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CONLANG  February 2005, Week 4

CONLANG February 2005, Week 4

Subject:

LUNATIC SURVEY 2005

From:

Jim Grossmann <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Constructed Languages List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 25 Feb 2005 21:14:50 -0800

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (797 lines)

LUNATIC SURVEY 2005, by Sally Caves

There are four parts (A through D) of about 22-24 questions each. These
surveys have aided me in my ongoing research on conlanging, but they are
also for YOU.

*For the few that have requested it, I’ve put asterisks by the questions
that are new to this third installment of the "Lunatic Survey," first posted
in 1998, in honor of Marina Yaguello’s dismissive title, Fous du langage,
translated by Catherine Slater as "Lunatic Lovers of Language." BEAR IN
MIND, though, that I’ve started from scratch, and many of my "old" questions
are recast in new ways.

You need not answer every question; if you do, please keep most of them
fairly brief, although I don’t want to deny you a chance to effuse! I would
like all the questions answered for A, 1-17, though, even if you took the
survey in 2003.

Please read them over before responding, so you know what lies ahead.

You may respond publicly or privately to me at [log in to unmask] I
posted this public ally, though, because I think you all like seeing other
people's responses, and it was requested. However, If you respond to any of
the public responses, PLEASE CHANGE THE HEADER!!! Firrimby. :)

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

A. PROFESSION, DEMOGRAPHICS, INCLINATION:

1. Who are you, and what is the name of your invented language or languages?

Jim Grossmann Goesk, Palo, Nu, Cinje

*2. Are you new to the Lunatic Survey or have you filled out a version of
this survey before?

New

3. Do you have a website for you language/world(s)? If so, please list the
URL address.

Only for Goesk. That would be at...
http://www.eccentrix.com/members/rainchild/goesk/goesk-A-outline.html

4. What is your email address? name at hostsite dot whatever.

That would be telling.

5. What is your age? (vague answers allowed, but it is an important
demographic)

47

6. What is your gender?

male

7. What is your nationality? Where do you live now?

American Washington

8. What is your native language?

English

9. What natural languages foreign to you have you studied or do you speak?

None. Studied a teensy weensy beensy bit of French, German, and Chinese a
long time ago,
but that doesn't count, and I only know a few words of each.

10. What is your level of education? i.e., your highest degree achieved or
sought?

Master's

11. What is your profession? Are you a professional linguist? If so, what
also makes you a conlanger?

Speech Language Pathologist No, I'm not a professional linguist.
But I've gotten better at conlanging.

13. If you are a student, what is your major or your area of study?

Not a student.

14. How long have you been developing your invented language(s)?

Goesk - early to late '90's. Palo - most of my adult life
Nu - early '90's to present. Cinje - 2002 to present

15. At what age did you first start inventing a language? Can you briefly
describe your early efforts?

Fourth grade. The effort was called "Kemen." Tried to make it "different
from English" by limiting words to five letters apiece and sentences to five
words apiece. Roman alphabet was one sound to a letter, supplemented by
one non-roman letter whose value and exact appearance I have forgotten.

16. What drew you to start inventing a language and/or constructed world?
What was the inspiration?

In fourth grade, I read a book called "Codes and Secret Writing" by a fellow
whose last name was Zim; who wrote a number of science popularizations for
young people at the time.
At the end of the chapter on "secret languages" like Pig Latin was a
paragraph that reminded the reader that such "languages" should not be
considered anything more than fun, and that inventing a real language would
involve a daunting amount of work. I thought to myself "I could make a
language."

17. Did you start inventing before you had heard of the list or after?
Before you had heard of Esperanto or Tolkien? (I name the two most common
inspirations)

Many years before.

18. Tolkien calls it a "shy art" and a "secret vice"; but that was before
the Internet. How secret do you keep it from others outside this list for
much the same reasons?

It's a no secret. Everyone who has ever known me at all well knows that I'm
working on languages.

19. Yaguello has called it "pathological," influenced, unfortunately, by a
lot of psychiatric writings such as _Le Schizo et la langue_. To what extent
have you encountered such reactions by outsiders you had taken into your
confidence?

