Organic Conlanging

The following is a partial transcript of the inspiring talk "Organic Conlanging Through Stability and Immersion" given by Jim Hopkins during LCC6 in 2015. While the talk was originally presented in Itlani, this transcript is based on the simultaneous English translation by Tony Harris.

I'm providing a transcript of the talk here, because the audio of the video recording (talk starts at 14:05) gets stuck sometimes. As has been mentioned at the beginning of the talk, the syntax of Itlani is quite different from English. Please keep this in mind when reading the transcript as well. Also, I have highlighted some of the key concepts mentioned in the talk in bold text.


Greetings everyone! I'm very happy to be here at my first Language Creation Conference. Thank you all for coming.

This presentation is loosely based on four of my suggestions for conlanging. I believe you all have a copy – part in English, and part in Itlani.

Today my good and long time friend [Itlani name for Tony Harris] will translate.

Conlanging is a passion for all of us. In various ways we all love our conlangs. […] However, our initial design goals vary. […] Because the goals differ, in the same way the results will differ.

Free and non-judgemental acceptance of each other's work must be our way. […] All of them are praiseworthy projects. All of them remain respectable in their respective design areas. […]

Ease of self-expression has been my goal. […] The supreme goal is communication, […] not research. […] Therefore fluency becomes most important, so that the language can be successfully used in writing and speaking.

The policies of authenticity, stability, and of sound and meaning, are the first steps towards fluency:

In the first place, the authenticity provides for the language more reliable and deeper, unified content. The content of the language is faithful to its nature. Its fabric is tightly woven. Like a well-ordered system it is more easily understandable […] and therefore more learnable. In the words of the Itlani it has [Itlani term], or "weight" or "gravitas".

Whenever a new grammatical construct, expression, or word presents itself, allow yourself to feel whether or not it is authentic. Does the word, or new addition, harmonize with the internal truth of the people who speak the language? Does the new addition into the language, or the culture, and into the environment of the speakers of the language, seem to fit?

Secondly, the stability, or the foundational canonicity ensures that a solid grammatical system will accumulate into the language, and when change comes, hold it in the holding tank of your mind, for a few days or even weeks, before you invite it to live in your language forever.

That is your role as gatekeeper. Any new expression, grammatical concept, or word will come into your language, and once it's already there, with difficulty it will leave.

Bring in the unassailable rule that canon items will not be changed or altered frivolously or arbitrarily. Canon items have more gravitas. You would only alter them for a serious reason. […] This allows the language to form around a stable core.

The focus on sound ensures that the language [...] is audibly pleasing. If the language is attractive to the ear of its creator, like a refreshing oasis in the desert, it will call unto them. The creator, the discoverer, therefore will want to learn it.

The focus on meaning ensures that the soul, the internal truth of the language, will deepen and be more successfully communicated to everyone. This sounds metaphysical. But every language has its own flavor. The soul of a language comes from its culture. […] As a means of self-expression it is necessary that the language has something to say.

Every discovered word, every sentence, should be evaluated on the standard of sound and meaning, that is, according to the aesthetic pleasure that it gives and according to the deep and powerful content that it has. [...] This will strengthen the organic flavor.

The learning and living your conlang will strengthen your fluency in the language. As we Itlani say: "This is hitting one target with two arrows." The motivation comes primarily from three things:

Firstly, speaking […] from using the language. Secondly, the intrinsic or the innate expressiveness and ability of communicating your ideas.

  • Whenever possible, use the language. In thought, in writing, in speaking.
  • From your favorite books, random paragraphs, on various topics, should be translated.
  • You should keep a current notebook of new words, and expressions, and ideas.
  • Keep a daily journal in the growing language, even if the entries are only sporadic.
  • Whenever you translate something into your conlang do it thought by thought, not word by word. This will free you from your native language, and help you to think natively in your conlang.
  • Whenever you write some short passage in your conlang, […] think and write using the paradigm of the culture of the speakers of the language.
  • In mind and heart, try to move yourself to the place where your language is spoken, daily, in the realm somewhere real of your language. […] This will remove all excuses for not using your language. […]
  • In the surrounding linguistic environment of actual reality act and live only when you need to. Let your motto be: "Always in my conlang, no excuses!"

Your conlang is a living, breathing organism. […] Don't allow yourself, the creator, the discoverer of a conlang, to become an obstacle to the conlang. Your conlang lives within you. And it wants to freely develop.

As the creator of the language, the documenter, and the archivist, […] you are the assigned linguist […] who enables your language to penetrate into the real world.

I call this phenomenon "language as found". Allow the language to present itself to you intuitively. As though you found it, you unexpectedly stumbled upon it […] on some field expedition in a distant jungle.

And then, use your skills, whatever they may be, to record what you have learned. This is my non-linguist's understanding of conlanging, through stability and immersion, based on four of my suggestions for conlanging. […]

Thank you!

See also

Tony Harris has also given a talk about "Living Your Language" during LCC5 held in 2013, that was partially based on material by Jim Hopkins. Check out the video recording or the accompanying slides.

Copyright © 2021 by Thomas Heller [ˈtoːmas ˈhɛlɐ]