Using Twitter for your (favorite) conlang

Miniblogging is awesome for any language learning, including constructed languages.  Everyone has time to write a sentence a day, everyone can read a senetence or two.  Effective twittering in foreign language though, (especially a conlang) takes a bit of planning.

Create  new account for your conlang twittering.  Your ordinary friends don’t want to see the noise.

Always tag your tweets with the name of your conlang.  Hopefully you’re conlang’s name can be transliterated into roman letters in less than 140 characters.

Get a muliti-account twitter client. Tweet Deck is suitable.  Keep a search running for the hashtag of your (favorite) conlang’s name.

Set up a twibe. A twibe is a way of identifying people and tweets that are related to a topic.  You twibe should have the #hashtag and unhashed keyword for search.  If you language has a very common word that appears in most sentences, that might make a good twibe keyword, too.

Anythime anyone tweets in your (favorite) conlang, mark it as a favorite.  Without favoriting, it is impossible to track down the occassional tweets that get burried in the stream of non-conlang related tweets.  If you have lots of followers and you’ve just read a tweet by a person with few followers, retweet it for them. 

Create twitter lists that list:

  • people that only tweet in your (favorite) conlang
  • people that have tweeted once in your (favorite) conlang.

Use shoutem as a complementary part of your twitter strategy.  Shoutem is a more elegant solution to doing what twitter does for a special interest group, but twitter has more users. If you ignore twitter, a really large numbe of people won’t ever migrate to shoutem.  Shoutem also lacks the incredible number of clients and addon services that have grown up around twitter.  On  the otherhand, shoutem will be 100% in the conlang and have only people interested in the conlang– where as twitter has a filtering problem–many people who don’t care, many messages having nothing to do with your (favorite) conlang.

Sign up for a twitter scheduling service, such as twuffer.com.  Presumably you are the conlang creator or it’s biggest fan. You can create contest faster than the world can consume, but likley have weeks were real life interferes and you can’t do any conlanging.  If you use a scheduler, you can keep the conversation boiling while you are away.  Do try to respond in real time.  Subscribe

Conlangs are 4th languages

The typical person who learns a constructed language is probably on their 4th language.  I’ve no data to back this up, but here’s why I think so:

1. Everyone speaks their mother tongue.

2. Most everyone takes a foreign language as an elective or requirement in school.  It wasn’t Esperanto or a conlang.

3. People discover Esperanto while studying the language the studied at school and notice Esperanto is easy because they speak 2 of the language that Esperanto uses for source material.

4. People who study Esperanto learn about conlangs and some of them pursue them further since they’ve already demonstrated above average ability to learn foreign languages.

So if you know toki pona or any other conlang, you probably speak or read three other languages reasonably well.

The percent of people who go down the list in the opposite is likely small.  But I don’t have the data for it.

Picking a fake language to learn

Pick one of the popular auxlangs. ‘Nuff said about those, everyone already knows Esperanto exists and has fans in many cities worldwide.

Create your own? This is the most work.  You will have the most flexibility with regards to how you use the language. You will have to promote and build the community yourself.  A pre-existing conlang often is reasonably complete, has a community and prestige. Achieving that all on your own is a lot of work.

Things to Consider when Shopping for a conlang to study

You know how much time it takes to learn a language…poorly? It takes a really long time.

Is it complete? If its complete, then one needed worry about conflicts with the creator as you and the community argue over what is a mistake, what is correct and what is an innovation.  If the language is grossly incomplete, see if the designer wants to collaborate.  Otherwise fork and create your own.

Was it ever intended to be humanly usable? If the language requires sign language using alien body parts, supersonic screeches and subsonic rumbles, or is ludicrously difficult then just read the grammar and be entertained.

Does the author have or imagine they have extremely restrictive intellectual property rights? Don’t be thinking about posting too much Mandolorian on your blog or the fanfic police will be on your butt.  There are enough language to pick from to bother with highly proprietary conlangs.  Look for conlangs that are in public domain or at least a fan friendly license, like GNU or Creative Commons.

