Quick Summary:

People have been inventing languages to suit various purposes for centuries. Some of the earliest ones were likely created to express religious thoughts and devotions, but the background to those mystical lexicons has been lost. We definitely did see some philosophers creating their own systems, however, like the Ars Signorum of George Dalgarno, or the Characteristica Universalis of Leibniz. These constructed languages, or conlangs, continue to be made up until today, to flesh out works of fiction, like in the case of Tolkien's Quenya or Sindarin, Frommer's Na'vi, or Okrand's Klingon; to provide a common language that could lead towards a climate of peace, like Zamenhof's Esperanto; or to test out how to condense language into the most precise and concise form possible, as with Quijada's Ithkuil.

As linguists, we want to know whether these systems qualify as languages, in the same sense that English or French is a language. Depending on your definition of language, conlangs may or may not qualify. If you think that a language is any system that can allow for communication, then they certainly apply. But as objects of study for linguistics, it's better to think about whether they match up with all the requirements of Universal Grammar (UG), the underlying structures that all human languages obey. The closer that a conlang hews to UG, and the more regular and fixed its phonology, morphology and syntax, the more likely it is to really be a language. When babies acquire a conlang, they run it through their mental machinery, and can change it into a more natural language, a process that has happened with conlangs like Esperanto already.



So how about it? What do you all think? Let us know below, and we’ll be happy to talk with you about conlangs: how and why they're created, and what it means for a system to be a language or not. There’s a lot of interesting stuff to say, and we want to hear what interests you!

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