image of Dr. Carolina González with an object created by her conlang class

Invented Languages

This post is authored by Dr. Carolina González, Associate Professor of Spanish. Read more about Dr. González’s project here.

I have been interested in Digital Humanities for a long time. Years ago, I attended a cycle of talks on this area organized by the FSU libraries, but I realized that I was not yet ready to embark on a digital humanities project. This year seemed a good time to try again, since my envisioned digital project is closely connected with both my current teaching and research.

My project focuses on invented languages or ‘conlangs’, short for ‘constructed languages’. These are languages that are developed consciously, unlike natural languages (‘natlangs’) such as English or Navajo. Like natlangs, many invented languages have extensive vocabularies and fully developed grammatical systems. Some conlangs are also connected to a fictional world; this is the case of Tolkien’s Elvish languages, associated with Middle Earth.  Other conlangs are invented to promote international communication (Esperanto is the best-known example) and to test or explore linguistic characteristics. For example, Láadan, connected to Elgin’s Native Tongue trilogy, is built around women’s experiences and perceptions. Invented languages are relevant to the study of language: they evidence the creative and ludic function of language (Cook 2000; Crystal 2001), address the limits of what is possible and not possible in language (Moro 2016, 2017), and raise questions about which properties of language are learnable and about how non-human languages would be like (Oberhouse 2019). They also have important pedagogical applications. As noted by Sanders’s (2016) and Punske et al.’s (2020), conlangs illuminate how languages work, are highly engaging to students, and broaden the appeal of linguistics as a field.

I am currently writing the manuscript Invented languages: a practical introduction, in contract with CUP. I also teach two courses at FSU that feature conlanging: IDS 2291 ‘Language Birth, Language Death’, and a graduate seminar on language invention. In these courses, students create the vocabulary, sound system, and grammar of an original conlang. They also develop a fictional world, including artifacts such as maps and descriptions and exemplifications of writing systems. Students often go above and beyond the conlanging class project, showing true originality and creativity. The website I am building will showcase some of the students’ work. Its main goals are to increase the visibility of FSU students’ conlanging projects, and to serve as inspiration to current and future conlangers at FSU and beyond. I also envision including additional conlanging resources, including short videos by FSU students providing tips on language invention and/or explaining how they developed some of the components of the conlang/fictional world, in addition to some background on conlanging more generally.

I was excited to be accepted in the 2022-2023 cohort for the Pen & Inc program. My first meeting with Sarah and Matthew was very helpful in thinking through some of the aspects of what a digitals humanities website can do, and how this can be achieved. During our first consultation, we talked about the Pen & Inc program in general and about the program goals for this academic year and beyond. After the meeting, Sarah sent me additional information on the program. Sarah and Matthew also encouraged me to apply to the FSU internship program, so that I could use some of the Pen & Inc funds to hire an undergraduate intern (in addition to a graduate student knowledgeable with conlanging), which will allow me to maximize the use of my funds. The FSU internship application process, I have to say, was a bit more challenging that the Pen & Inc one; but a few days after submitting it I was notified that my application was accepted. I will soon be interviewing potential candidates interested in this internship. I will also attend an orientation meeting since it will be my first time as a student internship supervisor.

I find that the Pen & Inc program offers many opportunities to connect the year’s cohort academically and socially. In October, I attended one of the social hours in October as well as a Study Hall. The social hour made it possible to meet some of this year’s cohort and hear about their projects; I think this type of meeting is helpful to feel part of a community of digital humanities scholars. The Study Halls was very helpful to learn more about the information on software from the first module, and to get started with some of its practical aspects, such as installation and navigation.

The Fall semester is winding down, and while I anticipate that most of my website building efforts will take place in January and February, I am glad that I already have a better idea of what I can do, and how to get there. I have already contacted students from one of my conlanging courses to request permission to feature some of their work; and I already have a graduate research assistant who will be helping me with this project next Spring. I have also selected (and installed!) the main software to build my website (Omeka). Working on a digital humanities project is certainly a challenge, but I feel confident that I can realize my vision in the following months.