What are the talking points, what is the prestige factor, what is the goal?
This is sort of like the same question on must ask when picking a natural language to learn.  Esperanto offers world peace, Lojban offers clear headed thinking, Klingon offers a deeper connection to the Star Trek fans–which is something valuable since Kirk doesn’t exist and Leonard Nemoy probably won’t be hanging out with you for beers after work.   Many constructed languages think they are all things to all people, I doubt they are. Think critically about the value proposition that is floating around for a language, make sure it fits with your life goals.

Exactly who is the community right now? Depending on the language, the community of a conlang (or auxlang) is :

- intellectuals– “The only thing between us and world peace, truth and beauty is the morphosyntactic alignment of all these illogical, nationalistic, patriarchial, depressing natural languages…and the glasses  I’m wearing”
- linguists and polyglots– “Hmm, ergative, lots of plosives, but still looks like Samoan”/”… and now I’m speak fluently 14 languages! (but on this language no one can call BS because no one else speaks it, mwah ha ha!”
- fringe elements– “I’ve got tattoos, I’m a member of the radical left/right, and I speak a language that you suburban clones don’t understand.”
- science fiction and fantasy– “A 3 hour 3-D movie isn’t immersive enough. Gimme the body paint and a dictionary and lets go LARP in the park”

Constructed languages do attract their target audience– if someone proposed a compilable conlang that was practical to speak and write business application in, then at least some software developers would show up in the conlang hobby universe.  Speaking of which, wouldn’t it be great to turn COBOL into a language that one could use for conversation?

Are the community and the language designer getting along? Language designers can abandon the project, move on to another, make changes that only some of the community will follow leading to splits, etc.   If your the 2nd language learner, you may also become the designer, promoter and so on if the language is abandoned in an incomplete state.  Community schisms are interesting, too, and sometimes not.  Imitation conlangs are a sign of success, but successful imitators split the community and make it hard to decide which community will survive.

Conlang: Milestones

Language Description

Phonology, Phonotactics and Sandhi complete.

Phrase grammar complete.

CALS page complete.

Morphosyntax sketch complete. (question list from book of same name)

Swadesh (or alternative) list complete.

Core lexicon and derivational morphology complete to the point that most if not all words either exist or can be derived by a hypothetical speaker. In otherwords, the language community isn’t waiting for new words.

Intellectual property rules established, (i.e. released to public domain, CC, proprietary commercial licensing, etc)

Corpus, Community and Competency

Corpus (excluding pedagogical examples in reference grammars) has attested all or most lexical entries and grammatical structures.

1st translations of common texts, e.g. Babel text, Lord’s Prayer, Zompist Phrasebook, etc.

1st reported conversation (either on forums, online chat, voice chat or in person conversation)

1st period of sustained daily usage

1st successful in person gathering for the purpose of speaking in the language without code switching.

Milestones with significant economic barriers

Physical keyboards adapted for use with language

Unsubsidized books sales by someone other than the inventor, especially for non-pedagogical materials.

1st long format texts (novella, novel length)

1st podcast, talkshow, news program

Has language governance body with regular meetings.

Living Language Status

Organized in person communities with regular gatherings and activities (excluding pedagogical gatherings)

Language governance body documents what is happening more it than directs.

1st child to learn the language

1st 2nd generation child to learn the language

Spoken by extendend family.  Individuals that marry into the family also learn the language.

Language use considered prestigious

Contructed Language Governance Structures

I’m working up some drafts for language governance documents.   Constructed languages face some typical challenges, which probably could be helped by setting down some social conventions for people to follow.  Obviously, we’re in the world of recommendations and guidelines, not legally binding or enforceable by government decree type of rules.  This is kind of like, let’s walk down the right side of the hall to have fewer collisions sort of guidelines.

Constructed languages get abandoned. Language designers are mortal.  The oldest constructed languages are so old that if anyone cared, it’s like public property.  When the language designer is alive, it’s hard to say who owns it now and who to look to for leadership.  Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a governing body, or the recommended outline for creating one, that would let users stand in place of the language designer?

Constructed languages get neglected. Language designers presumably have real lives as well.  They language could be in semi-limbo for years, until the fans move on.  The fans might actually do better at promoting and using the language than the designer, making the language look neglected in comparison to the effort of the fans.  It would be helpful if language designers were mentally prepared and had a structure for increasing the involvement of the community.

