Conlangs, also known as ‘constructed languages’, are artificially invented rather than naturally occur in human society. If you are a Trekkie (or a Star Trek fan), you may be pretty familiar with Klingon, one of the best-developed conlangs created for fictional worlds. Other famous conlangs made for the purpose of entertainment include Sindarin in The Lord of the Rings, Na’vi in Avatar, and Dothraki and High Valyrian in Game of Thrones.
Despite the number of modern fictional languages that you may know of, in fact, conlangs are not a new concept but have been out there for centuries. A conlang may be created for religious and spiritual purposes, for philosophical studies, or just for fun. Take Esperanto for example; it was created in the 1880s with the hope to provide an easily acquired language that could help with communication and achieve peace across nations. Thus, Esperanto has a rather straightforward grammar and phonology compared to, say, Klingon, which was deliberately designed to be strikingly different from human speech.
The creation of a conlang usually involves references to natural languages. But, are conlangs really languages? This can be a tricky question depending on how you define language. Some conlangs can be valid languages for their competence of facilitating communication, and others share common features with natural languages such as Universal Grammar. Ithkuil, on the other hand, may not have that much validity as other conlangs, especially when it aims to compact as largest amount of meaningful information as possible into limited sounds and that, accordingly, it has very a complicated grammar and phonology.
Some conlangs have been learned by babies, including Esperanto, the most widely spoken conlang. When a conlang starts to have native speakers, it can further develop more thoroughly and creatively just like how a natural language may evolve over time. If you are also keen on learning one of those cool conlangs, the language learning app Duolingo now offers lessons in Esperanto, Klingon and High Valyrian!
- The Ling Space Topic 19: Constructed Languages, by linguist Moti Lieberman.
- Dialect coach Erik Singer explains some of the phonological and grammatical features of Sindarin, Na’vi, Klingon, Parseltongue, Dothroki, High Valyrian here, along with some other random language-like utterances you may have heard in movies and shows.
- Lingthusiasm Episode 1: Speaking a single language won’t bring about world peace, hosted by linguists Lauren Gawne and Gretchen McCulloch on Esperanto and other conlangs.
- Allusionist 25: Toki Pona, on the world’s ‘smallest’ language created by linguist Sonja Lang in 2001.
- Conlangery has more than 130 episodes now, telling you all about conlangs!
Documentary: Conlanging: The Art of Crafting Tongues directed by Britton Watkins (2017). A trailer is available on Lauren Gawne’s blog Superlinguo.
Book: In the Land of Invented Languages by Arika Okrent (2009).
Website: Conlang Wikia has a list of active and inactive conlangs that you may want to know more about.