Constructing languages

A few years ago I went to the 6th Language Creation Conference in Horsham, near London.

Participants in the 6th Language Creation Conference in Horsham
I am in the second row, second from the right (next to David J. Peterson)

At the time I had created a few alphabets but didn’t plan to create any languages. However, since the conference I have been dabbling with ideas for a conlang.

The language I’m working on is called Laala. It’s an isolating language, like Chinese, so there are no grammatical inflections. The word order is VSO (Verb, Subject Object), like Celtic languages. Basic words are mostly one syllable. In two syllable words the vowel in the first syllable (if there is one) can be long, e.g. teete (everything) – te = thing. Some consonants can be long as well, such as mm (to like, good, fine, happy), and mmm (to love, adore, joy).

Some words are omomatopeic (they sound something like the thing or action they represent), e.g. zz = sleep; ff = wind, air; and hh = cold.

I try to keep the basic vocabulary to a minimum, like Toki Pona, so many words have multiple meanings, and words are based on simple roots. For example, ss = fire, light; ka = big; ki = small, nu = time, nuu = long time. So sska = sun, sski = moon, sskanu = day, sskinu = night, and nuuka = year.

My aims for this language are to have fun playing with it, to learn more about how languages work, and to create something that sounds interesting when spoken and sung. I don’t expect anybody else to learn Laala, and it certainly isn’t intended as a international auxiliary language like Esperanto.

I have put together a page of phrases in Laala. The phrases may change as the language develops.

In the past I’ve only posted details of conlangs on Omniglot if they are written with an original and interesting alphabet or other writing system. I’m now thinking of creating a separate section of the site, or even a separate site for conlangs and constructed scripts. What do you think?

Have you created any languages that you’d like to see on Ominglot?

Polyglot Conference, New York

This weekend I am in New York for the 2015 Polyglot Conference. I arrived yesterday afternoon after an uneventful flight from Manchester. It took a couple of hours to get out of the airport, and another hour or so to Manhattan.

Last night I met up with some other polyglots near the Statan Island ferry terminal – we were planning to take the ferry over to Statan Island, but unfortunately it started raining heavily and we decided to postpone the trip. We explored Lower Manhattan and Greenwich Village for a while, then I went home, while the others went on to a bar.

The conference started this morning at the SVA Chelsea Theater, which is just around the corner from where I’m staying. There were talks all day about a variety of interesting subjects, including Forensic Linguistics, Proto-Indo-European and Lakota language revival. There are plenty of people here who I know from previous polyglot events, and I’ve met lots of new people.

So far I’ve spoken English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Mandarin, Cantonese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Welsh, Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Manx, Esperanto and Toki Pona, and have met people who speak various other languages.

The conference continues tomorrow, and then I have a couple of days of sightseeing before returning to the UK.

Language Creation Conference

Last weekend I went to the 6th Language Creation Conference in Horsham, near London. Although I haven’t created any languages, yet, I have invented a few alphabets, and I was invited to attend the conference by one of the people involved.

The conference took place over two days, and there were about 50 or 60 people there – about half of the total membership of the Language Creation Society, who organised it. There were talks about conlangs and conworlds that people had invented, and about linguistic aspects of conlangs and conlanging. One of the speakers, David J. Peterson, who invented the Dothraki language for Game of Thrones, and other languages and scripts for other TV shows and films, explained how he can make a living from inventing languages and scripts, and how other people might do the same. At the moment he is the world’s only professional conlanger.

The attendees ranged in age from late teens to sixty or seventy something. There were more men than women, and the level of linguistic knowledge and geekiness / nerditude was high, so I fitted in well. Everybody I talked to knew Omniglot and said they visit it regularly and find it very useful – it’s always nice to meet fans 🙂

Tomorrow my journey to Berlin for the Polyglot Gathering begins. I’ll take a train from Bangor to London, then from London to Brussels, stay in Brussels tomorrow night, and continue to Berlin, via Cologne, the next day. I’m looking forward to it.


I was invited to go to the Language Creation Society‘s conference recently and was thinking about it for while. Although I’m more interested in constructed scripts than constructed languages, I can find something of interest in all languages, whether natural or constructed, so I’ve decided to go. It takes place in Horsham in West Sussex, not far from London, on the 25th and 26th April. Are any of you going or thinking of going?

The week after that I’m going to Berlin for the Polyglot Gathering, so it’s going to be a busy few weeks. I’ve decided to go to Berlin by train this year – I considered it last year but thought it would be too complicated and expensive. This time I’ve grasped the nettle by the horns and have booked train tickets all the way from Bangor to Berlin and back using Loco2. It was a lot easier to arrange than I thought. I’ll be going via London, Brussels and Cologne, and staying overnight in Brussels at an AirBnB near the station on the way there. It works out slightly more expensive than flying, and takes longer, but I will see a lot more and won’t have to wait around for ages in airports. I’m looking forward to it.

Elvish linguistics learning tool

Today we have a guest post by Juan Sandoval.

Recently a few Tolkien linguists – inclining David Salo, the primary linguist from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films – came together and thought of a way to make Elvish a more accessible, learnable language to the many fans who strive but fail to understand its many inherent nuances. While it’s easier to use intuitive software like Rosetta Stone to learn existing languages, currently fictional languages need to be learned through hard years of linguistic research since there is no established population or culture to immerse oneself in.

They’ve addressed this problem by launching a campaign to build a language decryption tool, which will be open-source, available to all language enthusiasts and customizable to any other language. Essentially, the tool packs together a translator, a dictionary, an IPA, the language’s grammar rules, audio, and much more into the very page you’re reading. As you follow along with your finger (or mouse) the phrase is instantly broken down in real-time, allowing you to see what the surrounding context is doing to influence each word. You can see a live prototype here of some of this tool’s functionality.

