Why People Make Their Own Languages


Linguists often make a distinction between
two ways of thinking: “linguistic descriptivism” where you just try to describe how people
talk, and “linguistic prescriptivism,” where you try to prescribe how they should
talk. Linguists can be kind of insecure about their status as scientists, so they
tend to shun linguistic prescriptivism, and my last big video was part of a long tradition
of pointing out how a lot of linguistic prescriptivism is just the result of ignorance and prejudice
between linguistic groups, but it’s worth mentioning that there are completely valid
reasons to say that people should speak one way and not another. Like, if you’re in
a German class then it makes perfect sense to say that this should be pronounced “Deutsch,”
or if you’re writing an academic paper then it’s perfectly reasonable to say that you
shouldn’t say “ain’t.” These are both examples of people trying to sound like other
people for one reason or another, but sometimes people have argued that we should start speaking
in a way that no one currently does, and in it’s most extreme form this eventually leads
to the topic of this video: people making up completely new languages.
There are two main reasons people have done this. The first is that people get sick of
having to learn lots of languages in order to communicate with lots of groups of people,
and start wondering “what if we all just learned one language and communicated in that”?
Such a language is called an “auxiliary language,” and in practice this usually
happens with the language of the dominant political power of the time, like French around
1800 or English today. But the problem with using languages that a lot of people already
speak natively is that it’s unfair to the people who didn’t grow up with it. Like,
“why should almost the entire world have to learn English while the Americans and Brits
get to just keep using the language they already know?” So another solution to the problem
is to create an artificial auxiliary language, one that would be equally hard for everyone
to learn. The first really popular artificial auxiliary
language was Volapük, created around 1880 by Johann Schleyer, and it gained some serious
ground in the 1880s. This might have been a time of rising nationalism across Europe,
but it was also a time of reaction against that nationalism, and to a lot of people Volapük
seemed like a symbol of universal human brotherhood. At it’s height there were hundreds of Volapük
clubs across the world. In 1889 at the Third International Volapük conference the proceedings
were held entirely in Volapük, but after that things started going downhill. A lot
of people wanted to change Volapük, but when Schleyer wouldn’t let them they started
going off and designing their own languages based off of it. But that wound up just fracturing
the movement. Like, if you wanted to learn Volapük, should you learn the original that
the creator has stubbornly refused to change or pick one of the dozen “improved” versions
floating around out there? Increasingly, people chose neither, and instead
opted to learn a competitor to Volapük. It had been created around the time Volapük
was just getting popular by a guy named Ludwik Zamenhof for basically the same reason as
Volapük. Zamenhof had seen how different languages had divided the people of his home
town into Russians, Poles, Germans and Jews, and he wanted to create a common language
for everyone to speak. Interestingly, he never actually names the language in the book he
published it in, he only ever calls it “The International Language,” and he never names
himself either, simply referred to himself as “the one who hopes,” or, in his language,
“Esperanto.” Without something to call it, people decided to just name the language
after him, or at least what he called himself. Hence, the language of “Esperanto” was
born. If you’ve heard of an artificial auxiliary
language, it’s probably Esperanto, and there’s a reason for that. At its height in the early
20th century Esperanto was huge. Both the League of Nations, and the UN seriously
considered adopting Esperanto. Part of the reason was that Esperanto managed to mostly
avoid the fracturing that led to the end of Volapük. Zamenhof was actually really open
to the idea of reforming the language, but people had seen what minor disagreements had
done to Volapük. Besides, an auxiliary language doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs
to be not-obnoxious enough for people to be willing to learn it to communicate with each
other. Some people did brake off and make Esperanto-inspired rivals like Ido and Interlingua,
but there’s been an impressive continuous community of Esperanto speakers that’s lasted
up to today. Now days it is by far the most well-known artificial language, and it’s
one of only a few to brag that it has native speakers. That’s right, more than once speakers
of Esperanto had children and regularly spoke Esperanto in their home enough so that their
child grew up speaking it. Not only that, but one of those children, Kim Henriksen,
is currently raising a second-generation native Esperanto speaker.
The second reason people create artificial languages is because people just want to improve
language. From this point of view, the problem with languages isn’t that there’s too
many of them, it’s that all of them suck. People complain all the time about how the
way we say things isn’t really how things are in the real world, and if you follow this
line of reasoning far enough you inevitably start asking, well, how is the world then,
and how should we speak? Pretty soon you’re coming up with your own words that perfectly
reflect the way things really are in the world, and you’ve got yourself a “philosophical
language.” Different philosophical languages from different
times often reflect the values of the people and cultures that made them. During the enlightenment
era in Europe there was a little bit of a philosophical-language fad. In the era when
everyone was talking about the supremacy of human reason, it makes sense to think that
