Free Book Friday winner and the world of Conlanging

Yurei Attack!

A Survivor’s Guide to Japanese Ghosts by Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt

The winner of Friday’s free copy of Yurei Attack!, A Survivor’s Guide to Japanese Ghosts by Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt, was Michael P.! If you didn’t win, you can buy the book from Tuttle for 35% off the cover price (just $10.37) by using the discount code OMNIVORE. Check back this Friday for a chance to win another book.

On Saturday, I got to visit BakuretsuCon a Vermont anime convention. It’s akin to Comic-Con events in San Diego, NYC, and Boston, but with a more narrow focus on Japanese manga and anime.

The language angle at BakuretsuCon and similar events is to Japanese or the world of “conlanging”, constructed languages. Scraps of evidence suggest that humans have been doing this for centuries, but things got started in earnest in the 17th century, when, thanks to the printing press, rising standards of living, an Enlightenment-era yearning for the perfectibility of society, and (perhaps) a declining appetite for Latin, linguistically minded philosophers and tinkerers began creating artificial languages.

Nowadays, these fall into a few large groups. First, are Loglangs, which are based on formal rules of logic and do cool things like test the Sapir–Whorf Hypothesis, the idea that human thought is to some extent limited or at least channeled by language. A noxious example from fiction is Orwell’s 1984, in which the Party removes from “Newspeak” all words related to freedom and individualism to make it harder to resist political domination. In short, if there’s not a word for it, can you think it?

Second are the Auxlangs, such as Esperanto, constructed to serve as politically neutral international languages. The snag with Esperanto (IMHO) is that it was designed in an era when “international” meant “pan-European”. Find yourself in an airport lobby with speakers of Chinese, Hindi, Swahili, and Arabic, and Esperanto isn’t international. It’s just another European dialect.

Genre fiction readers are familiar with the Artlangs from popular fiction, such as the many languages of JRR Tolkien (although those, it seems were mostly based on human languages like Welsh and Finnish). Another subset of Artlangs are Altlangs, which ask what-if questions about history. Suppose, for example, that rather than fall under the cultural influence of China, pre-historic Japan had been settled by Rome. Venimashita, vidimashita, vicimashita!

Personally, I perceive English as an altlang of sorts that answers the question: “What would happen if you marinated a dialect of Low German in French for 300 years?”


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