Learning your conlang


Sound notation

The Intermediate level of this book is for those familiar with the basic elements of conlangs (or of languages in general) who want to learn how to create a conlang with added depth. It aims to familiarize you with the internal structure of different elements of language, and basic terminology for discussing them. It assumes prior familiarity with technical terms only up to the minimal level explained by the Beginner level.

Theory and practice edit

The terminology explained in this level, and the analysis of language structure described by that terminology, are useful tools for conlanging. They give you a map with which to navigate the vast territory of language. However, as you study these useful tools, remember that the map is not the territory.

For one thing, they are tools of analysis, and that doesn't necessarily suit them for constructing languages. By breaking something into pieces you can describe it, and then try to figure out how it was put together in the first place; but the way you broke it down probably isn't the way it was put together, especially if it's something really complex. Language — as has been noted in the conlanging community — is the most complex thing humans do. Strange natlang features aren't random; if you use linguists' analysis as a menu of things to do, rather than working from why and how those features come about, there's a risk your conlang could acquire an oddly artificial feel.

Linguists' analysis of language may only sometimes work. There are languages that don't have syllables (or so some linguists figure). Sometimes it's hard to be sure when things are or aren't separate words. Words often don't classify neatly into standard parts of speech. Or, the analysis may be (or may be suspected to be) purely descriptive, with no causal structure behind it; some linguists have suggested that ergativity (a feature that has enjoyed some popularity amongst conlangers, and which we'll get to in the Advanced level) is just a superficial characteristic of language, the way "has blue feathers" is a superficial characteristic of some birds that doesn't really tell you anything important about bird biology.

The terminology and analysis offered here is useful; we need some way to talk about language. Just don't let it limit your understanding, or your creativity.

What's in this level? edit

Each section is designed to cover details of a different facet of languages, natural and constructed. The sections are:

  • Sound notation: Different languages — or even different dialects of the same language — may have different rules for how written words should be pronounced. This section introduces an alphabet for representing just the sounds of human speech, no matter what language the sounds are being used in.
  • Phonetics and phonology: How the sounds of a language (phonetics) fit together to form a system (phonology).
  • Grammar: How words change and combine to determine meaning.
  • History: How languages change over time.
  • Writing systems: The many and varied written representations of language.
  • Tips for adding irregularities to your conlangs: Kinds and causes of irregularities in a language.
  • Exploring new realms: Some thoughts on deliberately leaving the beaten path.
 Next: Sound notation Sources