Language designers don’t necessarily have the same goals as users. Language designers might want their language to be used only by themselves, say in a novel, while the users might want to be develop it as a machine parsable language, or a cryptographic device, for use in recreational linguistics, or who knows what.  Surprisingly, this often distresses the language designers and the community.

Language designers might be nuts. By nuts I mean, language designers might not want to co-operate or behave in a respectable fashion.  Language inventors are not elected, they get their role by accident of writing a language good enough to attract fans.  They might have any number of qualities that make them poorly qualified for community management–or they might be masters of it.  Just as some princes are excellent kings, some unelected language designers are lousy rulers.    An orderly process of re-lexing or what- have-you and going separate ways may be the solution.

Language users want to innovate. They want to create new words, new grammatical constructs and sometimes fork the whole language.  Sometimes this will split the community and sometimes it will just be background noise, sometimes it’s a very good thing and enriches the language and community.  It often isn’t clear what constitutes saying something unexpected and fundamentally changing the language.    To the extent that there is an respected authority, it would add to the peace of the community if rulings on questions of vocabulary and grammar could be made.  Better yet, if the governing documents are clear enough, the language users should be able to tell the difference between just talking, community innovation, and forking the language–i.e. essentially creating a mutually unintelligible dialect.

Language users want to be able to write grammar books, dictionaries, and works of fiction and non-fiction, too. Because money could be involved, this means learning about public domain, licensing,  copyright law, Creative Common, open source licenses.  Works in a constructed language are derivative works, but usually worthless ones, so are almost never fought over in court.  Some potential exceptions on the horizon are movie languages (klingon, na’vi), pedagogical subset languages (slovio, globish). These may actually have a business model. The better a language’s governance, the easier it is for this sort of thing to be enabled.

Language governance is risky and can be a waste of time if the focus is on the wrong things. Language standardization committees have succeeded in various natural languages (Basque comes to mind).  And they have failed– French neologism to replace English loan words come to mind.  And they’ve gotten off track. The anti-communist tangent that the Esperanto society (EANA) in the US went off on is a good example.

Language users react variously to language governance. Sometimes it changes the language, sometimes it just generates fights and the language drifts on unaware.  Good governance would be coupled with good club membership, such as tracking members and keeping up communications.

Language governance is likely to be a blighted democracy.  A blighted democracy is like a home owner association. Yeah, you get to vote but no one has time and the governance gets handed off to those one or two people who have time.  Democracy is supposed to be a decision making method where information from the many gets concentrated into a single decision.  When only the tiny percent that have the time to care participate, the governed have to rely more and more on the governing documents–like bills of rights and such, that set down far in advance of disputes reasonably fair outcomes.  An analogy would be the standard contracts used in real-estate, which are reasonably fair to both parties although not customized as much as they would be if only people had the time and attention to write their own.

Bringing a language to life, what to learn from dying languages

Among conlangs, the yardstick for success is pretty low. Having 1-2 fluent speakers is quite a milestone for a conlang and a reason to rejoice.  Having only 1-2 fluent speakers of a natural language and people are more likely to say it’s too late to bother.  Really though, it’s the same problem.

A language dies for all sorts of reason, such as:

Suppression and Death. All your speakers
….drown in a tsunami.
….are rounded up exiled to the big city. Or killed.
….sent to boarding schools where the kids are physically punished for speaking anything but English

Don’t piss off the gods, the local warlords or city council if you want your constructed language to thrive.

Domain Loss. Languages die when the domains in which they are used gets too narrow. For example, at home, at work, at church, when interacting with mass media, when talking to strangers on the street.  Of  these, an individual can only control the “at home” part.

Family Dynamics. Less dramatically languages die when in net  woman marry into families that don’t speak their language and the men don’t marry.

I think an important milestone for a conlang is if a significant other speaks it.  For example, Zamenhof’s wife learned Esperanto and spoke it at home, one of the guys responsible for the revival of Hebrew decreed that Hebrew would be spoken at home (and wasn’t ignored), Klingon’s Krankor’s significant other speaks Klingon.

In sum, to bring a language to life, it has to be useful for finding a date.  If it isn’t useful for that, it won’t be spoken at home.  If it isn’t spoken at home, it will be locked out of the only domain where an individual can influence choice of language.

