Word Fun

Long before people were learning Klingon, long before I’d heard of Esperanto or Volapuk or Quickscript, I started making up alphabets and languages. I don’t know when it occurred to me that such things could be invented. Norwegian-speaking relatives exposed me to the notion that words can only mean what people agree that they mean. In the third grade I read a book about codes and ciphers; for a while I wanted to work for the CIA, but soon I was more interested in spelling reform.

Tolkien’s languages were my first encounter with an artificially constructed language. I read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy several times; I read the appendices so many times the pages fell out.

Other than working for the CIA or translating books into Esperanto, I couldn’t figure out any really fun careers that would use my skills. If the school guidance counsellor had suggested that I look at artificial language construction, I might have gone that direction.

If I had, I would probably still be living in my parents’ basement. There’s not a big call for artificial languages, and there are a lot of people who would apply for any job requiring conlang skills.

Instead, I went the traditional way. I studied Spanish, Latin, French, German, Esperanto, Italian, Anglo-Saxon and Greek. I took courses in linguistics. And like any other graduate holding a degree in something useless, I became a teacher.

When I was teaching myself Esperanto, there were no Esperanto clubs located nearby. The World Conventions always seemed to take place in Australia or the Netherlands, not Larchmont or Scarsdale, which could be reached by taking the Long Island Railroad. So I talked to myself, wrote to myself, and looked towards the day when everybody would finally realize that all people should speak Esperanto.

The Internet has changed all that. Having an online community has brought all the lonely basement-dwelling speakers of B’dan and Vbnydr together.

There are quite a few places to look, if you have a passion for such things. If you’re a writer, you may not need an entire conlang, just some names or a few phrases.

There are two places you must first go, if only to understand the depth and breadth of this mania.

First is Omniglot. Here you will find every existing alphabet and quite a few conscripts — artificial writing systems. There are forums, too, where conlangers share info on their projects and get geeky together.

The second is Metaverse. The creator, Mark Rosenfelder, is a most interesting guy. Here you can find his guides to creating a language, as well as stuff about science, culture, linguistics, gaming, and science fiction. He is the guy who has already thought of things that just occurred to you.

I haven’t looked at it much, but here’s a third: the conlang wiki can be found here.

After these, there are different directions you can go. If you want random generators, here are a few:

Manythings has a random sentence constructor, if you’re interested in grammar and sentence construction. It’s a site designed for ESL students, but I’ve used it with regular English classes as well.

The Word Constructor can create a word or a name to your specifications, create a list of generated words that you can print out. My name was morphed into acchathex, iztwartad, and otckanfan. The words are pronounceable, unlike some random generators that just create jumbles of letters.

There are plenty of name generators. Here are a few:

Behind the Name lets you pick several criteria – gender, ethnicity, mythological and fantasy catetories. My Hawaiian / Ukrainian / biblical rapper is named Yishai Seraiah Uzzi.

And if you just want to look up existing names of a particular ethnicity, I suggest 20000 Names. (It has annoying ads that occasionally scoot out, but they are quickly dispatched.) If you want to find your inner hippy, HippyNames is the place to go. You may call me Astral Plane.

Cipher Tools is a good collection of ciphers, and can generate enciphered messages for you.

There are many more places to have fun with this, but these are good to start with. I’ve checked all the links, but if you find one is not working, please let me know.

Now, back to my basement. Iztwartad out.


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Hilary Chapman
    Jun 13, 2010 @ 20:28:06

    Mi esperas, ke vi ja sukcesis uzi Esperanton praktike.

    Mi sufiĉe ofte uzas la lingvon. Ekzemple antau du jaroj mi estis Berlino kaj poste en Milano por mia laboro. En ambaŭ lokoj oni gvidis min tra la urbo – en Esperanto kompreneble. Antaŭ jaro mi estis en Obernai apud Strasburgo, kaj mi vizitis familion tie kie la infanoj estas dulingvaj, parolante Esperanton kaj la francan.

    I hope you’ll allow me to tell your readers that Esperanto works! I’ve used it in speech and writing in about fifteen countries over recent years.

    Indeed, the language has some remarkable practical benefits. Personally, I’ve made friends around the world through Esperanto that I would never have been able to communicate with otherwise. And then there’s the Pasporta Servo, which provides free lodging and local information to Esperanto-speaking travellers in over 90 countries. Over recent years I have had guided tours of Berlin, Douala and Milan in the planned language. I have discussed philosophy with a Slovene poet, humour on television with a Bulgarian TV producer. I’ve discussed what life was like in East Berlin before the wall came down, how to cook perfect spaghetti, the advantages and disadvantages of monarchy, and so on. I recommend it, not just as an ideal but as a very practical way to overcome language barriers. You’ve pointed top some web sites. I’d like to recommend www/lernu.net


    • escher dax
      Jun 13, 2010 @ 21:55:43

      Mi dankas vin pro viaj komentoj! Esperanto estas lingva bela et utila – mi lernis gin antau multaj jaroj, sed nun mi forgesas multaj vortoj!

      (Please feel free to correct my mistakes!)


  2. Becky Leff
    Jun 26, 2010 @ 21:17:13

    Regarding words only meaning what we agree they mean, there was a Twilight Zone episode in which the meaning of words begins changing around the main character. Maybe you saw it, too? First it’s just a word here or there that everyone else insists means something entirely different than he knows it means. “Dinosaur? It’s a small meal in the middle of the day.” Eventually so many words change meaning that he can no longer communicate. His frustration is palpable, but then a crisis involving his child allows him to break through the language barrier and begin speaking like everyone else. What a clever show Twilight Zone was.


  3. Becky Leff
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 00:23:02

    I just learned that there was a movie made entirely in Esperanto. Incubus, starring William Shatner. What a great piece of trivia.


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