Language Creation Tribune
A word from our President
Welcome to the 6th edition of the Language Creation Tribune! I hope this summer (or winter, or whatever season you may have where you live) has been good for you! It’s certainly been busy for me, on many fronts.
What I want to talk to you about this time is a topic that has popped up regularly lately, on various social media and within the LCS. It’s clearly something that lives within the conlanging community, so I felt I needed to let people know where I stand. I’ve already done so in some places, but with this I hope to reach further into the community. And to be clear, what follows are my personal thoughts about this topic, and not necessarily the official position of the LCS. In fact, the LCS does not have an official position on this issue yet. The issue I’m talking about is the question of a fair remuneration for professional conlangers.
I’ve seen this question pop up already quite a few times these last few months, whether because of one specific job posted on our Jobs Board, or in general by interested parties. A general sentiment seems to be that conlanging jobs, at this moment, do not pay enough, at least compared to the difficulty and time needed to do the job well. And, indeed, I agree that however much fun one has with conlanging, once you do it for an employer, rather than for your own personal enjoyment, you need to get paid a fair wage for it. Because dealing with an employer means dealing with different opinions about what needs to be done (rather than focusing on what you want to do), and really, even if it fits perfectly with your tastes, doing a conlanging job for someone else means spending your own time on someone else’s project, effectively, and time is money. So it’s not weird to expect a fair compensation for it. The minima we set up on the Jobs Board (which you can check here) work out to only a few dollars per hour, not at all how much conlanging is really worth, given the difficulty of the trade, and definitely not enough to make a living out of it.
However, the solution is not to simply raise those minima, as some have proposed. Indeed, doing so would actually be counterproductive, and would probably destroy the awareness we have slowly been building among potential employers. The problem is two-fold. First, we have a very skewed market here: very little demand (we receive job requests once every other month on average) for a very large audience (many conlangers willing to do work for others). Such a situation naturally drives prices down, as an employer will likely always find someone willing to do the job, even for a pittance. Of course, the result will probably not be so great, but here’s the second problem: non-conlangers have absolutely no idea what a good quality conlang is. Worse yet, there is no evidence the majority of the general public actually cares! I know Game of Thrones fans who don’t care that Dothraki and High Valyrian are well-crafted constructed languages because, for them, Game of Thrones is only about the story and its characters—not about the status of the Dothraki language. Of course, there are non-conlangers who are actually interested in the languages of Game of Thrones and other shows, to the point of wanting to learn to speak them. And that group is very vocal, at least on social media. But that group is still only a minority among the larger fantasy and science-fiction fan community, itself only a fraction of the general public. In absolute terms, conlanging is still very much niche. No wonder it’s often considered only as an afterthought by potential employers.
Also, don’t forget that conlanging has only very recently been “discovered” by non-conlangers. It’s 2015. 20 years ago, the idea that one could be actually paid for conlanging was not even a dream—it was a laughable fantasy! Indeed, at that time, people in the conlang community didn’t even discuss the possibility. Instead, they wondered whether it would actually be worth the hassle to even admit to their friends and family what their hobby was. Conlanging was still seen as frivolous and ridiculous (if not downright dangerous). The only book about modern conlanging available at that time, Marina Yaguello’s Lunatic Lovers of Language, was, as its title indicates, not friendly at all towards conlangers, and people referred to admitting to doing it as “coming out”, an act that often had negative repercussions (one of our best modern conlangers kept her real identity and her conlanging persona meticulously separated, as she was a university professor and had enough evidence that showed that admitting her hobby at her workplace could cost her her job!). If you consider the situation 20 years ago, you may realise the incredible amount of progress we have made since then.
This said, it’s not as if we should just relax and let things take their course naturally. Conlanging will not be recognised as it should be, an actual art form worth paying a fair price for, if we do nothing. At the LCS, we are looking into the issue, and trying to decide what we can do. If you check the glossary of the Jobs Board again and remember how it was just a month ago, you may notice that some descriptions have actually changed: while we didn’t change the minima, we did clarify what these minima can get you, so as to prevent one to request a full conlang with teaching materials, two chapters of translated texts and a 3000-word vocabulary for $300. Now, it’s clear that the minimum compensation will only get you a minimum (if grammatically complete) conlang. We’re also trying to teach potential employers exactly how hard and time-consuming conlanging is. And we’ll try to keep track of conlanging jobs better, once they’ve been granted to someone, so as to check how much they were actually paid.
