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How to Describe a Conlang

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  • Jeffrey Brown
    What is the best way to describe a conlang? This question came up in a discussion I had with a few friends recently, and I would like to solicit your
    Message 1 of 7 , Jan 2, 2013
      "What is the best way to describe a conlang?"

      This question came up in a discussion I had with a few friends recently,
      and I would like to solicit your opinions. I don’t believe there is one
      "correct" answer - after all, it depends on who the audience is for the
      description - but I do value your opinions, and I would like to know what
      you think.

      Here are the four ways we discussed, along with their pros and cons:

      1. Write a reference grammar. The advantage is that this provides a
      concise and complete description of the grammar. The disadvantage is that,
      unless the reader is a linguist or a conlanger, it is hard to understand,
      especially if it is filled with linguistic jargon.

      2. Write a primer. The advantage is that this form is easy to
      understand, and it can help non-linguists learn and appreciate the conlang.
      The disadvantage is that it may sacrifice the description of some of the
      more clever parts of the conlang for simplicity and clarity,

      3. Write two separate documents: a reference grammar and a primer. The
      problem is that this requires twice as much work.

      4. Somehow merge the primer and the reference grammar together,
      perhaps by placing some of the more technical parts of the grammar into
      footnotes or appendices. This might seem to be the best approach, but
      having tried this before, it is extremely difficult to merge these separate
      documents, which have different purposes and audiences, into a single,
      seamless one.

      Ultimately, I suppose, it depends on one’s intended audience. And
      regardless, any conlang posted on the web is available to anyone. But what
      if you want to reach both conlangers, since they are the ones most
      interested in other conlangs, and a general audience, which might be
      interested in the conlang for other reasons?

      Final comment: I am not trying to incite any arguments or flame wars with
      this question. Feel free to post your opinions, but please be respectful of
      others. Thanks.

      Jeffrey

      P.S. I would prefer if you sent your replies directly to me, since it often
      takes me a long time to get around to reading the conlang/auxlang digests I
      receive.
    • Gary Shannon
      I like the primer + grammar approach. For one thing, I m not linguistically trained myself, and so I m unfamiliar with the term a linguist might use. I use an
      Message 2 of 7 , Jan 2, 2013
        I like the primer + grammar approach. For one thing, I'm not
        linguistically trained myself, and so I'm unfamiliar with the term a
        linguist might use. I use an approach aimed at the layman because
        that's what I am too. If I tried to sound academic it would come off
        as phoney. Plus, my favorite old saw is that all natlangs were
        invented by people who know nothing about linguistics

        I've sent my reply to the list because I think we would ALL be
        interested in following this discussion.Not to be obnoxious, but I
        believe that Internet etiquette says it's rude to request that the
        rest of the group be excluded from a discussion.

        --gary

        On Wed, Jan 2, 2013 at 6:23 AM, Jeffrey Brown <jrbrown0@...> wrote:
        > "What is the best way to describe a conlang?"
        >
        -----
        >
        > P.S. I would prefer if you sent your replies directly to me, since it often
        > takes me a long time to get around to reading the conlang/auxlang digests I
        > receive.
      • Charles W Brickner
        ... From: Constructed Languages List [mailto:CONLANG@LISTSERV.BROWN.EDU] On Behalf Of Gary Shannon I ve sent my reply to the list because I think we would ALL
        Message 3 of 7 , Jan 2, 2013
          -----Original Message-----
          From: Constructed Languages List [mailto:CONLANG@...] On
          Behalf Of Gary Shannon

          I've sent my reply to the list because I think we would ALL be interested in
          following this discussion.Not to be obnoxious, but I believe that Internet
          etiquette says it's rude to request that the rest of the group be excluded
          from a discussion.
          =======================================

          I'm sure there was every good intention, but I was mildly offended that I
          was not to be privy to any of the answers. I, too, would be interested in
          what folks have to say.
          Charlie
        • Matthew Martin
          Good question. Yes, it depends on goals and audience. So rather than give you a useless answer of it depends on what you wanna do , I ll tell you what I am
          Message 4 of 7 , Jan 2, 2013
            Good question.

            Yes, it depends on goals and audience. So rather than give you a useless answer of "it depends on what you wanna do", I'll tell you what I am doing with my fake language provisionally called Bresenish. And it depends on what you think "language" is. I think it is mostly a social phenomena, and 2ndarily that stuff that fills a reference grammar and dictionary, so in my case, to create a language is to do a bit of community building.

            I hope to get a 2nd fan/user. Not global auxlang domination and certainly not a get-off-my-lawn language. So a pedagogy strategy matters. I plan to create a twitter lesson plan, which will be about 1000 tweets of vocab and grammar on set on a scheduler on twitter. I have put up a moodle site and hope to use it for creating computer based training, it's yet to be seen if moodle is too cumbersome. Also, since community building matters, I plan to use a content management system that has chat, discussion, Q &A built in. It happens that moodle has that, but I may end up using a combination of wiki, forum and mailing list because people are familiar with them.