I've never been branded a lunatic for conlanging, but I ran into one
polyglot in college who thought I was doing something quite detestable by
trying to increase the number of languages in the world. More recently,
I've caught flak from a military linguist who--for some reason--believes
that my conlanging somehow makes me a fake linguist, a poseur. At some
appropriate time, I suppose I could point out to him that his penchant for
gardening does not make him a fake ecologist. But my better judgment says
'let it slide.'

*20. Do you consider it nerdy to be doing this? This is a term that gets
tossed around a lot. Or actually sophisticated? Do you need to get a life,
or is this your life? What is a life?

I don't give a damn about whether it's nerdy. Conlanging is a good form of
intellectual recreation. I'm a bit disgusted with the fact that I live in a
country where so many people view "intellectual recreation" as an oxymoron.

However, I don't think that conlanging per se is sophisticated. If one
spent all one's time conlanging at the expense of socializing, reading, and
other activities, one would in short order become quite unsophisticated. I
got a life about ten years ago, and find it better than not having one.
Having a life means having enough activities and social interactions to feel
more happy than desolate about living. For me, having a life entails being
with my life partner.

21. There has been a connection noted between linguistic and musical
ability. Are you musically inclined? Do you sing and/or play a musical
instrument? Do you compose music?

Yup, I sing. My voice isn't up to snuff anymore because of allergies. But
I still hear music in my head--sometimes original music. Still need to
learn music theory so I can write stuff down.

22. There has been a connection noted between linguistic and mathematical
ability. Are you mathematically inclined or inclined towards computing in
any way?

No, I have no special talent for math. By the time I was a senior in high
school, way back in 1976, I was committed to studying the humanities in
college.

23. What other passions do you pursue that give you creative pleasure?
(painting, drawing, sculpting, calligraphy, model-building, novel or
story-writing, role-playing games, map-making, book-making, poetry,
web-designing, star-gazing or other?)

Writing. I'm working on a novel. Love collecting music.

B. FEATURES OF YOUR INVENTION

1. Pick the best term for the invented language you are currently invested
in: auxlang, artlang, engelang, loglang, lostlang, philosophical language,
or "other." etc.

All my languages are artlangs.

2. Is your conlang a priori (devised from scratch) or a posteriori (based on
an existing natural language or drawing from a language class such as
Semitic)?

Goesk is loosely based on German and English. The other languages are "a
priori."

4. Do you have a script for your conlang? What is it called? Could you
provide me at a later date with a sample of it? Is it on Langmaker's
"neography" site?

No, I stopped making scripts for my conlangs when I got my first
green-screen computer. None of the conlang efforts that I can acknowledge
without embarrassment have their own scripts. I have recently devised a way
to make logograms for any language that I want to, but I know nothing of
using software to create my own scripts.

5. Briefly describe the outlines of your invented language (syntactical
structure--VO, OV, etc.; class or type--analytic, synthetic, agglutinating,
incorporative, accusative, ergative, active, trigger, other, combinations,
etc.), noting what you have done with it that is innovative in your opinion.

Goesk: V2 like German; however, non-Germanic features I added make certain
differences. Differentiated verb conjugation makes subject-drop easy.
Active and passive infinitives are the only non-finite forms. No
participles. That, and the future tense suffix, cut down on the number of
auxiliaries that would otherwise pile up at the end of a clause. Very
"conlangy" regularity--e.g. all prepositions govern the same three cases.
"in" plus accusative = into;
"in" plus dative = "in"; "in" plus genitive = because of. I could go on,
but had better stop.

Palo: Fluid-S; complement-subject-verb in present tense: Nouns have
three cases (common, genitive, locative) and six numbers (singular, plural,
neutral, portional, mass, unique). Nouns fall into different classes
depending on which numbers they take. Clause-initial particles called
mosyns dictate the mood and syntax of a clause. A mixture of register tones
(high vs. low) and vowel sound alternations (pure vowel vs. diphthong) is
used to mark lexical classes and subclasses (e.g. common-case nouns,
locative nouns, genitive nouns, action verbs, copular verbs...). Past
tense word order is verb first. A genitive that immediately follows the
mosyn rather than a noun represents the patient referred to in a dative
clause. Agent and beneficiary are both represented by nouns in common case.

