How I became a conlanger

The first conlang I came across was actually not Tolkien's but the ape language in Tarzan comic books when I was about nine years old. There was a wordlist in a gift book my best friend had, and we even used the lang a bit for stealth purposes. I remember wanting to buy that book from him when he moved to another town. He refused, but had his dad photocopy the wordlist for me. I still wonder if he'd caught the conlang bug himself or if he had the collector bug.

I soon came across Tolkien too, but the realization that his Dwarves' names were from Old Norse and the absence of the appendices in the infamous first Swedish translation held off the realization that his other names represented a conlang. Anyhow I caught the language bug for real and tried to learn Old Norse and Gothic on my own, so I guess Tolkien smiled from the Other Side he just had passed to.

My literary tastes were also set in the fantasy direction and I soon began conworlding and with that creating naming languages. These were completely unsystematic. If they had any grammar at all it was of the isolating inflexionless kind. There may have been some plural ending(s) but there were practically no verbs. I had a Good Guys' lang and an Evil Guys' lang and some words in the two langs were each others" palindroms.

When I was fifteen my parents confiscated all my fantasy books and papers in an attempt to make me put some effort into getting good grades my last year in compulsory school. It may have worked, but the humanities gymnasium with three hours of foreign languages a day and an Esperantist Latin teacher teaching a subject called "general linguistics", which was about international vocabulary and traditional grammatical theory, inevitably set me on the auxlang path, improving on Esperanto and all that. I also came across the German translation of Bodmer's The Loom of Language1 with its comparative word lists of basic vocabulary in Romance and Germanic languages.

When I started university and studied linguistics and comparative philology conlanging came on the back burner, but when I got access to the internet at the university library "artificial languages" was one of the first terms I entered into the search engine of the day (the other one was "Buddhism") and came across a lot of Esperanto stuff but also Rick Harrison's pages and eventually the Conlang mailing list and Auxlang mailing list (this was shortly after the split, and Conlang was still quite infested with Auxiety, as was I FWIW. I've been there ever since. What a ride! That list has long been my main outlet for glottomania, and what a relief it's been for my real-life network!

Conlangers used to be few, or at least far between and isolated from each other, as Tolkien wrote of so eloquently in A secret vice. I think it is quite easy to find the conlang community today, judging by the hits when you search "constructed/artficial/invented/artistic/fictional/made.up languages" on Google. As someone pointed out we should be more conscientious about tagging our pages with such terms, especially "made up language" which may be a youngster's first choice for a search term, but the last we'd use in the body of our pages — which means we should put those terms in our pages!

Keywords: "constructed languages, artficial languages, invented languages, artistic languages, fictional languages, made up languages"

  1. If you have JSTOR access the structuralist linguist Bloomfield's review, his colleague Hoijer's review and French scholar and teacher Grace Kurz's review together surround that strange book pretty well. As someone pointed out the chapter on auxlangs which Hoijer commented on quite extensively is the blueprint of Glosa. Not for naught The Loom... was edited — actually co-authored — by Lancelot Hogben. [back]