Mothers and Kids. Kids learn their language from their primary care taker.  So is mum doesn’t speak it, the kids won’t.  To get mum to speak it, it would have to have been useful before the kids showed up.

Kids growing up. For kids to keep speaking it, it has to be useful. Again, since individuals can only choose their language at home–someone else has chosen the language of all other domains– kids won’t bother to keep speaking it unless it will be useful for finding a date when they grow up.  And we’re  back to where we started.  A language needs to be useful for finding a date.

English need only be useful for reading mass media or  for working to survive.  But a conlang must be useful for finding a date.  Or it will die, like any other natural language with two speakers.

Toki Pona: More Unoffical Number Systems

The old official numbering system was, ala, wan, tu, mute, or a the limited roman style This was a roman system, e.g. W, T, TW, TT, TTW, TTT, TTTW, etc.  A ternary place value system would have been better, but just as verbose.

The official number system is a Roman style number system.  I sort of like it when written in Roman style, but only when written, and only for numbers up to about 159.   After 159, the length of the numbers starts to get unbearably long.

The don’t do math option.

This option is good up unto the point where you decide to translate anything of substance, eventually years will come up.  It’s even possible famous equations will come up, like e=mc^2.  Doubly so for non-fiction.

I recommend using wan, tu, mute when you are not in the mood for numbers. Use roman-style for numbers up to 160 or so, but when you aren’t doing math.  And for all other numbers, establish a system within your text and then uses it.  If I was going to invent a new kind of algebra, I might need to create a new notation. But once described, I’d be able to use it, using English, and no one would accuse me of re-plumbing English.  I think the situation is the same for constructed languages where the designer didn’t bother to work out the full number system.  And why should they? Each language designer designs a language for their own goals, and that is a good thing.

Options for Digits

- Assign base words with a vague sense of quantity to specific numbers.

In fact, this is the current state of affairs.

- Colors.

A color system either reuses the electrical resistor number system, or  the colors from ROYGBIV scale are mapped to decimal digits.

- Body Parts

Papa New Guinean natives will count along an imaginary line along their body.  For example nose could be one, lips  two, chin three, etc.

- Load words

I don’t really like loan words for small vocabulary languages.  Each loan word is a new word and increases the number of words a brand new user need to memorize before getting started. (Finishing learning a language will still require memorizing 1,000s of lexemes, but that is another blog post)

- Calender names.  Days can provide numbers from 1 to 7, Months 1 to 12.  Month could support decimal if we ignore two months.

There is a perfectly good proposal to use Japanese style day names.

Options for reading off the digits and symbols

- Grammatical sentences

This encourages awkward spoken mathematical notation.  It would be better to just read off the symbols as they appear.  Trying to shoe-horn mathematical notation into a constructed language using the language’s internal grammar is like saying phone number as “first there is an 9, then there is a 7, then there is a 9, etc.”  555-234-2344 is just fine without verbs, without trying to get it to follow any rules about agreement.

- Use Calques and descriptive words for symbols.

- Decimal places are circular things. But exponents are pretty abstract.   I’m thinking the odds of finding a short-transparent compound phrase are fairly low. More over, notation should be somewhat brief to read.  So this all favors choosing non-transparent words.  If there isn’t a good short word for factorial, might as well use “kala”.  At least “kala” won’t likely be misunderstood for “fish”.  Normally “tu” would be a good verb for divide, but because it also is a digit, it would be a lousy name for an operator.

Good properties of number systems for toki pona like languages

1) Don’t use loan words. If you’re going to use loan words, why not speak Esperanto?

2) Use decimal, unless you’re just doing a number system for show.

3) Don’t re-invent the wheel. Numbers are only kind of linguistic entities and mathematical notation is not linguistic at all. Don’t bother creating a syntax and grammar for reading off mathematical notation or invent a new mathematical notation.  Unless you are doing so for show.

When is a constructed language dead?

So I categorized some of the constructed languages I found in Wikipedia by “Alive”, “In Purgatory”, “Killed by Esperanto”, “Was Alive, Now Dead”, “Never was Alive” to see if I could see any patterns.

There is only room for one…per goal and audience. For IALs, it all had to do with their relationship with Esperanto.  If a language is trying to solve the same narrow problem for the same audience, the solution with the most adherents will win regardless of merits.  Lojban will beat all future logical languages,  Laadan will beat out all future “woman’s-point-of-view-centric” languages, etc.

