Knowing a Second Language

If you don't know a second language, please don't learn one just for the sake of creating your own language, unless you are a genius like that guy Jared in The Pretender. But do learn one to enrich your mind, broaden your understanding of another culture, and to stave off dementia.

I happen to speak pretty fluent Bulgarian and it has definitely helped me with Conlanging in a few ways. 'Pretty fluent' because i lived there for a couple years and spoke it well, but haven't had many opportunities since I've been back to speak it. Can't remember all the vocabulary words so well anymore. But being able to think in another language and knowing the grammer can free up your thinking as to what is possible for your conlang.

It could be argued that knowing a language or two might also limit your vision as to what you will and won't attempt, but my experience has taught me that this is NOT a bad thing. When I was reading through conlang websites, I was bombarded with possibilities. At some point I really had to choose what I wanted and did not want and just start in a direction and experiment. There is a trend I see a lot when I look through forums, of people wanting to create languages that are not similar to English, or Romantic languages (Spanish, Italian, French, etc), to not look like these languages or sound like them. If you want to create something unlike these languages, using another language can help.

Personally, I just wanted something I liked the sound of. Bulgarian had some consonant clusters I didn't particularly enjoy, and it wasn't frequently a 'pretty language.' "Obeechum tei" just doesn't have the sonorous ring that "Je t'aime" does. But that didn't mean I just threw everything out. I liked some of the diphthongs in Bulgarian, the word orderings... And especially the simplicity. Anyhow, studying a language can provide rich material for your conlang.


Anonymous said...

As a monoglot, I have a different perspective on language than you do, being bilingual.

Being one of those who wishes to make a conlang not particularly like any known human language, I find the more I learn abut other languages the harder my goal seems to become. I also find that my unfamiliarity with many linguistic concepts, such as aspirated consonants, tone, and retroflex consonants, pushes me into a more narrow field of possibilities.

Of course, some of these hurdles are very tempting to jump over, and I'm tentatively including retroflex consonants in the conlang I'm working on now.

I can't know what my perspective would be like if I knew another language, as learning it would destroy my capacity to know what only knowing one language was like. However, I think that you are coming from a more secure linguistic foundation than I, knowing two languages. As soon as I discover one I feel I absolutely must learn, and hopefully it's an attainable goal, I'll set myself to learning one. In the meantime, more stumbling around in the linguistic twilight for me.

- Baalak Nalzar-aung.

Matthew Shields said...

I can absolutely agree that learning about other languages would make things confusing. When you're fluent in another language, however, are can think in it, it just gives you another way to approach different aspects of the conlang you are making. Its an attainable goal, but I would strongly suggest that you find people you can speak it with regularly, or travel and force yourself to speak it.
And by the way, don't think that you HAVE to learn EVERYTHING. Something I continually suggest to myself and other new conlangers is to KEEP IT SIMPLE. You can always add complexity as you learn more.