Nu: Four basic clause patterns, differentiated by transitivity, by whether
the tense-aspect-mood particle is realized as a suffix or a separate word,
and by the presence or absence of a "medium," i.e. an obligatory
instrumental complement in a transitive action verb, or a dummy word "ckoe"
in sentences with copular verbs. With typical transitive action verbs, the
medium can add shades of meaning to the verb. Is the verb + medium a single
lexeme? Only in some instances. And you should see the "switch medium"
suffix in passive constructions. Deletion of elements that play the same
syntactic roles as their antecedents was also contrived by yours truly.

Cinje: All nouns take singular, plural, and mass; sort of like "bag,"
bags," and "baggage."
Thirty cases. All nouns and verbs have core vs. adjunct forms. Verbs
belong to thirteen different classes differentiated by a) the number of
arguments they take, and b) which cases their arguments take. So a noun in
inessive case would have its adjunct form as a noun modifier, but would have
its core form as a predicate noun. There are notional definitions of the
thirteen verb classes, but strictly speaking, verb class is lexicalized.

7. How extensive would you say your invented language is, now? How big the
vocabulary? Do you provide a vocabulary list or taxonomy on your website if
you have one?

All four of them have over a hundred pages of material. Only Goesk is
finished. Palo and Nu grammar have been worked out, but these two languages
need both vocabulary and sample texts.
Cinje's grammar is still a work in progress.

8. How do you build vocabulary? Some people pull words out of the air;
others build up a base of root words and affixes. Many do both.

This is something I've done a lousy job at. Goesk has a piddling 1200
words. With Cinje, I should avoid an English re-lex-lexicon by means of the
exotic syntax, and by developing a systematic way of forming complex
compound words. I also intend to use flash cards to memorize some of the
vocabulary I will need to make shorter work of finishing the grammars.

3. Does a constructed world accompany your invention(s)? What is it called?

I keep this to a minimum. Goesk was supposedly invented/hallucinated by a
man who has encountered the supernatural beings mentioned in the sample
texts. Palo is the language of humanoid aliens who come ashore at a Pacific
Northwest Hotel, and whose origins are absolutely mysterious. Nu was
supposedly invented in the late nineteenth century by a depraved madman who
used it to gaslight his ailing aunt. Cinje was supposedly invented by a
teenager who wanted his parents to stop reading his diary.

*9. Has your language and conworld ever served in a role-playing game or a
world shared by other conlangers?

N/A.

*10. Briefly describe your conculture (is it within the bounds of this
world? on another world, etc.?)

N/A

*11. Are the beings who speak your invented language human or alien? If
alien, what features have you given the language to make it alien or how
have you restricted or expanded its phonology? vocabulary?

N/A

12. What do you write in it? Poems? chants? lullabies? prayers? history?
stories? recipes? Are any of these exhibited on your website?

For me, the finished product is the reference grammar with sample texts. I
wished that I had been able to finish these projects at a much younger age
so I could get literate enough in one of them to write a diary. Too soon
old, too late smart.

13. Can you speak your conlang? Are you fluent in it? Is this a goal for
you? Have you tried to teach it to an intimate? a companion animal? :)

Never. It's all about completing the reference grammar.

14. Have you made any soundbytes of your language? Could you provide me at a
later date with a sample of them?

Alas, no.

*15. If you use Roman script, how recognizably "phonetic" is your writing
system? In other words, do you use unconventional letters or letter
combinations to represent sounds? Why or why not? I’m thinking, of course,
of Etabnannery, for those who remember it.

I avoid non-phonemic unconventional spellings because I don't want to fuss a
lot with spelling. I'm a lousy speller in English, I touch type, and my
latest version of Word won't let me use the "replace" function to change all
my "sh's" into IPA. Also, since conlang is an e-list, I like to keep my
alphabets within ASCII limits.

16. How many of you sing in your language and have invented songs for that
purpose?

Never.

*17. How many of you, for entertainment or any other reason, resort to
gibberish? (This is in response to Adrian Morgan’s question in December).
Does it give you ideas for conlanging? (Have you ever fooled anyone?) How
many of you have sung gibberish?

