Conlex- Here is what I hope it means

Conlex– a sort of activity for people creating new (or reviving dead/nearly dead) languages by actually speaking them into existence. It entails create a language, especially the materials necessary for learners and then doing what it takes to get a few other people to learn the language– maybe it means teaching it to the toddler, the girlfriend or promoting it for its attractive feature (who knows, maybe it’s pretty, maybe it’s because it’s useful for silent communication in the dark). It entails creating new culture only to the extent that one hopes and expects learners to adopt those new customs. This is conlanging where the conlanger is not a god-king to be worshiped (a la Zamenhoff), but a peasant and the learners are kings.

Despite the internet being a wide and vast place, for some topics, it seems rather small. In the area of non-natural languages, it is small. Relatively few participants and each non-natural language tends to carve off a new community as it is hard to gain competency in more than a few languages.

So let’s say you are reviving Beothuk. Let’s imagine that you did an exercise I promote, which is to write up your own manifesto about what a new language should be. (Yes, go ahead and send me nasty grams about how I am forcing, yes forcing you, to write your own manifesto instead of slavishly copying mine, or esperantos or lojbans or Tolkiens. The people that make you face your freedom are the worst.) At the end of the exercise you say, hmm, this language should be alive. People should actually use it. Maybe even three people. (And mentally, you can re-do my hypothetical with a diary-con-language to be taught to toddlers in the home, or a conlang that relies on touch boards for the profoundly disabled, etc)

(Yes, your manifesto might be different that my hypothetical, for example, if your manifesto is cribbed from Tolkien, well, it isn’t a conlex and that is a topic for someone else to write)

So you go to Conlang-L and watch people talk about the joys of writing tolkien style reference grammars. They have to be hard! Because that is the only way that they will get any respect I guess. But in my hypothetical, you want the language to be human usable, and you end up with a lot of not very helpful and sometimes angry advice about how the language needs to be hard, huge, copyrighted, hostile to learners and not to be sullied by actual use. But the 2 people that are likely to be interested in Beothuk have no interest in fictional sound-change-histories, they really just want an expressive, learner oriented language with lots of teaching materials.

And you visit the auxlang lists, who are creating yet another Esperanto. Which is a fine project, people should learn from it. But the manifesto in this hypothetical calls for a language based on the remnant words of the a lost people, so averaging the vocab of European languages and marking everything for part of speech is out! And 3 people is plenty, neo-Beothuk isn’t going to rule the world. So we keep moving.

And you visit more websites where people hawk languages they want to include a conculture that requires inflecting the pronouns and verbs for the social rank of your three parents, each of a different gender. Oh, joy, that is going to be fun to speak here on Earth. And again, you get not so helpful advice about how your language MUST have a conculture because language and culture are inseparable and any language you write must be dripping with culture or you’re doing it wrong and they will eventually get mad at you. Neo-Beothuk might include culture-light (say a new form of honorifics or Beothuk Day), but if we don’t want to tell those 3 Beothuk fans to bugger off, we’ll have to be constrained by what they want. If they don’t want body paint, asking for it will get in the way of launching a new language.

Anyhow, there is not a corner of the internet that serves this sort of thing at the moment, not LCS, not Conlang-L, heavens to betsy not Zompist. The Klingon, na’vi, and toki pona communities all seemed to burst into existence despite a place where people create languages for learner and indiscriminate language learners can meet.

I hope the equivalent of the “learn any language forum” for non-natural languages comes into existence and that a new learner and “fan-centric” approach comes with it.

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2 Responses to Conlex- Here is what I hope it means

  1. Christian Kleineidam says:

    Given that Zamenhoff created the most successful conlang or conlex I don’t think he’s a bad example.

    Wikipedia also has it’s Jimmy Wales and a lot of modern computer languages are ruled by benevolent dictators. Being king is alright as long as you are nice to the users. It’s often more effective then complex committees with complex voting procedures.

    The core is about being nice.

    I have setup a subreddit under the title ‘conlex’. Maybe it can became a place where what you propose is possible.

  2. Neicen says:

    Looking around your site, Matthew, I didn’t find it mentioned – so I’ll ask: Have you heard of Kalusa?

    It was a collaborative conlang but it was also an engine for voting on the felicity of statements and slowly amassing a corpus. It was a very brief period that I missed out on it but I think it would be a decent method for building out a language from a grammar as well, not just from scratch.

    For whatever reason it had a strong fantasy element to it. I have some ideas for that.

    I would like to do this but unfortunately, I haven’t learned how to code.