Mark Rosenfelder has edited and updated my articles and essays from the Model Languages newsletter and the former 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 <[email protected]>
Subject: _Model Languages_, 5/1/95

The newsletter discussing newly imagined words for newly imagined worlds
Volume I, Issue 1 -- May 1, 1995


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.


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).


          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 


You have just finished reading *Model Languages*, a regular on-
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The editor welcomes all comments and possible articles for 
inclusion in the newsletter;  please post these to 
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Contents copyright 1995 Jeffrey Henning.  All rights reserved.