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 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 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.
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 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.