Senior Project Advisor
conlang, linguistics, phonetics, syntax, worldbuilding, translations
My purpose for this project was to create my own conlang. Conlang stands for ‘constructed language’ and refers to any language that has been purposefully designed rather than evolving naturally. Conlangs can be created for communicative purposes, like the international auxiliary language, Esperanto, for fictional or artistic purposes like Klingon or J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elvish, or for linguistic purposes, like Kēlen, a language without verbs. Conlangs are much older than you might think. There are examples of artificial languages dating back to the 12th century, like the Lingua Ignota created by St. Hildegard of Bingen, although most artistic languages began to appear in the 20th century, and now the “art of conglanging” has a large and thriving community.
Creating a conlang is an exercise in applying concepts from all aspects of linguistics. To create the rules and mechanics of a language, you must first understand how languages work, and what other languages do and why they do them. Languages evolve over time, and to develop a naturalistic feeling language, you need to mimic this evolution. For example, the affix for the plural form of a noun might derive from the numbers two or three. Languages are also an extension of the cultures that use them, and the speakers will influence not only the words, but the sounds, grammar, sentence construction, and every other aspect of the language. It is important for a conlanger to keep the speakers of their language in mind when building the language.
So, in constructing my fictional language, Nadshedu, I also had to create a society that spoke the language. I decided on a society of forest animals, living in a world called Nadsheki. This posed several challenges, the first of which was that I had to consider the anatomy of each species’ throat and mouth to identify the sounds that they could conceivably make. Another challenge was one that many conlangers face, and that is how to make the language not sound like their native language. There are many subconscious rules that language speakers follow, and it can be difficult to identify those parts of our native language that we take for granted but that other languages do differently. One other thing I had to think about was building imperfections into Nadshedu. Natural languages are full of ambiguities, irregularities, and illogicalities; words can have multiple meanings, or sound like other words, there are redundancies and exceptions to rules, and when you create a conlang it can be very difficult to allow these things and not try to make the language ‘perfect’.
In the end, Nadshedu ended up with noun case, verb tense and aspect, variable word order with negation, relative clause, and question forms, a base-12 numeral system, a writing system, a map, a 41 line story translation, and a 212 word dictionary.
Steinhilber, Anna, "Nadshedu: Constructing a Fictional Language" (2021). WWU Honors College Senior Projects. 523.
Subjects - Topical (LCSH)
Language planning; Systemic grammar; Phonetics; Grammar, Comparative and general—Syntax
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