maybe eccentric, but a Wardesan fan, well, see below.

What sort of community? A conlang community is one where there are people (more than one) who have invested the time to learn the vocabulary and grammar of a constructed language and use it for communication, be it twitter posts or chat or what ever. This isn’t about the community of language inventors who communicate in natural languages about the means and methods of documenting a new language. For that, I recommend the Facebook group, the Deviant Art group, your own blog and that’s about it.

So on to the list of viable conlang communities. By viable, I mean, there is a language and a community, not that it will take over the world. And by right now, I mean now. I also use google trends to find out what is hot and what is not.

Blockbuster, Famous (which actually means more than 10 people)
Esperanto. Search interest in esperanto on google has been declining since 2005. The long term trends, imho, are not good. That said, Esperanto has an elephant’s worth of forward momentum that will take it a long way into the future. Esperanto will outlive most people’s interest in Esperanto.
Lojban. Google Groups. Search interest in lojban has been level– not growing or shrinking much. The Logfest is happening right now.
Na’vi. Learn Navi. It is very hard to tell if Na’vi is hot or not because you can’t easily distinguish fandom from language learners, without of course visiting a lot of the web & reading.
Klingon. Diplomatic Forums. It seems that Klingon has gotten quiet. The core members of the community appear to be as enthusiastic as ever, but the community doesn’t seem to have the steady stream of newbies necessarily for growth.
Elvish. Quenya101. The massive number of languages that Tolkien created and the lack of a final form of any of them, in my opinion has poison pilled these language for fan use. Yet fans keep trying.

Na’vi, Elvish, Klingon are going to rise and fall based on the corresponding franchises.

Too Soon To Say
Dothraki. It has a forum with posts.

Unanticipated Duds
Languages that had all the technical qualifications but were paired with a lousy movie.
Atlantean. Mark Okrands language that went nowhere because the movie sucked.
Barsoomian. Paul Frommer’s language that went no where because the movie sucked.

Smaller Scale Successes
Toki Pona. The language peaked at 2007-2009 or so and is on decline. As a small language with some of the features of an internet meme, I suppose this could have been expected.
Láadan Livejournal is alive. Seems to attract more women then men, which supports my idea that people do respond to the marketing for a language (with respect to the designer’s target audience). The creator “Suzette has been diagnosed with Alzheimers” — so this will be an interesting community to watch to see if and how a community transitions from having the inventor around to not having them around.
Solresol. This historical conlang has activity right now.
Volapuk. Another historical conlang, that imho, is just surprising to have any activity at all.
Interlingua. Has a forum. I think. I honestly can’t tell if this is Portuguese, Italian or Spanish. According to google search trends, there is steady but declining interest and significantly more than lojban. I wouldn’t be surprised if this community overlaps with Esperanto’s.
Other Esperanto Also-Rans (And this would include Interlingua, too) In the comments people mentioned that I left some out. Which then prompted me to start wondering how to define these communities. Are they two like Swedish and Norwegian, where one communication systems with two spellings provides enough reason to have two sections at the book store? Or is it like Chinese, where there is one meta community where people speak mutually unintelligible languages but read a fairly homogeneous version of it? The slavic conlangs are a similar challenge. If the community is made up of people who know three romance languages or three slavic languages and then realize they can read/write the romance and slavic conlangs, are they multiple communities? To answer the question, I’d have to read through the mailing list and forum membership and see how intense the overlap is. A project for another day.

Promising Possibilities
Revival Languages. Depending on how well these were documented, they could be a interesting “forgotten” category of conlang (or thing that falls on a conlang spectrum). Massachusetts and Virginian Algonquian fall in this category.