The pro’s have an edge. The alive and in purgatory categories seem to be strongly influence by ease of use and if the originator was a professional linguist.

Governance. Out of the most successful ones, Esperanto, Klingon, Lojban have governing bodies.  Personally I think organized governance causes success, although there is some effect in the other direction as well.  Governing bodies for natural languages are either jokes, modestly important in some cases (like dialect standardization), or play pivotal roles (for example the institutions that helped the Hebrew revival–schools and the like).  In constructed languages, I think time will prove organization to be be extremely important for success beyond the two or three year point or life of the inventor.  In the case of Volapuk and Loglan, poorly considered governance lead to the death of the language or dialect (in the case of Loglan).

Desire to live is correlated with living. Out of the least successful, many of the inventors didn’t care if the language was ever spoken by anyone.  Not having a success as a goal, tends to lead to failure. Sigh.

The categorization

Alive. Someone speaks it, people are trying to learn it, there are communities of actively interested people.
Esperanto, Klingon, Láadan, Lojban, Na’vi, Toki Pona

In purgatory.  Creator is alive, but no community.
Teonaht, Ithkuil, Kelen  (Ithkuil and Kelen both are potentially unspeakable, so a community might not be possible!)

Killed by Esperanto. Relative to Esperanto these languages are dead. Relative to Teonaht, some of these are vital booming languages with a dozen or two speakers.
Glosa, Interlingua, Lingua Franca Nova, Occidental, Novial.

I hold out Ido because it is the only-Esperanto-wannabe that I know of with a governing body and conventions.

Was Alive, now Dead.   Used to have a community, but not anymore.
Volapük.  Forerunner of Esperanto, killed by bad governance.
Loglan.  Community moved to Lojban, killed by bad governance.
Enochian.  Really old language of a mystic or two.
Lingua Ignota.  Really old language of a mystic or two.

Never was alive.  Never was finished, was only a thought  experiment, single-use-throw-away language.
Blissymbol, Nadsat, Quenya, Sindarin, Solresol

Dunno…
Tsolyáni- RPG game (Not sure, this was published in 1975)

Ute-lite, an idea for a constructed language

Any hear of slovio, globlish, or basic English?  They’re subset and averaging constructed languages.  They’re also kind of like semantic prime languages in that it is easy to get by on relatively few words.

Wouldn’t it be cool to create an artificial language based on Ute?  Ute is spoken in Towaoc, Colorado. In particular, it was spoken by some classmates of mine when I lived in Cortez, Colorado.

Goal.

To give people who speak no Ute and don’t have a non-English-speaking live-in Ute parent, a path to learning Ute, that is more likely to succeed than the current path (which is to buy the reference grammar and more or less give up in frustration because reference grammars are for professional linguists, not people).  This probably has nothing to do with the goals of any other constructed language you might be aware of, or the goals that people have when they learn, say, French.

Design method.

A vocabulary of about 500 words and 100 bound morphemes.

Maybe 10 or so legal sentence patterns. (inspired by toki ponas *single* legal sentence pattern)

A disproportionate amount of attention paid to derivational morphology, i.e. lot of attention paid to the ways that Ute build new words out of existing words, especially derivational morphology that goes beyond Indo-European style derivational morphology (which gets bogged down in noun and verb inflections and doesn’t go much into how to combine stems to create new words).  An illustration using English as an example, we might say “red spherical fruit” instead of “apple”

A disproportionate amount of attention payed to phontactics and logatomes, i.e. how to transliterate loan words and coin new words that look and feel like Ute words.

Expected Results

A speaker of Ute-lite could speak to other Ute-lite speakers.  A speaker of Ute probably could read Ute-lite and maybe understand it spoken.  A speaker of Ute-lite obviously could not produce real Ute.  Speakers of other numic languages might be able to understand Ute-lite.

