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CONLANG  July 2011, Week 5

CONLANG July 2011, Week 5

Subject:

Re: revisiting the artlang/engelang distinction (was: Re: van Steenbergen Hexagon

From:

Padraic Brown <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Constructed Languages List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sat, 30 Jul 2011 22:57:39 -0700

Content-Type:

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--- On Sun, 7/31/11, David Peterson <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> > I invite youse to consider the artlangs that command
> the widest appreciation
> > among conlangers. Setting aside the physical -
> phonetic,  graphic - (so
> > setting aside e.g. Kelen knot writing), what is it
> about Teonath,
> > Okuna/Tokana, Miapimoquitch, Kamakawi, Quenya et al.
> that gives them their
> > wide appeal? I think it has to do with the richness
> and detail of their
> > linguistic-world models.
> 
> There are actually two types of fans here, and they're
> quite different, I've come to discover. It's especially
> noticeable if you look at the fan communities for any of the
> languages used in movies/TV shows (Klingon, Na'vi, Dothraki,
> etc.). The conlang fan (and I think most conlangers are this
> way) is interested in the language qua language: How it
> works, what choices were made, how authentic it is, etc.
> However, the bulk of the fans are not fans of the language
> at all: They're fans of the culture (or culture fans). They
> come to the language simply because it exists and is tied to
> the fictional race. The latter would be fans of the language
> if it was a cipher of English. In fact, any natural
> tendencies (like irregularities) are likely to be seen as
> annoyances by the culture fan: they'd prefer it to be
> perfectly regular so they can hurry up and *speak* it. This
> produces a rather strange dichotomy, I've found: the conlang
> fan, though more interested in the language itself, is not likely to be 
> interested in using the language; the
> culture fan, though not that interested in the language
> itself, is much, much more likely to be interested in using
> the language—a lot, in fact.

I think that is overly simplistic -- a dichotomy between presumably more
intelligent minority "language fans" who are engaged by the details and
inner workings and the presumably unintelligent herd of the "culture
fans" who would apparently not understand the inner workings of a language
if it stood up and bashed them on the heads with all the ablaut it could
manage?

As is usually the case, the truth is far more complex than a mere "this or
that" scheme would have one believe. There are certainly people who are
fans of conlangs and those who are fans of concultures; but I think there
are many that fall in between the extremes. For example, I am *not* a fan
of conlangs as languages. But neither am I an ignoramus who would be a
fan even if the conlang were an English cipher!

It's true that I pay little or no attention to conlangs that have no
cultural context. Unless done for some kind of experiment or purely
intellectual exercise, I see little point in making a form of speech if
you're not also going to address the issues of who is going to speak it,
and what those people are like and how they behave. In other words, a
language existing in a vacuum is of almost no interest to me. This doesn't
mean that a conlang is just a tiny fragment of a greater whole or that
the conculture is a "necessary evil". The two go so much hand-in-hand as
to be inseparable. When I start out with a tentative conlang, I invariably
end up asking "what about the speakers?" When I start out with a tentative
conculture, I invariably end up asking "how do these people speak?" At the
end of the day, I always end up with two things: a conlang and a conculture
though one or the other may be more or less well developped.

> To the point, though, while there's surely some crossover
> (there are conlangers that have more of an admiration for
> invented cultures, and culture fans that come to appreciate
> a conlang for what it is), I'd say most culture fans that
> are fans of conlangs don't care much about the language at
> all—and, as a result, I wouldn't count them as actual fans
> of the language. To me, that'd be like suggesting that fans
> of Astrud Gilberto are fans of the Portuguese language.

Given that so many conlangers have in fact devised often quite well
developped cultures for their languages, I think that many more than you
perhaps give credit for fall into this "crossover" category. Frankly, I
think that most of us probably fall into this conlanger-conculturer
category than at the extremes. I think the best conlangs ever published
here are those that have been intertwined with their concultures. 

> Anyway, back to your examples, let's separate them and add
> more. What gives Quenya, Klingon, Na'vi and Dothraki their
> wide appeal? It's their association with a much more famous
> work (Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Avatar and Game of
> Thrones).

Agreed. These are widely known even outside the hallowed halls of Conlang.
But I don't think they are necessarily "appealing" to the non-conlanging
public. They are aware that some foreign words are being spoken, but the
language itself isn't important. Watch Tora! Tora! Tora! and you get
subtitled Japanese. It's six of one, half dozen of the other for most
people in the theaters whether the funny talk is a real or a fictional
language.

> What gives Teonaht, Okuna, Miapimoquitch, Kēlen
> et al. their wide appeal? The languages themselves (and
> their creators' involvement in the various conlang
> communities over the years). In fact, take any single one of
> those latter four languages and poll the conlang list with
> the following question: Is X more famous for its culture or
> its linguistic structure? Do you honestly believe that the
> result would be anything other than a landslide in favor of
> "its linguistic structure"?

Well, my vote is strongly for Teonaht in its cultural context. It is an
incredible language, even if it were possible to divorce it from its
native soil. The culture is equally marvellous, and is certainly crowned
by the beauty of the language. I am very much a fan of Teonaht's inner
workings, and it is one of exactly two conlangs I've tried to learn. Well,
three if you count a brief fling with Esperanto when I was young! But
language qua language simply does not satisfy. A beautiful language like
Teonaht would cry out for speakers and a place to happen in and people
to love it and lofty ideals to extol in it (and perhaps some not so lofty
ideals). So, says I that Teonaht is famous within its cultural context
every bit as much as if not more than its mere linguistic merits.

Padraic

> David Peterson

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