we should be able to design our own, better languages. One of the most popular was created
by John Wilkins, who did his best to take everything in the universe that can be talked
about and categorize all of it into one giant hierarchy, and then the sounds for the word
for that thing would be determined based on its place in that hierarchy. So, an alphabetically
organized dictionary for this language would feel like it’s sorted according to something
like the dewy decimal system, with the first sound in a word telling you generally what
kind of word it is, then the next sound getting more specific and so on.
Now, Wilkins put an enormous amount of effort into making the words in his language have
reasons for sounding the way they do, but he barely put any effort at all into the grammar
of his language. In that respect, morpho-syntactically, it was basically just English with a bit of
Latin thrown in. But the most popular philosophical language today takes the exact opposite approach.
There is an idea in linguistics that I really haven’t talked enough about called the Whorfian
Hypothesis. It proposes basically that language affects the way we think. There are different
versions of the hypothesis that try to narrow down and get really specific about exactly
how language influences our thought, but that’s the gist of it: different languages encourage
people to think in different ways. In 1960 a man named James Cook Brown proposed
a possible test for this hypothesis. If we design a language to be extremely different
from all natural languages and try to make it as logical as possible, and then we get
a bunch of people to learn it, what would happen to them? Would there behavior in non-language
related tasks change? Well, to find out he created such a language: Loglan. A lot of
people really liked this idea of a logic-based language. It never became nearly as popular
as Esperanto, but to this day it has a decent community around it. Well, sort of, see, the
Loglan community wound up getting into a bit of a similar conflict as the one that happened
to Volapük almost a hundred years earlier. A lot of the speakers of it wanted to change
it but the guy who made it wanted it to stay the same. Eventually most of the people interested
in Loglan wound up leaving and creating their own language on the same principles as Loglan
called “Lojban,” which has been managed collectively ever since.
Now, let me talk for a second about Loglan and Lojban, because they are basically just
the weirdest thing ever. Lojban doesn’t care about the sounds of the words, it just
based all it’s vocabulary off of a handful of existing languages, but it does care about
making sure that the interactions between words happen in a consistent, logical way,
and in the process it winds up working in a completely different way from any natural
language. Frankly, if someone tried to rase a native Lojban speaker the way people have
raised native Esperanto speakers, I’m not sure what would happen. Like, if our brains
are hardwired to use language a certain way, which we’re not sure if they are, but if
they are, in my opinion Lojban almost definitely falls outside the realm of things our brains
evolved to handle. I’ve learned a little bit, and it doesn’t feel like an actual
language, it feels like spoken computer code. So yeah. That about sums it up. None of these
artificial languages have really taken off or achieved the success they wanted to. Neither
Esperanto nor any other artificial auxiliary language has managed to overcome the inertia
of people just learning the language of whatever superpower happens to be dominating, and philosophical
languages have never really caught on because, well, everyone has a different philosophy,
and it’s a bit hard for people to all speak in a way that truly reflects the world when
no one can agree on how the world really is. So, given that both of these reasons for inventing
languages are basically doomed from the start, the whole thing seems pretty much like a waste
of time to me . . . oh, hi Artifexian! Wait, hold on, what??? Everyone, I’d like you to meet Artifexian.
Last I checked he was making some cool videos about space and stuff, but, I’ll admit it’s
been a while since I caught up on his videos. Anyway, what are you doing here? What do you mean “the whole thing is a waste
of time”?! You’re leaving out the biggest reason people make artificial languages! And what would that be? Fun! …what? Making up a language is a monstrous
amount of work, you have to create a phonology, and a syntax, and create thousands of words
of vocabulary, why would anyone do that for fun??? OK, lets, lets back it up a bit. So, early
in JRR Tolkien’s life he became obsessed with Welsh, and later Finnish. He loved the
way Welsh looked and sounded and he loved the way Finnish syntax works, and he started
to make up his own language inspired by them. Not a language either, but a whole family
of languages, and then a culture to go along with them, and then a whole world to put the
culture in! The languages he made up became the languages of the elves and other creatures
of Middle Earth, and later he would say that he wrote Lord of the Rings mostly to justify
his weird hobby of making up languages. …ok, but that was just one guy- Yeah, but he started something! Ever since,
loads of fantasy and sci-fi writers have made up their own languages for the universes they
create. Lets see, you’ve got the Nav’i language from Avatar, Dothraki from Game of
Thrones, and of course my personal favorite, Klingon: a gruff, vaguely alien-sounding language
spoken by a violent, warlike race from the Star Trek universe. Q’apla! . . . Just when I thought this couldn’t
get any nerdier . . . In fact, I was just about to begin constructing
my very own language over on my channel! You should totally come help! Sorry, but I have better things to do than
make up words for you silly pretend-language. You could give people advice on how to construct
phonological inventories! I’m just gonna… Ah, come on, it’ll be fun! Huh, what? Heeeeeeelp!!!

