Linguistics Meets the Art of Language Creation

UAF Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Linguistics Robin Shoaps wants to bring conlang enthusiasts and the field of linguistics closer together. She is currently developing a new course at UAF, titled “Elvish, Klingon & Dothraki: The Art & Science of Language Creation.’ In this course students will build off popular culture and the work of hobbyist groups in the area of “conlang,’ or constructed languages.

The hobbyist conlang community are most often enthusiasts without formal training in linguistics. On the other hand, the field of linguistics has mostly ignored the innovations and active creation of novel languages by individuals. Approaching the creative construction of a language from a linguistic standpoint offers a new approach in linguistics pedagogy. Both majors and non-majors in linguistics will gain a new perspective on the nature and limits of human language.

Dr. Shoaps was inspired to design the course after coming to the realization that “conlangers are the only people in the world who ask certain questions about language other than linguists.’ The goal of the course is to build off of this strong interest toward a broad but relevant survey of linguistic concepts, from phonetics to semantics and even writing systems and cultural practices.

The course is open to non-majors and is planned to be offered at the 200 level. The product of the course will be a new, collaboratively constructed language. Students will draw from the applied study of both real world languages and constructed languages to create their own “conlang” and publish their results as a multimedia-rich presentation for the linguistics and hobbyist community.

Our CITE Fellow/Designer team has explored a number of various textbook and software options for class. We are currently looking at using a combination of AirTable (database), Awkwords (syllable generation), a dictionary creation tool (TBD), Fontstruct (font creation), and WordPress (for course materials and group interaction). Textbooks under consideration are David Peterson’s The Art of Language Invention and The Language Construction Kit by Mark Rosenfelder. Both balance the creative practice of conlanging with fundamental concepts in linguistics.

Image Credit:  “Made yesterday night, Namàrië, farewel”  (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)  by    Satyrika

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