Never.

*18. What on-line games do you play? (or devise?) Translations, Babel-text,
Relays, etc.

None.

19. Which do you prefer doing: devising phonology? script? structure?
building vocabulary?

DEVELOPING SYNTAX! :-) :-) :-)

20. Do you start and stop several different conlangs, or do you tend to
stick with one and develop it over years?

Start and stop.

21. What do you think makes a "complete" conlang, if a conlang can attain
completion? What are your goals for completion? When do you grow "tired" of
your conlang, or don’t you?

Depends entirely on the individual conlanger's definition of "completion."
If a grammatical sketch is what you want to write, your conlang can be
complete in twenty pages or less. If you're talking about detailed
historical grammars of an entire family of conlangs, you could be taking on
a lifetime of work.

My goal is to write a concise reference grammar for each of my conlangs,
with grammar, vocabulary lists, and sample texts. The goal is to make the
reference grammar compare favorably to concise reference grammars of natural
languages when it comes to the amount of detail. The reference grammar
should have enough information about syntax and morphology to handle the
demands of writing a diary in complete sentences. I've sort of done that
with Goesk, but I want to do a better job on the other three.

*22. Which came first: the conlang or the conworld?

The conlang is the only thing.

C. PHILOSOPHY AND AESTHETIC:

1. What aesthetic features do you value in inventing language? Be specific
as to phonology, structure, script, etc.

Bear in mind, these are just my preferences for my conlangs...

Regularity! In my view, the conlangs I make should be unapologetically
"conlangy," with a degree of grammatical regularity and parsimony that marks
them as cheerfully artificial.

Novelty: Even a euroclone should contain some grammatical innovations
invented out of whole cloth by the conlanger. Bear in mind that unexpected
features are common in natlangs...witness personal infinitives in
Portuguese.

Semi-naturalism: In euroclones, the conlang should be recognizably a member
of some European family of languages (e.g. romance, Germanic, Slavic...),
but features from outside the family, or even novel inventions, can be used
for regularity and novelty's sake.

In a priori languages, grammatical devices should, as far as possible, be
novel and not documented in natural languages, but should still impress the
reader as something that *just might* happen in some undocumented or future
natural language for all anyone knows.

Grammatical Continuity: Having invented some novel bit of syntax, its
ramifications should be worked out to as fully as possible. For instance,
in Palo the six numbers I made for the nouns gave rise to the different noun
classes, a rather large number of pronouns, and--in some contexts--less
confusion about pronoun antecedents as a consequent.

2. What commonly applied aesthetics have you ever tried to avoid in your
invention? This has been an oft debated question, especially when it comes
to Tolkien.

Pure naturalism. Antiquarianism. Non-humanism. I don't want to write a
grammar that features all the irregularities you'd expect in a natural
language; neither do I want to spend the rest of my life trying to write a
scientific grammar for a conlang. I don't want my own conlangs to look like
some ancient dead Indo-European language with zillions of agreement rules.
I don't want to write a conlang that looks like a programming language. But
I don't mind if others do.

3. Is difficulty or obscurity a goal in inventing a language?

I don't have the patience. But I've thought about it.

4. Is efficiency a goal in inventing a language? This question needn’t
cancel out the previous one.

It's hard for me to imagine making a conlang as or more efficient than a
natural language in any useful or esthetically pleasing way. Remember the a
priori language, Ro? All that meaning packed into monosyllables? Sounds
nice, until you realize that you could sneeze and miss a large chunk of any
given sentence in that language.

It might be interesting to create a much richer vocabulary of contractions
than English has, along with a rich assortment of short forms for rote
sentences like "Pass the salt." But trying to make a language maximally
efficient overall--whatever that may mean--is for the birds in my opinion.

5. How natural do you wish to make it, or is that a concern? Or rather, how
unnatural do you wish to make it?

See "semi-naturalism" above.

6. Can conlanging be sexy? sensual? obsessing? how does it heal or harm you?

Conlanging could be sensual if the it involved the creation of a rich
vocabulary of terms for sensations, and a rich morpho-syntax for expressing
experiencer-stimulus relationships.