But there’s only so much the LCS can do. We’re only one small organisation, run by volunteers, and we can’t pretend to represent the conlanging community. It’s never been our goal either: we’re a support organisation, not a leading one. Also, we’re neither impresarios nor a conlanging union, and those are not roles we should take. So our reach is limited. This means that if we all want things to change, we at the LCS are going to need the help of the entire conlanging community! There is strength in numbers, and there are more of us conlangers than you think. We’re everywhere. So, what do we need to do? I can think of a few things:
- Tell people about conlanging, and what it really entails. Create awareness in your communities—especially if you are in science-fiction and/or fantasy fandoms, you can teach people how realistic fictional languages are an important part of worldbuilding, and that a sophisticated audience should expect no less from their media. We’re already making great strides among book and graphic novel writers, and we need to keep it going. Eventually, we’ll reach the TV, film and game industries, which at the moment are the most conservative in that matter;
- Actually support works that contain good conlanging. We need to prove that good quality conlanging sells more than botched jobs. If employers see that good conlanging has a positive return on investment, they will be more willing to pay more for it;
- Do not apply for jobs that pay ridiculously low wages. Even if they come from our Jobs Board. Make it known (on social media for instance) when you see a conlanging job offer that is obviously underpaid. Get others to pledge not to apply to such jobs. The payments only stay low because people are willing to work for them. If employers see, on one hand, an audience clamouring for realistic conlangs, and, on the other hand, the people able to create such conlangs refusing to accept ridiculously low wages, they will revise their offers.
Be careful though: the situation of conlanging is fragile at the moment and pushing too hard could cause a backlash that would throw it back to obscurity quickly. We are currently riding on the popularity of Game of Thrones, but that series won’t be around forever. We are slowly creating momentum, but one wrong push and we could tumble and crash. Also, some employers just don’t have that much money. I mentioned (graphic) novel writers for instance. Those writers usually request conlanging services quite early in their creation process, usually at a time when they have not published anything yet, and they usually have little money to spare. But they do get it, and they should be supported in their effort to get good conlangs in their works, even if they cannot pay much upfront. So be discerning in your efforts.
So, now, I leave it to you all: what do you think should be done to enhance the position of conlanging? What steps do you think should be taken so that conlanging is better recognised for what it truly is? Your ideas are worth just as much as ours, and we’d be more than happy to hear what you think about this. And in any case, always carry on doing what you love, and…
President of the Language Creation Society.
by John Quijada
Psst. There’s a really cool conlang out there called Celinese that one learns about in bits and pieces at a time. Why? Because information about it is spread across numerous web pages, Facebook pages, Tumblr pages, a PDF-formatted dictionary, a database-driven look-up dictionary, a published children’s book, and probably more places both virtual and hard-copy than my poor sleuthing skills can find. One learns about the grammar from two different wiki pages (each of which explains certain details the other does not), while learning to pronounce the Romanized orthography is found on a dedicated “Learn Celinese” Weebly site.
Nevertheless, all the searching is worth the rewards one reaps in discovering the many cool aspects of Celinese: its beautiful phonology and morpho-syntax, the large amount of material available in the language, and its associated conworld of Lorech. All these wonders come from the mind of their multi-talented creator Andy Ayres, a language teacher and translator currently living in Spain, who also happens to be a musician, photographer, travel writer, playwright and peripatetic wanderer. Andy analogizes conlanging to a painter “surrounded by the beauty of our world to the extent that they are motivated to create their own images thereof. Instead of paint, we use sounds and words. I have been captivated by the beauty and diversity of our world’s languages since I was a child—conlanging is my way mixing colours and shades to create a new picture that corresponds to my concept of beauty and phonoæsthetics.”
