This is the first in a series of posts “live-blogging” the creation of a fictional language from scratch, with the help of our readers. We plan to construct a functional language one piece at a time, incorporating suggestions and preferences from our audience along the way. But first, because the “who” and “why” of a conlang is so important, allow us to spin a scenario for you…
All right, all right, sit down, people! I’ll tell you why you’re here as soon as everyone’s quiet.
First of all, congratulations on winning the aliens’ lottery. As winning ticket-holders, you will most likely be shipped off by the Qu’ssh!rrians to some other planet before Fenrir’s seventeen kilometers smashes into the Pacific and kills everyone Earth. I’ve recently been informed, however, that our tickets to the future are not free, nor are they guaranteed; we’re expected to work for the privilege of salvation.
The Qu’ssh!rians have divided the lottery winners into several “doing-task groups.” Our group’s task is to create a new language for all of humanity.
What’s that? No, I don’t know why the Qu’ssh!rrians think we need a new language. Not exactly, anyway. From what I gather, though, this is a further demonstration of the Qu’ssh!rrians “more-grown understanding-state.” They’re attempting to get rid of hierarchies and power-structures across the board, and seem to think that preferring any one language over all the others would be “against the process of trying this thing.”
And before someone asks if they’ve been assigned to the wrong group: no. None of you have much of a background in language or linguistics; I’m the only full-fledged linguist in the group. Apparently the Qu’ssh!rrian’s dislike of hierarchies extends to academic pursuits as well. So even though none of you have studied linguistics beyond a couple courses in college, the Qu’ssh!rrians have decided that you are as able to create a new language as any linguist. And who knows, maybe they’re right.
What do you mean, “if you don’t want to help”? The Qu’ssh!rrians obviously aren’t thrilled about saving any of us, even under the auspices of “trying to see what happens.” Frankly, it looks to me like they’re just looking for an excuse to let us all die. If we don’t complete our task — if any of these groups doesn’t — I would assume that we’ll get left behind on our doomed planet.
I hope that’s enough motivation for you to participate. If it’s not, just sit there and be quiet while the rest of us work. Speaking of which, the Qu’ssh!rrians have given us some rules for this process:
The language we come up with has to be learnable by humans. Obviously.
The language we come up with can’t be based on any Earthly language, whether currently spoken or extinct. No Yoruba or relexified Latin or Old English.
The Qu’ssh!rrian’s were particularly clear on this point; too strong a resemblance to any particular language will mean that we have to “regrow these children from the soil all over again,” which I assume that means “sent back to the drawing board.” We can’t avoid all similarities, obviously; anything we come up with here is going to have a parallel in some language. We just need to be sure that we get a good mix in there, and not rely too extensively on any particular language family or group to come up with ideas.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the language we come up with must be the product of this group. As much as I might like to sit down and do all of this by myself, I’ve been told that that is not an option. I’ll be coordinating and guiding the effort, but your input is essential to this process. If you have questions, comments, concerns, or snide remarks, you should voice them.
That’s probably enough for today. Next time, we’ll need to decide what vowels and consonants to use for our language. The choices are wide open, but since we’ll have learners with a number of different native languages, we should probably try to keep it simple, using sounds that appear in a wide range of languages. We’ll talk more next time about what that means, exactly, but if you have thoughts about this now, speak up!
Stay tuned to the post tag “Clarionlang” for the continuing saga…