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


First Language Creation Conference

Group shot from LCC1.
See key at bottom.

In April of 2006, the very first Language Creation Conference was held. By first, I mean that this was, to our knowledge (and when I say "our", I mean the conlanging community, as defined by...uh...Sally Caves?), the first conference held not on a specific conlang, and not on the notion of international communication, but on the art, or practice, of conlanging itself. Kind of a revolutionary idea, if you think about it. An occupation (preoccupation?) that was once (and still is, by some) considered a kind of lunacy has now become the subject of an annual conference that has nothing to do with psychosis. If this ain't a step in the right direction, then rightness isn't a destination worth achieving, says I.

I drove up to Berkeley on Friday the 21st, and that afternoon met up with my old friends Josh Brandt-Young (Terran) and Adam Parish (Doraya), and we, in turn, met up with Sai Emrys (the LCC coordinator), John Clifford, and Christopher Husch (Anas). I quickly discovered what should've been obvious: it's darn fun to talk about language and language creation. Ordinarily, it's kind of awkward to find yourself in a group of people you don't know that you're going to be talking to for, like...two hours? (We stayed awhile.) But given that we were all conlangers, we already know each other's deepest, darkest secret. That makes talking easy and fun. Also, to advertise for future LCC's, listservs like Conlang and ZBB are great, but face-to-face communication is much faster, and you don't have to worry about possible misinterpretation (which I chalk up to English's impoverished punctuation system). Indeed, we probably could've sat there talking till who knows when, but seeing as I'm a Berkeley alum, I had other things to do (parents, friends, enemies, etc.), so I had to get going. It was a great way to start off the weekend, though.

The next day was truly epic. We all met up at the Long Life Vegi House (good Chinese food for relatively cheap for vegitarians, and those who appreciate those crazy cats that swim around [or lounge about] in the sea) to eat, chat, and have some good clean conlang fun. I don't know if I'll remember everyone who was there, but for sure there was me, Chris Husch, John Clifford, Adam Parish, Josh Brandt-Young, Sai, Sally Caves (Teonaht), John Quijada (Ithkuil), Sylvia Sotomeyer (Kēlen), Matt Pearson (Tokana), Doug Ball (Skerre [pronounced like "scare", I learned]), this one dude whose name I forget, and probably some other people that are just totally slipping my mind (if you're one of the people mentioned above, help jog my memory!). It was quite a large number of us. We put up the ol' conlang flag in the window (which I'm surprised they let us do), and we had a raucous time. We were there for, like, ever. Perhaps more than three hours. I'm surprised they tolerated us. Yet it was good fun. Thereafter, a group of us went for gelato, because I was totally jazzed that they had rose-flavored gelato at the place on campus (that flavor is to die for). So it was pretty much a whole afternoon and evening of conlangery. And this was all before the conference even started.

The next day, of course, was the conference. I was truly surprised at how well it was run. Having been affiliated with conferences before, they tend to be zoos. But everything was organized from the get-go (or at least when I got there). I think we got started a little late because of a technical issue, but other than that, great from start to finish. (Oh, man, and so much food, and food-related materials! As much Arizona Iced Tea as you could drink! And Gatorade!)

I could go over in detail exactly what I thought of everyone's talks, but instead, it'd be easier to link to everyone's talks right here. So here they are: From start to finish, all the talks at the LCC:

In viewing the talks, you should download the program (.pdf, 6.4 MB), which has handouts for nearly all the talks. John Clifford's handout can be downloaded here (along with a supplement, which can be downloaded here), Sally's handout can be downloaded here, and Matt Pearson's handout can be downloaded here (all four are in .pdf format).

To point out some of the highlights, Sally's talk was just a wonderful way to kick off the conference. Sally's a great orator, and she has this knack for making a language creator not only feel proud of their art, but proud of themselves. It was riveting. Were it not so early in the morning, I would've tried to start a standing ovation. (Sitting just felt so good after five and a half hours of sleep and an early morning wake-up...) I was disappointed that John Clifford wasn't able to get through all of his material, because there was some good stuff. If you weren't there, and didn't get his handout, you should definitely scroll up and download a copy: superb. If you don't have any background in cognitive linguistics, John Quijada's talk is a must. Plus, his talk begins with an absolute gem: A little monologue where he said something in every presenter's conlang (including this phrase from Sathir. At first, I couldn't believe my ears. Something like, "Wow, he pronounces it better than I do!"). Both amusing and amazing. A must-see. Sai's talk was an interesting discussion of a topic that's been on Conlang in the past. And Doug Ball, I'd like to announce, gets my "Thank You For Following the Rules" award for being the only talk (yes, including mine) that actually fit into the 30 minutes + 15 minutes for questions timeframe! All hail Douglas Ball!

image of the award

Seriously, though, it's amusing that every single talk ran over about ten to fifteen minutes, but they were all good. I never found myself looking at my timepiece of choice thinking, "Man, what's up with this person? What kind of weirdo would create a language!" It just so happened that Doug's talk was professionally presented, very interesting, and fit right into the allotted timeframe. Kudos!

Moving on, I don't remember much about the next talk... No, actually I was very nervous, because the first time I practiced it it went terribly (though it was less than thirty minutes), and then I didn't practice it a second time. But everyone in the audience was great. Truly a feast of friends.

Finally, it seems like it shouldn't be a surprise that the professional linguist gave such a magnificent talk, but, nevertheless, it was a magnificent talk, and that's worth noting. If you don't have the handout, scroll up a bit and download it. It was a great way to end the conference.

Some conference highlights was meeting up with people I didn't even know. There are some really cool people that don't appear to be on conlang that create languages. Hopefully this went a ways to enlarging the community, or at least better connecting different segments of the community to each other. I think my favorite moment was the silent auction. Suzette Haden Elgin sent an autographed copy of one of her Láadan grammars that was up for $60, and Sally made it pretty clear that she wanted it. After lunch, John Clifford wandered over and was interested in bidding on the grammar. Suddenly Sally's head popped up, "Did someone say something about the silent auction?" After the affirmative response, "Have I been outbid?" The answer was yes. Quick as a shot, Sally races to the back of the room. Hee, hee... In the end, she got the grammar. But winning something at a silent auction is no fun if there are no other bidders to make you sweat a little.

The weekend closed with another trip to the Long Life Vegi House, after we frantically cleaned up the room, having gone an hour over our official end time. This meeting was not as long, but just as good. A goodly sized group of us got to get in any final questions, and say our goodbyes. Afterwards, by my estimation, the unanimous sentiment was that this first LCC should definitely not be the last. It was just too much fun.

So, if you didn't make it out to Berkeley, worry not. We've got plans. If the next LCC happens to be in the US, I'll definitely make it. As an unpaid spokesperson, I heartily endorse the LCC, and wish it continued success. It's my goal to attend every LCC in the future, so if you can make it out to one, I'll see you there (especially if we can hold one or more in Hawai'i ala!).

Group shot from LCC1 labeled.

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