Abandoned Conlangs.
Mandoa has a forum.
Vulcan Abandoned, but that someone reposted it, I guess is a sort of community activity. No evidence of forums. I kind of wish someone would create Loglan for Vulcan so that this Vulcan can go the way of natural languages once Esperanto takes over. :)

Conlangs That Could Get Fans
I’ll preface this with a warning tho… I didn’t test any of the languages for learnability or for having suitable governance (and sometimes the best governance is an absent one, as per the experience of many of the above languages).
Delang. The inventor is willing to engage the world in Delang. Old Wiki. New Delang Wiki.
Wardesan. It has a book. But it is poison pilled with a conculture that involves pederasty, isn’t available in English (or Esperanto even), and there isn’t a forum.
Ithkuil. Not sure if this is something that could be used for conversation & how that would affect the possibilities for fandom. As seen in the New Yorker article, this did get fans for a while, can’t find the forum or mailing lists though. Ah, some activity on facebook.
Usik. It’s an auxlang. I think this is the creator and he seems willing to engage the world.
Kah. This is a con-creole. The author is calling it an auxlang, imho a bad idea, makes it sound like he wants to compete with Esperanto. Addresses some of the issues that “small languages” address, but isn’t small. Haven’t really pegged this for what it could be. In any case, it has learning materials, mailing list, etc.

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17 Responses to The Most Viable Conlang Communities as of 2013

  1. Koppa Dasao says:

    Delang: The inventor is willing to engage the world in Delang and the conculture of the Illomi. Some of the political views of the Illomi may be provoking to some people, including the author.

    • matthewdeanmartin says:

      Controversy? Such as? I think the sort of controversy that is problematic for things with almost no proponents, e.g. pederasty, canibalism, etc. Merely being strident or radical isn’t a problem, I suppose even a Nazi conlang (D’oh Godwin’s law) could thrive among the right crowd. Or a socialist conlang.

      • Koppa Dasao says:

        Well, I don’t think the fact that infanticide is legal or the treatment of multi-handicapped children would be anything but provocative. The former is considered equal to any pet.

      • Koppa Dasao says:

        Btw, according to Illomi law does the Zhonyo have the right to harvest the meat of their children, under certain improbable conditions. There is however no record of this happening for as long as the Zhonyo has lived on Illte, nor in their homeland for at least a couple of millenniums.

  2. You forgot DiLingo! Sumus Cocoonus is back, baby!

  3. Bill Chapman says:

    I’m intrigued by your assertion thart “Search interest in esperanto on google has been declining since 2005.” Can you point me towards a source for that?

      • kaja says:

        I too stumbled upon the Google trends for Esperanto a while back and was surprised by this seeming evidence that Esperanto is in such dramatic decline. However, if you type in “linux” you see it is in even more of a decline, even though Linux has actually grown a lot in popularity since 2005.

        So what does that tell you? Well, the way Google Trends works is it measures the number of queries for your term out of the number of queries altogether. So while searches for ‘esperanto’ or ‘linux’ may have in fact gone up, searches in general have gone up even more. And should this really be surprising?

        While the Internet was traditionally a place for the kind of people who are wealthy enough to spend time pursuing such hobbies as Esperanto and Linux, and who take an interest in such things, the Internet has opened up a lot in recent years. Nowadays it is used by one third of the world. It is used by your mum to check her facebook and emails, 12 year old boys to play videogames, people looking for porn. Yes, look up “porn” on Google Trends and you will see how much it has grown.

        So I don’t really think Esperanto is in decline. Maybe it is, but I can’t find any evidence for that. Despite the assertions by some Esperantists that is has been “rapidly growing since the Internet”, well, I can’t really find any evidence of that either. Then again I’ve only been speaking it for 3.5 years or so so I can’t really comment on how active the community was 20 years ago compared to now.

        Anyway as it is it is still by far the most successful conlang ever, and I think anyone interested in the conlang community should learn it if for no other reason than to be able to easily communicate with most conlangers. I hope someday more conlangs will get a taste of its success, especially Lojban which I think will turn out to be quite interesting.