            I am not a professional linguist and have no interest in trying to trick linguists into thinking my language is a real language, so I only plan to write language documentation in the traditional layout of phonetics, morphology, syntax, discourse to the extent I find it useful. And I see too many people start at phonetics and give up half way through morphology. I plan to try to write "stub" free documentation, which means I will have to write a little about each and then expand as I learn more about the language.

            I have written a proof of concept application in C# to serialize data structures to a hypothetical language-- think of it as a lorum-ipsum generator that generates the babel story instead. I hope to use the same pattern as a way to make an objective implementation of the grammar so that the awaited 2nd user could hypothetically use it to make testable claims about the grammar. Professional linguists may have formalisms and degrees, but from my reading on the Algonquin obviate, not everyone agrees on how it works. It would be nice if a conlang had some sort of machine usable grammar where at least some of the language could be discussed objectively.

            Re: Civility
            Fortunately, this isn't a certain high volume forum you may have heard of. It's pretty civil on this list. To deal with the splintering of the web, having to visit 10 different places to find all the fake language enthusiasts, I also try to remember who is who and interact with people who are playing the same "game" I am. Another observation is that the communities that require you to actually learn a language, lojban, klingon, na'vi, etc, seem to be much more civil, griefers don't have the time to memorize 1000s of words just to get their jollies from watching a flame war.

            Matthew Martin
          • Philip Newton
            ... The Usenet netiquette I learned back in the day included the possibility of Send your responses to me; I ll summarise them on the newsgroup . This is not
            Message 5 of 7 , Jan 2, 2013
              On 2 January 2013 17:35, Gary Shannon <fiziwig@...> wrote:
              > I've sent my reply to the list because I think we would ALL be
              > interested in following this discussion.Not to be obnoxious, but I
              > believe that Internet etiquette says it's rude to request that the
              > rest of the group be excluded from a discussion.

              The Usenet netiquette I learned back in the day included the
              possibility of "Send your responses to me; I'll summarise them on the
              newsgroup".

              This is not useful for discussions, true; but for things such as
              opinion polls, it can be handy and may avoid cluttering up the group
              (depending on what's "clutter" for any given person).

              Cheers,
              Philip
              --
              Philip Newton <philip.newton@...>
            • Amanda Babcock Furrow
              ... I usually go with: write an attempt at 1 which ends up looking more like 2 :) Or, in other words, my solution has been write a conlang relay minigrammar .
              Message 6 of 7 , Jan 2, 2013
                On Wed, Jan 02, 2013 at 08:23:18AM -0600, Jeffrey Brown wrote:

                > Here are the four ways we discussed, along with their pros and cons:
                >
                > 1. Write a reference grammar. The advantage is that this provides a
                > concise and complete description of the grammar. The disadvantage is that,
                > unless the reader is a linguist or a conlanger, it is hard to understand,
                > especially if it is filled with linguistic jargon.
                >
                > 2. Write a primer. The advantage is that this form is easy to
                > understand, and it can help non-linguists learn and appreciate the conlang.
                > The disadvantage is that it may sacrifice the description of some of the
                > more clever parts of the conlang for simplicity and clarity,

                I usually go with: write an attempt at 1 which ends up looking more like 2 :)

                Or, in other words, my solution has been "write a conlang relay minigrammar".
                That's pretty much all I've got.

                But oh, how I envy really good conlang grammars! Like Okuna. Hoo boy.

                tylakèhlpë'fö,
                Amanda
              • Amanda Babcock Furrow
                He just wanted to be able to see the answers right away, which he can t when we send them to the list. So I sent to both the poster and the list. Amanda
                Message 7 of 7 , Jan 2, 2013
                  He just wanted to be able to see the answers right away, which
                  he can't when we send them to the list. So I sent to both the
                  poster and the list.

                  Amanda

                  On Wed, Jan 02, 2013 at 12:02:32PM -0500, Charles W Brickner wrote:
                  > -----Original Message-----
                  > From: Constructed Languages List [mailto:CONLANG@...] On
                  > Behalf Of Gary Shannon
                  >
                  > I've sent my reply to the list because I think we would ALL be interested in
                  > following this discussion.Not to be obnoxious, but I believe that Internet
                  > etiquette says it's rude to request that the rest of the group be excluded
                  > from a discussion.
                  > =======================================
                  >
                  > I'm sure there was every good intention, but I was mildly offended that I
                  > was not to be privy to any of the answers. I, too, would be interested in
                  > what folks have to say.
                  > Charlie
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