100 Replies to “Why People Make Their Own Languages

  1. Mom: How was school?
    Kid: Boring…
    Mom: Did you listen carefully to what the teacher said?
    Kid: Weeeell…
    Mom: Then what the hell were you doing?
    Kid: I made up 3 languages with their own writing systems.

    That's propably how those languages start.

  2. What am I doing with my life? I am watching videos about linguistics at 6 am and have been watching them almost all night. I don't even like linguistics.

  3. I think you should learn ur new countries language. like if u move from america to mexico you should learn Mexican. and if 2 countries combine they should mix it

  4. I do it for fun really. and to piss people off who don't know it while me and my friends talk in it when we tell secrets. like some bitch walks up and we all just go

    NAAJ! NAAJ! NAAJ! HUMVEN JULK GULMYT THEW

    this is why I only have 3 friends

  5. Hi, Xidnaf! There's a conlang that is used in the albums "No Record" By Cowboy Bebop (correct me if im wrong) it's very interesting. I feel like you should make a video about it.

  6. Do you think that MAYBE if Lojban can be properly learned and spoken, with the whorfian hypotheses being correct, that those people would be great computer designers, engineers, and mathematicians

  7. the better thing is that the English and Spanish are the languages that are worldwide cuz something like Bulgarian or another Slavic language would be a very difficult thing to study cuz of the grammar there are cases and there are 30 letters with distinct sounds and sometimes they have more than one sound

  8. "Make a language that is equally hard for everyone to learn" sounds like communist propaganda but okay.

  9. If I had to choose a lingua franca for the world that would be Latin or Ancient Greek. Both are dead languages, so it would be 'fair' to everybody, and there are a huge amont of important literature written in those languages. Learning the language of the original sources would certainly facilitate the reading of classical literature. Latin would be easer to romance languages, but it is still pretty hard. Ancient Greek would be easier for greeks, but for modern greek people, that language is as foreign as Latin is for romance speakers, and the amount of Greek speakers is minuscule compared to the world population.