As for obsessing, I think that designing a conlang that placed a premium on
complexity could easily become an obsession.

The only way I know to make conlanging sexy is to design and learn a conlang
for the specific purpose of using it to write about sex--whether real
experiences or fantasies. I haven't tried to do this.

I can make myself giggle by imagining the creation of a pornographic
conlang. The phonemic inventory could contain all kinds of grunts, slurps,
heavy sighs and gravelly guffaws. The unmarked form of every noun would
imply the use of the noun's referent for a sexual purpose, even the noun for
"kitchen sink." Special affixes would mark nouns whose referents were used
in non-sexual contexts. There could be a hundred different words that all
mean "to have sex purely for the purpose of physical gratification and in a
manner that objectifies the partner." Many of these verbs could be
mandatory--though meaningless--auxiliaries.

*7. How many of you have developed a rich vocabulary of obscenities?

Damn, I haven't! I should!

8. Can it be mystical? To what extent does conlanging fulfill a spiritual
purpose for you? Or a magical one? Did it ever start out that way?

I've never started a conlang out that way, but as with sexuality, so with
mysticism, religion, and magic. If you make sure that your conlang's
vocabulary reflects as many nuances as possible of your experiences with the
godhead, with your spiritual disciplines, or with your acts of magic--if the
words and structures you create remind you of these experiences again and
again, it's hard to imagine that creating the conlang would not be a
spiritual experience.

9. How many of you have developed a rich vocabulary of magical, religious,
or incantatory terms?

Alas, not me.

*10. How many of you have striven to invent words that express novel ideas,
or are not expressed in any natural language that you know?

Not me. But I should.

11. Name a few of the words in your language(s) that you are most pleased
with and are the most original to you.

My favorite words are in Cinje...

The verb “want*” (want) denotes desire rooted in inclination, propensity,
instinct, or appetite. People “want*” to visit friends, do what they are
good at, make work easier, protect their babies, make love, and eat good
food.

The verb “want-d*” (glossed ‘want-d) denotes desire to keep a commitment, do
what is right, or achieve a goal in spite of one’s desires or limitations.
Dieters “want-d*” to lose weight. Students “want-d*” to study. Soldiers
“want-d*” to serve their country.

12. How do you sense that a word is "right" for its meaning? How much do you
labor at fitting a sound to its sense? Or don’t you care?

When it comes to contentives, I use Jeff Henning's software to generate a
long list of word forms in random order, and then assign these words
arbitrarily to meanings as the need to create new contentives arises.
However, I occasionally eliminate words that feel *wrong* for their
meanings.

Also, I am more precious about functives, fussing over which vowel and which
consonant feels right for a given particle or affix.

*13. Do you ever rely on a software program to build vocabulary? Do those
who don’t think that’s cheating? :)

Only to make the word shapes. I don't know enough about software to
generate a dictionary.

*14. Is conlang a hobby, a craft, or an art in your mind? This has been
hotly debated, so the question is not as weird as it seems. Can conlanging
be considered an art? Why or why not?

A week ago, I would have maintained that it was unequivocally a craft.
Now, in light of some of the recent debate, I'm leaning toward calling it an
art.

*15. If it is, who do you think are its consumers?

People who are looking for inspiration for their own conlangs.

*16. This question is directed as well at any auxlangers on the list. Is it
an art, a political tool, both? And who do you think could be its consumers?

I don't think that conlanging is a political tool at this time. If it were
a political tool, it would probably be best to use it on behalf of a radical
individualist movement, whose members write their diaries in their conlangs.

*17. There has been some exciting talk recently (and over the years) about
what a conlang is or is not. If you could pick a metaphor or write a
descriptive phrase defining "conlang," what would that be?

Conlanging is to linguistics as describing imaginary creatures is to
zoology.

*18. Why or why not would you eschew the metaphors "miniature" or "model"?

As another lister pointed out, you can't ride a model train, but you can use
a conlang as a medium of communication.

*19. Is a conlang more like a glimpse of something life-size? (Irina’s
suggestion in 2001)

It could be. But as it is generally practiced, it's not so much a glimpse
as a description.