Celinese is an a priori language; however, it is heavily influenced by Welsh and other Celtic languages, particularly in regard to morpho-phonology and certain morpho-syntactical traits such as initial consonant mutation and inflected prepositions. While word order is superficially quite free, the ordering of arguments with their verb, as well as the ordering of clauses within a complex sentence, take on quite specific shades of meaning and semantic nuance.
Great attention to detail has been paid to the diachronic aspects of Celinese as well. The con-history associated with the language is quite convoluted, in that the language, somewhat like modern Italian, is a standardized form of what is essentially a grand dialect chain scattered throughout one of the major regions of the world of Lorech. It is the language of the Commonwealth of Elitho, amongst other nations of that world, and one of Lorech’s linguæ francæ.
However, what makes Celinese a real treasure in my opinion is the material available in the language. Rarely have I seen such a wide variety material available in a conlang. In the case of Celinese, these are mostly poems and songs translated from other languages, although the author also mentions having translated a few screenplays and short stories as well. There’s even a published children’s book called “Am I Small?” by Phillipp Winterberg available in a bilingual English/Celinese version. Here is the first stanza of the Celinese translation of Rudyard Kipling’s “If” available in its entirety with audio recording on the Learn Celinese weebly site:
Ôn heðwast sú, célois to logynirain
Né path codac sún, ar ané beichún;
Ôn taipyrí polús, célois té gyrthún
Mair syr gyrthoiot né anoir corún.
Also on the Learn Celinese website is an entertaining phrasebook which provides all sorts of readymade phrases and sentences under topics such as Shopping, Medicine, Transport, Leisure, Dining, and basic survival phrases such as:
Twys dyðín elıcír ðo na sàsaneg ceoní polús?
/twɪs dɪˈðin ɛləˈkiʐ ðo na ˈsasanɛç ˈkeoni pɔlˈus/
Is there someone here who speaks English?
The Celinese Facebook page has videos of Lorechian history being narrated in Celinese. I found myself listening solely for the purpose of enjoying the phonaesthetics of the language. There are also posts consisting of what appear to be news correspondents announcing Lorechian current events. As for the Celinese Tumblr site . . . what a treat! Travel posters, restaurant menus, and road-signs, all in Celinese! There’s even a curious little dialogue between a father and son, where the former tells the latter Norlogyd nêsúo – Don’t be foolish — literally, “don’t be a bat.”
If I’ve managed to pique your curiosity, start with this biographical page for Andy Ayres, as it contains a collection of links to most things Celinese (as well as a recording of Andy reading the Babel Text in the language).
I must say, I never fail to be amazed by those conlangers who pour such effort into these labors of love for so little recognition or feedback. Nice job, Andy! Araðí ðéðo foís (“I appreciate what you’ve done”).
BenJamin Johnson (Jamin) and his husband, Terry, just moved to Philadelphia and celebrated their first anniversary by buying a house in the East Falls neighborhood. It is the first house for both of them, and, needless to say, they are very excited about it. Congratulations!
After a bit of a hiatus from composing, John Q has composed four new songs and reworked some older songs to put together an album. He chose to write the songs in Ithkuil to explore the possibilities of using the language for poetry. He has titled the project Kaduatán (‘wayfarers’ in Ithkuil). You can check out a video for the recording of the first of his songs on YouTube, which features artwork from his brother Paul and David J. Peterson on vocals. This song contains the lyrics used as the LCC6 Relay Text. If you’re interested in seeing the lyrics with an intralinear analysis, you can check out the Texts page of the Ithkuil website.
Classes, talks, conventions and articles relevant to conlanging
- Fiat Lingua, an online archive of conlang articles, is looking for submissions! Fiat Lingua poses new articles on the first of every month and accepts submissions in these categories: analysis, art, conlang descriptions, essays, experiments, interviews, literature, presentations/demonstrations, and reviews. To find out more information, please head over to the website.
- Sasquan, the latest World Con, was held in Spokane, Washington, in late August.
Websites and media relevant to conlanging
The following is a message from David Johnson regarding the Conlang Blog Aggregator:
We in the conlang community are fortunate in that a number of members have provided online tools we can all use for free. One of these is the Conlang Blog Aggregator. Like all aggregators it brings together material from a range of sources, but more than that it brings together writers and readers.
