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constructed language


constructed language

L.L. Zamenhof (1859-1917), creator of Esperanto, the most successful constructed language intended for international communication


A language--such as Esperanto, Volapük, or Klingon--that has been created by an individual or group. A person who creates a language is known as a conlanger.

The grammar, phonology, and vocabulary of a constructed (or planned) language may be derived from one or more natural languages or created from scratch.

In terms of the number of speakers of a constructed language, the most successful is Esperanto, created in the late-19th century by Polish ophthalmologist L. L. Zamenhof.

See also:


The term constructed language was coined by linguist Otto Jespersen in An International Language, 1928.

Examples and Observations:

  • "A standard international language should not only be simple, regular, and logical, but also rich and creative. Richness is a difficult and subjective concept. . . . The supposed inferiority of a constructed language to a national one on the score of richness of connotation is, of course, no criticism of the idea of a constructed language. All that the criticism means is that the constructed language has not been in long-continued use."
    (Edward Sapir, "The Function of an International Auxiliary Language." Psyche, 1931)

  • "The traditional hypothesis has been that because a constructed language is the language of no nation or ethnic group, it would be free of the political problems that all natural languages bring with them. Esperanto materials frequently claim (incorrectly) that this is true of Esperanto. A distinction is usually made between auxiliary languages (auxlangs), designed with international communication as a deliberate goal, and 'conlangs,' usually constructed for other purposes. (The Elvish languages showcased by Tolkein in his epic Lord of the Rings and the Klingon language constructed by linguist Mark Okrand for the Star Trek television series are conlangs rather than auxlangs.)"
    (Suzette Haden Elgin, The Language Imperative. Basic Books, 2000)

  • Attitudes Toward Esperanto
    "There is little doubt that, foremost among constructed languages though it is, Esperanto has not--particularly in recent times--captured a sufficient amount of general attention to become the functioning worldwide auxiliary its proponents wish. One rough distinction seems to be between those who, while not necessarily wholly unsympathetic to the idea of constructed languages, nevertheless perceive fatal flaws, and those who see Esperantists (and other constructed-language apologists) more or less as cranks and faddists."
    (John Edwards and Lynn MacPherson, "View of Constructed Languages, With Special Reference to Esperanto: An Experimental Study." Esperanto, Interlinguistics, and Planned Language, ed. by Humphrey Tonkin. Univ. Press of America, 1997)

  • The Dothraki Language Created for HBO’s Game Of Thrones
    "My goal, from the very beginning, was to create a language that looked and felt like the small number of snippets present in the books. There wasn’t much to work with (about 30 words, most of them names--and male names, at that), but there was enough to suggest the beginnings of a grammar (for example, there is strong evidence of noun-adjective order, as opposed to the adjective-noun order found in English). . . .

    "After I settled on a sound system, I extrapolated a morphological system. Some elements had to be maintained (for example, in the books, we see 'dothraki' for the people [plural], 'Vaes Dothrak' for the Dothraki city, and 'dothrae' meaning 'rides.' This suggests that /-k/, /-i/ and /-e/ are somehow involved in the paradigm for the stem 'dothra-'), but for the most part, I was free to run wild. After I had a fairly stable morphology (verbal paradigm, case paradigm, and derivational morphology, in particular), I set to work on the best part: creating vocabulary."
    (David J. Peterson, interviewed by Dave Banks in "Creating Language for HBO’s Game Of Thrones." GeekDad blog at Wired.com, Aug. 25, 2010)
Also Known As: conlang, planned language, glossopoeia, artificial language, auxiliary language, ideal language

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