Notes on Language Creation

Language creation can be a tough thing to get a hold of. There is no "How To" book for language creation. Everyone has their own opinions; everyone has good ideas. These are a few of mine (opinions, not good ideas—the latter's for you to decide).

Table of Contents


Awhile back, Jeffrey Henning (the man behind suggested I create a kind of "How To" page for my website, perhaps something like his excellent Model Languages newsletters, which you can find here. He suggested I could start off with some of my better CONLANG posts, probably like this one, which someone posted as a resource to

My first thought upon hearing (well, reading, I guess) this suggestion was: Why? Not because I didn't think that at least some of my CONLANG posts were useful/helpful—I hope they were. My posts on CONLANG, though, are all spur of the moment, and are certainly not meant to be authoritative in any way. I felt like if you added something like a "How To" page, it would presuppose that you were an authority on the subject, and that there's some special reason why people should believe what you say. I don't feel like an authority on conlanging, and I certainly don't want to make it sound as if I think I am. So that was one reason I was hesitant.

Another reason was that there are plenty of "How To" sites out there already, such as Pablo David Flores's essay How to Create a Language, as well as probably the best guide out there, Mark Rosenfelder's Language Construction Kit. And, of course, there are always the essays of Rick Morneau (if you're a language creator, or interested in language creation, and are not familiar with these essays, you probably should become familiar with them). Anyway, the point, I suppose, is this: If we've already got the steel-belted radial, why re-invent the stone wheel?

Wow, it's kind of hard to argue with the logic of that analogy... But anyway, I did, in fact, decide to create a kind of "How To" page, of which this page is evidence. The main reason I did so is this: There is no authority on language creation. There's barely even a literature. Sure, there are plenty of books that have created languages in them (go here for an ever-growing, yet inexhaustive, list), but there are very few (one?) that actually discuss the creation of language in any depth. Thus, if we, the language creation community, don't discuss our art ourselves, who will? Chances are it'll be an outsider—someone like Marina Yaguello, who wrote a book whose title is Lunatic Lovers of Languages (thanks for the vote of confidence, Ms. Yaguello). I, for one, don't want that.

Additionally, there are as many ways to create a language as there are people to create them. And since chances are that much of our work will be lost if we don't put it somewhere public, the need to at very least catalog your ideas online is vital. I'm continually amazed at not only the ideas of well-established conlangers, but also of those new to the game who've never even had the privilege of being able to discuss their conlangs with a sympathetic audience. Without fresh ideas, new blood, the communal aspect of the artform can't survive, po-moemu.

The purpose of this preface is threefold. First, I wanted to explain why this page is on my site, of course. Second, though, is that I'd like to urge the conlangers reading this (well, the conlangers who have webpages) to put up not only their language sketches, cultural descriptions, scripts, artwork, etc., but also their ideas, their thoughts about language creation; what they've learned. Your experience is invaluable: Let us know about it.

Oh, there's also a third reason for the preface. I wanted to explain how this notebook will be structured. Unlike an actual "How To" guide, this notebook will not be in sections that build off one another and gradually increase in complexity. In fact, the first content section (not including this preface or the introduction) is on ergativity—a notoriously sticky subject. So what you should do is just go to the table of contents and see if there's a subject that interests you. If so, click on it, and dive on in. If not, hey, that's life. Try back again some time. I plan to add to this page periodically.

Oh, one more thing. There are two types of links on this page. Those that show up in pink but are not italicized go pretty much wherever they say they go. Those that are in pink and are italicized, however, go directly to a linguistic definition of the given term which is hosted on SIL's Glossary of Linguistic Terms. It's a helpful site, and I've made use of it liberally not only on this page, but on all my pages.

All right, that's enough of a preface. I bid you a good day, and hope you can find something useful on this page.

This page was last modified on June 8, 2010.
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