An artificial or constructed language (sometimes called a conlang) is a language that has been created by a person or small group, instead of being formed naturally as part of a culture. Esperanto is one of the most famous made-up languages, developed in 1887 with a view to creating an easy-to-learn and politically neutral language that transcended nationality and also as a positive alternative to the growing use of English throughout the world. Estimates of Esperanto speakers range from 10,000 to 2,000,000-not bad for a constructed language. Then of course there are the wackier languages, the Klingons in Star Trek have their own language with it’s own grammar and dictionaries. Believe it or not, a small number of people are capable of conversing in Klingon; they must be dedicated Trekkies. The series Game of Thrones also uses two completely constructed languages developed by David J Peterson.
My friend recently told me how he and his contemporaries developed a secret language which enabled them to have private conversations in earshot of parents and teachers. Forty years later he claims they would still all be fluent. ‘Pig Latin’ was a common language game in the 40s and 50s, formed by altering words in English; it works by moving the first consonant or consonant cluster to the end of the word, then adding “ay” to the end of the word: “ictionary-day,” for example. Nobody knows for certain how Pig Latin got its name, though we do know that the game has nothing to do with Latin. That must be an intentional misnomer. It has certainly been around some time though, as there is a mention of it in an article published in a magazine in the late nineteenth century. And, supposedly, Thomas Jefferson composed letters in Pig Latin.
Though there are many constructed languages around now, children today don’t seem to have fun in creating their very one code in which to speak to each other. This could be perhaps because communication is often in the form of texts or emails which are self-evidently already private. Some may argue that ‘Textspeak’ is a universal language of its own but it is really simply an abbreviated unpunctuated version of what we already have. I don’t think many children today would have the verbal dexterity to create and become fluent in a new language simply because so much communication is now electronic and there is far less independent thinking going on.
Constructed languages are a fun way to communicate and can bond those who speak it. Of course if a new language is used enough and becomes common usage it can end up in the English dictionary. Lewis Carroll’s made-up word ‘chortle’ used in ‘Through the Looking Glass’ is an example of this. His famous poem Jabberwocky is famously made up of neologisms, starting:
Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/Did gyre and gimble in the wabe; All mimsy were the borogoves,/And the mome raths outgrabe.”
It seems strange how none of the words are familiar but the reader gets a gist of what is being said. Constructing a language like this is a fantastic feat and having fun with words in language games is an innovative way for children to communicate.