A conlang or constructed language is a language that hasn’t developed naturally over time. Instead, it – and all of its components like grammar, vocabulary, and phonology – has been invented or devised. Other names for these types of language are invented languages, artificial languages or planned languages.
Why do people create constructed languages?
Some people simply love language and decide to create one. After all, for language-lovers, it’s quite entertaining deciding what your ideal language would be like. Often, fiction writers create constructed languages to give their fantasy or historical story a more realistic feel. Sometimes, though, there is a real purpose behind constructing a language. Esperanto, for example, was created as an international auxiliary language – that is a language meant for communication between different nations without a common language.
J.R.R. Tolkien the philologist
Many people are familiar with J.R.R. Tolkien as an author but he is arguably the most famous philologist too. A philologist is a person who studies language history and the term itself is derived from the Greek philologia, which means a love of learning, discussion, and literature. Tolkien was fascinated by language and after WWI, he worked for the Oxford English Dictionary where he was tasked with words beginning with W.
Tolkien began writing languages in his teenage years but his most famous of languages were his Elvish languages that he began inventing around 1910. He worked on these languages his whole life until he died in 1973.
Tolkien didn’t just write one language; his Elvish languages were a group of related languages. There were at least fifteen different dialects and languages each with its own vocabulary and grammar. These were split into three time periods too: Early (1910-1930), Mid (1935-1955), and Late. The most famous of these Elvish languages are Quenya, an Early language and Sindarin, a Late language. Quenya is partly built on Finnish morphology while Sindarin has features of Welsh phonology. However, there were not many borrowed words in his languages.
Esperanto – the most famous conlang
Esperanto is the most recognisable and most widely spoken of all constructed languages and it is the only constructed language that actually has some native speakers. Though difficult to estimate, it is thought that there are around 100,000 Esperanto speakers worldwide. Thanks to the internet, learning Esperanto is more accessible than ever and it even appears on the language learning app Duolingo.
It was first created in 1887 by Polish-Jewish ophthalmologist L.L. Zamenhof. At the time, his hometown of Bialystok was a part of the Russian Empire but nowadays is in Poland. Before the language was created, it was illegal to speak Polish in public places in the town. Through his creation, Zamenhof wanted to create harmony among people from different nations.
Conlangs – a summary
There is so much to say about conlangs that it’s impossible to write in one post. For people who are really interested in the concept of constructed languages, Arika Orient’s In the Land of Invented Languages is a great resource. As well as being informative, it’s an entertaining and intelligent read for anyone who loves words and language.
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