A constructed or artificial language—known
or informally as a conlang—is a language
have been consciously devised by an individual or group,
instead of having evolved naturally.
There are many possible reasons to create a constructed
language: to ease human communication
auxiliary language and code);
to bring fiction
or an associated constructed
world to life; linguistic
of one's aesthetic tastes in language; and language
The synonym planned language is sometimes
used to refer to international auxiliary languages and
other languages intended for actual use in human communication.
Some prefer it to the more common term "artificial", as
that term may have pejorative connotations in some languages.
For example, few speakers of Interlingua
consider their language artificial, since they assert
that it has no invented content. While this is not true
some speakers of these languages also avoid the term "artificial
language" because they deny that there is anything "unnatural"
about the use of their language in human communication.
(In Esperanto itself, the equivalent of English "artificial"
does not have the same pejorative connotation, having
more connection with the concept of "art".) Some philosophers
such as François
Rabelais have argued that all human languages are
conventional or artificial.
Calling languages "planned" also addresses a difficulty
with the term "constructed language": a few languages
are loosely grouped under this heading as a result of
shared history and uses but are not, by their proponents,
themselves viewed as constructed. Interlingua's vocabulary
is taken from a small set of natural languages with much
less phonological modification than in Esperanto or Ido,
and its grammar is based closely on these source languages,
even including a certain degree of irregularity; its proponents
prefer to describe its vocabulary and grammar as standardized
rather than invented.
sine Flexione (LsF) is a simplification of Latin from
which the inflections
have been removed. As with Interlingua, some prefer to
describe this process as "planning" rather than "constructing"
the language. Both LsF and Interlingua are considered
major auxiliary languages, although only Interlingua is
widely spoken today.
Outside the Esperanto
community, the term language
planning refers to prescriptive measures taken regarding
a natural language. In this regard, even "natural languages"
may be artificial in some respects. In the case of prescriptive
grammars, where wholly artificial rules exist, the
line is difficult to draw. The term "glossopoeia," coined
R. R. Tolkien, is also used to refer to language construction,
particularly construction of artistic
languages; Sarah L. Higley uses this term in her discussion
of artistic constructed languages in Hildegard of Bingen's
Unknown Language (2007).
Constructed languages are categorized as either a
priori languages or a
posteriori languages. The grammar and vocabulary
of the former are created from scratch, either by the
author's imagination or by computation; the latter possess
a grammar and vocabulary derived from natural language.
In turn, a posteriori languages are divided into schematic
languages, in which a natural or partly natural vocabulary
is altered to fit pre-established rules, and naturalistic
languages, in which a natural vocabulary retains its normal
sound and appearance. While Esperanto
is generally considered schematic, Interlingua
is viewed as naturalistic. Ido
is presented either as a schematic language or as a compromise
between the two types.
Further, fictional and experimental languages can be
naturalistic in that they are meant to sound natural,
have realistic amounts of irregularity, and, if derived
a posteriori from a real-world natural language
(such as Vulgar
Latin or Proto
Indo-European) or from a fictional protolanguage,
they try to imitate natural processes of phonological,
lexical and grammatical
change. In contrast with Interlingua, these languages
are not usually intended for easy learning or communication;
and most artlangers would not consider Interlingua to
be naturalistic in the sense in which this term is used
in artlang criticism. Thus, a naturalistic fictional language
tends to be more difficult and complex. While Interlingua
has simpler grammar, syntax, and orthography than its
source languages (though more complex and irregular than
Esperanto or Ido), naturalistic fictional languages typically
mimic behaviors of natural languages like irregular
verbs and nouns and complicated phonological processes.
In terms of purpose, most constructed languages can broadly
be divided into:
languages (engelangs /ˈendʒlæŋz/),
further subdivided into philosophical languages,
logical languages (loglangs) and experimental
languages; devised for the purpose of experimentation
languages (auxlangs) devised for international
communication (also IALs, for International Auxiliary
languages (artlangs) devised to create
aesthetic pleasure or humorous effect, just for fun;
usually secret languages and mystical languages are
classified as artlangs
The boundaries between these categories are by no means
A constructed language could easily fall into more than
one of the above categories. A logical language created
reasons would also be classifiable as an artistic language,
which might be created by someone with philosophical motives
intending for said conlang to be used as an auxiliary
language. There are no rules, either inherent in the process
of language construction or externally imposed, that would
limit a constructed language to fitting only one of the
A constructed language can have native speakers if young
children learn it from parents who speak it fluently.
