Online communities, I have recently come to believe are a mixed blessing for constructed languages. On one hand, for the last few hundred years of constructed languages, they typically languished without any attention at all because the audience for constructed languages is so thinly spread out, it was nearly impossible to get critical mass for a new language using traditional media.
Klingon, Na’vi and toki pona probably would all have disappeared at birth without mailing lists. At the moment only Lojban seems to have had a serious pre-internet community and even Lojban would be a shadow of it is now without the internet. So what is not to love about using the internet at the primary place to find and build a community for your or your favorite conlang?
In my roamings online since last November, I’ve decided there are some serious pitfalls.
The internet affect (or compromises) language design. Even English gain a new vocabulary and is probably on the verge of new grammatical constructions from it’s use online. Emoticons, ALL-CAPS means shouting, /commands, the threaded discussion, replacing diacritic letters with letter followed by x, all are changes to the language to adapt it to online needs. A designed language has goals, such as being true to a fictional culture, a certain social goal–such as cross border communication, a certain therapeutic effect, and many other whimsical goals peripheral to the needs of facilitating keyboard mediated written communications amongst strangers widely dispersed across time and place.
Civility and Fight Club. “Academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so low.” All online communities run the risk of griefers, trolls, people who treat the internet like some sort of fight club. Even discussing the internet’s level of civility is a losing battle, with camps of people imagining that it isn’t a even a problem to begin with. Those who do see it as a problem, often have no recourse but to leave the community. This starts a downward spiral until most online communities are fight clubs, inhabited by only those who are looking for a fight, enjoy fighting or can’t tell the difference between discourse and fighting anymore.
Someday, there might be a social or technical solution, such as human moderation, comment voting. In the conlang world, prospects don’t look good.
In my years of living the real world, I’ve never encountered the number fights, and nastiness that just pops up all over the place in online communities, some I’m just observing, some of it I end up on one end or the other. Obviously, for many this is a non-issue. They either enjoy fight club or are oblivious to it. For me, each fight is a colossal distraction. As they say, if you can’t take the heat, stay out the kitchen. I now choose to stay out of the online community kitchen. I’ll use the internet for organizing in person meetups, posting my letters in a bottle to no one on my blog, but I’ve pretty much had it with participating in online communities.
Stay tuned for my next article on how to build communities for conlangs using real world resources.