LCC1: Behind the Scenes

The Language Creation Society founder, Sai, wrote this to provide conlangers with more insight into the launch of the Language Creation Conference:

I’d like to give you all a “behind the scenes” description of how this conference came into being. I don’t like having things be impersonal – thinking in terms of “organizations” and such rather than in terms of specific people doing specific things. So for those of you who haven’t followed this for the last few months, here is a little story.

I’ll explain why at the end — but first, the story.

In late December 2005, I decided to create the Language Creation Society.

My reasons for doing so initially were pretty simple – I wanted an alternate source of funding for my DE-Cal, to pay for tapes and such, and to give me a official front that gives certain privileges (such as the right to table on Sproul Plaza). Maybe stir up some more students for my class.

One of the first things I intended the money for other than tapes was a Conlang flag in actual cloth, to use for advertisement, tabling, etc. I organized that in December/January or so – found a bunch of retailers online, bargained a good price, and got several people from CONLANG and ZBB to order them too so as to spread out the upfront costs.

Creating the LCS itself was fairly easy. I drafted a constitution, got three of my friends to sign on, and submitted it online. A little paperwork later and voila – a student group.

At about the same time, I got the idea… now that I have access to serious money through the ASUC, why not hold a conlangs symposium/conference? It’s never been done, the time has come, and nobody else is likely to do it. That was December 23rd.

So I sent out a few probes, which got positive responses.

January 18th I drafted a call for speakers, and soon thereafter a preregistration form, and sent those out to the conlang communities I knew of. I also sent it specifically to several people I knew to be prominent voices in the community (particularly on CONLANG), to ask them personally to come and participate. Most responded positively, some didn’t.

One thing I noticed quickly was that those who did respond were very excited at the prospect. Even those who doubted that it could happen – that there wasn’t enough time to do it before I’d graduate in May, or that it’d cost too much, or I wouldn’t get enough speakers – were still enthused at the possibility. In fact, most spontaneously offered donations to support the cause – some quite generously so. (I’ve since received substantial offers of donations from several people – some not even intending or able to attend the conference in person.)

This progressed pretty quickly and directly. I received several offers for speakers, started discussing their topics with them and getting a better concept of what sort of gathering I wanted it to be, and how to shape it into that. What would be interesting, what not; what communities to target; how to structure it in a way such as to decrease the potential for ensuing flamewars and increase the applicability for all conlangers.

Meanwhile, I started talking with the Linguistics and CogSci department heads about the possibility of their sponsoring the conference. To make a long story short: they are not interested in the least. I have no standing on the academic totem pole, none of the professors in either department are themselves interested in conlanging (or willing to admit to it), they don’t have much in the way of contingency funds, etc. And, well, I’m a nobody as far as the university is concerned – a mere undergraduate. Not even a grad student. Nor even a linguistics major (I’m CogSci). Ah well. They did of course wish my luck, etc., per the usual conventions of politeness.

I also sent out requests for help organizing, but got pretty much no response on that.

Fast forward a couple months… I made a budget (by flat out guessing at the numbers, initially), found out the best times for everyone and reserved a room for that date, filed paperwork to get the room free, to get ASUC sponsorship through four different funds, to reserve and find the cost of tech for the conference; got a more fleshed-out registration form; further discussed speakers’ ideas for talks, mostly just figuring out what they’d be interested in and able to speak about, and ensuring that it fit the ‘feel’ I was aiming for, etc.

In early May, Ellen (whom I knew from a conlangs community online) asked if I had a website — I said no, just the LJ community, and she offered to make one. A couple weeks and a few talks with my friend on the OCF staff later, and the original website was born. It was pretty much all her work; I made some choices between design ideas, but she came up with them. She also wrote the flyer and designed the logo (based on the CONLANG flag, which was a collaborative effort on the mailing list a couple years ago).

Katrina from my DE-Cal class offered to distribute flyers, since she does that anyway for her other clubs, and I gave her a couple hundred flyers to distribute.

Anna — a friend of mine from a few years ago, and one of my students last year — helped me in attending the required financial briefing with the ASUC, and signing off on various related paperwork. (Since I am paying for certain expenses out of pocket, and getting them reimbursed, I am not allowed to sign off as ASUC Agent/LCS Signatory on those expenditures — a rule to help prevent abuse of the system.)

I’ve spoken to several people and a couple groups as well about the conference; SLUgS members offered to help with manpower on the day of the conference, and to put me in contact with a couple people who could help with other aspects.