According to Ethnologue,
there are "200–2000 who
speak Esperanto as a first language" (most famously
A member of the Klingon
Language Institute, d'Armond
Speers, attempted to raise his son as a native (bilingual
with English) Klingon
As soon as a constructed language has a community of
fluent speakers, especially if it has numerous native
speakers, it begins to evolve and hence loses its constructed
status. For example, Modern
Hebrew was modeled on Biblical Hebrew rather than
engineered from scratch, and has undergone considerable
changes since the state of Israel
was founded in 1948 (Hetzron 1990:693). Esperanto as a
living spoken language has evolved significantly from
the prescriptive blueprint published in 1887, so that
modern editions of the Fundamenta Krestomatio,
a 1903 collection of early texts in the language, require
many footnotes on the syntactic and lexical differences
between early and modern Esperanto.
Proponents of constructed languages often have many reasons
for using them. The famous but disputed Sapir-Whorf
hypothesis is sometimes cited; this claims that the
language one speaks influences the way one thinks. Thus,
a "better" language should allow the speaker to think
more clearly or intelligently or to encompass more points
of view; this was the intention of Suzette
Haden Elgin in creating Láadan,
the language embodied in her feminist
science fiction series Native
A constructed language could also be used to restrict
thought, as in George
or to simplify thought, as in Toki
Pona. In contrast, linguists such as Stephen
Pinker argue that ideas exist independently of language.
Thus, children spontaneously re-invent slang and even
grammar with each generation. (See The
Language Instinct.) If this is true, attempts to control
the range of human thought through the reform of language
would fail, as concepts like "freedom" will reappear in
new words if the old vanish.
Proponents claim a particular language makes it easier
to express and understand concepts in one area, and more
difficult in others. An analogy can be taken from the
way various computer
languages make it easier to write certain kinds of
programs and harder to write others.
Another reason cited for using a constructed language
is the telescope
rule; this claims that it takes less time to first
learn a simple constructed language and then a natural
language, than to learn only a natural language. Thus,
if someone wants to learn English, some suggest learning
English first. Constructed languages like Esperanto
and Ido are in fact often simpler due to the typical lack
verbs and other grammatical quirks. Some studies have
found that learning Esperanto helps in learning a non-constructed
language later (see Propaedeutic
value of Esperanto).
639-2 standard reserves the language code "art"
to denote artificial languages. However, some constructed
languages have their own ISO
639 language codes (e.g. "eo" and "epo"
for Esperanto, or "ia" and "ina" for
and "qny" for Quenya).
Grammatical speculation dates from Classical
Antiquity, appearing for instance in Plato's
However the mechanisms of grammar suggested by classical
philosophers were designed to explain existing languages
rather than constructing new grammars. Roughly contemporary
to Plato, in his descriptive grammar of Sanskrit, Pāṇini
constructed a set of rules for explaining language, so
that the text of his grammar may be considered a mixture
of natural and constructed language.
The earliest non-natural languages were less considered
"constructed" as "super-natural" or mystical. The Lingua
Ignota, recorded in the 12th century by St. Hildegard
of Bingen is an example; apparently it is a form of
private mystical cant
(see also language
of angels). An important example from Middle-Eastern
culture is Balaibalan,
invented in the 16th century.
grammatical speculation was directed at recovering the
original language spoken by Adam
and Eve in Paradise,
lost in the confusion
of tongues. The first Christian
project for an ideal language is outlined in Dante
vulgari eloquentia, where he searches for the
vernacular suited for literature. Ramon
Llull's Ars magna was a project of a perfect
language with which the infidels could be convinced of
the truth of the Christian faith. It was basically an
application of combinatorics
on a given set of concepts. During the Renaissance,
Lullian and Kabbalistic ideas were drawn upon in a magical
context, resulting in cryptographic
applications. The Voynich
manuscript may be an example of this.
Renaissance interest in Ancient
Egypt, notably the discovery of the Hieroglyphica
and first encounters with the Chinese
script directed efforts towards a perfect written
Trithemius, in Steganographia and Polygraphia,
attempted to show how all languages can be reduced to
one. In the 17th century, interest in magical
languages was continued by the Rosicrucians
Boehme in 1623 spoke of a "natural language" (Natursprache)
of the senses.
languages from the Renaissance were tied up with mysticism,
magic and alchemy,
sometimes also referred to as the language
of the birds. The Solresol
project of 1817 re-invented the concept in a more pragmatic
The 17th century saw the rise of projects for "philosophical"
or "a priori" languages, such as:
These early taxonomic conlangs produced systems of hierarchical
classification that were intended to result in both spoken
and written expression. Leibniz
had a similar purpose for his lingua generalis
of 1678, aiming at a lexicon of characters upon which
the user might perform calculations that would yield true
propositions automatically, as a side-effect developing
calculus. These projects were not only occupied with
reducing or modelling grammar, but also with the arrangement
of all human knowledge into "characters" or hierarchies,
an idea that with the Enlightenment
would ultimately lead to the Encyclopédie.
