So you have a successful constructed language?

I wrote this article thinking about what direction the na’vi language community is likely to go in the next few months.  Maybe Paul Frommer will notice this article and give us some pointers on internet words, neologisms, what is canon, what are ways to signal politeness in an email and what the official a to z ASCII alternative is for the two diacritics.

The Internet. The audience of a constructed language is the global community of internet users.  If we count the number of people who will learn enough to write a sentence, this audience numbers in the 100s, maybe 1000s.  All other audiences, such as local face to face communities, number in the the tens.  A functioning constructed language will need words for internet, mailing list, email, computer, spam, flame, moderator, troll, community, bulletin board.

Neologism.  The first flame wars will be about neologisms.  Does the constructed language encourage mass importation of loan words like Esperanto? Or does it encourage building up words from internal sources?  If you build a word, what does it mean? Is the community allowed to coin new words that follow the general phonetic structure?  Or to coin idioms, which may be unintelligibly without an explicit definition? Or must the community stick to transparent compound words and nominalizers, like “speak device” or “it-speaks (n)” for “phone”?

The Canon. The next flame wars will be resolved by appeal to authority.  If the canon is missing or ill defined, then reasonably intelligent people can’t win arguments.  A good language designer will let the community know when and what text is archaic.  Eventually, this leads to language boards and formal approval processes for blessing community generated innovations, Laadan and the KLI come to mind.  In the world of natural languages, with a few exceptions like the “standardization” movements, language boards  are often ignored by the speaking community.   Versions 2+ of the constructed language should note that successful language design pre-empts the language community innovations. Once the language community has adopted an innovation, it is better to adopt it than to stop it out.  Alot of English teachers will attest to the power of the language community to coin new words and resist prescriptions to undo do it, e.g. a lot vs alot.

The Conculture.  In the case of the Na’vi the conculture is richly defined.  The translation of a sentence will make sense in the context of the Na’vi ethos and customs. But when it comes time to wish someone a Merry Christmas, we have to remember that the culture is also the international community of internet users.  A sentence will and should also mean what it would mean in a hypothetical in person convention with attendees from every corner of the world.  For example, if I was at a convention I would might know to call the Japanese attendants “san” or “sir” regardless to what language I’m speaking.  In human to human interaction, you are still in your own culture no matter what language you are speaking and so is your interlocutor.  Other example, the US President would not be referred to as “his majesty” even if that is what the Na’vi might say. (Actually I don’t know what they would call their top leader)  The US President would have to be referred to with the honorific that the Na’vi use for addressing equals, or we’d have to use an English loan word.  A language designer can design the grammar and prescribe a system of honorifics, but the culture of constructed language fans will remain rigidly the same.

Polite words.  When the community transitions from speaking in English to your constructed language, the initial messages may sound rude and overly forthright.  Much of the flame wars could have been prevented in the first place if the language has means for being polite to strangers.   If you’re langue has lots of polite words for children, friends and family, it won’t help. It needs to have polite words to deal with strangers.  In particular, you need to be able to give praise, to signal that you think the other person is just as good as or smarter than you, to signal that you’re uncertain about what your saying.  In English, if we’re using new and unfamiliar jargon, we’ll make face and use intonation to show we are uncertain if we are to call our boss “Dr” or “Professor” or “Mr”.  On the web, it will need to be visible.

Diacritics and fonts. I have never seen an entirely non-roman font catch on in a constructed language community.  The diacritics are lead anchors around the neck of any constructed language that uses them.  Other communities typically use a postposition x to mean, “this letter would have a diacritic, but damn it, I am a language fan not computer wizard and I can’t find that key on my keyboard”

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