*20. There has been some invigorating discussion lately about what a conlang
can do that most natural languages don’t (such as produce OSV structure, or
eradicate verbs) What experiments have you made with your artlang(s) along
these lines?

See my remarks on Palo and Cinje.

*21 What do you think distinguishes a conlang from a natural language, if
you think so at all? What would it take for a linguist to be fooled into
thinking a conlang was a natural language?

I'm not sure there's a theoretical difference, but the limits on any single
individual's time, patience, and talent should prevent a conlanger from
making anything as complex as a natural language.

However, one should bear in mind that documentation of a natural language is
also bound to be less complex than the natural language itself.

This being so, a creative linguist, or a layman armed with a Ph.D.'s worth
of research, could create convincing documentation for a language that
doesn't exist.

But I won't be so bold as to suggest that this documentation would fool all
of the linguists all of the time.

*22. How much do you study other languages in order to discover what is
natural in language? Or to discover how you can stretch the boundaries of
language to make it do things that are unnatural?

I browse through grammar and foreign language books for ideas that I can a)
adopt, or b) alter beyond recognition. :-)

*23. Can such a language function?

There's no reason why an unnatural language couldn't function as an
effective means of communication. However, the conlanger attempting such a
language would do well to study
programming languages and merchant/diplomatic codes.

*24. There has been quite a bit of fascinating debate about the relevance of
conlanging to linguistic study. We all know that linguistics can aid
conlangers, but in what ways can conlangers aid linguists? Or does it
matter?

I don't think that conlanging has any direct relevance to the development of
linguistic theory, but I do think that it would do linguists good to take a
look at the conlangs when they are thinking about the difference between
possible languages and possible natural languages.

D. THE LISTSERV

1. How did you first hear of this list?

Surfin' the net.

2. How long have you been on this listserv or on other related listservs?
Continuously? Infrequently? Off and on? More off than on and vice versa?

On and off.

*3. What is the appeal of being on a listserv and contributing to it? Do you
think you contribute moderately or excessively, or not enough? Do you tend
to lurk ?

Mostly I lurk--my participation is intermittent owing to various demands on
my time.

*4. For those of you who remember its inception, how has it changed over the
past decade?

Yes. I think the number of linguistics students, multi-linguals, and people
who are smarter than I am has increased over the last decade. These are
very good developments.

*5. How helpful has the list been in developing your language? In learning
linguistic information?

Very helpful. My conlangs were much less interesting before I joined this
list, and I've learned a lot of linguistic information. The book
recommendations and references have been helpful too.

6. What books have you consulted? On your own, or because you heard of them
on the list?

Quirk's "Concise Grammar of Contemporary English"
"Language typology and syntactic description" Shopen, ed. list
recommended!
"Ergativity" by R.M.W. Dixon
"Languages and their Status" Shopen, ed.

*7. Do you peruse the websites of other conlangers?

Sometimes.

*8. Do you sense that people on this list are interested in your conlang and
give you feedback on it?

Not much feedback.

9. Have you ever set out to learn at least a little bit of someone’s
conlang, if only a word or two, or a phrase?

Nope. But I have browsed through some of the grammars for ideas.

*10. Do you peruse Jeffrey Henning’s Langmaker.com site?

Not much.

*11. What on-line techniques do you use to showcase your conlang, such as
Audacity or other sound programs, Dreamweaver, Illustrator, Fontography, and
so forth? Did you hear of them on the list?

I just posted it on a web page and arranged for it to be locatable on
Google. Have also got it mentioned on a couple of conlang lists.

12. Have you ever tried to introduce a friend to the list?

Don't recall.

13. Do you know of anyone who does this kind of thing but who has never
heard of the list?

Alas, no.

*14. What other lists do you frequent related to conlanging?

This is the one.

*15. What do you think will be the future of the list? I see it giving birth
to alternate lists like Conworld, Lostlanguages, Romlang, etc. What improves
the present list and its helpfulness or entertainment value?

Personally, I'd like to see less talk about minutiae like the history of
one affix, and more cool linguistics resource links, more core grammar, and
more overall conlang critiques.

*16. What Internet technology would you most like to see developed that
would aid you in showcasing your language(s)?

I don't know.

