The LCS is launching a new online journal called Fiat Lingua. A new article will appear on the first of every month. Articles will be available in PDF form on publication, and will be free to download. Articles themselves are self-selected and published with permission, with the copyright reverting to the author upon publication. On occasion, when we’ve received enough material, LCS may publish an anthology of Fiat Lingua articles in print and electronic form. Information about such anthologies will be released when relevant.The new journal’s first essay is “Case Marking and Event Structure: One Conlanger’s Investigations” by Matt Pearson, a professor of linguistics at Reed College. This essay is one of the “academic-style papers”, not an “informal contribution”. Some amateur conlangers may find this sort of thing a bit dense and intimidating, especially as the first half of the essay explores nominal cases systems in various real-world languages, some of them pretty obscure. It’s only in the second half that the author gets more “autobio-graphical” and talks about his own invented language. But if this essay is anything to judge by, the journal should be a valuable new venue for the discussion of artificial languages. I look forward to seeing more.
If you’d like to contribute an article to Fiat Lingua, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re looking to include both formal academic-style papers and informal contributions (humor, news, tips, reviews, editorials, interviews, interesting works in progress, poetry, short fiction, conlang sketches, puzzles, etc.). All contributions, academic and nonacademic, should be of interest and value to a readership of people primarily interested in invented languages. You may include color, but future print anthologies will likely be in black and white. And, as publication will be online, authors will also have the opportunity to edit articles after they’ve been published. If you have a question about a project you think might be suitable but you’re unsure, feel free to send us an e-mail and we can discuss it.
The purpose of Fiat Lingua is to provide conlangers with a visible forum to publish papers related to conlanging or conlangs — especially subjects or projects which don’t lend themselves easily to listserv or forum posts.
Having said that, I must now digress …
I’ve always found it interesting that the vast majority of conlangers devise complex case systems for their languages, with eight, ten, or more cases — much more complex than most real-world languages today. Seemingly, these conlangers don’t mind their languages going unlearned and unused (except by themselves), as intricate case systems are usually quite an obstacle (usually, but not always: witness Quenya and Klingon). Why do they do it? I guess I should rephrase — why do we do it — since I have been just as guilty. I haven’t worked on invented languages of my own in quite a few years, but at one time, I was simply mad for it. I was a conlanger avant la lettre. As I’ve written before, my friend Gary and I used to call them “Artificial Dialects”, and we had binders full of them. (They still exist, but they’ve been doing no more than collecting dust for what feels like a century now.)
So, why? Sometimes it’s out of the wish for “results [that] are sufficiently bizarre to satisfy my taste for the exotic”, as Pearson says. He also aims at “retaining the feel of a natural human language”, but the majority of the most widely spoken languages in the world today are shedding (or have already shed) their case systems. Of widely spoken languages that still do have case systems, real or vestigial, most are usually much simpler today than they were in centuries past. As a result, real-world languages tend to be more easily learned by wide audiences (which, in turn, often further erodes case systems and other complex grammatical features). The most successful artificial languages (like Esperanto) are usually the ones with the simplest grammatical systems.
Faced with that reality, why push on and do it anyway? Maybe your language is meant to have been spoken millennia ago, or by isolated pockets of indigenous people? Or maybe the real, secret reason is just to show off. “Look at me! Look how much I know about linguistics! I’m going to demonstrate every single oddity I’ve ever read about in my conlang, so buckle your seat-belts!” Things that are complex, it stands to reason, require more careful devising, more knowledge, more effort, and we want people to be impressed, by golly! And it’s not just nominal case systems. The same motivations apply to all aspects of conlang grammar, syntax, phonology. “Look at me! Look at this amazing inventory of sounds! I can pronounce a full range of aboriginal clicks, so you had better learn too! Look, I’ve discovered consonants for which I had to invent new glyphs! Oh, and I’m giving you tones as well. Why wouldn’t I?”
Why indeed? Such languages might be fun in theory and for study — and I don’t wish to deny anyone their fun, or their learning by doing — but with only a handful of exceptions, they will never be spoken outside the conlangers’ basements. My own invented languages certainly never got any further. :)