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The Fantastic Rise of Constructed Languages

Constructed languages differ from natural languages, which evolve over time because they are deliberately created by individuals or groups of people. They are usually designed for a specific purpose. There are several types of constructed languages, depending on the use. People have created constrained or artificial languages to improve communication between speakers, for creative purposes as in writing and films about fantasy worlds, to revive dead languages, and to talk to and instruct computers.

Types of Constructed Languages

Constructed languages, also known as artificial, planned or invented languages, differ from others because their entire structure, including grammar, vocabulary, and phonology (sound system) have been planned deliberately. Constructed languages can be built by existing languages, or based on entirely new principles. In the first case, they are known as a posteriori languages.

Constructed languages that are created with entirely new elements, such as sound symbols or numbers, and then given meanings, and known as “a priori” languages. Examples of “a priori” languages are fictional languages like Sindarin or Elvish, created by JRR Tolkien, or the languages spoken in the TV series Game of Thrones. The two categories are not entirely exclusive and there is some overlap between them.

Constructed languages have succeeded in providing outlets for creative and scientific impulses, but not so much in terms of their successful adoption. For example, Esperanto, which was created in the nineteenth century to facilitate communications internationally, has fewer than two thousand native speakers. We must still rely on professional translation to facilitate successful communication between speakers of different languages.

Some Familiar Examples of Constructed Languages

Because the purposes behind the creation of constructed languages are so varied, they are very different from each other. In fact, they have very little in common beyond the manner of their creation. They are however an important part of our lives, whether or not we’re aware of their presence. Here are some more familiar examples of constructed languages.

Esperanto

Esperanto was created in the late 19th century with the purpose of improving communications between people of different nationalities. The literal meaning of the word is “one who hopes” and the goal was the creation of a language by which people could communicate, no matter what their native language. An estimated two million people speak Esperanto today, and it is recognized as an auxiliary language by the United Nations. However, the number of native speakers is less than two thousand.

Sindarin

Sindarin or Elvish is one of the fictional languages created by fantasy writer JRR Tolkien for some of the peoples who inhabited Middle Earth. Tolkien was a specialist in Old Norse literature as well as an enthusiastic linguist. He based the languages of Middle Earth on Celtic models, especially Welsh, and also the medieval Icelandic of the Sagas. Sindarin was written in a system of runes, a style of the alphabet based on Celtic and Norse languages.

Dothraki

Game of Thrones viewers will be familiar with constructed languages like Dothraki and Valyrian. These are based on a small number of words in the books of George R.R. Martin, on which the series is based. Both languages were developed by David Peterson from the Language Creation Society and come with an impressive array of sources, including online lessons, YouTube channels, and fan communities who discuss the finer points in chat forums.

Computer Languages

Computer languages are used to communicate with computers and for computers to communicate with each other. These have syntactical and semantic rules that computers can learn and include programming or query languages, as well as languages used for machine learning. Machine learning is the basis for developments like self-driving cars and artificial intelligence. It can be used to teach computers to use techniques like data mining and statistical pattern recognition for practical functions like speech recognition, web search, virtual assistants like Siri, and human genome research.

Constructed languages, like natural languages, are built to allow communications between people, between people and computers, and between computers. The reasons for creating constructed languages are many and varied, and the languages themselves cover vast areas of culture and functionality.

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7 Comments

  1. I am one of many people who for decades have argued quietly that institutional support for Esperanto as a lingua franca could bring many benefits to the world. Having one language for us all does not mean the loss of other languages or of the world’s cultural diversity. We can make use of Esperanto as an aŭiliary language, as millions of ordinary people across the globe have already done.

    Esperanto works. I’ve used it in about twenty countries, including Argentina and Japan, over recent years. I recommend it to anyone as a way of making friendly local contacts in other countries.

  2. By definition, planned languages don’t have “native” speakers. But still, Esperanto has or had more than 2000 people that learned the language from birth. Esperanto is working according to its goal: communication with people from other languages. If you don’t use it … you can only blame yourself. Esperanto can be learned in a small fraction of the time needed for other languages. I have already spoken Esperanto in 27 countries, which will be 31 by the end of summer.

    People would not spend their time with me just because I speak English or Spanish in the countries where these languages are spoken. But speakers of Esperanto dedicate lots of their time to be with me … just because I speak Esperanto, in most countries. I do the same with visitors to my region.

  3. Actually, the name of the language known as Esperanto is La Internacia Lingvo – The Inter-national Language.

  4. It looks like computer languages are useless, because they have very few native speakers.

    Esperanto was not created to be used as a first language and is probably NOT the first language of any of the 2000-odd “native” speakers.

    I met a “native” speaker who learned Esperanto as a baby, but due to mockery at school, he preferred to hide he spoke it at home. His first language became Dutch because he lived in the Netherlands.

    Conclusion: there are many more people who understand Esperanto to a acceptable level.

  5. I’ve been going through all the old issues of Cosmoglotta (a magazine for the language Occidental, later renamed Interlingue) for the past 5-6 months now and the large Czech presence in the user base has been quite surprising. The Occidentalists had the most users in Switzerland, followed by Czecoslovakia, Sweden and Austria – all the other countries were fairly far behind compared to those four. Even now the magazine Cosmoglotta is published by people from Switzerland and Czech Republic.

    Later on in 1939 the movement was forced to disband along with other constructed languages but it quickly came back to life after the war ended. I’m curious why Czechs in particular gravitated towards it…I’ve read much about the Czech Occidentalists themselves, but am mostly curious why it took root so quickly and deeply there instead of other possible countries nearby or of similar size…I don’t think I’ve come across a single Polish Occidentalist in the old Cosmoglottas, for example.

  6. These special languages surely have a purpose in the society. Military got to have a unique one for secrecy of their organization. Must be the same of the rest of the world that have unique language among themselves.

  7. Please, Esperanto is a propaedeutic language. Use Esperanto when you teach and learn
    other languages. You have your mother tongue, then you need a brother tongue.
    Esperanto is a bridge.

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