If, like me, you enjoy reading about conlangs as much as writing about them, then you’ll have days when you’re looking for something new to read about and other days when you look at the traffic statistics for your website and wishing they were a bit higher.
These occasions are when the Aggregator helps. As a reader, it brings you new material from a wide range of conlang blogs, some written by well-known conlangers, others by less-known writers waiting for you to discover. There’s grammar updates, words of the day and scripts. Conlang community blogs are also featured such as the LCS Jobs Board, Podcast and Newsletter. There’s even humour from the inimitable Bad Conlanging Ideas. So, if you’re stuck for something to read, check out the Aggregator.
Is your conlang blog there, though? If not, it’s worth joining because it’s a good way to make your work more visible to potential readers. If you’d like to add your blog to the Aggregator, just send an e-mail to lcs “at” conlang “dot” org with a link to your feed, and a description of your blog.
Posts made to the Aggregator should be related to conlanging in some way, so if you have a blog with conlang-related and non-conlang related posts, please send the feed to a tag or category featuring only conlang-related posts.
The more blogs on the Aggregator, the better for both writers and readers!
News specific to LCS
Our LCS Library has some new acqusitions.
Dixon’s Basic Linguistic Theory (3 vols) includes a section on how to learn linguistics. In it he has a list of recommended titles that all serious students of linguistics should read and/or study. To find out more about why he recommends an title, check out his book and read it. Linked items are currently in the Lending Library and available for members to check out. (For multi-volume titles, links are to the first volume.)
- Aikhenvald Classifiers: A Typology of Noun Classification
- Aikhenvald Evidentiality
- Aikhenvald A Grammar of Tariana, from Northwest Amazonia
- Benveniste Problems in General Linguistics
- Bloomfield Language
- Boas and Deloria Dakota Grammar
- Comrie Aspect
- Comrie Language Universals and Linguistic Theory
- Corbett Number
- De Saussure Course in General Linguistics
- Dixon Ergativity
- Dixon A Grammar of Boumaa Fijian
- Enfield A Grammar of Lao
- England Grammar of Mam, a Mayan Language
- Evans A Grammar of Kayardild, with Historical-Comparative Notes on Tangkic
- Foley The Yimas Language of New Guinea
- Freeland Language of the Sierra Miwok
- Haas Tunica
- Jakobson On Language
- Jesperson Philosophy of Grammar
- Kimball Koasati Grammar
- Kruspe A Grammar of Semelai
- Ladefoged and Maddieson The Sounds of the Words Languages
- Lyons Semantics (2 vols)
- Matisoff Grammar of Lahu
- Matthews Morphology
- Matthews Syntax
- Meillet The Comparative Method in Historical Linguistics
- Merlan A Grammar of Wardaman, a Language of the Northern Territory of Australia
- Nida Morphology: The Descriptive Analysis of Words
- Refsing The Ainu Language: The Morphology and Syntax of the Shizunai Dialect
- Sapir Language
- Sapir Southern Paiute: A Shoshonean Language
- Shopen Language Typology and Syntactic Descriptions (3 vols)
- Thomsen The Sumerian Language: An Introduction to Its History and Grammatical Structure
- Trubetzkoy Principles of Phonology
- Vitale Swahili Syntax
- Watters A Grammar of Kham
- Zeitoun A Grammar of Mantauran (Rukai)
LCS Membership benefits
You can find more information about becoming a member, as well as more information on the benefits, here.
- Two permanent yournamehere.conlang.org domain names and free full web and email hosting; for more information or to fill out the form to claim a domain name, please visit this page.
- Checkout privileges for the LCS Lending Library.
- Access to a Hightail account (you can find more information about Hightail, an online file server, at its website); please email Sylvia to create your account.
- Full voting rights in the LCS.
- Discounts on all LCS events.
Please direct any questions you have regarding LCS membership to email@example.com. Also, all communication regarding your membership will come from that address as well, so please white-list firstname.lastname@example.org.
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