        • matthewdeanmartin says:

          Yes, stats on their own aren’t a slam dunk argument for any particular stand. A math point, though, while google trends normalizes results to 100, it isn’t displaying percentages of total searches, those are absolute counts. In the case of linux, it is entirely plausible that more people are interested but more people are searching for ubuntu, linux and other distribution names. I checked searches for “learn esperanto”, “esperanto forum” “esperanto dictionary” etc and also got downward trends. This gives some hints to how many newbies esperanto is picking up, not how enthusiastic the core members of the community are. That would be found by tracking search terms that use esperanto vocab.

  4. Neicen says:

    I think you’d be interested in Slovianski and Novoslovienski Jezyk which has a very busy group of Europeans working on it. Mostly they’re interested in talking to each other.

    • matthewdeanmartin says:

      Yeah, I should list them as a viable community. I’m cautious to get involved myself because I don’t find the topic of pan-slavic nationalism interesting. I got a big enough dose of it while learning Russian. While it may glue that community more closely together, it does so at the expense of excluding anyone that isn’t already in that club for not being slavic enough. Do any of those communities welcome people who are merely indiscriminate language learners? I image of the few people that read my post, lots of them are reading precisely to find yet another language community to join.

  5. Neicen says:

    Ugh, this is hard to explain.
    There is a critical mass for me. That is, the language has good-great resources for learning, decent communicative outlets, plenty of users, a decent corpus, and I like the language.

    The Slavic interland is a real place I can visit and I am interested in it in the same way I am towards interlingua…but it has native speakers who are conversant with each other despite the various differences in their languages. I don’t think there are nationalist or Russian feelings, but if there are they must be very ambivalent. That is moreso the predicament of Ithkuil. I think it is ironic. Slavic is very pluralistic.

    That said, someone with a few ideas and good organization could shake up the community in a good way I think. For my part, I am trying to find a way to learn the language well e.g. creating lessons, memrise course; but these are challenging for me and I currently have them on the back-burner. I have too many hobbies I will admit but I try hard to bring them together. Perhaps too hard because right now I have laryngitis and my hands hurt from typing. Meanwhile, “French for Reading” is slowly but surely being devoured, and I’m working to get a taste of ASL, kanji, and Blissymbols. “Where Are Your Keys?” for Irish I’m slowly absorbing; I think that toki pona had the best introduction to language learning ever and I really thank jan Pije for that.

    Lingua Franca Nova somewhat resembles toki pona and has a very extensive set of texts translated like Alice in Wonderland. It’s been ominously quiet on its yahoo site tho.

    Volapük needs a new “cifal” (leader) in the near-future; this is something I just learned today. I don’t know what to think.

  6. Neicen says:

    I think the other thing is, there are some very developed languages such as Alashian and novogradian that are begging for teaching resources. These languages are very robust and probably have the largest grammars bar none (including Lojban) and have a pedagogical challenge on par with a natlang. On the other hand, the fact that we have a useable grammar for them is impressive even including natlangs. And since linguistic pedagogy is kind of my thing, I’m interested in making a memrise course for one or several of them. However, considering I haven’t learned a case language before, this will be a challenge. I’m going to make a blog I think. I’ll keep you posted.

  7. thnidu says:

    Of Interlingua, you wrote “Has a forum. I think. I honestly can’t tell if this is Portuguese, Italian or Spanish.” If you’re referring to the language of the website and/or posts, on the basis of the few posts I’ve just looked at in several different fora, the answer is “None of the above”, so apparently Interlingua.

    Dr. Whom: Consulting (real) Linguist, Grammarian, Orthoëpist, and Philological Busybody

    • matthewdeanmartin says:

      It’s a small joke. Interlingua was designed to be immediately readable by speakers of Romance languages, sort of like a Romance Slovio and I think they achieved that, but I’m not especially competent in any Romance language, other than French comics, on a good day.

  8. Wikimistusik says:

    As IALA, the Kotava is the aprioristic language currently most active in the world, but mainly outside the English-speaking world. It has a real community of fluent speakers and thousands of translated texts.

  9. Neicen says:

    There is also talossan!