*17. What lists like conlang exist in other cultures and languages that you
know of?

I don't know.

*18. There has been some terrific talk about CONLANG as a community. And yet
so many of us seem to want the world to know of it and respect it. Is the
CONLANG community enough?

It'll have to be. The community is *defined* by its interest in conlangs;
the only real outsiders are people who are not interested. To make
conlanging interesting to everybody, it would have to be put to some use
that could make a lot of money for somebody.

*19. In my 2000 on-line article
(http://journal.media-culture.org.au/0003/languages.php) I suggested that
the Internet "may provide a site that, with the impetus of competition and
showmanship, encourages inutile and obsessive activity"; I was quoting Jeff
Salamon’s article "Revenge of the Fanboys." Village Voice 13 Sep., 1994. He
wrote that over ten years ago. Do outsiders still entertain such notions, do
you think, about listservs like this one? Do you? To what extent has the
list increased obsessive development in you? Would you be inventing as
furiously as you are without the list or knowledge of other inventors?

Apart from making money--and more fundamentally, getting air, water, food,
shelter, sex, and posterity--the application of the term "useful" is largely
a capricious expression of speaker prejudice. We don't fuss about the
"inutile" and "obsessive" nature of collecting DVD's, cultivating decorative
gardens, tricking out cars, or building unnecessary structures on our
property. It's arbitrary to single out conlanging as somehow more otiose
than most other leisure activities.

20. If asked whether it is not better to turn your linguistic talents to the
learning and speaking of natural languages (a common response I’ve met with
and aimed at criticizing introversion or solipsism), how would you answer?

And speak these languages with whom? Fluency in a second language is a
use-it-or-lose-it skill.
I live in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. I don't know anyone
that I have to speak to in a foreign language. There are Spanish, Russian,
Ukrainian, and ASL speakers on our communities, but I don't encounter these
communicators with any frequency. I don't learn to speak foreign languages
for the simple reason that I don't have access to the communities of
speakers who could keep me fluent.

But shouldn't I learn a foreign language for reading knowledge? I would, if
I were a scholar,
or if English were a minority language with only a few books to its credit.
Neither is the case.

*21. In Elizabethan times there were the inkhorn neologisms. There were
ciphers and pasigraphies. Today there is conlanging. Do you think the
contemporary world is more open to language innovation or more closed?

Well there's natural innovation in natural languages. We coin new
vocabulary all the time, and we even make new morpho-syntax. Witness
uptalk.

But as far as artificial languages go, I think that the world is more closed
. Why? Because the pretensions of philosophical languages were exploded a
long time ago; because the use of a model language as a lingua franca seems
less credible than it did before the Chompskian revolution; because there
are far better methods of encryption available than conlangs; and because
conlanging is too darned intellectual for our anti-intellectual nation.

*22. What would Tolkien have done with such a community? He writes in "A
Secret Vice" that language inventors "hardly ever show their works to one
another, so none of them know who are the geniuses at the game, or who are
the splendid ‘primitives’." He suggests that perhaps in a later time
language invention will become respectable, and such things can be
exhibited. Have we reached that time?

Not quite. We haven't really agreed on what constitutes a good, mediocre,
or bad conlang. Neither have we defined the parameters of different kinds
of works within conlanging--the grammatical sketch, the reference grammar,
the con-world, etc.

But the internet has brought us together and out of secrecy. Maybe we won't
get much public recognition, but with hundreds of conlangs on the web, each
providing inspiration for others, I'd say we have a cultural quorum for our
art.

*23. Is there a danger that over-exposure can make conlanging "banal"? To
what extent is it exciting because it is a) considered disreputable, "corny"
or "mad," or b) largely unknown to the world? Does it have a fizzle-out
date? In other words, is it just a fad, or is it a natural human
inclination that will stand the test of time?

Good grief! Overexposure is the least of our worries!

Finally, may I have your permission to use any of this material of yours for
my academic work on conlanging? First name? last name? pseudonym? anonymous?

Yes, you have my permission to reproduce my responses in whole or in part in
your academic work. And you can tag them with my whole name--James Steven
Grossmann.

Thanks!

Sally Caves [log in to unmask]

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December 1998, Week 5
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