Many of these 17th-18th century conlangs were pasigraphies,
or purely written languages with no spoken form or a spoken
form that would vary greatly according to the native language
of the reader.
Leibniz and the encyclopedists realized that it is impossible
to organize human knowledge unequivocally in a tree diagram,
and consequently to construct an a priori language
based on such a classification of concepts. Under the
entry Charactère, D'Alembert
critically reviewed the projects of philosophical languages
of the preceding century. After the Encyclopédie,
projects for a priori languages moved more and
more to the lunatic fringe. Individual authors, typically
unaware of the history of the idea, continued to propose
taxonomic philosophical languages until the early 20th
century (e.g. Ro),
but most recent engineered
languages have had more modest goals; some are limited
to a specific field, like mathematical formalism or calculus
languages), others are designed for eliminating syntactical
ambiguity (e.g., Loglan
or maximizing conciseness (e.g., Ithkuil,
Already in the Encyclopédie attention began
to focus on a posteriori auxiliary languages. Joachim
Faiguet in the article on Langue already wrote
a short proposition of a "laconic" or regularized grammar
During the 19th century, a bewildering variety of such
International Auxiliary Languages (IALs) were proposed,
so that Louis
Couturat and Leopold
Leau in Histoire de la langue universelle (1903)
reviewed 38 projects.
The first of these that made any international impact
proposed in 1879 by Johann
Martin Schleyer; within a decade, 283 Volapükist
clubs were counted all over the globe. However, disagreements
between Schleyer and some prominent users of the language
led to schism, and by the mid 1890s it fell into obscurity,
making way for Esperanto, proposed in 1887 by Ludwik
Lejzer Zamenhof. Ido,
made public in 1907, was a reform of Esperanto. Interlingua,
the most recent auxlang to gain a significant number of
speakers, emerged in 1951, when the International
Auxiliary Language Association published its Interlingua-English
Dictionary and an accompanying grammar.
(1955) and its descendants constitute a pragmatic return
to the aims of the a priori languages, tempered
by the requirement of usability of an auxiliary language.
Thus far, these modern a priori languages have garnered
only small groups of speakers.
Artistic languages, constructed for literary enjoyment
or aesthetic reasons without any claim of usefulness,
begin to appear in Early Modern literature (in Pantagruel,
and in Utopian
contexts), but they only seem to gain notability as serious
projects from the 20th century.
Princess of Mars by Edgar
Rice Burroughs was possibly the first fiction of the
20th century to feature a constructed language. Tolkien
was the first to develop a family of related fictional
languages and was the first academic to publicly discuss
artistic languages, admitting to A
Secret Vice of his in 1930 at an Esperanto congress.
(Orwell's Newspeak should be considered a parody of an
IAL rather than an artistic language proper.)
By the turn of the 21st century, it had become common
for science-fiction and fantasy works set in other worlds
to feature constructed languages, or more commonly, an
extremely limited but defined vocabulary which suggests
the existence of a complete language, and constructed
languages are a regular part of the genre, appearing in
The Lost Empire, and the Myst
series of computer adventure games. The most famous of
these is the Klingon
language from Star Trek, which has a bona-fide vocabulary
and a full set of functional grammar rules.
Various paper zines on constructed languages were published
from the 1970s through the 1990s, such as Glossopoeic
Quarterly, Taboo Jadoo, and The Journal
of Planned Languages.
Mailing List was founded in 1991, and later split
off an AUXLANG mailing list dedicated to international
auxiliary languages. In the early to mid 1990s a few conlang-related
zines were published as email or websites, such as Vortpunoj
and Model Languages. The CONLANG mailing list has
developed a community of conlangers
with its own customs, such as translation challenges and
and its own terminology.
Sarah Higley reports from results of her surveys that
the demographics of the CONLANG list are primarily men
from North America and western Europe, with a smaller
number from Oceania, Asia, the Middle East, and South
America, with an age range from thirteen to over sixty;
the number of women participating has increased over time.
More recently founded online communities include the Zompist
Bulletin Board (ZBB; since 2001) and the Conlanger Bulletin
Board. Discussion on these fora includes presentation
of members' conlangs and feedback from other members,
discussion of natural languages, whether particular conlang
features have natural language precedents, and how interesting
features of natural languages can be repurposed for conlangs,
posting of interesting short texts as translation challenges,
and meta-discussion about the philosophy of conlanging,
conlangers' purposes, and whether conlanging is an art
or a hobby.
Another 2001 survey by Patrick Jarrett showed an average
age of 30.65, with the average time since starting to
invent languages 11.83 years.
