Thursday, September 8, 2011


So, in the past few months, I dove into the world of constructed languages, or conlangs. I had no experience with them before really, and didn't know what to expect. The only conlang I had only heard about before was Esperanto, so instead of taking that obvious route, I went for a more obscure conlang: toki pona.

Now, after having spent some time being as fluent as is needed for this minimalist language, there are some strange encounters and feeling I had on the community as a whole. I'll preface this all by saying that a lot of the people involved in conlang are incredibly smart people who deserve the utmost respect. I will however try to be honest about my rather blind swim through the pond of a conlang.

My first reactions were that there is nothing to do. So, in searching for a place to have random conversations in this new language, I found a few hubs, and reads a few years worth of backlogs. Most of the time, no one seems to agree on much. There is also a godlike reverence for the creator of a conlang, which caught me off guard. That is to say, I care as much about Zamenhof as I do Shakespeare, which is to say, not at all (in all truth). It reminds me very much of the incredibly nerdy arguments I've read on reddit about Star Wars canon. Which brings me to another point, I think by the nature of what a conlang is, it attracts many nerdy people. Nerds are not known for their sociability, and I believe this point comes through very strongly in the world of conlangs. At least on a surface level.

Now, I will go back and say that there are plenty of nice people in these communities, and I understand why some of the things are the way they are, but as an outsider, it was bizarre. I also don't think this kind of thing is limited to nerds or nerdy people either. The other thing I began to think about was just another inherent quality of Conlangs. That being that there are usually no native speakers.

Why is this important?

Well, from my experience in learning natural languages, there's a lot of competition between second language learners and a lot of trying to outdue your fellow classmates. With no native spekars to hang out with, you're left to always interact with the competitive classmates.

With toki pona, this is all especially magnified, because it's not really finished. So, everyone is arguing over standards to complete the language. That and the small size of the community of course.

However, not to be putting everything so negatively, I want to say that the other important thing to remember is that it's a hobby. I'm guilty of taking this hobby too seriously, and when that happens you get let down and pushed around by something that feels like should be different. The issue is, however, that it's more like a code than a language then. I think, for the uninitiated, it's difficult to fit in how a conlang should be used, and where the community stands on things.

There are other people smarter than I am figuring these things out though. I just wanted to provide a kind of window into my breif experience in the conlang world.

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