Mark Rosenfelder has edited and updated my articles and essays from the Model Languages newsletter and the former Langmaker.com website, assembling them into the book Langmaker: Celebrating Conlangs. Available now as a Kindle or paperback from Amazon!
Here’s the very first issue I ever published.
From: Jeffrey Henning <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: _Model Languages_, 5/1/95 MODEL LANGUAGES The newsletter discussing newly imagined words for newly imagined worlds -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Volume I, Issue 1 -- May 1, 1995 AN INTRODUCTION TO THE HOBBY OF MODEL LANGUAGES Some people build model airplanes, some craft model trains and some... well, they invent model languages. Model languages can be everything from a few words of made-up slang to a rigorously developed system of interrelated imaginary tongues. It is not a hobby many people know about, since model languages cannot be flown in the park like a model airplane or displayed in full glory in the basement like a model railroad. Model languages exist on paper or in computer files and may be shared only with a few close friends or may be used to give depth to imaginary worlds read or watched by millions. Millions of people have created model languages of some small scope. Many children invent their own secret vocabularies to share with friends, while teenagers may develop their own private slang to talk about the opposite sex. If few adults seem to create model languages, it is only because schools teach us that language is a formal structure, not a casual, informal world to be explored. The teaching of rigid dictionary definitions, sentence parsing and grammar dry up our interest in the wellspring of language. Model languages demystify and demythologize the study of language. For too often, our desire to learn to express ourselves with language, to create new words, has been suppressed in favor of rigid conformance to the norm. People now regard creating new words as a magical and distant process, yet it is something that we all engage in, though we may not even realize it at the time. While working as a market researcher, my boss once told me to "take the executive summary and bulletize it," offhandedly inventing the word *bulletize* to describe the act of paring paragraphs down to phrases preceded by bullets. Over breakfast one morning, my wife asked me if I wanted an English, inadvertently inventing a new, shortened form of *English muffin*. During her pregnancy, we adopted the word *soogob* (*bogus* pronounced backwards) to describe how she was feeling. After our twins were born, we used the word *mouthies*, as in "Alex is making mouthies," to refer to the sucking motion each of the boys would make with their mouths when hungry. Not one of these words will end up in the dictionary, but each serves a purpose and each demonstrates that we are all constantly inventing words, in a more carefree fashion than we might imagine. Lexicographers might decry the creation of many of these barbarisms, but it is from such coinages that the English language adapts to our times and needs. Millions of speakers provide a check and balance to ensure that only the most useful or needed of these coinages gains wide currency. DIFFERENT TYPES OF MODEL LANGUAGES Why invent a model language? Someone might craft a language as a personal code, shared with a few compatriots. A fiction writer might want to add depth to an imaginary place or world, creating a language for inventing character names and place names or even for translating a few key proverbs or poems. A person who designs their own setting for a role-playing game might create a language for the same reason, or a person might invent a language to gain a better understanding of how true languages are structured and evolve. For a few, creating a language can be an almost spiritual effort, intended to close the gap that separates man from the Word of God. People create model languages for a myriad of other reasons -- to create a universal language, to create a language for programming computers, or to simply learn more about how real languages work. Even as a model railroad can vary in complexity from a simple loop to a switching yard to a railroad empire, a model language can be small or large. At its smallest, a model language might consist of a few coined words used in a short story. For instance, a science-fiction story I once wrote used the words *reconsat*, *moby* and *etlang* to describe a reconnaissance satellite, a cetacean alien and an extraterrestrial language, respectively. A larger model language might be an entire dialect or slang, based on English. In *A Clockwork Orange*, Anthony Burgess writes the entire book in Nadsat, a slang used by teenagers in a post- modern Britain. A sample: Oh, it was gorgeosity and yumyumyum. When it came to the Scherzo I could viddy myself very clear running and running on like very light and mysterious nogas, carving the whole litso of the creeching world with my cutthroat britva. And there was the slow movement and the lovely last singing movement still to come. I was cured all right. The reader finds herself learning the language as she reads each page -- learning by immersion. Nadsat has about 300 words. Even more ambitious is the creation of a unique language, to add verisimilitude to a world. Harry Harrison in his book *West of Eden* had a linguist, T.A. Shippey, create a language for his saurians, the ruling race of an alternative earth where the dinosaurs evolved into sentient beings. An example: Enge hante\hei, agate\ emboke\ka lirubushei kakshe\sei, he\awahei; hevai'ihei, kaksheinte\, enpelei