A more recent thread on the ZBB showed that many conlangers
spend a relatively small amount of time on any one conlang,
moving from one project to another; about a third spend
years on developing the same language.
Collaborative constructed languages
While most constructed languages have been created by
a single person, a few are the results of group collaborations;
examples are Interlingua, which was developed by the International
Auxiliary Language Association, and Lojban,
which was developed by a breakaway group of Loglanists.
Group collaboration has apparently become more common
in recent years, as constructed language designers have
started using Internet
tools to coordinate design efforts. NGL/Tokcir
was an early Internet collaborative engineered language
whose designers used a mailing
list to discuss and vote on grammatical and lexical
design issues. More recently, The
Demos IAL Project was developing an international
auxiliary language with similar collaborative
languages have been developed on different constructed
usually involving discussion and voting on phonology,
grammatical rules and so forth. An interesting variation
is the corpus approach, exemplified by Madjal
(late 2004) and Kalusa (mid-2006),
where contributors simply read the corpus of existing
sentences and add their own sentences, perhaps reinforcing
existing trends or adding new words and structures. The
Kalusa engine adds the ability for visitors to rate sentences
as acceptable or unacceptable. There is no explicit statement
of grammatical rules or explicit definition of words in
this corpus approach; the meaning of words is inferred
from their use in various sentences of the corpus, perhaps
in different ways by different readers and contributors,
and the grammatical rules can be inferred from the structures
of the sentences that have been rated highest by the contributors
and other visitors.
A special example for this kind of language is Simplish:
the German Artist Ulli Purwin tried to set a focus on
(what Germans call) 'Anglicisms'—in a humorous way. Everyone
is invited to increase the vocabulary: from 'ââtist'
"C'est abus de dire que nous avons langage naturel;
les langues sont par institution arbitraires et convention
des peuples." François
Rabelais, Œvres complètes, III, 19 (Paris:
Seuil, 1973), cited in Claude Piron, Le Defi des
Langues (L'Harmattan, 1994) ISBN
- ^ a
Hildegard of Bingen's Unknown Language, by
Sarah L. Higley. Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
"Conlang Triangle" by Raymond Brown. Accessed
8 August 2008
report for language code:epo
Edwards: Babble On Revisited, Wired Magazine,
Issue 7.08, August 1999
Fundamenta Krestomatio, ed. L. L. Zamenhof,
1903; 18th edition with footnotes by Gaston Waringhien,
"My hypothesis was that if I constructed a language
designed specifically to provide a more adequate mechanism
for expressing women's perceptions, women would (a)
embrace it and begin using it, or (b) embrace the
idea but not the language, say "Elgin, you've got
it all wrong!" and construct some other "women's language"
to replace it." Glatzer, Jenna (2007). "Interview
With Suzette Haden Elgin". Retrieved on 2007-03-20.
Einstein, "Al la historio de la Provoj de Lingvoj
Tutmondaj de Leibnitz ĝis la Nuna Tempo", 1884.
Reprinted in Fundamenta Krestomatio, UEA 1992
did you find out that there were other conlangers?"
CONLANG list posting by And Rosta, 14 October, 2007
of Vortpunoj at Steve Brewer's website
Uglossia, and CONLANG: Inventing Languages on the
Internet by Sarah L. Higley. M/C: A Journal of
Media and Culture 3.1 (2000). (Google
cache version of article, media-culture.org.au
site sometimes has problems.)
terminology" at Conlang Wikia
mailing list statistics—FINAL", CONLANG list posting
by Patrick Jarrett, 13 September 2001
life of a conlang" thread on Zompist Bulletin
Board, 15 August 2008; accessed 26 August 2008.
life of a conlang" thread on CONLANG mailing list,
27 August 2008 (should be archived more persistently
than the ZBB thread)
2006 Smiley Award Winner: Kalusa by David J. Peterson
is de niu esperânto: SIMPLISH!", accessed
8 September 2008
CONLANG Mailing List, whence the term "conlang".
Primarily discusses artlangs, but also engelangs sometimes.
AUXLANG Mailing List, split from CONLANG; primarily
discusses international auxiliary languages.
Bulletin Board, a highly active online forum devoted
to conlangs (and conworlds in general).
Bulletin Board, a multilingual forum primarily for
Bulletin Board, a forum primarily devoted to artificial
and natural writing systems.
the IRC channel #ConLang on EFNet.
a relatively new forum for new conlangers, who have
no prior knowledge of IPA, X-SAMPA , SAMPA etc.
- How to
Wikia ("Conlang Free City").
a wiki devoted to the topics of ConLangs and ConCultures.
a wiki for conlanging, linguistics, and the ZBB
Wiki, a wiki for the Auxlang community.
a database of language- and linguistic-related information.