An ideal mix between structured learning and immersion learning…
As you use this tool, you don’t have to go anywhere else; all the information needed to read the sentence is provided right there. This eliminates the “stumped” factor, and allows the reader to get familiar with the flow of the sentences the more they read content without blockades. This accelerates the process of learning. As we continue reading and looking at the translations side by side with the grammar explained, the decryptions become more vaguely ‘familiar’ to us — so that even if we start out completely new to the language – we quickly develop an intuitive sense of how it all flows. The reader may soon find themselves anticipating what the grammatical breakdown will be, and can check with a simple mouse-hover to see if they’re right. Eventually the reader won’t need to hover over the words at all.

This approach presents a perfect blend between structured learning and immersive learning. All the information of a structured approach is there for you so there is no need to stop and look-up words, or apply algorithms. This makes the reading process itself non-mechanical and visceral, which is how language has been shown to stick better. You learn grammar rules as they come up in situations, much like in natural language.

It takes a teacher …
The text documents you read with this tool are created by someone who knows the language, so essentially this is also a teacher’s toolkit. It is a way for a teacher to be able to compose documents in such a way that the intended meaning & reasons for those meanings are embedded into each word. The software has a custom user interface for inputting grammar rules as you make entries, and seamlessly adds all the right information onto the submitted post.

Help bring this tool to life …
The campaign is close to its goal (90%) and needs just a little more to bring it to life. Please feel free to contribute or spread the word about this tool, to help make learning languages much easier.

In the World of Invented Languages

In the Land of Invented Languages: Adventures in Linguistic Creativity, Madness, and Genius

Last week I read Arika Okrent’s book In the Land of Invented Languages: Adventures in Linguistic Creativity, Madness, and Genius, which I found very interesting.

The book covers the history of language invention from Hildegard of Bingen’s Lingua Ignota; through philosophical languages like the one John Wilkins devised; International Auxiliary languages like Esperanto and Volapük; logical languages like Loglan and Lojban; to fictional languages like Quenya, Sindarin and Klingon. The author tells the stories behind these languages and the people who invented them, meets some of the inventors who are still around, learns some of the languages, and goes to meet ups for some of them.

One thing that struck me was the fact that many language inventors, especially those of philosophical, universal, logical and international auxiliary languages, believed that it was possible to make perfect, unambiguous and/or totally regular languages, and that natural languages were flawed because they contain irregularities, ambiguity and unnecessary complexities. Okrent argues that these are features, not flaws, and they give languages flexibility. I would add to this that the built in redundancy in languages helps ensure that messages get across even if some of the content is lost due to noisy conditions, unclear pronunciation of the speaker, inattention of the listener, or other factors.


Here’s an interesting article in the New Yorker about conlangs and specifically about Ithkuil, which, according to its creator, John Quijada, is “an idealized language whose aim is the highest possible degree of logic, efficiency, detail, and accuracy in cognitive expression via spoken human language, while minimizing the ambiguity, vagueness, illogic, redundancy, polysemy (multiple meanings) and overall arbitrariness that is seemingly ubiquitous in natural human language.”

For me ambiguity, vagueness, illogic, redundancy, polysemy and overall arbitrariness are some of the things that make languages so interesting, and I suspect that in some ways languages work better because of them. This certainly seems to be true of redundancy, which can help get the message across in less than ideal conditions, i.e. noisy environments, etc, and without ambiguity and polysemy puns and similar word play would not be possible, and poetry would difficult.

I have considered adding details about the Ithkuil script to Omniglot, but decided not to when I saw its complexity.

Languages in the news

Here are a few language-related articles I found recently:

Tolkien and Made Up Languages – an article about Tolkien, whose 120 birthday it would be today if he was still around, his languages, and other fictional languages such as Newspeak and Nadsat.

The secret to learning languages – Tips from the polyglots: Find out how your brain works.

I’ve also discovered that Collins Dictionaries in English, French, German and Spanish are available for free online. They also give translations of words in quite a few other languages.


I finally got round to seeing Avatar this week and really enjoyed it. Na’vi, the constructed language used in the film was devised by Paul Frommer, sounds intriguing and there seems to be quite a bit of interest in it. Here are some websites where you can find out more:

Learn Na’vi contains Na’vi-English dictionary, and notes on pronunciation and grammar

Talk Na’vi has videos of the language being used in the film, and about the creation of the language.

Some highlights of Na’vi on language log.

– On YouTube there are a number of videos with details of the language.

– and there’s a page about Na’vi on Wikipedia.

If anyone feels inspired to put together a collection of phrases in Na’vi for Omniglot, please feel free to do so. Here are a few:

Kaltxì – Hello
Ngaru lu fpom srak? – How are you?
Oel ngati kameie – I see you (greeting)
Tsun oe ngahu nìNa’vi pivängkxo a fì’u oeru prrte’ lu – It’s a pleasure to be able to chat with you in Na’vi
Fìskxawngìri tsap’alute sengi oe – I apologise for this moron
Irayo – thank you
Uniltìrantokx – Avatar

Conlangers Anonymous

Are you sometimes, or indeed frequently gripped by the urge to create languages?

Do your doodles often become new alphabets?

Do you feel compelled to create worlds in which your languages and alphabets might be used?

If so, help is at hand in the form of Conlangers Anonymous, an organisation founded by Francis Lodwick in 1694 and discussed in the Speculative Grammarian, the premier journal of satirical linguistics.

Conlangers Anonymous apparently helps “conlangers see the agonizing human cost—and professional cost—of their obsession. The hours spent constructing a language could be better spent in real human interaction with friends, family, and your World of Warcraft guild. The effort poured into creating fake language data for fun could be expended on falsifying data for papers in refereed journals, leading to tenure.”