  10. An example of language prescriptivism is how this white dude wrote a paper on how the vietnames language makes people stupid so it must change, now a new language is being taught at most schools in big cities in Vietnam. This makes me so angry.

  11. Strong evidence that the Sapir-Worf hypothesis is true (and therefore evidence that we are not specifically hardwired against it) is in the study of the senses. People who do not have words for things have a difficult time describing them and often even perceiving them. This has been studied a lot with color perception in particular. The fact that the linguistic part of our brain is in the same hemisphere that deals with detail and logic is further evidence that language could do better in a more unambiguous, logical form.

  12. I made a language that didn't require me to come up with words, its plan algorithm!

    Just shift English consonants to the consonant after it, and vowels to the one after it!

    For instance, door is Fuus, and name is Peni…

    Also, for the writing system, plurals are the same asctge word, but with a superscript number of the plural after it so (three) games would be Heni^3

    Also, it's pronunciation is the same as English, except Ch makes a silent C, and Ph is a Pf sound

  13. Your "it's bad to hate aave" is fallacious. The reason why americans don't have to learn another language while everyone else does is because we did something else in the past to make up for the lack of work now (it's called investment: spend an hour making a shovel to dig for 10 hours less etc). Your "nationalism is bad" is fallacious. Your "the dominant superpower shouldn't get to decide language" is fallacious; there's a reason why the superpower is dominant and this culture that caused such dominance will adopted by other cultures whether you like it or not. If anything, trying to keep the dominance-causing culture to the dominant would just maintain the dominant's dominance lol.

  14. Why do you think that Americans should not have to learn English? How will they communicate with the rest of the world?

  15. I think that English is a great language to learn because all of the best movies and tv shows are spoken in English, and lots of people spread out in different places speak it.

  16. I'm on a great project that I call "language number 79" which is a created language that has no verbs and a completely weird phonology. (Why "language number 79", well, because it's my 79th language I create.) Basicly I make it just for fun.
    How does it sound like: Well, it contains 11 short vowels (a, ε, e, i, o, u, uu, y, ý, ø, œ), 10 long vowels (a, e, i, o, u, uu, y, ý, œ, å), 33 consonants, 4 same-time-speaking-two-consonants consonants, and 16 nasal-plosive-mixed consonants. 7 vowels can be nasal if an "n" (ε, e, i) or an "m" (a, o, u, å) follows. The grammar I didn't made up yet but it seems that it would have more than 40 grammar cases and other suffix stuff.
    Of course I made a write systeme, and it's the most logical systeme that ever've been. I had the korean writing systeme as an example. I made a kinda likewise systeme but it's more complicated (because there are more sounds) and more logical. The writing signs are symbols to show where and how you have produce the sound in your mouth/nose/throad.

  17. I just don't get it!
    I tried to learn Esperanto but it was SO HARD for me!
    I thought Esperanto was easy!
    Why is it so hard for me?

  18. I made my own alphabet in grade two, I tried to make my own language but struggled for obvious reasons! I'm 21 now and can still write and read my own code, its just a party trick and a way to keep journals private now. In grade 5 I had a few friends that bothered learning enough to pass notes in class, that was fun! love your content!

  19. I made a language just for fun but now I speak it as a secondary language
    I will teach some words

    Hello = helloe
    I =iste
    Name = namào
    Am = amao
    (Also the language has a own accent and the language is called medicinican)
    Ok now I’m going to say something in Medicinican and you are free to guess what am saying

    Helloe iste amao Maximiliano onel iste isol speco de languago de medicaca. Mio miano languago iste sweidica bulio mio duonaici languago iste medicaca.