asahen enge. [e\ indicates an e with an accent over it] To leave father's love and enter the embrace of the sea is the first pain of life -- the first joy is the comrades who join you there. Shippey did not create an entire language, of course, but outlined a structure and then created a simple grammar and skeletal lexicon to give the impression of a full language. More ambitious still is a model language that is actually meant to be used to communicate. Such a language requires a vocabulary of at least 1,000 to 2,000 words and a detailed grammar. The most famous such language is Esperanto. Dr. Zamenhof invented Esperanto as a universal language to enable everyone to communicate with having to use any one social group's language. Esperanto was seen as perfect for a country like India, which has over 150 languages, with speakers of different languages separated by centuries-old hatreds. Finally, the most ambitious language involves the creation of an entire diachronic language system -- an imaginary language descended from other real or imaginary languages, based on principles of sound change and semantic shift. J.R.R. Tolkien, in *The Silmarillion*, created an entire language system with two primary languages (and at least twelve other partially outlined languages) descended from a common root tongue. Thus, in Quenya, one might say *certar* (runes), which in Sindarin had changed into the word *gerthas*, as the [c] in Quenya regularly changed to its voiced counterpart, [g], and as [t] became [th]. Such a system is so detailed that it can enthrall someone for a lifetime, and Tolkien never finished his system (though completion was not what he was after). THIS NEWSLETTER'S GOALS The Kings Heath house backed on to a railway line, and life was punctuated by the roar of trains and the shunting of trucks in the nearby coal-yard. Yet the railway cutting had grass slopes, and here he [a young J.R.R. Tolkien] discovered flowers and plants. And something else caught his attention: the curious names on the coal-trucks in the sidings below, the odd names which he did not know how to pronounce but which had a strange appeal to him. So it came about that by pondering over Natyglo, Senghenydd, Blaen- Rhondda, Penrhiwceiber, and Tredegar, he discovered the existence of the Welsh language. Later in childhood he went on a railway journey to Wales, and as the station names flashed past him he knew that here were words more appealing to him than any he had yet encountered, a language that was old and yet alive. *Tolkien: A Biography*, p. 28, Humphrey Carpenter If you've read this far, model languages intrigue you, and you might even try your hand at creating your own. Alternatively, perhaps language in general fascinates you, and you want to understand better how languages work. In either case, this newsletter will introduce you to the basic principals that undergird real languages and will show you how to create your own languages, whether of a few words or a complete historic system. The purpose of this newsletter is to teach you just enough about linguistics to be able to create your own model languages. It is not meant as a formal survey of the entire field of linguistics. Linguistics is too often presented in a dry manner, when it can be a source of endless wonder. It is no coincidence that a linguist created one of the most amazing novels of the twentieth century (Tolkien and *The Lord of the Rings*). This newsletter is meant to evoke the playfulness of linguistics and to give us an opportunity for hands-on training, as it were. Issues of this newsletter will discuss how languages use sound and sound representation, how they form words, shapes meanings, and represent grammar. It will also outline how each of these characteristics of a language change over time. It will provide practical guidance on how to create your own languages, how to coin words and how to use language to add verisimilitude to imagined worlds. *Model Languages* will also examine published model languages and critique their effectiveness. This newsletter is for those who want to learn more about language. You may have a fascination with words, wondering where they came from and how they ended up in today's most natural sounding forms. This newsletter is intended for writers, for entry-level linguistic students, for word lovers and for role-playing game players. One of the great advantages of model languages as a hobby is that it requires so little investment. Unlike model railroading, which requires costly equipment and paraphernalia, model languages require little more than pen and paper... and imagination. Subscribe to *Model Languages*, and soon you will be combining sounds into new words, like an engineer hitching up the cars of a train to an engine. Soon you will be laying the track of a linguistic system. *** You have just finished reading *Model Languages*, a regular on- line newsletter published monthly and provided free to all interested parties as part of the "gift economy" of the net. Feel free to post this newsletter or e-mail it to others, so long as you include this trailer. To subscribe, send a message with the text SUBSCRIBE MODEL LANGUAGES in the subject header to email@example.com (if you received this message directly from Jeffrey, you are already on the subscription list and do not need to subscribe); to cancel a subscription, send a message with the word UNSUBSCRIBE MODEL LANGUAGES in the header. The editor welcomes all comments and possible articles for inclusion in the newsletter; please post these to firstname.lastname@example.org. Contents copyright 1995 Jeffrey Henning. All rights reserved.