As a Pedogogical Tool

Like the maker of globish observed, speakers of English as a second language often end up using a simplified version anyhow, so why not just focus on teaching the simplified version?  The advantage is you get started faster and can be quickly producing Ute that other Ute-lite speakers can understand, and full-Ute speakers might understand.  This compares to

The down side is that you’ll get unexpected innovations, such as Ute-lite compound words and derivations that don’t exist in full-Ute.  People who learn Ute-lite and try to learn full-Ute will have fossilization problems (that’s where a it’s hard to learn an alternate rule when you’ve already learned a rule that works for you–even if it isn’t community standard)

Likely Grumbling, Some Pre-Defenses

Basic English, Globish and the like routinely get criticized a lot for being uglier than their base languages, not that much easier to learn than the base language, and insult the intelligence of language learners.   Ugly is in the eye of the beholder.  Full blown languages are hard to learn and the number of hours it takes to learn a language is an objective measure.  I estimate learning Ute (if you only know English) takes 1000-1500 hours.   In my personal experience, I can’t even start producing

Well, if people want to learn real Ute or teach real Ute to their kids, no one is stopping them.  Except maybe the public school system, which coast to coast tends ignore everything except English.

If you want to learn a dying or endangered language, the fierce complexities of the full version are real deterrents for everyone except professional linguists or children with parents that have the discipline to speak a second language.  So why not Ute-lite?

Why Ute in particular and not a numic average langauge? (the same way Slovio is an average of Slavic langauges  and Esperanto is an average of Zamenhoff’s favorite langauges)  Well, if I ever write the language definition, it would likely be a personal language and I’m partial to the Numic languages of Towoac and Ignacio.

Why not just use the Givon(1980) reference grammar?  Ah, finally an easy question.  Because it is nigh unintelligible and worse, not available on the internet. And worse worse, it is copyright, so if I or anyone posts it to the web, we risk getting letters from lawyers.  If anyone reads this and has the ear of Southern Indian Ute Tribe, maybe they should publish the PDF to the net already, or if they won’t, could they at least re-license it as community commons so I and others can jail break the language definition?  Maybe it’s already been done?

How to learn a language, for example Na’vi

Solve these problems and you’ll learn na’vi (and they have nothing to do with grammar and vocabulary)

  • Who to talk to?
  • How to find the time?
  • How not to forget to do something with it every day?
  • How to keep the motivation going for the long run?

Find the Community

Sign up for a variety of community sites and know how to use them.

Mailing lists are for announcements and messages that are being ignored on forums.  Mailing lists are not good for posting translations for critique, and only so-so for question-answer.  When the traffic on forums dies out, mailing lists are better than forums regardless to message content because everyone gets the message on a mailing list. On a forum, only people who think to visit the site that day see the message.

Forums are good for posting question & answers and translations for critique. Translations for critique tend to be a good deal of work for both reader and readee.  Forums let the message stand until someone motivated can get to it.  On the other hand, messages deferred become messages ignored on mailing lists.

Blogs are good for messages that are huge, or controversial, or have no particular audience.  Mailing lists and forums can’t deal with a fifteen page essay.  Controversial messages can generate flame wars and can ruin mailing lists and forums– a blog is more indirect.  Blogs also tend to hang around forever, so you’re article will reach it’s audience in five years when someone interested in the reconstruction of proto-Na’vi pops into existence.

Wikis are good for moving the community forward, especially if the language is new.  If there isn’t enough content for a language, the language will die out.  Collaborative document writing lets a scattered group of people generate enough interesting content for the community to want to learn the language.

Miniblogging is good for doing a little bit in the language everyday without feeling overburdened by the need to catch up on the mailing list and unread forum posts.  Twitter

Meetups are essential, too,  because they are so efficient at identifying the people in your community who are also interested in the same language.  Internet communities subconsciously know there is a difference between online and offline communities or else the phrase “in real life” (IRL) wouldn’t be needed.

Motivation

In a natural language, you have the advantage of being able to tap into pop media, like manga, bandes desines, music, etc, etc.  Na’vi almost has that, being a language embedded in a pop culture movie, but there is very little. I hope that who ever writes the first large work in Na’vi picks something approachable like Winnie the Pooh, instead of Hamlet, which is half unreadable in the original.

Motivation is again related to community.  If you have online and IRL friends in the language community, keeping those contacts alive is reason enough to keep working on the language.

The last big reason for learning a language is because it is a language.  Every language is a little laboratory for testing out ideas about how we communicate and finding out who we are.