  20. zie briggen auf schletar ond spräche, deut braushe schöm vun gouendach. (i think creating a language requires a lot of work) in my language

  21. As a 10 y/o, learning English in school, I was 100% convinced that the kids in English were being taught Dutch in school, because it's not fair if only we had to study a second language, right?! lol

  22. I too made my own language for fun. It has a 50 page document on its grammar, over 2000 words, and an entire writing system with 40 letters. Yes this took over a decade. I actually translated the entire script of The Dark Crystal for fun years ago and have a video on my channel narrating the opening in it. It's the lowest viewed video I have because in the end it's just something I made for me. The closest this language has to use is just the writing system in English as a sort of anywhere-I-want diary, I can vent out frustrations and what I'm thinking and no one can read it.

  23. I tried making a language for a fictional world before, it was basically just misspelled German mixed with a bit of Japanese but it was fun

  24. Mx shumgo a la peea toe. Sheyu shumg ganc grarf areni paw therp.
    Derptee derno quaiclic bip bix.Sheyo stumic lerinojac. illico jawcko
    vienteein.

  25. Don't forget my favorite philosophical language, English Prime, or E-Prime. It's English without any form of the verb "to be", like "is". This was created to be like the opposite of Newspeak in "1984", so it emphasizes how when we say that "something is X" like "chocolate is the best flavor" we are making an implicit value judgment and presenting it as fact. So in E-Prime you would say "chocolate seems like the best flavor to me right now". The creators of this language got the idea from the way scientists speak in a way that doesn't merely present received wisdom unquestioningly but instead tries to speak in a way that emphasizes that opinions are not fact, and that we all have implicit biases inherent in our languages. It's notoriously difficult to speak in E-Prime all the time. Here's the Wikipedia article on E-Prime: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-Prime

  26. The video is very good. Congratulations on the explanations and curiosities. I hope I can follow more of your videos by talking about the subject of artificial languages. I have a language, that is, I create an artificial language based on my native language, which is Portuguese. Someday I'll send you a message here to talk about these artificial languages if possible, it would be interesting.

    If possible contact us.

  27. I have a third group of people who make languages: Those who do it for fun.
    (edit: aha, the ending)
    One of my best friends has created several functioning languages in his free time as a hobby, just because he can. Inspired by real languages, improving on others, infusing past and present languages, or just creating absurdly difficult ones, he doesn't do this to change the world, he does it because why not!

  28. In my honest opinion, with the vastly wide difference of cultural, ethnic, and just general upbringing of different people from differen regions or cultures, even though perhaps a world or international language is ideal, not over the span of hundreds or thousands of years, even if the language was still used, let's call it International Language (IL), IL would still change in many ways in different places and with different people, some words are more-relevant in one place compared to another, one place developed something new that doesn't exist somewhere else, one place speaks like one way, but after some time it'll eventually speak another way but still with the same language, which happens with people using the language from another place, but it changes in a different way either by practical reasons or just by the generational gaps of those speakers.

  29. I started mine as a kid cause I wanted to say things without people knowing, and because I wanted a language for the planet I made up and claimed I was from

  30. deadass i memorized the khuzdul script (i'm working on braille and inuktitut symballics) so i was pretty sure you'd get the the biggest nerd of all conlangs

  31. Esperanto feels extremely European. It feels like another English to me as an African and i bet thats how the entire continent feels towards it in contrast to Europe and Asia.

  32. I'm creati' an interlang for European languages, of course Slavic and Uralic languages will be quite hard tho

    Mi bilde un "Interlang" por Eropa Langoj, de komplike Slaviko
    kai Uraliko Langoj welo es multa malesa.

  33. Why should it matter that and auxiliary language be equally hard for everyone?
    Sounds like a waste of time.

  34. We need an artificial language… Xidnaf seems like a good name. Hmmm… Fandix… Fanxid… Xidfan.

  35. Yeah but can we agree that whether you say cran or crayon, we can both equally hate the people say "Cranun"?

  36. Its not just having to learn a new language. The new language you learned will never feel like your native language. Or atleast thats how I feel right now.

  37. An excellent video! I've construceted Allamej conlang and I believe in the future humans may brake the language barrier. Not with my conlang, nor with others's but with something new really impressive. 😉

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