So in summary: pretty much all of the organizational work — decisions, paperwork, sending out and collating calls for speakers/attendees, budgeting, etc. etc. — I did myself. But I still have plenty of people to thank:

  • the ASUC, for almost $1k in financing;
  • the dozen or so private donors for almost another $1k total;
  • Ellen, for the original website and flyer designs;
  • Yury at the OCF, for getting the website hosted;
  • ASUC Senator Anthony Lin, for sponsoring the ASUC bill that got us funded $450;
  • Anna, for help with the LCS paperwork;
  • all my speakers, for their participation, tolerance of questions, and donations; and
  • all the people expressing their desire to attend, for making this seem worthwhile.

The point I’d like to make here is, I suppose, a somewhat stereotypical one for a Berkeley student. I’ll sum it up in one phrase: decide to make something happen, and do it.

Most of you reading this have the access to the same resources as I do — mailing lists, possibly a university, student org, or other organization for funding and hosting, etc. It’s not that hard really. All it takes is someone — you — to decide to make something happen. That’s the part that usually takes a while. Most folk wait for a consensus to spontaneously appear — or to be told what to do. So tell them.

In my case, I have found that the very large majority of people I interacted with — community members, ASUC people, building managers, speakers, etc. — have all been very helpful, cooperative, and great to have as supporters. So don’t be scared of that.

The one thing that did not work out is gaining any sort of backing from the University itself, or from the Linguistics or CogSci departments or their faculty (except for Prof. Larry Hyman, who is a signatory of the LCS). Were I someone for whom this were a prerequisite for some reason — e.g. I had an academic standing to protect, a graduate or faculty job to push, etc. — then this might have been an issue. Of course, it would likely also have been easier, as people who do have a standing to protect, also have one from which to exert more leverage. I find that I enjoy not being bound by that system. YMMV.

Hopefully that gives a coherent synopsis of the process.

I want to conclude with a challenge.

As yet, there is nobody standing up to run the Second Language Creation Conference. I won’t be able to.

So, I’ll make you an offer.

You start it, with a group or by yourself, and I’ll help you.

I will give you:

  1. Any advice you want, from my experience in organizing this conference;
  2. Any related documents (minus non-disclosable personal information);
  3. Contacts with the various people who have helped me – potential speakers, online help, contacts in various universities and organizations, introductions, etc;
  4. Advertising via my mailing lists & other venues;
  5. My organizational and logistical help, as able;
  6. A check for the full amount of all profits we make from this conference;
  7. The conlangs flag flown at the conference;
  8. The right to use the name 2nd Language Creation Conference (etc).

I can’t predict at present how much #6 will be, since that’s heavily dependent on some last-minute expenses and revenues that I won’t know until the day of the conference. This may be anywhere from nil to several hundred dollars.

This comes with only a few clauses:

  1. You have to do your homework, prove that you are serious, are getting all other funding you can, subsidizing all costs you can, etc. Basic fiscal and organizational responsibility.
  2. The goal of the conference must be equivalent in nature: something that would appeal to all conlangers, and will further both the science and art of conlanging itself. It must be more than just a ‘meetup’, but need not necessarily be purely an academic venture.
  3. It must be available to all conlangers worldwide. That means low or sliding-scale admissions fees, free to those who can’t afford ’em, and 100% video recorded and posted online for those who can’t attend in person.
  4. You must be transparent in both your processes and finances, as I have been. Talk publicly about how it’s organized, what the process is, who’s involved, what’s been done; make your budget and funding sources publicly available. (Anonymizing private donations of course, unless they OK otherwise.) No hiding.
  5. You must set aside any profits you make, and the flag, to be used for the next conference, under these exact same 5 rules. (This is your basic “copyleft” clause.)

If you think you’re up to it, please let me know. I will be glad to help you make it happen.

And lastly: Thanks, again, to everyone who’s helped make this possible. You know who you are.

Fiant linguae.


P.S. (3/22/06) I have just recently, after writing this, gotten some good news. Thanks to Prof. Kihlstrom, the CogSci group major at Berkeley *will* be sponsoring the conference by paying for Sarah Higley’s expenses. This is of course definitely good news, and adds a clause to what I said above about not getting particularly positive reactions from the academic departments: persistence, and the presence of people with established academic credentials, pays off – and can even change minds.

It is amazing to what extent things fall into place once you have enough critical mass. 🙂